Men and Women: a false gender dichotomy of being rational and emotional

People are emotional beings. Yet when it comes to classifying men and women it comes across differently, as Erica Limkeman recently observed:

Isn’t it telling that being “emotional” is considered a feminine quality and is frowned upon, whereas men are often admired for being “passionate.” Go figure. (Erica Limkeman.)

This is because emotional reactions are considered weak, while passion* is strong. It’s a false distinction, of course. What one person calls passionate another might call emotional. It depends on whether the action appears rational or not. And when it comes to being emotional or rational, there are plenty of examples of women and men displaying either.

Even in the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 25 David had not yet been crowned king over all of Israel as King Saul (David’s master) still reigned. David had been anointed as Saul’s successor but he and his men lived as wanderers. From time to time they needed new supplies.

Nabal was a rich farmer with vast flocks, herds and fields. David sent his men to Nabal, pointing out that they had kept watch over his lands to keep them safe from marauders. Nabal refused them any aid.

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. (1 Samuel 25:10-13.)

Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saw disaster approaching.

Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (1 Samuel 25:18-22.)

Abigail told David that her husband was a fool and not worth killing, and that he should accept the supplies she brought rather than carry out his plan for revenge. David agreed.

The Prudent Abigail, Juan Antonio de Frias y Escalante (1667), Museo del Prado

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” (1 Samuel 25:32-34.)

Soon after, Nabal died and Abigail married David. (1 Samuel 25:38-42.)

This story is a fascinating tale, and all the more so for the role reversals.

Take a look at the two main characters. Who let emotions dictate action? David. Who acted rationally? Abigail. In this whole event, Nabal’s a fool, David is ruled by anger and feeling unappreciated, and Abigail keeps her head and saves the day.

If she had not stepped in and advised David wisely and rationally, he’d have slaked his blood-thirst at the expense of gaining a powerful ally. Who was that ally? Again, it’s Abigail. From the interaction with her servants it looks like she already managed Nabal’s operations and it’s possible David took it all for himself when he married her.**

Anyone who says women are supposed to be emotional while men get to be rational is not only wrong; they deny the Bible itself. Emotions and clear thinking are found in both women and men.

That’s the way God made us.


*Passion itself can be problematic. See The Perils of Passionate Speech.

**If Nabal had male relatives, they might have laid claim to the estate. Whether David would honor that claim is another matter, seeing as how he felt justified to destroy it all when Nabal was still alive.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Men and Women: a false gender dichotomy of being rational and emotional

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Really good points and example, Tim. Unfortunately I think a lot of the time, whatever characteristic is associated (rightly or wrongly) with women is seen as lesser. Women are supposedly “more nurturing”–so nurturing tasks are unpaid or low-paid. I don’t mean to imply that the only way to value something is in financial terms; I just think it says a lot about what we prioritize and the often unfair stereotypes and dichotomies we set up.

    • Tim says:

      That’s an interesting way to analyze it, Jeannie. everyone agrees nurturing is good, but if we say it’s women’s work then we get to value it less in practical terms: less pay. What a twisted way to live.

  2. Angie says:

    Excellent point.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    With 15 – 20 feet of are people who will show the good and not so good of emotions. What was a good response no will not be correct later. Sensitivity – too sensitive or insensitive; decison making, decisive or cruel.
    Too many variables, yet we know who will help us all be better.

    • Tim says:

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at, PB.

      • Pastor_Bob says:

        Enough typos corrected by spell check I am lost too.

        I think it was supposed to say:
        Within 15 – 20 feet of us are people who will show the good and not so good of emotions. What was a good response now might not be correct later. Sensitivity – too sensitive or insensitive; decision making, decisive or cruel. Too many variables, yet we know WHO will help us all to be better.

        A comment on the general human condition, and the reliance on HE who provide guidance. I have seen rational women and irrational men. I have seen women act with wisdom while men acted on emotion. Sadly, I have seen the results of bad decisions -and yes, we all have. Mine is from the counseling perspective as well.

  4. Lea says:

    This ‘men aren’t emotional’ thing is one of my pet peeves. Anger is an emotion.

  5. Lea says:

    Also the Abigail story makes me think of something else. Risk avoidance is all about being rational, imo. So when you ask women to protect themselves by avoiding risk you are saying be rational (avoid that dark alley) not emotional (I should be able to go wherever I wish).

    Abigail was being rational and dealing with David, to avoid danger. Women do this literally all the time.

    • Tim says:

      The passage even says David praised her good judgment. He knew which of them was thinking rationally.

    • Terri says:

      Wow, you nailed that, Lea.

    • Terri says:

      I would add that I believe it’s rational in a more long-term sense for women to insist they get to go everywhere men go as safely as men do–it’s not a battle we can ever stop fighting without gradually losing more and more access to public spaces and anyplace outside our homes.

      But in a short-term sense, it’s totally rational to abide by predators’ policing of public spaces to control women’s movements in order to not be attacked.

      Abigail: One of my all-time favorite women.

  6. Muff Potter says:

    Good stuff Tim! How is it then that some Evangelicals tell us that certain roles are ordained by the Almighty, cast in concrete, and based solely on plumbing received at birth?

    • Come on guys. Seriously? It isn’t “some evangelicals” that imply that; it’s the Bible.

      • Tim says:

        No it’s not. Read my posts on women and men for a full explanation.

        • Tim, with all due respect, I have, but regardless of what we come up with to rationalize away gender roles as they’re clearly portrayed in Scripture, none of it negates what God has really said. We mustn’t be the Eves, questioning God when we ought to take Him at His word.

        • Tim says:

          I don’t question God or his word. I read it all and as a whole.

          Also Eve did no more than Adam since he was right there with her when Satan spoke to them in the Garden.

        • Tim says:

          P.S. The phrase “with all due respect” isn’t necessary. A comment is either respectful or its not.

        • Funny you should mention Adam being with Eve and that they’re equally held responsible since that’s where Paul backs up his allegedly sexist claims, stating that “Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman…” (1 Tim 2:13-14). I’m at a loss as to how duped we’ve become on this issue as the church. The obvious teaching in the Bible, as a whole, is being overlooked all in the name of an equality that God never says we don’t already have in Him; it’s those pesky gender roles that we can’t seem to reconcile as He does so beautifully.

        • Tim says:

          Paul was writing to a pastor in a city with a creation myth based on the superiority and primacy of women. His instructions have to be read in context, just like all of Scripture.

        • You lost me there. Creation myth what? Context is key, I completely agree. So what do we do with the rest of the Scripture that maintains gender roles and responsibilities? Contextually kick that to the curb, as well, because it doesn’t support the equal rights of both genders? Sometimes it’s wiser to just accept what the Bible says at face value (especially as a whole) and work within those boundaries that He gave us for our own good and for His glory.

        • Tim says:

          What do you do with the passages that show women leading God’s people? It’s ok, bibliolotor, we don’t need to agree or convince one another.

          But as for the context in Ephesus, it’s worth reading up on in order to get Paul’s context.

        • The same thing that you’re suggesting I do with Paul, read them contextually. We can agree to disagree, for sure. Thanks for engaging.

        • Lea says:

          “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman…” (1 Tim 2:13-14). … The obvious teaching in the Bible, as a whole, is being overlooked all in the name of an equality that God never says we don’t already have in Him”

          The ‘obvious’ teaching here is that Adam was sinning willingly and not at all confused. That’s not a good thing.

          “in the name of an equality that God never says we don’t already have in Him”

          Holy double negatives!

        • Tim says:

          Bibliolator, this comment sounds like you are trying to win an argument rather than engage in discussion. I will delete it in a moment.

        • Marg says:

          BB, Gender roles “clearly portrayed in Scripture”?
          You mean like David listening to and accepting Abigail’s inspired and faith-filled prophecy (recorded in 1 Samuel 25:28-31)?
          Or like Abigail going expressly against her husband’s wishes and being commended for it (1 Sam. 25:32-33)?
          Or, Abigail bravely (and diplomatically) meeting David who had 400 insulted men, each with a sword and intent on revenge?
          Or, Abigail being the one the servants go to for help and rescue?

          How many women are married to “fools” but do nothing about it because they worry it might go against supposed gender roles? (I’m not implying that men have a greater propensity to foolishness than women.)

        • As much as I’d love to engage, Marg, I’ve been deemed argumentative by Mr. Tim and my last reply to Lea deleted. Some men do have a greater propensity to foolishness 😉 I’ll look up the Scriptures you noted and the link, so if you’d like to continue discourse elsewhere, message me on my Facebook page. Godspeed!

      • Jeannie Prinsen says:

        I appreciate reading this comment because it makes me realize I don’t want to be someone who just shows up acting like they have it all figured out in advance. Thanks for the example and reminder!

  7. Yes. Agreed! (For the record, I’ve been thinking about this a ton lately.)

Talk to me (or don't)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.