Doctors and Secretaries and Moms, Oh, My!


CSI.JPGLast month on a flight to the West Coast I sat next to a young woman who’d just gotten her Ph.D. in sociology. She was also a Christian, and like me, she’d spent serious time overseas. But unlike me, she was appalled by how American women are “marginalized” and “oppressed” when they should be treated like men virtually across the board. She criticized traditional marriage roles, and it puzzled her how, in a progressive, industrialized country like ours, women could still be expected to shoulder most housework and childcare duties even when they work outside the home. In her thinking, the best approach was to make genders more equal and fairly similar in their characteristics.

I listened. I nodded in agreement occasionally because she had some good points. But when she finished, I said, “You seem really passionate. But what exactly are you fighting against? God made men and women equal but different, and that’s His perfect will. Why would we want to cancel that with an androgynous culture?”

For a second, she looked like I’d slapped her. Luckily the plane was landing, so our conversation lasted only 30 more seconds before seatbelts flew off. And she never really answered my questions.

Don’t get me wrong. In our broken world, there are gender-related injustices. And I’m no shrinking violet, having been in the workforce all of my adult life, often in patriarchal foreign countries, and I’ve enjoyed being an adventurous teacher, writer and world traveler. But if given the chance and a family to come home to, I’d actually love to do their laundry and make dinner for them. And I have no problem with women happily fulfilling these roles full-time and looking at it as a ministry.

The fact this sociologist so adamantly fought such roles makes me wonder what’s promoting the indignation.

Maybe television is part of the mix. According to a study on the rank of women by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, “Women’s professional success and financial status are significantly overrepresented in the mainstream media, suggesting that women indeed ’have it all.’”

It’s true. According to The Nielsen Company, the top five jobs women hold on TV are: surgeon, lawyer, police lieutenant, district attorney and cable news pundit. In reality, the Department of Labor’s 2008 statistics show the most common jobs for women are (in order): secretaries and administrative assistants, registered nurses, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers and retail salespersons.

I am not saying women shouldn’t be cashiers or strive to be doctors (so please don’t send me hate mail). My cardiac physician friend is pleased as punch with her decision to go through med school and she’s helping patients left and right. But what I do wonder is whether television subtly pressures women to be “more” than a mom. Do “more.” Achieve “more” outside the home because the doctor’s or attorney’s lives seem to be what’s best and most exciting, on television, at least.

So what do you think? Do shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, House, and CSI subtly suggest it’s not enough for a woman to love her husband, raise quality human beings full-time and make killer Italian dinners when they come home at night? Do they inspire women to, in fact, do more and try to “have it all?”

Who wrote this?

Meredith has had two careers: one as a writer/editor for both Focus on the Family and The Navigators, and one as an English teacher trekking far-flung corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. She now rejoins Focus, but with souvenirs—including new eyes with which to better view American culture.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Tenerife:

Those are some good points, DoRight. At the same time I think it's precarious for Christians to make up dating rules (outside of what is explicitly commanded in the Bible) in light of the fact that marriages in biblical times were generally arranged by a families.

It's only been in recent centuries that dating evolved. In that shift, the responsibility for initiating a relationship now falls entirely on a young man. And let's face it - young men know who they find physically attractive, but they don't always know what they should be looking for in a long-term relationship (and young women have the same problem too!). So I think the lack of guidance on the part of parents and church leaders needs to addressed even moreso than that of young men.  

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  DoRight:

I empathize with you, Tenerife.  I think one of the difficult issues we face in the church today, though I think it is less today than it was 20 years ago, is how so many christian men have (1) taken on the cultural values of the world and (2) abrogated their responsibilities as leaders. Where are the real men who should be courting you?But I also warn you.  All the christian women I can think of who have chosen to actively pursue the man they thought was the 'one', have ended up with failed or troubled marriages.  But I am by no wise an expert on dating & courtship.  I was 32 and never married before meeting the woman who would become my wife.  But the mystery is great.  I know I pursued her before she caught me.  And I thank our God that He must have blinded her before we married.And I have to agree with your elders.  A scripture that both my wife and I kept in mind before (and since) we became one is:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

What is our goal?  Is it to serve Him who fulfills us more than anyone or anything ever can?  Or to seek for what the world says will bring joy?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  DoRight:

Dr Strangelove, you are absolutely correct.  The scripture in Genesis I quoted says nothing about the roles in marriage of the partners, but does say the 2 will become one.  I was using the scripture to speak more to your mentioning that marriage was historically between more than 2.  This historical fact is true, but does not diminish that a standard does exist.  And where the standard was (or is) abused, trouble arises (E.g. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon).And I think we both agree that our culture has pushed that being a wife and a mother is less prestigious and less fulfilling than being a professional whatever.  That is not the Biblical standard though.If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Wow, even in the time of Jesus, we had problems with prestige and role fulfillment!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Tenerife:

I am a 32-year-old never married woman. To be frank, I've never been asked out on a date, despite all the Christian men I've met. When I share this struggle with Christian elders, the response is inevitably that I should just "focus on Jesus," that "Jesus is my husband." My more feminist-thinking friends encourage me that if I want to get married, to actually pursue it; invite a man out for coffee, and the like. So I think the church is double-minded on the issue. They push marriage and family but do little or nothing to help singles get there.

In the meantime, I know men and women are different, but what am I supposed to do with that on a practical level? I have to work, pay my bills and handle the "bullies" of life alone just as my single male peers do. So my life is androgynized in many aspects.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Dr_Strangelove:

I think that verse defines marriage (one flesh), and shows men and women to be equals (i.e., man isn't 51% of the "one flesh", both are 50%).  But I do not think it addresses a woman's (or a man's) specific role: is it specifically as a mother? a farmer? a scientist? all three and more?  I would say, assuming a couple has children, that the woman is of course a mother, but can also be something else.  And likewise, that a man is a father, but can also be something else.

I used the word "prestigious" - and in quotes particularly - because I also think that in the broadest sense it is culturally defined.  Though as you point out, I can have opinions about what is prestigious to me (ignoring what others think).  Personally, I think one should do what they want and find most fulfilling.  If I want to be a politician or doctor I am not going to do it because it is prestigious to most people, but because I want to [insert reason here]!  And likewise, if I want to be a mechanic or janitor, I don't care about prestige, I care because [insert reason here].  And if someone feels like being a housewife (or househusband, there are some of those too!) then great, be that!  So whatever is considered prestigious by most people, I do not think that it should be an important factor for one's decisions in life.  Maybe we need two words, one that denotes societal or cultural prestige, and another that describes what is personally prestigious!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  DoRight:

Dr. Strangelove,"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning

the Creator 'made them male and female,'

and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother

and be united to his wife,

and the two will become one flesh'?

So they are no longer two, but one.

Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Have some chosen to change this standard?  Perhaps the greatest conflict we have in the world today is because Abraham, in his weakness of faith, chose to live by a different standard.  But there is a standard.  God stated it in Genesis 2, Jesus confirmed it in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and Paul gave us some insight into the reason for it in the letter to the Ephesians.This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

I am very glad you quoted the term prestigious in your next to last paragraph, since you are implicitly stating that prestige is culturally defined.  And that is the point of the original post. Our culture has determined to define that role as being unfulfilling. To my wife and I, being a wife and a mother is a very prestigious role.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Dr_Strangelove:

In television 2% of characters are the leader of a country, 6% are spies, 5% are doctors, 3% are prostitutes, 10% are police/detectives, etc...  Okay, so I just pulled those numbers out of the air, but you get the idea.  I don't think that television is encouraging everyone to become a president, spy, doctor, prostitute or detective, they just happen to be interesting for stories.  And as Suzanne Gosselin points out, the story of a wife/mother usually isn't that interesting for television.  It most certainly is an important role, but it is usually not that interesting for a mysterious, "explosionfull" and "sexfull" story.

Also, I am sure that many people after studying a little sociology begin to ask, "what are traditional gender roles? what is a traditional marriage?"  The reason being because there is no standard or tradition for female roles or marriage.  Across cultures there is no standard or tradition and historically there is no standard or tradition.  In some cultures/parts of history men are/were equally responsible for housework and child rearing, and in some women are/were equal or primary providers of food and wealth.  Historically marriage was often between one man and multiple women, though it is increasingly between one man and one woman, and sometimes it is between one woman and multiple men!  Often marriage is more of an economic union than an amorous one, and husband and wife "learn" to love each other, rather than love each other before marrying!

You could even argue that there is no Biblical standard for the role of a woman.  A few examples, in some passages she is regarded as an equal of man (Genesis 1.26-30; Ephesians 5.31-33,1 Corinthians 11.11-12), in others as the weaker and submissive sex (1 Peter 3.1-7; 1 Corinthians 11.3-10), in others wives are implicitly described as property (Exodus 20.17), and sometimes women have "prestigious" roles that are typically male dominated, such as leaders, judges and prophets.

So I understand why the sociologist was so passionate.  We may agree or disagree that there is not a Biblical tradition for female roles or marriage, but cross culturally and historically there is unarguably no tradition or standard regarding gender roles or marriage, which leads one to believe that the roles and ideas are culturally constructed, and not divine.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  DoRight:

After listening to several, "That's all you do?" type statements at a Christmas party from my career-oriented co-workers, my stay-at-home wife answered the next subtle put-down with, "I'm raising the next generation.  What is it that you do that is so important?"Now that our children are out of the house, she is an integral part of our mission team in Honduras.  (I would say the most important part, but she would disagree.)  She has also gotten her nursing degree and is currently working on a PhD in Public Health.But with all that, I know our family is what is most important in her life, next to Jesus Christ.  All of us couldn't be prouder of her.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Suzanne_Gosselin:

Great blog! As someone who has also been in a career my entire adult life AND recently been in a season of watching more TV than I ever have, I agree with your point. For the most part, TV women are portrayed as being sexier versions of men in fast-paced and/or dangerous careers. I actually think the wife/mother/homemaker is rarely examined, possibly because it's not deemed interesting enough for TV. But think of shows in the past, such as "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Brady Bunch" -- these shows' bread and butter was the exploration of family life. These days if a family is portrayed in a TV show there tends to be serious dysfunction. I wonder if the true issue here is with what is considered "interesting" for TV these days. Maybe women taking care of their families doesn't make the cut?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  JuliaPH:

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This is a very interesting post, Meredith. What I find most interesting is how your neighboring passenger was “appalled by how American women are ‘marginalized’ and ‘oppressed’ when they should be treated like men virtually across the board.” And how she “criticized traditional marriage roles.” I would think that her passionate feelings on this are rooted in a desire to see women happy and fulfilled. If that is the case, her logic is flawed, thus, her conclusive feelings misguided. Let me explain. My boss once told me, “frustration is born on the wings of unmet expectations.” I believe that to be true. To get at your point, if television really does subtly pressure women to be "more" than a mom, then that pressure is likely to manifest itself in the form of personal expectations. Left unmet, those expectations can be a source of confusion and hurt. And even if they are met, they may come at a price. Those same women might have formed expectations of themselves (through multiple sources) about being a mother and a wife. I wonder as I write if those two sets of expectations collide in some women’s lives. But, back to the sociologist. What if a woman, through life experiences, expects to find peace and fulfillment in the roles of wife and mother…and actually does? She would probably be “appalled” if she were to be treated like a man or criticized for carrying out the traditional marriage role. Why would this sociologist be appalled by something that brings such happiness to so many families? I understand that she is concerned for the women who attempt to fulfill both roles, 1) wife/mom (shouldering most of the housework and childcare duties) and 2) “more than.” But should it be assumed that her concern’s only logical target is the traditional expectations of women? Or should the target be the media, and their images? Or should it be something else?