Women in the Workplace: “Simply Supplementing”

Over at the Christian Pundit, Rebecca VanDoodewaard, wife of Professor William VanDoodeward of Puritan Reformed Seminary, has written an article calling for the return of clerks. Mrs. VanDoodewaard is concerned with the number of young men who are unemployed and who lack the experience typically required for most jobs. She believes that if businesses would begin to replace secretaries with clerks, then these men would be gainfully employed and gaining experience to allow them to work their way up in the business world. These men should be given priority in hiring over married women, all other qualifications being equal, because “a man could support himself and maybe a wife with the job that is simply supplementing a married woman’s household income.” Mrs. VanDoodewaard also believes that male clerks would reduce the temptation towards adultery in the workplace:

Think about it: having a woman who is not your wife helping you day in, day out opens up a huge avenue for emotional entanglements which often lead to physical ones. A clerk, while not removing the sin in your heart, will remove the opportunity, and that’s half the battle (Matt. 5:28-30).

I have a few observations I would like to make. Before I do so, I would like to make a disclaimer. I am not a feminist, in any way. I am blessed that my husband’s income provides for us in such a way that I can be a stay at home mom and homeschool our children. In a culture that ridicules men and treats husbands and fathers with such disdain, I believe there is great need to stand up for and show our respect for husbands and fathers. I also think it is important for all women to consider if the work they are doing (both inside and outside of the home) is helping or hindering their family.

That said, I will move on to my observations on Mrs. VanDoodewaard’s article. First, I’m not sure I understand why a new position of “clerk” needs to be created (or brought back). In most workplaces today, “secretary” has been replaced by “administrative assistant.” Can men not apply for these positions? Given that there are male admin assistants in many businesses across the country, I have to assume that men do indeed apply for these jobs and that they are being hired for them.

Second, I am greatly disturbed by Mrs. VanDoodewaard’s belief that women in secretarial jobs are “simply supplementing” the household income. She does note that the income may be needed, but she goes on to say that men should be hired preferentially, all other factors being equal:

But there are women working as secretaries whose income supplements their husband’s. I’m not saying that they don’t need the money, I’m not saying they should not work. I’m saying that where a man could support himself and maybe a wife with the job that is simply supplementing a married woman’s household income, then the man should get the job, competence being equal.

How exactly should businesses go about determining if woman is working to “simply supplement” her husband’s income or working because without her income there wouldn’t be food on the table or a roof over their heads or clothes on their backs? For example, my mother has worked nearly 40 years “simply supplementing” my father’s income so that he could pastor small congregations that had difficulty supporting a pastor. It was not about living a certain lifestyle or having nicer things. My mother’s income made sure we had clothes, food, and other basic needs.

While I’m sure there are women who are working for purely selfish reasons, the majority of women who work low-paying, secretarial jobs are working to help provide for their families. What does Mrs. VanDoodewaard suggest these women do instead? In the current economy, two incomes are often a necessity, not a luxury. Which brings me to my next observation.

There seems to be a desire by some today to return to an ideal society where men outside the home and women take care of all things domestic. I’m not suggesting that Mrs. VanDoodewaard has this desire or even expressed this desire in her article. There is, however, an underlying current in some circles that has an overly romantic view of how things used to be. In an predominantly agrarian society, like the colonial or pioneer eras, men mainly raised the crops and the livestock, and women mainly took care of the domestic chores. But all of the family worked hard to provide food, shelter, clothing, and other basic needs.

Industrialization brought changes, but the main tenet still held: all of the family worked hard to provide for the needs of the family. Only women in the upper classes could stay at home and tend to their families without a thought to providing income. Women of the lower classes worked. They worked as domestic help, in factories, in shops, as child minders, as teachers, as laundresses, and as seamstresses to name a few of the respectable jobs. The income of these women has never been “simply supplement.”

I’m sure Mrs. VanDoodewaard is correct that work place adultery is a serious problem. Given the number of women bosses these days, I’m afraid that male clerks would not necessarily create less of a problem. Men and women have to be careful and use great discretion in the workplace. I’m not sure that simply removing women from secretarial jobs will solve the problem given the numbers of women working professionally in all industries.

Lastly, I noticed that Mrs. VanDoodewaard is also a free-lance editor. Assuming she’s paid for this work, I wonder if there is a man who is unemployed and lacking experience who could benefit from her job?

18 thoughts on “Women in the Workplace: “Simply Supplementing”

  1. jilldomschot says:

    This is a good article that highlights much of what is wrong with the “women in the home, men in the workplace” paradigm–it essentially divides people along classist lines. As you say, throughout history, only wealthy women had the luxury to be merely domestic, and they employed female servants to perform their domestic jobs for them. If they were intelligent women, they managed their households like CEOs might (Proverbs 31 woman is a classic CEO), but lazier/less intelligent ones would not have had the wherewithal to do so. Classism in churches is rampant, however, and it’s a dirty little secret we don’t want to talk about because this is America (and that’s aside from the fact that Christians aren’t supposed to act that way). Complementarians believe they understand the sexes and their proper roles from a biblical perspective, but it seems they are only understanding the world from their current culture and environment. They’ve been blinded by our culture.


    • Rachel Miller says:

      Jill~ I am a complementarian. True complementarians do not have a problem with women having leadership roles in the workplace or government. There are authoritarians (often using the title Biblical Patriarchy) who claim complementarian, but really aren’t.


      • jilldomschot says:

        I can’t seem to find any agreement in the complementarian movement so, although I’ve read the general ideas that were spawned by the 1980s SB conference that spawned the use of the word, it seems to me that it’s primarily used to make broad, sweeping claims about how women are different to men and, therefore, must perform different functions. I choose to be egalitarian because it’s a better starting point, even though it’s also clearly a lie. People aren’t equal, but it’s not up to a religious movement to determine the ways people are different. Egalitarianism allows people to prove their strengths and weaknesses without bias. The term egalitarian also doesn’t prompt my spell-checker–it’s a concept that’s been around a long time. Complementarianism does prompt the spell-check for the simple fact that it’s a brand-new doctrine. I mistrust doctrines invented within that last 30 yrs.


      • Rachel Miller says:

        Jill~ with all due respect, the name “complementarian” may be new, but the concept really isn’t.

        I believe that men and women are equal before the Lord, and equally capable to work in whatever He calls them to do. However, I also believe that Scripture teaches that only men are called to be pastors/elders. This does not mean that women have no role or voice in church.


      • jilldomschot says:

        As a cultural egalitarian, I have no dog in the fight for women to be pastors. I also have no intention of changing the structure of the church. I have far too much respect for my church authorities and for the church in general to be rebellious in this area, and l have a strong sense of rightful submission to my church authorities regardless of the well-stated arguments from both sides (egal vs comp). But I still have an issue with complementarians because they don’t/can’t/won’t confine their arguments to traditional church structure. And an actual conference brought together for the express purpose of defining male and female roles in society is a brand-new thing. The age-old concept is patriarchy, not this new-fangled separate but equal ideal. So, ultimately, I don’t think I have an argument with you at all. I have an issue with church authorities breaking into the authority structure of families and chastising men and women for life choices that don’t fall into the category of sin–and hiding behind complementarianism to do so.


  2. Rebecca Miller says:

    I very much believe that God intended for women to take care of the children and men are to take care of the family by the sweat of their brow. Genesis and physiology confirms this. When I am taking care of the family at home there is much more harmony and family bonds are stronger. Recently I have been forced to go to work due to our financial situation. It is the same for many other women like me in this current economy. Since going to work it has created discord, disruption, distress, and inconvenience. The household does not run as well and family relationships are effected, especial with my son. The cost to the family also adds up monetarily. There is a financial expense to have to work out of the home.

    We live in a sinful world and increasingly immoral society. We must pay the price as a society so the reality is that women, out of survival, need to be in the work place. We cannot assume that every married woman is in the workplace for fun. The survival of her family may rest on her job and should not be usurped by a young man without a family. As I see it, this writer’s solution does not solve the problem.


  3. Lori Grassman says:

    Mrs. Vandoodewaard (did you make her name up?) comes across as a very traditional lady who believes she can fix the problems of the world by pressing it into her rigid, sentimental mold. (She may even be feeling a bit threatened by flirtatious young hussies herself)! What I see in her lines are a disconnection with the very people she is correcting. It is easy for church people to get this way, especially if they are isolated and aren’t communicating in a meaningful way with a variety of people. Assuming Mrs. V. is older, she may be isolated by identifying more strongly with her past than with her present. She sounds like a good secondary character in a book!


    • darrelltoddmaurina says:

      Actually, she’s a rather young woman.

      This is part of a broader issue in younger Reformed circles, especially homeschooling circles, which are trying to reject modern feminism.

      I have zero problem with women choosing to focus on being stay-at-home mothers. That is a perfectly legitimate choice and churches need to support those who make that choice.

      I have a major problem when a personal choice by a husband and wife about how to run their own home gets made into a norm for everybody else. The Reformed faith teaches Christian freedom in areas not regulated by the Scriptures. The exegetical support simply is not there to make a good choice into a Christian mandate.


  4. Matthew Tuininga says:

    Rachel, good post. To be honest, I don’t think Rebecca Van Doodewaard’s proposal is even legal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Christians don’t have to be politically correct, but we do have to abide by the law.


  5. Christina says:

    Excellent article! I have read the Christian Pundit before and have certainly been blessed. On this matter however, I’d have to stand with you. I do believe the complementarian view is the most biblical but also feel it has largely been reduced to terms that eclipse the glory of it all. I work full-time and though God, in His good pleasure, has given us no biological children, I very much consider my home and my church my first ministry. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. God bless you!


  6. darrelltoddmaurina says:

    Rachel, I saw this via Matt Tuininga’s blog. I’m posting here what I wrote over there…

    Where can one possibly start with this?

    Government simply has no business making laws in this area. We went down a bad road decades ago when the government tried to accomplish the entirely legitimate goal of stopping racial and gender discrimination by using inappropriate means to do so. Now, through the “law of unintended consequences,” we’ve gotten to the point that churches are being forced to sue the government to protect their rights to hire teachers and other staff members to perform key functions of their ministries, and the current Obamacare debacle could easily result in the federal government forcing not only Christian employers but even Christian institutions to pay for insurance that will cover abortions and abortifacient drugs.

    However, there are still a fair number of women in the workforce who personally remember real discrimination, not the nonsense that passes for discrimination today. There was a day when women, no matter what their degree, were virtually unable to get jobs outside the fields of teaching and nursing. Those who had non-teaching degrees related to writing ended up as secretaries; those who had non-teaching degrees related to math ended up as bookkeepers. Even then, women were generally expected to quit their jobs after they got married, and if they didn’t, were generally forced out once they became pregnant and not allowed to come back to work until their children were grown, or at least the last child was old enough to go to school.

    The last thing I want to do is object to Christian wives who either prefer to have stay-at-home moms or believe as a matter of conviction that women’s task is to be mothers at home. That position has a very long history not only in Christianity but also most of the civilized world. Apart from the highest echelons of the upper class with many servants, it probably was unavoidable before the development of modern technology that made it possible for women to work outside the home and not have the home fall apart.

    However, due to the rise of a certain anti-modernist element within evangelical Christianity and especially Reformed Christianity, we need to go back to the Bible and exegete the arguments. We have a prominent Christian leader today in Reformed Baptist circles who is arguing that the Bible requires that only men serve in public office. Most conservatives don’t want to get known for attacking Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin, but similar positions are being advocated much more frequently with regard to the broader issue of women working outside the home, and they affect many more women than the small number who run for office. Over on the Johannes Weslianus blog run by PCA minister Rev. Wes White, a heated discussion took place some time ago by some Reformed Baptists who argued that women should not be employed by anyone other than their husbands.

    These issues are not new. They were debated aggressively in the 1800s and early 1900s. Reformed Christians — even the most conservative Reformed Christians — generally came to consensus while the Bible teaches male headship in the home and in the church, it does not teach male headship in the state, and more broadly, in general society.

    We are now seeing a rise of “New Calvinism” among Baptists and the nondenominational YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) movement. Much of that is good. However, especially in the homeschooling part of the Reformed community, trends are developing that, simply and bluntly put, go considerably beyond Scripture in restricting women’s roles.

    It is not irrelevant that these arguments are happening in the newer parts of the Reformed community where people don’t have a generations-long connection to the Reformed faith. We went through these debates long ago. We came to a consensus that whether women work outside the home or not is a decision to be made by husbands and wives in their home, not by the church, because this is an issue on which Scripture gives general principles rather than specific commands.

    Unfortunately, we’re probably going to have to go back and teach that principle all over again to a new generation of New Calvinists. I’m confident the text of the Bible will be persuasive to those who understand the twin principles of Christian freedom and the regulative principle.

    For those who don’t understand those principles, however, we may have a hard time, and Calvinism may take a serious black eye by having to re-fight battles that should have been settled long ago.


  7. Mark B. says:

    I think perhaps more is being read into Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s article than is warranted. While Mrs. Miller has raised some legitimate concerns with some of the supporting points in the article, I think Mrs. VanDoodewaard’s main point is a good one. I personally know of a case where a church has used the money that would have gone to a secretary to hire a seminary student as a clerk, who’s role in the church expanded as he progressed in his studies and was licensed to preach by the presbytery, ect. I also was involved in the past with a church plant that started out as a Bible study and then called a pastor. The young man we called strait out of seminary was a Godly man and an exceptionally gifted Bible teacher / discipler, but perhaps lacked the administrative and other necessary skills that can come with running a small church, which resulted in some problems. To respond to some of the comments here (with due respect, I think a strawman got pinned to a windmill 😉 ) where did she call for government making laws in this area? I read this article as offering a suggestion of something a Christian businessman or a Church could consider, and giving Biblical reasons for considering such a course.


    • Rachel Miller says:

      Hi Mark~ the comments that involve legal aspects are actually in reference to someone else’s post on the same topic, I believe.

      I did not speak to the legal ramifications, but it is illegal for anyone to hire preferentially based on gender. What Mrs. VanDoodewaard recommends would be cause for lawsuits based on discrimination.

      As for your main point, any church or business is free to hire seminary students or anyone else as they see fit, I said as much in my own post. But I still hold that a woman whose income is what keeps her family fed, clothed, and sheltered, has a need for work as much as a young seminary student needing experience.


      • Mark B. says:

        Yes, I read Matt’s post. I do think we need to be carefull to follow the law, however, if our church’s hiring practice was examined based on hiring patterns, we would be in trouble, every pastor we’ve had has been a man….


  8. John The Good says:

    This is too long for a tweet. Christians have not always been so narrow about women’s education. In one branch of my family tree there is a high emphasis on female education. My 2nd g-grandmothers college diploma is on display in the Georgia state archives, family stories are to the effe7that she made a big emphasis about the importance of education. She had five daughters who went to college for some period. Her husband, My 2nd g-grandfather was a baptist pastor and educator. His sisters also all went to college. I realize how different men’s and women’s colleges were in the 19th century. But these people were not isolated wild eyed progressive fanatics. They were fairly representative of the time/place and class in which they existed. These nutty people today pine for a time that just did not really exist. It seems to me they don’t want to live in the world as it actually is.


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