By Cordelia Fitzgerald (Rated G)
The headship of the man in the family unit is the reasonable conclusion of natural law; so it has been recognized throughout most of history, and as it is a gift and ordinance of God, it has been abused throughout the same. Naturally, being a fallen and rebellious race, we object to God’s assignation of roles, but the greater complaint pertains to a misconstruction of the issue. The notion has taken root that since man comes “first” (in Eden and in the family), he is therefore “better.” This conflation of primacy with superiority has been present for quite some time, and it has resulted in many of the abuses of the father’s role. But wait, the reader might say, isn’t first better?
If we set aside the topic of family for a moment, we can achieve some clarity. Of course, in road races, companies, and competitions of all sorts, it is preferable to be first rather than…twelfth. In those circumstances. You see, these examples involve comparing like with like. Which comes first—the chicken or the egg? Which is better? Maybe the chicken, if you have a farm. Maybe the egg, if you’re making a cake. The two of them, really, are apples and oranges.
Returning to the topic at hand, there will always be a winner if the sexes are compared in one discipline. But to attempt to match them head to head in their full capacity is insanity. When comparing such dissimilar situations, “first” loses its punch. It is only better when the things compared are on par with each other. The man’s firstness means not that he is better, but that, like the king C.S. Lewis so ably describes, he must “be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in [his] land” (The Horse and His Boy). While Lewis talks of the role of a king, the man fills that same role in his family. (While you’re about it, go ahead and read that whole scene. The debate on firstness and responsibility is quite pertinent.) Female secondness is the nurturing beauty to be found throughout L.M. Montgomery’s books, and it’s summed up in her quote about keeping house: “I love keeping house…it’s really a lovely phrase isn’t it? Keeping it…holding it fast against the world…against all the forces trying to tear it open” (Mistress Pat). The “benefits” of primacy are so often emphasized; less often is the reality of the heavy responsibility and duties mentioned. On the other hand, the wife’s position under the head is usually presented with all its tasks and none of its joys.
The husband functions as well in the family without the wife as the mind does without the heart or the mouth without the stomach. Likewise, the wife’s role is dependent on the husband’s as the stomach is on the mouth. Two mouths and no stomach never benefited anybody. Just as a basketball team has a point guard and posts (and coaches and referees), so each role is distinct and needed and part of the whole.
The analogy of basketball also reminds us that we are not defined by our role; a distinctly feminist sentiment, yes, but one they get wrong. They, along with most of the rest of modern civilization, believe that folks are defined only by what they choose to define them, whether it be gender identity, hobbies (gamer, golfer), physical attributes (blonde, athlete), or political belief. Contrary to that popular opinion, however, there exists only One who can define us, and He already has. Anything we choose to define ourselves is fleeting and can change—athletic prowess declines with age, political parties disappoint, and hobbies evolve and become uninteresting and unfulfilling. But our status as children of God cannot change; it was given by our very Maker. “God created all men equal,” G.K. Chesterton said, “and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man” (What I Saw In America).
A world that attempts to reject God’s assignation of roles and identity to create its own “equality” is bound to fail, for we are physically, mentally, and even spiritually unequal. The absolute only equality of humankind comes from our unique, beautiful, and equal dignity as a human being, a soul made in the image and likeness of God. Deep down inside, we all know this, but in the attempt to divorce the concept from God, we founder in the face of the task’s impossibility. We grasp at straws, and those straws make an awfully poor house.
So, yes, the husband has headship in the household. He is not better, nor worse, than his wife fundamentally, but simply has different rights and responsibilities as an individual. The woman, in turn, has her rights and responsibilities. And they are worlds apart, incomparable, but complementary. These roles are rather like gravity—as long as we fight to overpower or overcome it, we will fall, but if we accept it and work with it, using it as it was made to be used, we can leverage that power. Our gravity is natural law, and operating under natural law is, and will always be, easier.