Having addressed the question of masculinity, and how men are different from women, we now turn, as promised, to femininity, and how women are different from men. Please remember that our central concern (at this point) is not biology, but rather how the broader questions of masculinity and femininity relate to our obedience as men and women.
“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
The apostle Peter begins by telling told wives how to respond to disobedient husbands (vv. 1-2). They are to try to win their husbands without a word, through a chaste way of life coupled with reverence. St. Peter tells them not to try to “hold” their husbands by means of outward adornment (v. 3). Instead, he says that wives should adorn themselves for God—”put on their make-up for God,” and they should do it in the way that pleases God. The contrast is not between adornment (bad) and non-adornment (good). Rather, the contrast is between superficial adornment that washes off in the sink, and true adornment that is of great value in the sight of God (v. 4). This is how the holy women in ancient times did it, trusting in God, adorning themselves, and submitting to their husbands (v. 5). Sarah did this, obeying her husband, calling him lord—this is the basis for liberation from fear (v. 6).
Masculine and Feminine:
Last week we saw that masculinity is authority, sacrifice, responsibility, and initiative. We are now considering the counterpart—femininity is submission, obedience, gratitude, and responsiveness. But it is important for us to remember, each of us, not only what we are doing, but in which direction we are doing it. Women are supposed to be feminine in relation to their own husbands, and not in every direction generally. Older women are supposed to teach younger women (Tit. 2:3-4). Women are supposed to issue commands to stubborn two-year-old boys (Eph. 6:1). Women are not supposed to obey another woman’s husband (Eph. 5:22). Grown men are supposed to remember the law of their mother (Prov. 6:20). A queen is supposed to guide her husband the king into wisdom (Est. 5:2). And all this means that, if false notions of femininity are abroad in the Christian community, the most feminine wives will not necessarily be recognized as such. Femininity is not to be defined as frilly, frothy, tee-heeing.
There is a related issue. Before addressing the meaning of femininity positively, an additional set of definitions is necessary. When a man is effeminate, we mean by this that he is displaying feminine characteristics in an inappropriate way, or in an inappropriate direction. An abdicating man (toward his wife) is being effeminate. An obedient foot soldier charging a hill is appropriately obedient, and is not being effeminate. In a similar way, feminists are at war (ironically) with femininity, and they try to adopt a masculine posture in inappropriate ways and direction. Both kinds of sins put everything out of kilter. But however sincere you are, and however industrious, it is not possible to thread a nut onto a bolt by turning it counter-clockwise. This is why the best description of abdicators (husbands) and usurpers (wives) is frustrated.
Women Are Different From Men:
What can we learn about femininity (toward husbands) from the women of old? How does St. Peter apply it?
Submission: biblically speaking, submission is a demeanor of adornment. A craven wife is not a submissive wife. A wife who flinches (inside or out) when her husband speaks is not a submissive wife. What are the pearls on the necklace that God admires (v. 4)? They are chastity, reverence, gentleness and quietness of spirit, subjection to her own husband, obedience, and freedom from fear. The word that comes to mind is lady. The world’s hatred of the word submission is actually the world’s hatred of loveliness in wives—the world hates true adornment. Think of submission primarily as a disposition, demeanor, or character trait, and not as though it consisted simply of this action or that one. Submission pervades a marriage; acts of obedience might be few and far between.
Obedience: nevertheless, it says in our text that Sarah obeyed Abraham (v. 6). Obedience is borne of submission and is one characteristic of it. Titus 2:5 says that wives are to be taught by the older women to be “obedient to their own husbands.” But though obedience to husbands is part of submission, it should not be equated with submission. An “obedient,” surly wife is unsubmissive. And a wife who makes a display of her conservative, traditional-values submissiveness is often simply a hold-over from the early forms of feminism. Nevertheless, after all such necessary qualifications are made, the Christian world needs a book entitled Obey Your Husband and Other Novel Ideas. I can hear an angry mob gathering outside the church now, so I might as well finish the point. No human authority is absolute, and this includes the authority of the husband. But it is real, nonetheless, and most Christian wives who disobey (or disregard) their husbands are not in the category of “obeying God rather than men.”
Gratitude: wives are to learn from the Church how to be wives (Eph. 5:24). And what is one of the central characteristics of the bride of Christ? It is gratitude. This is a eucharistic service, a service of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is therefore at the center of femininity. Moreover, thanksgiving to a husband (who works, provides, protects, and leads) is closely related to respect, which wives are also called to.
Responsiveness: the relation between husband and wife is not static. He does not sit here, being masculine, with her over there, being feminine. They do not radiate across the room at each other. He intitiates, and she responds. And this glorious dance should pervade every aspect of their lives. He bows, and then she curtsies. We love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).