¿Qué es el papel? – What is the ___?
That’s an easy one, it’s ‘paper’. Hm? Why’d the mark it wrong? Oh. The word they wanted was ‘role’. ‘Role’ is from the early 17th century: from obsolete French roule ‘roll,’ referring originally to the roll of paper on which the actor’s part was written. An actor’s role is generally fairly flexible. If there’s a word that is misspelled, out of order, out of character, then it can easily be corrected, erased, or replaced. Not only that, an actor’s role changes from one commercial, television show, or movie to the next. Who or what they are is not set in stone.
Since roughly the 1960s, Christianity has created a number of words to describe it’s new theology: “complementarianism” “biblical manhood” “biblical womanhood” “godly masculinity” “godly femininity” “gender roles”. These concepts might have existed in other forms with other names: “patriarchy” “gentleman” “lady”. From the ‘Muscular Christianity’ of the 1850s to the ‘Masculine Christianity’ of the modern Neo-Calvinists, and from the ‘Cult of Domesticity’ also in the 1800s to today’s ‘biblical womanhood’, men and women have spent generations arguing over just what their roles are in society, in faith traditions, and in their very own homes.
As I said, we tend toward ‘one or the other’ sort of thinking. We don’t like to compromise or seek out the middle ground. So we tend to gravitate toward the extremes of pretty much everything. That’s why ‘Muscular Christianity’ ultimately failed. It’s emphasis on masculinity and muscles worked in favor of the men that were inclined to exercise, but it did nothing for more intellectual men. After all, muscles don’t make Christians, and Christians don’t always make muscles. ‘The Cult of Domesticity (a.k.a. True Womanhood)’ was always on shaky grounds given that poorer women have often found work for lack of having choices when it came down to the necessities. Some of it’s teachings were explained in terms of women being inferior and men being superior, which is something that today a great many of us – men and women alike – would heartily disagree with. It also proved impossible to maintained as in war-time women were needed at the factories. It became apparent that women were very much capable of doing the same work as the men. It should be noted that these movements were usually a fixation of the wealthy, who had plenty of time on their hands to worry about such things. Since the wealthy were usually white, there wasn’t much diversity among their adherents.
Going further back, people are researching the written materials from the middle ages and trying to understand how they viewed the roles of men and women in society. Much like the ‘Cult of Domesticity’, women were expected to remain in the homes and much like ‘Biblical Manhood’, men were expected to be the breadwinners. Peasants (poorer men and women from the lower classes) were expected to work the land of their lord, giving him a share of the crops they raised. As a richer man, the lord was often a part of the court and could exemplify the masculinity of knights, counts, dukes, or other positions of power. Their wives could exemplify the femininity of great ladies, countesses, duchesses, or other stations of life. Each culture, it seems, has their own history where the same story is played out – just with different names. Much of it has likely been lost to time – but even now people are questioning whether or not women in Ancient Rome went through a similar revolution in their own time where they went against the grain of cultural norms.
Perhaps our roles aren’t so much to define who can live in what way, but to challenge the normal world around us to do better and be different to benefit the succeeding generations. At any rate, Christians can hardly claim to have figured it all out – in many ways it’s the same argument as it’s predecessors and it may very well be only a matter of time before it too fades away. But I suppose it’s adherents can take heart in the fact that it’s only a matter of time before it’s popularity returns. I don’t think that our roles are carved in stone, but written on paper and it is up to us to decide what it says and how we will them out.