I thought they were my friends, they were strong, attractive, Spanish guys. We were in the same honors math classes together.
I wore a powder blue fitted dress with white patent leather pumps. The heels were carved of stacked wood, but the dress hit the 4″ above the knee rule.
That day those men started talking.
About my legs.
Having taken French I wasn’t exactly sure what they were saying.
But the way they said it.
The tone, the eyes, the elbowing.
I knew even before the translation.
The dress changed the way they saw me. And I had worn it, not to be eye-candy, but because I felt delicious in those colors.
Chauvinism in my high school?
Or was is simply appreciation of my legs?
What is a Chauvinist?
According to The American Heritage Dictionary (my fav) chauvinism is “Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind”.
Prejudiced belief, that means beliefs untried with the people of this world.
I’ve met chauvinists in church green rooms after a sermon. I’ve shared a stage with them. I’ve worked for them, lived with them, shared meals with them and even dated them. They don’t all look like Dwight Schrute or talk like Michael Scott or score like Jack Donaghy.
Some of the men I’ve loved the most are chauvinists. They assume things that blow their cover.
They eat first.
They are exempt from serving someone outside their gender, group, class.
They are in charge, no matter what the subject, place or need of the moment.
They are top dog.
Three Ingredients in Chauvinists
If you want a quick test for the first tell-tale sign of a chauvinist, look for lack of empathy.
The second is their drive. Chauvinist are driven by the dual engine of immaturity and insecurity.
Take my friend, Saul, for example (don’t worry, that’s not his real name). When we get together, he assumes everyone wants to hear his stories. He rarely asks others for their opinion, nor does he ask them about their experiences. And he cannot listen without spring-boarding, using my example to tell a larger, louder, longer story.
Saul never got a chance to grieve some very damaging events in his teen years. He is emotionally immature. So in some ways after dinner with him, I feel like I’ve had dinner with a junior higher. I feel like I’ve served him, but he’s assumed he entertained me all evening.
His Me Monster behavior indicates, also, that he cannot tolerate competition or someone else gaining control.
Saul’s life is a model example of fallen masculinity, the third aspect and philosophical foundation for male chauvinism.
The code of fallen masculinity says that a “real man” will out-compete others, out control others and finally (and most significantly) have a steady disdain for women. For more see, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s My Brother’s Keeper.
If a man disdains a woman (just as if a woman disdains a man) he will not come right out and state it. Rather, he will show you, by small freighted statements.
Let me give you some examples.
“You throw like a girl.” A clear example of disdain for women, letting a novice female arm insult a boy’s desire to learn. Let’s just say you throw poorly, as we all have to learn.
“Sissy, pansy, pussy.” All of which use slang aspects of women to insult a man.
“Dumb blondes.” Are they ever thinking of a guy with yellow hair?
“Woman drivers.” Not usually a compliment.
“Women can’t publicly preach (or lead, or direct, or manage) men. They are distracting (or too emotional, or weak, or irrational, or just plain unfit). If you think, as I did, that the Bible is clear about this and a woman’s role, compare Judges 4:4, 2 Chron 34:22 with 2 Tim 2:12-15. For more see my essay with Dale, Unmuted.
“Putting on a little weight there, aren’t you?” to a pregnant woman. How could you ever mistake a woman’s new life in her womb for extra cellulite?
“My wife could never be the main bread winner.” This one needs follow-up. Why?
“I bring home the bacon, I don’t cook it.”
“Gotta check with the wife.” This one is subtle disrespect, as it includes a statement of asking permission, but all while reducing the personhood of one’s spouse. Another version, “The woman can’t get out her in time.”
“You have all day to vacuum the living room. Don’t do it now while I’m in here.” I heard this statement this last week
“Women have roles.” Though a non-chauvinist could say this, it is less common. I find it most interesting that it is often men commanding women at large to get back into the role God ordained for them (insecurity over what will happen if a woman is in charge of . . . a man?!). Even if Scripture mandated roles (something I no longer see) it would be women’s responsibility before God to find that place, not a man’s to put her there. Also, interesting that the opposite is less common, “Men have roles!”
“Sorry, honey, but this might be just an area you have to submit to me.” Ignoring Ephesians 5:21.
“Since Paul says the marriage bed is undefiled and I am the head of this home, my sexual gratification should be your number one priority. And I want this . . .” Refusing to see the context of the marriage bed being undefiled (for more see Heb 13:4). Refusing to understand that head is a metaphor literally turned on its head in Eph. 5, to mean first of all service, giving up all rights, including the right to live (“laying down his life” Eph 5:25 and 28).
and my personal favorite,
“God made men more rational, therefore He asked men to have the tie-breaking vote, to make all final decisions in the home.” What root grows this statement? Some might say it’s the natural outworking of submission or headship from the New Testament. I disagree, as the healthiest husbands I know do not pull the submission card, nor state how they make final decisions. Rather healthy marriages in practice look like two equals working out of their giftedness, not playing their prescribed gender roles. (for more on this please see Unmuted: The Welcome Colors of a Woman’s Voice).
Think these statements are outdated?
I’ve heard them all in the last 10 years.
Can you tell how each of the above statements are motivated by lack of empathy, insecurity, immaturity and fallen masculinity? For more on one of the roots for male domination of women see the book or my review When a Man You Love is Abused, by Cecil Murphey.
If you’d like more elaboration or explanation of any statements in this list (e.g. How exactly is is chauvinistic to think that the man should make all final decisions?), please ask in the comments.
Not all Chauvinists are Men
Here’s the most important part of this post: you and I are in as much danger of chauvinism as any white male. Why?
First, women are a (small or large?) part of keeping chauvinists enabled, empowered and cheered forward simply by believing that men are inherently better.
Often, it’s because we actually believe there is nothing so magnificent or noble as a male. Part of this is good, think of the old marriage vow “with my body I thee worship.” But another part is not good . . . I think of Kate Winslet’s character’s comment to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the excellent book and movie, Revolutionary Road.
“Don’t you know what you are?” Winslet.
“You’re the most beautiful thing in all the world . . . a man.” Winslet.
Now I’m for mutual admiration and desire in marriage, but a man is not the crown of creation and neither is the woman. If you want a crown of creation, it’s the two working together (Gen 2:23-25).
And if you believe women are overall better human beings just by virtue of their femaleness, you are also a chauvinist… a female chauvinist. I’ve seen it in church circles when men or women claim to be more spiritual, more moral, more enlightened, or in any other ways superior in worth to a man. Want some female chauvinist statements? ask me.
How to Treat a Chauvinist
How do you treat a child who is immature, insecure and wounded?
You love her. You listen, you wait and you empathize with her world. Until you find her open to hearing from you. Unless she is your student or child, you do not blast into her world with statements like “You are an immature, insecure mess!”
How do you treat a full grown man who is immature, insecure and wounded?
The exact same way.
I’ve bit my tongue more than once when grown men with beards and degrees and power tip their chauvinistic cards.
I recall a crowded room dominated by testosterone where I met a well-traveled apologist. I invited him to engage with me about the subject of Christian feminist with the question,”How does that argument line up with what Christian feminists believe?” The room quieted.
“Christian feminists?” he snorted. “They don’t exist.”
I smiled briefly and went back to the buffet to calm down. I knew what I wanted to say,
“I beg your pardon, you’re speaking to one.”
But, I don’t think that was the way to win him. He certainly wasn’t looking for relief from his misconception, neither were the other men in that room.
Instead, I worked with respect and peace on the panel next to him. I disagreed about some of the ways he answered the theological questions and I shared them.
But I did not disarm him of his view that Christian feminists don’t exist.
Jesus said it well, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
How do we keep from chauvinism ourselves? How do we foster empathy and ward off insecurity, immaturity, the fallen male code?
That’s for another post, for I can say right now . . .
If you can battle your insecurity with courageous voyaging into your soul . . . (for instance, discover what keeps you from having an open mind in certain areas)
If you can discover the places you are not yet an adult (I recommend Changes That Heal by Cloud and Townsend and the Holy Spirit for that journey) . . .
If you can cultivate empathy so that you can understand the root of chauvinism, then . . .
you are living worthy of being called a child of the Most High. You are refusing to be a clashing cymbal, rather . . .
you are a fragrance of the kingdom that has no end, where Truth Slips her hands through Beauty’s arm and Goodness graces every person, ever race, every gender.
Postscript . . . Chauvinism is NOT the Same as Chivalry
Because I have a deep concern to love the men in my life, because I’m also wary of being called a flaming femi-Nazi, I want to be clear about a few things that are NOT chauvinistic.
It is not chauvinistic to open a door for a woman, just as it’s not chauvinistic for a woman to bandage a man’s sliced arm. This is what it looks like to use our strengths to serve the opposite sex.
And it’s sexy and cool and utterly fitted to this fallen world where we need each other. We are not independent one from the other, as Paul said, “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Cor 11:11).
When the Spanish guys in my high school complimented my legs I don’t think they were being chauvinists, not yet. It began when they began referring to me by “Legs,” when I stopped being a peer with them and went to being an object for them.
Chauvinism is the enemy of friendship, love, servanthood.
So when L on our construction site asks me if I need help along the icy hill, I accept it and appreciate him, knowing he is using his awareness and strength to help me out.
Helping those outside of our gender, group or kind is not chauvinism, rather its the opposite.