I’ve often been told that men have God-given, biblically mandated authority because of their greater strength. Women, we were told, are the weaker vessels. In nearly the same breath, I and other women were told to submit to this authority, this leadership, this masculine strength and power, to dress modestly, to obey whatever men told us. If we were abused, if we were not loved by our husbands, we only needed to submit more and everything would be OK. God would take care of the rest. He would deal with our husbands, our fathers, our pastors if they were wrong. We were to silently accept whatever happened in the meantime, or we were in sin.

The responsibility rested entirely on the woman or the child or the church member, even while the man or pastor boasted that he was granted authority by his masculinity, his strength. He was strong (but the woman was at fault if he lusted). He was strong (but if he didn’t love his wife it was because she wasn’t submissive enough). He was the strong one (but we were the ones expected, as women and children, to endure anything that happened). That doesn’t sound like strength to me.

How can a man be considered the strong one in the relationship if he blames everything on the other person, if the full weight of responsibility for the relationship and the man’s behavior rests on the woman, not the man? How can he even consider himself a leader if all responsibility is laid on someone else’s shoulders? Who is stronger, the one bearing the burden or the one telling her to bear it, and to bear it alone? And is there a leader in these situations? Leadership requires direction, not demand, and the best way to lead is by example.