Ricky, Michelle, and Gender
It is indeed rare to hear the names Ricky Ricardo and Michelle Obama used in the same sentence. Ricky Ricardo was a fictional character played by Desi Arnaz opposite his real-life wife Lucille Ball in the iconic sitcom I Love Lucy. Michelle Obama served as real-life first lady of the United States for eight years and continues to attract great popularity in her post-White House years. What do a fictional television husband and an American president’s wife have in common? They both offer key insight into gender role misunderstandings in American society.
The comedic genius of Lucille Ball is legendary; thus, the show bearing her name is still viewed by many who enjoy the slapstick humor she created. Interestingly, the I Love Lucy show also gives a glimpse into how 1950’s America viewed gender roles, with the character of Ricky Ricardo treating his wife as much like a child as a spouse. After all, he is the one who gives her an allowance, corrects her wrongs, and oversees her schedule. All of this is served with a grand dose of irony, since it was Lucille Ball who insisted that the sponsoring network give her husband this role. Still, his on-air husbandly portrayal would not have seemed unusual to most men and women who tuned in for the show’s original airing.
Recently, Michelle Obama sat for an interview in which she discussed gender in American society. It may be that the question caught her off-guard since her response seemed a bit discombobulated; yet, at the end of her answer, she gave a most unusual addendum: “It’s powerful to have strong men, but what does strength mean? Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much, so they feel a little entitled? And, you know, a little self-righteous sometimes” […] “That’s kind of on us too, as women and mothers, as we nurture men and push girls to be perfect.” Though most likely not her intention, Mrs. Obama fell prey to the same stereotypical attitude toward men that Ricky Ricardo demonstrated toward women. Both portray the opposite gender as weak and in need of a guiding hand to aid them in survival.
If both of the aforementioned attitudes are found lacking, how does one learn the appropriate view towards gender roles? Culture is rarely the best teacher, so the truth about gender roles and relations can only be found from the Creator of both male and female. God’s standard concerning respect for the opposite gender is clearly laid out by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians. As a prelude to the discussion of the roles of husband and wife in marriage and as a conclusion to instructions for fellow saints, Paul commands for everyone “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV). Simply put, the apostle admonishes that every individual should put the interest of others before his or her own. How then are men and women to treat one another? Better than the treatment given to self.
The principle laid down in submitting to one another is fleshed out in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives. Husbands are given the command to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This lofty love is shown in a willingness to give up everything, including life itself, for the betterment of the wife. In turn, wives are commanded to respect their husbands. This respect is seen in an attitude that does not fight back against the line of authority God Himself has established in marriage. She accepts his headship and does everything within her power to work with her husband in the creation of a godly marriage and home.
Gender roles in marriage are based on equality; there is no treating one’s spouse as a child or as weak and in need of help. The apostle Peter made this clear when he instructed husbands to treat wives in an understanding way since “they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (I Peter 3:7 ESV). In fact, this principle stretches far beyond marriage, since both men and women must understand that all are on equal footing in the eyes of God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The ground is level at the foot of the cross!
Christians, therefore, do well to avoid disparaging the opposite gender; stereotypical jokes about male stubbornness or the fickleness of females should have no place for those who are equal in Christ Jesus. For a nation that has lost all sense of balance in matters of gender, Christians must stand and let their lights shine to both teach and demonstrate how men and women are to behave in relation to one another. As well, parents must never push their daughters to success with the motivation of “being better than the boys.” In turn, parents must never allow their sons to disparage girls as being inferior. Sadly, society is allowing both wrongs to occur, and the outcomes are troubling for both homes and churches. Christians must do better; Christians must reflect the values of their Creator.
The wonderful qualities of God are equally housed in both men and women. No matter what direction society may go, God’s people must respect these qualities and show an appreciation for God’s grand plan for both sexes. May each Christian man and women commit to setting the appropriate example in both word and deed to show a dark world the way back to God’s good standard.