The “Head” that is Missed

You want practical, I give you one very pragmatic reason why distinct separate roles are foolhardy. I am quite surprised that this obvious argument against patriarchal schemes is not mentioned more often. I realize the most CBE readers are younger and asking questions about being a single woman, marriage, and young family issues. Here is another life issue for women to consider. I find this to be perhaps the first and ultimate reason to defend an egalitarian marriage.

Imagine the woman who is trying to be the good wife, she stays within the well-defined limits. The “head” work is left for her husband. He earns the money, so it is only fair that he manages the investments, insurance, taxes, large purchases, and so forth. He quickly reassures her that he does not want his wife to bother her head with that worldly stuff. She should save her energy for him and the children. The same message comes from the church. The husband has the final “say,” he is the tie-breaker, he is ultimately responsible for the spiritual health of the family.

The wife takes care of the children, cook, clean, maybe home-school, volunteer for worthy causes, and do whatever she is asked in the church.

Now imagine further. This husband is suddenly totally incapacitated in a way that requires his wife to take over all the responsibility of bill paying, household repairs, taxes, and everything else that she has not been paying attention to. It may be true that she never really cared for that work or has no ability for it. Too bad. It is on her shoulders now. It must be done, and now she does not have the luxury of learning leisurely. Add to the routine household business the new additional headaches of health insurance battles, extended care facilities, survivor benefits, and end-of-life decisions.

Many friends try to help but the platitudes fall by the wayside. “God does not hand out more than a person can handle.” But he has. There is no end in sight, the future is only dark. There is no imaginable good coming out of this. Injury and illness are evil. No, God does not send evil.

The patriarchal churches will claim to have the bases covered. The oldest son is now the “head of the house.” No sons, or they are too young? Male relatives to take over the burden? What plan can the patriarchal church offer in this very possible scenario? The church will theoretically step in to help you deal with all the affairs and provide you with a substitute “head of the house?” This is going to take a husband and father from his own family for many hours a week. Perhaps these churches suggest an Old Testament solution of the husband’s brother taking over as a “redeemer.”

Not only does this hypothetical woman not have the skills and knowledge necessary, but she will be handicapped by the insecurity and lack of confidence that has burdened her, perhaps since childhood, that, “women just can’t” or “I would like to see a woman . . .” Now she must make decisions as an equal with doctors, lawyers, accountants, realtors, and the neighbor who complains about her yard being weedy.

Any woman, who unhealthily depends on her husband for everything outside her domestic domain, can be subjected to this at any time. She is very vulnerable. Many women have survived this scenario, but not by passively “letting the men do it.” Now she will learn to use her dormant abilities. It is utterly irresponsible for patriarchal churches to insist on rigid “roles” for either women or men.  In fact, it is the opposite of the divine mandate of Adam and Eve to rule the world together. Patriarchal churches have forced women into this very untenable situation. Women must expect and be expected to assume adult responsibilities.

I realize I am preaching to the choir in this forum. Nevertheless, it is too easy for any of us to fall into the temptation to “just let my husband take care of it.” Do not become complacent in making decisions, just because your spouse is good at it. Exchange those traditional roles. Know the details of insurance policies and estate planning. Warn any sisters who may be thinking they are following “God’s design” by being passive.

I am speaking from experience here, my husband recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I am in a better situation than most. I have wonderful children nearby. I have supportive church communities and circles of friends with good advice. I am well equipped, our marriage was always very egalitarian, but still it all can be so overwhelming. Now I really miss another head. Interesting that I mention that. I miss the anatomical head of my helpmate. The other kind of “head” is truly of no use. 

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