Of machismo, marianismo, and complementarianism

I happened across The Gospel Coalition’s Spanish-language version of their ministry and was suddenly struck by a note of worry. You see, America’s egalitarian values limit the church’s impact. But not all countries have the benefit of our particular point of view. Other cultures have other beliefs by other sources. In Spanish-speaking countries, there’s already a prevalent machismo in place. It’s an emphasis on hyper-masculinity, setting up certain standards as the only true standards for manly men. Wikipedia notes that “machos in Iberian-descended cultures are expected to possess and display bravery, courage and strength as well as wisdom and leadership, and ser macho (literally, “to be a macho“) was an aspiration for all boys.” It comes with it something of a disdain for feminine characteristics among men. Violence is also not a stranger to the movement in that it is men one upping one another in an attempt to show which of them is the strongest. It’s basically a version of patriarchy that emphasizes masculine gender roles.

It includes marianismo, which asserts that the ideal woman is emotional, kind, instinctive, whimsical, docile, compliant, vulnerable, and unassertive. She has a higher status in the community if she has children (especially male children) and is a caring mother. She is also pious and observant of religious law.

So when Complementarianism is brought into the picture which emphasizes the authority of men over their wives and the submission of women to their husbands – it’s taking something that’s already a cultural practice, baptizing it, and sanctifying it for Christian purposes – but it doesn’t really change what’s going it – rather, it makes it more legitimate with the approval and backing of God himself.

The problem is that the two things are incompatible. For example, Complementarainism says that there’s such a thing as an error of passivity and an error of aggression. Men can be either wimps or tyrants, women can be either doormats or usurpers. Women in marianismo are taught to strive for being docile, compliant, and unassertive – which is certainly closer to the former than the latter. Whereas the men are taught to be agressively masculine, overtly prideful – it lends more strength to the tendency for the latter error rather than the former. Throw in Complementarianism into the mix and that just adds onto the pressure that it has to be this way because it’s the way that God wants it to be.

There is a tendency to think of this sort of machismo as an entirely negative thing – and yet there’s few Christian men who see their toned-down version of masculinity as being equally negative despite it being a softer version of the same ideas. Nobody seems to think that the women have it quite right in Complementarianism and too few know what women in marianismo are tasked with giving up for the sake of complying with these cultural and soon to be biblical expectations. Really, it seems to me that machismo and marianismo are the self-same ideas of Complementarianism carried out to it’s logical conclusion without America’s cultural idiosyncrasies to hold them back to limit how far it does go. But it also seems that pouring on complementarianism onto this cultural gender roles teaching is akin to dousing a fire with gasoline. Telling the men to “let up” or “be softer” would be telling them to become more feminine in a sense, telling the women to “be assertive” or “step up” would be telling them to become more masculine in a sense – particularly in their own cultural understanding of these ideas. Odds are it’s just not going to go over very well.

The thing is, the story of Jesus isn’t one about masculinity and femininity; he didn’t come that men might become perfectly masculine and that women might become perfectly feminine; that men might assert their authoritative leadership and women might defer submissively as they follow the leader. He came saying that “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – that anyone can be saved, man, woman, eunuch – anyone and everyone. This is the gospel that we’re called to share. Teaching about gender roles, male headship, female submission – this isn’t the gospel and it never will be. So while the Gospel Coalition hires men to preach about masculinity and raises up women to write to women about femininity, it’s certainly not spreading the good news about Jesus – the only way, the only truth, and the only life. If they think that Complementarianism is their ticket into heaven, they’ll find out sooner or later how sorely mistaken they are.

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2 thoughts on “Of machismo, marianismo, and complementarianism

  1. “If they think that Complementarianism is their ticket into heaven, they’ll find out sooner or later how sorely mistaken they are.”

    I’m not a big fan of the Gospel Coalition, so I wouldn’t normally defend them, but I’m certain they would not agree with this idea that “complementarianism is their ticket to heaven.” Certain members of TGC may harp on this idea an inordinate amount, to the point of it being distracting and unhealthy, but even they wouldn’t agree with the statement above that you’ve put into their mouths.

    The Eighth Commandment tells us that we ought not bear false testimony against our neighbors. Putting words in people’s mouths that they would never say is certainly a breaking of this command. Unless you can provide evidence that they believe this statement, I would encourage you to revise it or take it down.

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    1. TGC isn’t the only group professing complementarian theology, 9 Marks, Acts 29, and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are the larger groups among countless smaller ones that all preach the gospel of gender. Looking at the Danvers Statement (http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/the-danvers-statement/), they worry that the wrong understanding of Scripture on the subject of gender roles will cause people to question the authority of the Bible itself. They add: “We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these prin-
      ciples will lead to increasingly destructive consequences
      in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.”
      They just have one interpretation, one understanding of the gospel. How Jesus died to redeem gender roles, how he fixed submission to be like they were before the fall. Without Jesus fixing complementarianism, we’d be lost and families would suffer without male headship.

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