Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Natural / Primary" Gender Responsibilities in Marriage: Each Couple Must Structure Their Own Marriage for It to Be Ideal

I think it is safe to say that men's and women's "natural / primary" roles throughout history in most societies can be described as "provider" and "nurturer" quite accurately - even though the vast majority of women throughout history also have worked "outside the home". (The idea that women traditionally have stayed home and raised the kids while the men worked outside the home simply isn't supportable.  Not working for compensation of some kind is a luxury, and most women throughout history have not had the luxury of even considering not working.)  Defining "primary" or "natural" roles is not a comment on anything other than the historical result of differing biology, since men generally have been bigger, stronger, faster, etc. than women - and women always have been vulnerable due to the effects of pregnancy and childbirth.

Given that reality, it is understandable to frame the "natural / primary" responsibilities assigned to or assumed by men and women in that light. The interesting thing about the Proclamation to the World, in my opinion, is that it appears to lay out this "natural" distinction and then say, in effect,

"Regardless of these natural responsibilities we inherit due strictly to biology and culture, the ideal marriage is one where such distinctions are erased - where each partner shares the other's responsibilities to some degree and acts as an equal partner with the other overall."

I understand completely how hard it is to accept that reading based on all the previous statements by leaders over the years, and the fact that "presiding over" still is used in various quotes, but the actual wording of the Proclamation says just that.  Further, it says that each couple is obligated to make whatever adaptations are necessary for their marriage to work as well as possible.  In essence, it says that the "ideal" is whatever works best for the individual couple - understanding that the "primary roles" are to provide and nurture.   In other words, as long as a couple are united in providing for and nourishing their children, they are fulfilling their responsibilities as parents. 

I view this as similar to the statement, "All men are created equal." First, it is the best they could do in their time (not including women in it); second, it articulated an ideal the society itself wasn't living (slavery) and couldn't live (and still doesn't live). Just as it was important to have the ideal written into a foundational government document, I think it's important to try to live and accept the ideal of the Proclamation with regard to raising one's children, even though our society (inside and outside the Church) isn't living and can't live it yet - and even though I believe the document itself is not perfect. 


bwv549 said...

I really like this analysis--very enlightening.

What do you make of the "By divine design" clause preceding the description of a father's duties? So, even while I like your conclusion, I'm not sure the wording of the Family Proclamation supports it very well. Maybe I'm missing something.

Papa D said...

I think that phrase is meant to apply to both roles, particularly since the next sentence after the spousal roles says, "In **these** sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to **help one another** as equal partners." I don't have a problem with using "by divine design" - simply because the statement was written by people who see the hand of God in it. I'm agnostic about it being divinely ordained or just biologically and culturally driven - but, in the end, it doesn't make any difference to the fact that the Proclamation says what I laid out in the post.

Just for anyone else who reads this, the key sentences from the Proclamation are:

"In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

"Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."

Notice, "other circumstances" is left unqualified and unlimited - and the adaptations to the general role assignments are left up to the individuals.