John Piper’s seeming obsession with women and physical strength.
John Piper seems to be quite concerned about physically strong women. So concerned that he literally makes up fantastical problems for women who become muscular through workouts. I bet you think I am exaggerating. I’m not but I wish I were.
Have you heard about a book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? This book is consistently recommended by the Calvinista crowd as the best book on gender roles. TWW recommends that Christians be aware of the content of this book because there is some pretty bizarre stuff in there. Do not buy it. Here is the entire PDF for free.
Did you know that Piper claims (without any documentation, mind you) that muscular women do not have significant conversations with their lovers but have volatile and unsatisfying sex lives instead? The more muscular they get, the less they will be treated sensitively by men!
A few years ago, TWW posted John Piper: On Election, Sin and the Painful Lives of Muscular Women.Here is an excerpt from that post.
I cannot believe that I am writing about this. A reader sent me an email alerting me to another bizarre comment by Piper. I was totally unconvinced that even Piper could say such a thing. I went directly to the source and there it was, in black and white. Here is the entire PDF for the book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The following quote was written by Piper although a number of people contributed to the this document
(Start Piper quote from book)
“Consider what is lost when women attempt to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive. It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club.
But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying.
The image of a masculine musculature may beget arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine ”
(End Piper quote from book)
I believe this discussion of muscular women to be bizarre. My husband spends a lot of time telling all of his patients to exercise. He is a cardiologist and it is well known that an exercise program strengthens the heart (Note to Piper: The heart is a muscular organ).
Recently, Piper has been writing more on physical strength and gender roles. Much of it has to do with being concerned about women in roles in the military and law enforcement. Basically he is concerned about the physical fitness of women in general for roles that have been traditionally filled by men.
The military, women, and physical capability
There is no question that foot soldiers, throughout the millennia, were usually men of great strength. Traveling great distances and hauling extremely heavy and difficult implements of war (trebuchets, cannons, cannon balls, etc.) was not for the faint of heart.
However, women have long been involved in wars, functioning as nurses, doctors and medical technicians as well as helping to bring supplies to the front. In fact, the profession of nursing got its start due to a brave young woman who rejected a proposal of marriage due to her *active nature.* Florence Nightingale trained as a nurse and eventually set about caring for soldiers during the Crimean conflict.
In 1849, Nightingale refused a marriage proposal from a “suitable” gentleman, Richard Monckton Milnes, who had pursued her for years. She explained her reason for turning him down, saying that while he stimulated her intellectually and romantically, her “moral…active nature” called for something beyond a domestic life. (One biographer has suggested that the rejection of marriage to Milnes was not in fact an outright refusal.) Determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents’ objections, Nightingale eventually enrolled as a nursing student in 1850 and ’51 at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany.
…In October of 1853, the Crimean War broke out. Allied British and French forces were at war against the Russian Empire for control of Ottoman territory. Thousands of British soldiers were sent to the Black Sea, where supplies quickly dwindled. By 1854, no fewer than 18,000 soldiers had been admitted into military hospitals.
At the time, there were no female nurses stationed at hospitals in the Crimea. After the Battle of Alma, England was in an uproar about the neglect of their ill and injured soldiers, who not only lacked sufficient medical attention due to hospitals being horribly understaffed but also languished in appallingly unsanitary conditions.
In late 1854, Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the sick and fallen soldiers in the Crimea. Given full control of the operation, she quickly assembled a team of almost three dozen nurses from a variety of religious orders and sailed with them to the Crimea just a few days later.
Although they had been warned of the horrid conditions there, nothing could have prepared Nightingale and her nurses for what they saw when they arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople. The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and the building itself. Patients lay in their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried past them. The most basic supplies, such as bandages and soap, grew increasingly scarce as the number of ill and wounded steadily increased. Even water needed to be rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.
…The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work. She procured hundreds of scrub brushes and asked the least infirm patients to scrub the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient. The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her “the Lady with the Lamp.” Others simply called her “the Angel of the Crimea.” Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.
In addition to vastly improving the sanitary conditions of the hospital, Nightingale instituted an “invalid’s kitchen” where appealing food for patients with special dietary requirements was prepared. She also established a laundry so that patients would have clean linens. as well as a classroom and library for intellectual stimulation and entertainment.
From that time on, women would be an integral part of providing medical care for those in combat. For some, this sacrificial service on the part of mostly female nurses was studiously ignored because only “men went into battle.” Yet, those women helped to carry supplies, medical tents and equipment, as well as the bodies of the wounded and dying.
Slowly the sacrifice of those nurses became recognized. Nurses earned the right to buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorials were dedicated in their honor. Here are links to some of those memorials for nurses: WW1, Civil War and Vietnam (this memorial celebrated all women in that war but most of them were nurses. See link.)
Women have long been part of war and it is sad that many men who are involved in the gender role battles turn a blind eye to their sacrifice, claiming combat is only for men.
Did women serve in military roles in ancient history?
John Piper and women in combat: He claims it is a physical thing.
John Piper wrote The Folly of Men Arming Women for Combat.
I am not against any job, military or civilian, having a required list of minimum physical strength standards that must be met in order to do the job. For example, to be a nurse in one rehab facility in my area, the nurse must be able to hold a 25 pound weight on her outstretched arms. However, the standards must be truly realistic for the needs of the job.
Here is Piper’s rationale for the disqualification of women in combat.
Now USA Today reports that the minimal standards for strength set by the marines are on hold because half the women in boot camp can’t do three pull-ups. They’re on hold as “part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.”
Pull-ups aren’t arbitrary. They require, say the soldiers, “the muscular strength necessary to perform common military tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing up a rope, or lifting and carrying heavy munitions.” Why the hold-up on the pull-up minimum? “The risk of losing recruits and hurting retention of women already in the service was unacceptably high.”
There are a number of questions I have about this statement. Most folks know that such tests are waived for those who are going to provide medical care to combatants. Does every recruit need to be able to do pull ups in order to do their job? For example, it appears that women can shoot just as well as men and some say maybe a bit better.
As time goes on, there will be more and more military positions available that do not require the ability to do pull-ups or haul heavy munitions. I believe that John Piper is well aware of this fact and is ignoring it. After he discussed soldiers *concerns,* without providing any context or even a link to a study that expresses those concerns, he turned away from the physical strength argument and said the following. It is all about cultural choreography! Huh?
That’s the main issue, not pull-ups. The main issue is: how God has designed manhood and womanhood to honor each other and to create a cultural choreography where men and women flourish.
He makes little sense in his argument here.We are apparently becoming suicidal for ignoring the choreographed dance.
I draw attention to the folly of men arming women for combat, and men adjusting military standards for political reasons, so that Christian pastors and parents will clarify for their people and their children how differently God sees things, so that we do not all just go with the suicidal flow.
Piper says women are the weaker vessel and that term literally means *physically weaker.*
In Honor Your Wife as the Weaker Vessel Piper says that 1 Peter 3:7 means that the wife has the weaker body.
Vessel” probably means body, as in 2 Corinthians 4:7.
Therefore, Peter is simply saying in 1 Peter 3:7 that, in general, the woman will have the weaker body.
He then goes on to make his point that a woman has weaker physical strength. For instance, there are no sports in the Olympics that pit men against women although that may change in the sport of shooting in the near future.
There is also an NBA and a WNBA, acknowledging that men are generally larger and stronger.
The same is true in golf and tennis.
Beyond sports, only 3% of construction workers, 13% of police, and 15% of military are women.
Almost everyone would say that generally men have a genetic physical advantage (strength and stamina).
He used the word *generally.* Yes, men are usually bigger and stronger than women when defined by muscle mass. However, there are some women who are bigger and stronger than some men. It seems to me that Piper deliberately skips over this observation. I know some men who are smaller and/or less strong than I am. Does that mean I am not a *weaker vessel* when I am around those men?
Generally, men will beat women at tennis but some women will beat some men at tennis as demonstrated by the match between Billy Jean King and Bobbie Riggs.
Let’s take a look at his statistics for the military. Here is a chart that I found.
Women started getting admitted to the military academies in 1976 (West Point) and Annapolis in 1980. As time goes on, there is little doubt that the percentage of women in the military will inch upwards as the number of women attracted to the benefits of military training continuing to rise.
It appears that both men and women are equally competent when flying airplanes which may be one of the reasons that the greatest percentages of women in the military is in the Air Force.
Here is an interesting perspective about the value of women on police forces in The Role of Women in Policing Today. It appears that brute force strength is not the only thing needed. Did you know that female officers often COMPLEMENT the male officers. Now where have we heard that word before?
Over the past few decades, policing and police officers have changed. Policing used to lean heavily toward physical attributes, such as height, weight and brute strength. Over time, the attributes that were thought to make a good police officer have shifted. The job still requires a great level of physical fitness; however, what’s more important now is good ethical character, and excellent interpersonal, problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
This shift can be attributed to a new, proactive style of policing called “community policing”.
…Women bring a unique dynamic to policing and female officers are often competent in crucial components of community policing. Generally, women are good communicators with great interpersonal skills. While this is important to policing as a whole, it’s especially helpful in situations where victims feel more comfortable discussing the details of a crime with a female officer.
Female officers complement their male partners and can provide an alternate perspective on a problem. Women often approach and solve problems from a different angle than their male counterparts.
Women have more stamina then men, contrary to Piper’s assertions. In Women DO have more stamina than men and will soon be beating them in marathons
Males are typically powerful but women have a greater power of endurance
This makes females better at endurance events, Canadian research suggests
Men became more fatigued much faster than females did in tests
…He said that while there was not a standardised ‘ultra-marathon’ distance, ‘We know from previous research that for events like ultra-trail running, males may complete them faster but females are considerably less tired by the end.
‘If ever an ultra-ultra-marathon is developed, women may well dominate in that arena.’
Previous studies on isometric contractions – where muscles and joints don’t move – have already shown women have greater muscle endurance.
My point is not to prove that women are, in general, bigger and stronger than men. They aren’t. My point is to say that they may excel in areas such as stamina and may be equal to men when it comes to shooting and flying airplanes as well as helping police manage situations that call for strong interpersonal relationships.
Piper does not like women being portrayed as physically strong.
In his post Do Men Owe Women a Special Kind of Care? Piper has this to say.
It fits the half-century-old gender-leveling current of the culture. But current is too weak a word. Torrent or avalanche would be more accurate. One need only sample the movies and TV shows of recent years to see the increasing passion with which women are portrayed as being just as physically strong, harsh, impudent, violent, arrogant, vulgar, two-timing, and sexually aggressive as any macho male hero.
One wonders if this passion for the portrayal of Annie Get Your Gun on steroids is perhaps owing to the rising sense that there is something in nature that won’t adapt to our egalitarian portrayal. The stubbornness of God-given nature, then, creates the need for the egalitarian message to be more forceful, even preternatural (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Superwoman). Such are the trials of those who try to recreate what God made otherwise.
Piper makes what I believe to be a serious mistake in his concern about women being portrayed as powerful. He is essentially judging men and women on the basis of their strength or their lack of strength. This is a subtle form of discrimination that leads to serious difficulties for his belief in proper gender roles.
When Piper uses the physical strength as the basis of the difference between men and women, he boxes himself into a corner. Five years ago, TWW wrote Ian and Larissa: A Complicated Story of Love, Spiritual Authority and Agendas. There are a number of issues in this story but I want to focus on the issue of strength. Ian was in a serious car accident and he has permanent brain damage. He is mostly confined to a wheelchair and is unable to work or contribute to maintaining the household in any meaningful way. His wife, Larissa, is the strong one. She works, brings in the money, manages the house and helps her husband to move from bed to chair-obviously using her strength to do so.
Piper claims that Ian is still the spiritual leader of this family. However, if we apply Piper’s concern about physically stronger women being outside of a biblical gender role, Larissa is violating that every day.
Sadly, Piper equates physical strength in women with violence, arrogance, etc. since that is what is portrayed in Hollywood with macho men. How odd. Does he do the same thing with his gospel men? If they are physically strong, are they violent, aggressive, harsh and impudent?
Some women are stronger than some men. Some men are crude and aggressive like some women. However, the gospel of Christ teaches us to be good stewards of the life that God has given us. If he has given a woman superior strength and she uses this to serve her community as a policewoman, then she is following His will. If a man is handicapped by cerebral palsy and is unable to demonstrate any physical strength whatsoever, he is no less a man than a Navy Seal Team member.
We are putting men and women into boxes when we judge them by strength and by profession. There are men in the Armed Forces who are not strong physically yet they are geniuses in inventing programs to surveil enemy territory without making physically strong people risk their lives by diving behind enemy lines. There are women in the Armed Forces who are going into harm’s way to give medical care to the physically strong who have been shot and are now physically incapacitated.
There are some women who are physically weaker than some men, serving in a law enforcement capacity. They can use martial arts, Tasers and guns to protect themselves. They are using their gifts to bring a touch of humanity to the police force. An all male police force will be less effective without the input of women just like many churches are less effective when women are sidelined from contributing to the functioning of the church.
I believe we all have gifts to offer in the service of our country and of each other. When physical strength becomes the marker for what differentiates a man from a woman, it has become an idol for those who are having difficulty trying to define the differences between the roles for men and women. To judge one another on strength is just one more non-biblical measurement which can, and does, lead to unnecessary role discrimination.
The gender folks are going to have to try harder to define the differences between men and women if that is so important to them. When the focus is on physical strength, that dog won’t hunt.