Heretic in the House

I don’t exactly get along with James Dobson and Focus on the Family. For the record, our worldviews are fundamentally opposed. At least that’s what they told me. I dared to suggest there might be a logical endpoint for the command to multiply and fill the earth. Apparently I’m wrong, and that means I’m a heretic.

I’m OK with that.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I disagree with other things Dobson stands for. With fundamentally opposed worldviews, it’s bound to happen. But I guess I’m still surprised. I naively think we can all just get along.

This time around it’s gender roles. I’ve heard about the views espoused in Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys before, but this time it really sunk in. Dobson belongs to the old school of gender roles, where men are men and women are women. Gender roles are sharply defined, and crossing those lines is a “straight” path to homosexuality. Apparently dads are supposed to wrestle with their boys, stock their toy boxes with play guns, encourage them to play sports, and — I wish I was making this up — shower with toddler-aged boys to show them what a penis looks like. If a father fails in those things, the boy is bound to be gay.

T-ball was the extent of my childhood sports career, I rarely wrestled with my dad, and I definitely didn’t shower with him. While I did play with plenty of guns, that’s only 1 for 4. I must be three-quarters gay. My wife played with G.I. Joes as a child, so our marriage is pretty much whacked.

This is the kind of 1950s mindset that firmly divides domestic chores from manly tasks. This is the mindset that declares men as the only fit breadwinners and women as the only fit nurturers. This is the mindset that squeezes people into boxes that don’t fit. This results in non-athletic boys (like myself) and non-girly girls feeling unnatural, like something is wrong with us.

This is the mentality that in part crippled my parents’ marriage. Rigidly defined roles left the overwhelming housework to my mom while my dad sat back to be served. It goes deeper than that, but anyone could see the tension it caused.

This is the kind of mentality that leads to (gasp!) homophobia. I’m not condoning homosexuality, but it exists and you have to face it. Washing dishes and playing sports has little to do with sexual orientation. Homosexuality is a deeper issue than mere gender roles. You’d think we could get past the manly pride stereotype.

I know Focus on the Family and James Dobson do some great stuff. They stand up for some important causes and do good work. But sometimes they support things I just don’t understand. And what really baffles me is how many people give Dobson and Focus on the Family unwavering, unquestioning support. Unfortunately, ideological lemmings exist on throughout the spectrum.

7 thoughts on “Heretic in the House”

  1. Wow, espousing antiquated gender roles…I wonder if there is a new trend coming along to return to the “basics” of family roles. I certainly hope not. As a female who generally is cynical and unromantic to the hilt, I would be thrown back into a role with which I am greatly unfamiliar. I am not a nurturer in the least: If I have my way (which, I know, isn’t always God’s way), I would never be married and would never have children. I just don’t have it in me to be as nuturing and gentle as one needs to be with small children. School-aged children, yes; others that are completely dependent on me for everything? Nope. I am fiercely independent and do not like others to be dependent on me for much of anything.

    And, as far as gender roles while growing up: I am the girl who was in 4H, tearing apart and putting together a lawn mower engine with my father instead of baking and sewing like the other girls. I was and am my father’s daughter. Cleaning pieces in gasoline, cutting fingers on piston rings…all of that…My father wanted a son…and he got a “tomboy” daughter instead.

    It is an interesting thing to witness, though, a heterosexual male who had a very feminine manner and a heterosexual female with a masculine manner. It is also interesting to witness the opposite: a very masculine male homosexual and a very feminine female homosexual. It shows us that forcing gender roles may not be the way to circumvent homosexuality. A female can have a very masculine manner and be completely heterosexual and vice versa. One can be raised in a way traditionally “against” their gender and still be heterosexual. One can also be forced into a traditional gender role growing up and in turn revolt against it as homosexual. It’s the classic story of the father’s living his dream through his sports-playing son, only to find out that this son has homosexual feelings.

    I guess I am writing an essay on here (heheh) to say that I agree with a lot of what you’ve said.

    And, as a side note, it seems a bit ironic to say that it is necessary to shower with your small male child as a father in order to show him what penises look like when you don’t want him to be that interested in penises when he grows up…

  2. I haven’t read the book but my opinions of the man are none too good, and…hm. I found this entry comforting.

    My mother wants to read that book and keeps asking me to look for it at the library for her. Thankfully, it’s been checked out. It’s rather ironic. I’m trying to monitor what my mother reads…argh.

    She’s so into FOTF and it upsets me terribly, because she’s smarter than that.

  3. I don’t agree with Dobson about everything, but there’s been more than a few times where I agree with him. I’ve never read Bringing Up Boys, but his radio work led me to believe that while he believes in the ‘traditional’ family, I don’t think he means having the husband sit back while the wife serves him.

    I’ve never read that book of his, but the one I have read (forget the name of it), and some of his other stuff hasn’t suggested that to me. I could say better if I had more experience with the guy.

  4. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book, though I did skim parts of it, enough to get the jist. It’s certainly possible I misunderstood things or took things out of context.

    I think the biggest difficulty I have is his premise. He argues that males and females are different (and they certainly are) and that we should embrace our natural differences. So if men are aggressive and women are nurturing, that’s the way God designed it and we should stick with God’s plan. That sounds well and good, but my nature is also to be lustful, to be a jerk, and to have a big head. Those are my natural tendencies, but it doesn’t mean they’re good and God-ordained. They’re sin. I’m not trying to say male agressiveness is sinful, I’m just saying it’s a tough argument to claim some natural tendencies are God-ordained and others aren’t.

    It becomes especially problematic when these gender tendencies aren’t universal. As many times as Dobson says this doesn’t apply to everybody, he comes across as saying the woman’s role is in the home and the man’s is making money and if you don’t do that you’re a borderline heretic.

    What amazes is me is how many things I’ve disagreed with FOTF on, yet so many people think FOTF can do no wrong. It’s as if they don’t realize everything the ministry stands for. I know I was in that spot at one time.

    For a while (I don’t know if he still is) Dobson was encouraging parents to pull their kids out of public schools, especially in California. I’m just very leery of that kind of reactionary approach to culture. I know there’s a lot of crap going on in the world at large and we need to be careful, especially when it comes to our kids, but I’m just not sure about Dobson’s kind of careful.

    And getting blacklisted certainly helps to establish a bias on my end. ;-)

  5. Blacklisted? You were, or FOTF was? and why?

    Admittedly, I’m no expert on marital relations, but someone has to take charge from time to time: as CS Lewis pointed out, it can’t always be a democracy, as there’s only two of you.

    From my reading of Paul on the subject, there probably is some kind of headship ordained, but it sure as heck doesn’t have to do with sitting back and being served by someone involved. Being the head of anything in the Christian sense is never that, and from what I’ve heard Dobson say on the subject, I THINK he’d agree.

    No doubt, though. Thinking FOTF can do no wrong is off the wall thinking completely: they get a case by case basis, like everyone else.

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