Sometimes I blog about controversial stuff… so I guess you could say that I’m relevant (whatever that means). Now, when it comes to the Christian evangelical doctrine of complementarianism, in the broader world of western society, it’s not really that controversial. In fact, it’s about as controversial as slavery. Is it okay to own another human being? Ask your average person on the street, and they will likely say, “No, of course not.” Do men have an inherent position of authority and/or leadership over women by virtue of the simple fact that they are men? Again, most people you’re likely to run into in your day-to-day life will say, “No, of course not.”
And yet, that is actually a belief that many Christians in our society hold (whether their lives reflect it or not). In fact, it is a view that many pastors reinforce and promote.
In case you’re somewhat unfamiliar with complemenatarianism, here’s a brief run-through. Complementarianism believes at its core that men and women are created with separate roles and responsibilities which serve to complement one another’s strengths and weaknesses. As stated, this is actually a really good thing, and I completely agree. I don’t want to get too far into the bushes, but a quick consideration of the plumbing of male and female genitalia will show you a complementarian element. My guess is that even the most egalitarian person would agree to complementarianism in this respect.
What isn’t usually mentioned upfront, but is always implied in complementarianism is that those roles and responsibility place men in an inherent positions of leadership and authority over women. Accordingly, God designed men to have the final say-so. Men are the leaders, and women complement their leadership by being good natural followers. This type of soft patriarchy is most often mentioned in relation to models of church leadership and family roles. So, women may teach in the church… but mostly just children and other women, and they can’t set doctrine, preach, cast vision, or make executive decisions for the church. Husbands and wives can (and should) make decisions together. But if there is an irreconcilable disagreement, it is up to the husband to have the final say.
To be sure, there are a litany of proof-texts to back up the complementarian position, and maybe some day I will take the time to show how a proper handling of those texts seldom if ever actually support this view. But for today, I want to talk about a unique parallel that I’ve noticed between this view and Daniel Tosh.
What, Daniel Tosh?
That’s right, boys and girls. Daniel Tosh.
There is an interesting idea in comedy (particularly stand-up) known as punching up. Perhaps you’ve noticed it in minority comedians (e.g., black, hispanic, LGBT). It usually happens when a comedian makes fun of wealthy, white, upper-class, cisgendered men. Comics like Chris Rock and George Lopez do this all the time. And, you know what? It’s funny. Why? Because, both historically and presently, those are the people who have held most of the power in our society. Why can blacks make fun of whites? Because of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Why can LGBTs make fun of straight people? Because of the Pulse shooting and Westboro Baptist. Why can women make fun of men? Because of domestic abuse and systemic mysogyny (see menanism and hip hop culture).
In other words, punching up allows systemically oppressed and marginalized people a way to use humor to even the playing field of social inequalities. It is okay for minorities and the like to employ snark, satire, sarcasm, and criticism against the non-minority since they are operating from a position of disadvantage.
The inverse of punching up is known as punching down (in case you didn’t piece that together already). This is where someone in a position of authority and power makes comments that further put down already-marginalized and oppressed people. A perfect example of this is the comedian Daniel Tosh:
Tosh has made a career of producing edgy comedy, and by “edgy” what I mean is he punches down… a lot. As a wealthy, white, cisgendered man, virtually everyone is below him in terms of social status. You’d think he would adopt a different approach to comedy (since there are many others). But, nope. Tosh consistently punches down on others.
“I do not permit a woman to…”
Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road for complementarianism. It would be one thing if women had been the ones to decide that complemenatarianism is the truly Christian perspective on gender roles. In fact, it would be one thing if women had even had an equal say on the matter. But it is something else entirely that complementarianism is a perspective that men have handed (and often forced) onto women.
Spend some time following egalitarian minister, theologian, and blogger Jory Micah on Twitter, and you can’t help but notice how often Christian men try to force complimentarianism on her (and get angry when she won’t drink the kool-aid). Why? Because that’s what you do when someone beneath you starts to assert themselves too much, you find the biggest book on your shelf (usually a dusty old KJV Bible) to beat them over the head with and put them back in their place. You’d think if conplementarianism were really the sort of burden-shouldering sacrifice that it is often made out to be, Christian men would be thankful for women wanting to join them in servant leadership, not irate and insistent that they shut up and just let the boys tell them what the Bible says/means.
But if we’re honest, complementarianism at its core isn’t about self-sacrificial love and service. It’s about hanging onto old power structures, and keeping women out of roles that would grant them authority and equal leadership. And with that in mind, I think it’s fair to say that John Piper and Daniel Tosh are a lot more alike than either of them would probably ever admit.