You Don’t Have To Take Your Clothes Off To Be Egalitarian

I used to be a complementarian.

I believed that a wife was called to submit to her husband. I believed it enough that when I got married and wrote my own vows, I included “obey” in them.

Granted, this was a lot more about the words than any kind of actual submitting. I’m not sure we ever really sorted out what “biblical headship” or “biblical submission” looked like. Mostly we just treated each other with love and respect and if we ran into an area where we disagreed, we’d figure out who felt more strongly about it and let that be our guide. But the label we would have used would have definitely been complementarian.
'After love making' photo (c) 2008, Matthew Romack - license:

But there was always one place where mutuality reigned, and that was the bedroom.

When we read 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, everything in that passage screamed mutual submission. We weren’t in charge of our own bodies, but we were to give them willingly, mutually to one another.

Sex. An act where we were told over and over that women are supposed to be givers and men are supposed to be takers, this was where mutuality was supposed to occur. An act where we are at our most vulnerable and exposed, we were to treat one another as equals.

Eventually the questions overwhelmed me. Why would God make me equal to my husband when we were getting it on, but not when we were getting a new car? Why would we submit to one another when we were making a baby, but not when we were making parenting decisions? Why would we be partners in the bedroom, but leader and submissive in the living room (well, unless the kids weren’t around and you know…)?

However, mutuality in the bedroom certainly worked. It meant that we both had power, but that we also both had an obligation to use that power responsibly. It meant that we were both entitled to pleasure, but that we had to be generous with pleasure. It meant that we belonged to one another. We didn’t have to rely on tired stereotypes of how sex was supposed to work with one person as the initiator and the other simply going along for the ride, instead we were free to enjoy it freely, without either of us being forced into constricting roles.

Surely if it could work for something as complicated as sex, it could work in the other areas of our marriage.

We found that stripping off the complementarian label was as easy as stripping off our clothes. Because the truth is, we didn’t have to take our clothes off to celebrate equality in marriage.

Though, damn if that isn’t still my favorite way.


This post is a part of Rachel Held Evans’s Week of Mutuality: One in Christ. Be sure to follow the #mutuality2012 hashtag on Twitter for more participants in this synchroblog.

  • Findo

    A very thought provoking piece, thanks.
    I’m starting to think that neither label is helpful. While I would previously have identified as (gently) complimentarian, for me, the depiction of complimentarianism you give here is not one I can relate to. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I’ve never heard anyone say that “women are supposed to be givers and men are supposed to be takers” in regards to sex. I’ve always understood complimentarianism to involve mutual submission and the bearing of responsibility for the sake of the other, not only in the bedroom, but in all things (Christ’s sacrificial servant love for his bride etc.). Perhaps I’m wrong to understand it including that?Perhaps the labels actually overlap somewhat at a certain point on the spectrum?I think that labels are only a useful shorthand if they are generally accurate in what it conjures up in the minds of others (e.g., when I claim the label of ‘protestant’ what that brings to mind is usually accurate). I just don’t know anymore if either label is helpful for me to use. I’m guessing I’m not the only one, either.But is it even possible to avoid having one label or the other? I don’t know…Can I be an egalitarian complimentarian or a complimentarian egalitarian?  

    • Alise Wright

      I will say that when I self-identified as complementarian, I never felt like Jason had more value than I did and I feel confident in saying that he felt the same. We were equal. However, there was this nebulous “leader” title out there for him. I don’t think we ever really nailed down what that meant because it was never really something that we needed. We are both talkers, so I think before anything ever got to a place where someone had to “lead,” we had sorted things out as a couple. So we were egalitarian before we ever WERE egalitarian, if that makes sense.

      Honestly, this is a lot of my problem with the complementarian idea. Not that it exists, but that the second that it tries to define itself, things can get problematic. What does it mean to lead in a partnership? If it’s individual (and in my experience, many complementarians would say that it is), then how is that different from being egalitarian where we just decide who is good at something and do that?

      As for the sex thing, my experience is definitely that women are told that men want/need sex and we need to provide it. And while I don’t disagree with that at all, I think we have missed the flip side of that almost entirely. I NEED sex, and not just for closeness (which seems to be the only need that women are allowed to have). I don’t think that’s solely a complementarian idea, but I see it with more prevalence in that community.

      • Findo

        I was taught very early on that true leadership was servanthood – Jesus being the model. So I’ve never understood leadership to be about bossing people around or serving oneself, but to be the footwasher who serves for the good of others. 
        Whatever Paul says to husbands about leading their families, he tells them also to love their wives as he loves his bride – sacrificially, giving up his own life for her. I don’t think it is ‘individual’ – I don’t think marriage is really about two individuals, per se, but a new union.  Paul tells husbands to do it with mutual submissionWhy wouldn’t that involve each person utilising their strengths within the relationship?

        And when I read egalitarians tell complimentarians that they’re really just acting like egalitarians, it irks me a little, because it means we’ve failed to recognise that there’s a whole bunch of shared values and ideals within the two views. At a certain point on the spectrum, there is considerable overlap. Too often we argue against the ones on the far end of the spectrum as if they were representative of those much closer to us.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    This is great! Thanks Alise.

  • suzannah {the smitten word}

    this is wonderful:)

  • Kim Van Brunt

    Awesome post, Alise. Love the parallels you draw, and especially love that last line! :)

  • Jessica Schafer

    LOVE. :)

  • Vicki


  • Heather

    I’ve been looking for ways to put into words what I know to be true in my heart and this is so helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  • pastordt

    Like you, this is a totally unique and spot-on way to approach this so tender subject! LOVE it. (I the first 3 lines are my story, too. Exactly.)

  • Sarah Bessey

    Love it, Alise! Way to bring some wisdom and fun to the discussion.

  • Tamara Lunardo

    “Though, damn if that isn’t still my favorite way.” Hahaha! Love it.

  • Leanne Penny

    love it, what a completely unique and honest perspective on mutuality.  

  • Forrest Horn

    great post Alise!  I really enjoy your writing!  

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  • Miles O’Neal

    This is the first time I have come across your blog (thanks, Rachel). All I can say is, “Brilliant!” I ‘ll be reading more.

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  • KR Wordgazer

    Delightful, and so true.

  • Victorious

    Excellent, Alise!  Thank you!

  • Barbara


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  • Renee

    I’ve always felt that if someone genuinely held a complementarian perspective, but the man also did what the Bible says he should (love and respect his wife as he loves and respects himself), the couple would end up just acting exactly as egalitarians do. The man might in theory be in charge of making the decisions…but if he loved and respected her as much as he loves and respects himself, he’d insist that she tell him what she thinks and feels, would insist on never ending a discussion or argument while she’s still unhappy with the conclusion, and would take her feelings and desires to be as important as his own, and if she felt more strongly than he, would take her feelings and desires to be decisive, rather than his own. So you’d end up in practice with the same situation as if you were just explicitly egalitarian.

    That’s why I’m an egalitarian. Of all the Christian couples I’ve seen, either they’re egalitarians in practice if not in theory, or they’re genuinely non-egalitarian, but what that means in practice is that the man doesn’t respect his wife as much as he should and that his desires and feelings are treated as much more important than hers.

    I always used to assume there was a third option and it’s just that most complementarians were getting it wrong. But logically, I don’t even see a space for a third option…and have definitely never witnessed it.

  • Aadel Bussinger

    I totally get where you are coming from. My husband and I were complimentarian in name only. There was a time when I was “submissive” ie – gracious while he wasn’t interested in God. But when we got over that hurdle we always trusted, treated, and respected mutually. I’ve never come right out and said we are egalitarian, but everything we live is about “one-another” – that the Bible clearly shows a mutual submission, even in relationships like parent/child. It’s about being brothers and sisters in Christ.