You don’t have to be involved in many discussions on the issue of gender roles in the New Testament and the church today before someone cites the ‘culture Paul / Peter was writing to.’
They usually argue that the culture ‘back then’ was different. Women weren’t educated, had no opportunities to grow, teach, express themselves, attain to leadership positions. Paul was going along with some of the cultural assumptions he had inherited from the ancient world, so as to earn Christianity a hearing.
But our culture now is far more progressive. Things are different now, it is argued, and so our understanding of the roles of men and women must also progress from where it was ‘back then.’
One of the (several) things that is wrong with this argument is that it often assumes a simplistic and monolithic view of gender roles and identity across all swaths of society in the Roman world. But such was not the case then, as it is not the case now.
As a man who lives with and cherishes his wife and three daughters, there are few things that I find as frustrating as seeing young girls demean their value and objectify themselves by the way they dress. Many of the styles young girls find themselves drawn to these days make me wonder, ‘Why are they wearing anything at all?’
Feminism has won the right for women to dress however they want, right? Men have forever been hushed, and trained not to speak about what a woman wears, right? But here’s the thing: A house divided against itself cannot stand. If the goal of feminism was to increase our awareness of the inherent value and dignity of women, but the clothes they choose to wear actually diminish their dignity and value, which side wins? And if we, as men, know that we think differently about inappropriately dressed women, but don’t say something then aren’t we in fact contributing to the diminishing of the display of the dignity and value of women?