Public Square

What’s Missing from the American Dream for Women? Look to the Cultural Mandate.

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Every now and then I read a blog post that lights a spark in me.

Luma Simms’s article, “How Women Should Rethink the American Dream,” recently published on The Federalist website, is one such post.

As a young female professional, companies and pollsters are constantly trying to label me and make me conform to cultural “norms.” Because of my age and gender, I should be a feminist, pro-choice, socialist, vegetarian, and probably a regular supporter of PETA and a shopper at Target (okay, the part about Target is true).

I do not fit the “mold” social media claims I should fit. I often feel out of place in popular culture and even politics. Who represents me in the world? Who speaks for me on a stage? Honestly, very few.

Simms understands this feeling of alienation very well. While most people in her family become doctors, lawyers, or engineers, she became a stay-at-home mother (gasp!).

Even within her own family, she has a hard time defending her choice to forgo a typical “career.” On top of that, she too has been tempted by our culture to live the American Dream and get all the goods (big house, luxury car, fancy degree).

But she blew me away when she calls foul. She says,

Like the peasants gathered around Marie-Antoinette’s palace shouting for bread, we gather around our politicians demanding a piece of the American Dream. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the American Dream is not a job and a house.

The American Dream has nothing to do with material luxury, and in fact is not exclusively American. Simms declares,

The American Dream is a call to create a society with the space to pursue what in history was known as God’s cultural mandate to male and female alike: ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.’

If you are familiar with IFWE’s content, the cultural mandate is the call to action, the definitive order. Simms hits the nail on the head by uniting these two concepts.

The real American Dream represents our inner-most desires to create and live a full life as our Maker intended. The cultural mandate is the explanation for those desires – God made us to work, and he wrote that onto our hearts.

Our culture has exploited many of those desires toward material and harmful ends. That feeling of alienation I’ve experienced? That was my inability to see the space in society that is meant for me, that God has given me to serve him and work for his kingdom.

The lie that society is dispelling to women like me is that there is only one proper way to be successful in today’s world, almost rewriting the American Dream to be exclusive to women. It is usually packaged as “men have been more successful at X than women, so women should try to dominate this field. If you don’t follow along, you’re betraying yourself.”

At the root, society has told women to chase after a fiction that is grounded on a falsehood: women and men are in competition with each other. Simms explains why it is deceptive:

The human person, whether male or female, is created and called unto a work – a vocation – not as a class, but as persons…just like not all men were created to be engineers, not all women were created to do the same work.

So much of current culture is treating women like one class and one singular group, which is just a lie built on lies. They say women should work outside the home to be truly fulfilled; women should not have families because men don’t have to in order to be considered successful. All these “shoulds” are irrelevant. The only mandate that matters is the one God gave us. How truly liberating that is!

God made each of us uniquely, and yet he expects each of us to work. Of course it will be different for each woman. The unity we have as women comes from the fact that our Creator made us to work alongside men for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom and glory. The particulars (my job, your education, her income level) do not matter as long as we do what God wants us to do. And this is what Simms calls the real American Dream:

Fundamentally, then, the cultural mandate means we pursue what we were created to be without fear…women at peace with being women.

How can we begin to be at peace with our distinct womanliness in a culture that is trying very hard to erase it away by intimidation and lies? It begins by claiming the space in society that is rightfully ours to begin with. I should not let the popular culture intimidate me because it is fundamentally wrong. I can rest in faith that God wants me to be here. He gave me a mission to accomplish, and he will be delighted when I willingly take up my station in this culture.

Simms’s call to action is for every woman to “reach for the American Dream that is at your fingertips, no matter if it’s changing a diaper or heading foreign policy studies.” She is so right, and we women have a tough road to forge.

We always feel alienated by the culture, but unfortunately many have also been alienated by misunderstanding God’s cultural mandate and call to flourish. Simms notes that women have a responsibility to “recover the space in our society for people to pursue again humanity’s calling.”

If you believe in biblical flourishing and God’s call to stewardship in your life, you can start immediately. You only need to see that everything around you is an opportunity to fulfill the cultural mandate God has put in your life.

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  • Victoria

    I don’t think anyone claims women shouldn’t have children or be a stay-at-home mom. They’re saying there has historically been an inequality and a lack of choice. Women should be able to choose to be a stay-at-home mom or not. That had historically not been the case. Even in the history of Christianity, the belief has been that the actual God-given purpose of women is to help their husband and have children, which is horrible; it is horrible to say that a person exists for the use of another person. That is what is being fought by at least my understanding of the feminist.

    St. John Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio, Book 6, Ch. 8: “There are in the world a great many situations that weaken the conscientiousness of the soul. First and foremost of these are dealings with women. In his concern for the male sex, the superior may not forget the females, who need greater care precisely because of their ready inclination to sin. In this situation the evil enemy can find many ways to creep in secretly. For the eye of woman touches and disturbs our soul – and not only the eye of the unbridled woman, but that of the decent one as well.”

    St. Augustine’s On Genesis, Book IX, 5,9: “Or if it was not for help in producing children that a wife was made for the man, then what other help was she made for? If it was to till the earth together with him, there was as yet no hard toil to need such assistance; and if there had been the need, a male would have made a better help. The same can be said abut companionship, should he grow tired of solitude. How much more agreeably, after all, for conviviality and conversation would two male friends live together on equal terms than man and wife? … For these reasons I cannot work out what help a wife could have been made to provide the man with, if you take away the purpose of childbearing.”

    Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, Question 123: “For the female needs the male, not merely for the sake of generation, as in the case of other animals, but also for the sake of government, since the male is both more perfect in reasoning and stronger in his powers… Again, it seems obviously inappropriate for a woman to be able to put away her husband, because a wife is naturally subject to her husband as governor, and it is not within the power of a person subject to another to depart from his rule. So, it would be against the natural order if a wife were able to abandon her husband.”

    Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum: “Other again have propounded other reasons why there are more superstitious women found than men. And the first is, that they are more credulous; and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he rather attacks them. See Ecclesiasticus xix: He that is quick to believe is light-minded, and shall be diminished. The second reason is, that women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit; and that when they use this quality well they are very good, but when they use it ill they are very evil… The third reason is that they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from the fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know; and, since they are weak, they find an easy and secret manner of vindicating themselves by witchcraft.
    But because in these times this perfidy is more often found in women than in men, as we learn by actual experience, if anyone is curious as to the reason, we may add to what has already been said the following: that since they are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft.
    For as regards intellect, or the understanding of spiritual things, they seem to be of a different nature from men; a fact which is vouched for by the logic of the authorities, backed by various examples from the Scriptures. Terence says: Women are intellectually like children. And Lactantius (Institutiones, III): No woman understood philosophy except Temeste. And Proverbs xi, as it were describing a woman, says: As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.
    But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.”

    Konrad Pellikan, Commentaria Bibiorum: “Having been taught that she was taken from the body of the man, a wife should not be proud or disdainful but should look up to the source of her existence; she should honor and cherish and allow herself to be ruled and instructed by her husband… The woman should have remained silent and pointed right away to her husband…. From the example of their first mother, the more insolent among women here learn to gab with strangers, disobedience, lying, ingratitude, treachery, gluttony, pride, to strive for things forbidden and to desire what has been denied.”

    Wolfgang Musculus, In Mosis Genesim Plenissimi Commentarii (the bit about woman’s creation in Gen. chapter 2): “Note here that the formation of woman was undertaken for the man’s sake…. But it is also set forth for husbands’ consideration that they ought to embrace their wives lovingly, for they were prepared and destined for them when they were conceived and fashioned in the maternal womb…. a wife is destined by God for each man before he is born…. She is the one whom the Lord destined for you in her mother’s womb, and he formed her to be such as he is…. a woman is prepared for the man and placed alongside him so that the companionship and intimacy that they share living together may be undivided, not like that of animals who come together but once a year for procreation and afterwards wander off separately and unrestrained. A wife ought to be so yoked to her husband that she is inseparable from him…. Wives are given by God for this, or rather they are formed for this, that they may be helpers of their husbands. She who is unable to help her husband cannot duly fulfill the role of wife. But a woman’s help is of three kinds. First, for procreating offspring. The womanly sex was created for this above all, so that from the legitimate conjunction of a man and a woman the human race would be led to that fullness of its multiplication… A woman’s second kind of help is, as a wife, to offer her husband a remedy against the temptations of fornication and illicit lust…. The third kind of help prepared for men in the formation of the female sex is economic: namely, that a wife ought to accomodate her labor to her husband by administering the home, managing household affairs, educating children, and other things of this sort…. Indeed, the husband occupies first place, and the more important aspectsof the household economy belong to his care; but those things that are secondary and referred to the care of the wife are more or less comparable, so that a husband labors in vain unless his wife faithfully fulfills her duties. Many things have to be managed by her in the absence of her husband, and a worthy matron illumines her home with the splendor of her diligence— just as the moon shines in the absence of the sun.”

    John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet: “First, I say, that woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As St. Paul does reason in these words: “Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was not created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therefore ought the woman to have a power upon her head” [1 Cor. 11:8-10] (that is, a cover in sign of subjection). Of which words it is plain that the apostle means, that woman in her greatest perfection should have known that man was lord above her; and therefore that she should never have pretended any kind of superiority above him, no more than do the angels above God the Creator, or above Christ their head. So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man.”

    This is a very small portion of not only the hugely influential comments made, but a small portion of the ones recorded that I have come across. This is what we are fighting against. Woman can have as great and fulfilling a relationship with God on her on terms and by herself as without, and is no less than man.

    • Sam

      Perhaps a look at God’s Word would shed some light on this issue: “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor 11:8-9). Sadly, you have accused God of being horrible for creating woman to help her husband and have children, both of which are beautiful, glorious tasks. I believe that our Creator knows better than you. The fact that men and women have different roles does not imply that women are less valuable or significant. It is possible to be equal in value while being different in role. Let us remember the Lord Jesus who, being equal with God the Father, willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s will, even to the point of dying for sinners like us.

      • Victoria

        Sir, I am not claiming that God is horrible for creating woman to help her husband; I think God has not created woman to help her husband. He has created her to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, with or without a man, because her value and fulfillment and happiness are in no way dependent on a man. I do not exist to make any man’s life easier; I exist for my God. I do not need a man; I need only myself and my God and this vast beautiful world. For a woman to help her husband and have children voluntarily may be a beautiful, glorious thing, and perhaps one I will take part in someday; but it is never my God-given purpose or greatest end. Finally, I think the variety of personalities and capabilities in men and women alike antiquate this idea that women are necessarily better than men at domestic tasks are men better at professional ones. Do you truly agree with the things I cited from the church fathers? If so, I pity you and the women in your life. God bless you, and I hope this is not truly your thought; you are in my prayers.

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