See if you can spot what’s wrong in this exchange: one Sunday morning, in the foyer at church, I ran into an acquaintance from back in high school. She raved about my outfit and then asked, “Where did you get it?” I said, “I don’t know, my husband picked it out for me.” She stared at me like I’d just grown another head and said, “You actually let a man make fashion choices for you?”
Did you catch that? I managed to laugh it off at the time, although I’m sure I gave her a strange look—since, after all, she’d just gotten done complimenting my husband’s “fashion choices.” But another week, another woman came along with another comment I didn’t brush away so easily. This lovely lady and I already knew we didn’t see eye to eye on some things, but hey, we were civil enough most of the time.
This one day, though, maybe it was because she and I and a group of others had spent the whole morning at a church volunteer training, and we were already wearing on each other. Maybe it was because she’d been taking cutesy little pot shots at me the whole time, questioning my connections and my cooking skills and my upbringing. Maybe I was already a little on edge by the time I was chatting with another individual in the group about a home improvement project my husband and I were working on, only to be loudly interrupted by this woman. Completely unbidden, with her very best wide-eyed look of shocked condescension, she cried out, “And you actually trust your husband to do that?”
I remember he didn’t see what the big deal was until I started crying and blurted out, “Yes, I trust my husband to do that! This is the adult, Christian man I married... the man I became one with... the man I trust as much as I trust myself. How dare she try to put me down by making fun of my husband?”
“Oh,” my husband said. “Well, when you put it that way, I guess what she said was pretty insulting.”
Then, spontaneously answering a question she has clearly been asked more than once, in a tone that suggested she’d delivered this response in her head many times before, she blurted out, “And yes, I trust my husband to watch our child... he is her father!”
Not long after that, the topic came up again in a leadership development meeting among ministry students at our church. We were talking about our spouses as partners in our ministries, and another woman suddenly blurted out, “And my husband does not babysit our kids—he parents them!”
Eerily enough, the next day, she came across a post entitled “My Husband is Not a Babysitter, He’s a Parent” and sent it to the rest of us. As I read it, I sat there pondering an epidemic: women who hurt women by tearing down husbands.
These types of unique little digs and thinly disguised attacks are peculiar and telling in that they don’t hurt men directly. If anything, men find them amusing or accurate. How many men do you know who will happily play along as the dope who can’t boil water or change a diaper? No, these particular digs against men are meant for other women. When you put down my husband, you are putting me down. And I gotta tell ya, either way, it’s not okay.
By the way, if female superiority is the aim of the game, you might be rather disappointed to find out how quickly and easily men see through this behavior. The night I went crying to my husband about the mean thing another woman said about him, he shrugged and said, “She’s just jealous. I bet her husband isn’t helping to paint the living room.”
Dang. I’d been all tied up in knots and bewilderment, asking why women can be so nasty—right in church, even!—and there my husband left me drop-jawed with realization. Without a nanosecond of analysis, it seemed, he hit the nail on the head.
Now, trust me, gals, I could get into all the layers of insecurity I see in women’s sniping little comments about other women’s husbands, but that’s just sore comfort in the face of hurtful behavior that tells much more about the people doing it than about the people it's being done to. And sisters, we’re supposed to be encouraging one another and building each other up in the Word, right? So I’m not going to turn around and get mean and nasty here myself (even though it’s really, really tempting).
This week, a Facebook friend shared a link that got me pondering a deeper cause of the man-dismissive disorder among wives and mothers. This is about more than just female-assumed, male-accepted incompetence on the parts of our menfolk. This gets into a perception of husbanding and fathering as optional roles, and that’s really, really disturbing, when you think about it. It’s as though we—women, men, society in general—still generally presume that if a man is present in his marriage and in his family, he’s doing us a favor. (Trigger the jealousy reflex in marriages where he’s not doing her those “favors.”) In other words, we’re still, consciously or subconsciously, de-valuing half of the human race. When we see a man who juggles work, marriage, kids, and housework alongside his wife, we think She’s so lucky instead of He’s a noble man.
In a post titled, “My Husband and I Are a Team—Please Stop Saying He's Helping Me!” one mom cuts to the heart of it:
At a recent kiddie party, while discussing the challenges of raising four littles, a fellow Mom asked: 'Do you guys have help?' To which I replied, 'No,' as in my mind, 'help' is what I would request of someone to assist in something I’d rather someone else do, like clean my house, provide nanny services, etc.
By definition, 'help' is '[making] it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or resources.'
Another parent was listening in, and quickly jumped on me stating, 'Yes you do, you have your husband!' in a snippy tone, insinuating I lied and should shush up. It felt gross and dismissive. But got me thinking about why it didn’t sit right with me...
We need to hold dads to the same standard of significance as we do mothers. His role should not be implied voluntary, and a mother’s mandatory."
So why now assume he is superfluous to your whims and fancies? Your husband is not an optional accessory to your parenting plan. My husband is not a target for your hostilities against men. The perception starts changing when we stop putting up with it. Stop rolling over and feigning a smile and letting other women undermine the foundation of your home. If you’re thinking, My husband will never step up like that, maybe that’s because you talk about him the way the world does. Maybe you’ve been so conditioned to assume he’s going to let you down that you haven’t given him a chance to prove you wrong.
I'm saying this to you in love, my dears, because I have been that wife, mocking and criticizing and battling in jest. Incidentally, I also read a post this week titled, “Stop Being a Butthole Wife.” Go ahead, go read that one, too. I’ll wait.
Here’s the thing, ladies: our words have power. We have the God-given power to speak life into our husbands and into each other. Our words also have the power to destroy—intentionally or unintentionally. Every half-decent book of marriage advice will tell you to watch your words and avoid tearing down your husband. But I’m here to tell you: don’t do it to my husband, either. It's not funny. It's not cute. It's not welcome. You have no idea the challenges my husband has overcome to become the man he is today. You have no idea where we’ve been or what we’ve been through or what it’s taken for us to learn what we’ve learned.
You, ma’am, do not know my husband’s failures. I do. And they are safe with me.
I will protect my husband’s shortcomings to the death. He will do the same for me. You will never see either of us complaining about each other to our coworkers or whining about each other to our family members or rolling our eyes behind each other’s backs. You know why? Because it starts with us. You will see that I respect and admire my husband. You will see that my husband honors and praises me. This is how we choose to impact our community through our marriage partnership. Not because our marriage is perfect—because we’ve learned the hard and hurtful way. Because we’ve spent enough time tearing down enough people and being torn down in return, and it’s exhausting and debilitating. Because as we continue to learn to value each other in new and surprising ways, as we seek to glorify the Lord with our love for one another—as clumsy and cantankerous as we can be—then our marriage is a sweetness and a sanctuary where we can both find rest from a world that’s constantly trying to pit us against one another.
Our marriage is a blessing. And if that triggers your jealousy reflex… if you feel like making some snide or sarcastic comeback right about now… then I’d ask that maybe you try teaming up instead of lashing out. See what happens when you stand up for marriage, instead of tearing it down. It can start with you, too.