OK, just a little disclaimer before I start this post. The title of this post is taken from the Aretha Franklin song, R.E.S.P.E.C.T. But please believe me that I am not in any way hugely conversant with Aretha Franklin’s music, or indeed much music. In fact…while I was aware of the song, I would not even have been able to tell you who sang it, until Aretha Franklin sadly passed away recently, and everyone started talking about this song. In a similar way, I was recently on a bus and a song came on that believe me, I had never heard before in my entire life. Really. However, I recognised the style, and perhaps the voice of the performer? So I asked – “Was it Michael Jackson who sang this?!” And everyone started laughing at me; actually yes it was Michael Jackson, and apparently I should of course have known that – shrug. As I say, I had never heard this song before in my life! And the driver threatened to throw me off his bus for being so culturally ignorant. And then there was the time some white guy was trying to impress me, so he started talking about 50 Cent. And I asked, in all sincerity – “Who’s 50 Cent?!” (Sorry if you’re reading this, 50 Cent!) That was over 15 ago, I know now! But yes, it’s a general story with me; I might recognise songs but I know essentially nothing about music, and yes, that extends to “Christian artists” too! So it would be deeply dishonest and disingenuous of me to pretend to be in any knowledgeable about Aretha Franklin or her opus. Before she sadly passed away I could have told you that she was an extremely well regarded singer, considered the Queen of Soul, with roots in Gospel music – but that is as far as it would have gone; to actually name any songs at all, even just a single one – nope, not a chance!!! (I would definitely have better success with Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, or Beyoncé!) My immediate family tease me about this, but what can I say? My brain naturally gravitates towards other things….like classical music. The Toreador song in Carmen is probably my favourite piece of music in the whole wide world, and then there’s Handel’s Messiah, Handel’s Young Messiah…because this is what we grew up with in my house. In fact, while I actually do love music, I don’t consciously listen to a lot of it at all because it distracts me when I’m working….and I’m pretty much always working!
However, with all that said, I am now after all aware of the fact that Aretha Franklin sang R.E.S.P.E.C.T and it is quite relevant to this blog, and it is also quite timely so I would like to consider in this post the subject of respect.
You know I was reflecting on it, and I was thinking that I don’t think I can succinctly define what respect actually is. When people talk about respect, needing respect, requesting respect – what does that actually mean? Actually, as I’m writing this the picture is becoming clearer. The point of this post is specifically to talk about the fact that women also quite like respect. So often I have heard men talk about their overwhelming need for respect as men, that it is the single most important thing that they need in a relationship. And I always ask myself why men think that this need is exclusive to them – newsflash, I may be a woman, but I definitely need and demand respect from my relationships too! But this is what is becoming clearer as I’m writing this is that for me whenever I am interacting with someone, respect is inherently tied up with that. By this I mean that I consider other people’s feelings, I take people seriously, listen to what they are saying, remember that each person I am dealing with is a precious human being made in the image of God. For that reason, I try to treat people as having immense innate value. I also respect people’s time and effort. So this is inherent respect that you have for everyone. However, additionally on top of that, there are some people that would command additional respect. There is respect tied up in someone’s position: if someone is your boss, then you would ultimately do what they say at work, even if you did not agree with it, as long as it was not outright immoral. Then there is respect of someone’s character, where you understand that this person is someone that you can regard highly. So you would listen to them and follow their advice not necessarily because you have to, that is, they are not your boss, but rather because you respect their wisdom and their integrity.
So when men say that they so desperately want and need to be respected, it is their greatest need, what exactly do they mean by that? Are they talking about the basic respect which I would give to anyone, and which we as human beings might expect to give to and receive from one another? Or is it that they are demanding respect for their position as men, as heads of their home? Or is it that they want to be highly regarded, that they want their wives to respect their wisdom and integrity? Analysing it like this helps me to understand why I have never clearly understood this topic before, because I have never analysed it like this! Let’s take basic human respect as a given. In real life it might not always be a given, but then that is not specifically a male issue, but rather a human issue; the person who is failing to respect you that way is not undermining your status as a man, but rather as a human being, and that is more fundamental.
So now let’s look at the other two types of respect – firstly, might there be a further type of respect that just does not occur to me just now? So as a man, say my husband, you can demand that I respect your position as a husband, and do what you say. And I absolutely would. I would respect your position as your husband. If I disagreed with your opinion, I would likely voice my opinion, very vocally, but ultimately I would go along with it, and obey you because this what the Bible tells me to do. So men, or husbands, can certainly demand that type of respect. However, I would only do that because that is what the Bible tells me to do. So I would do it within the Biblicaly defined constraints. So for instance, if my husband was not quite my husband yet, and started instructing me to do things, knowing myself as well as I do, I would probably say “the Bible does not instruct me to obey my fiance!” Until you are actually my husband, you don’t have the Biblical mandate to tell me what to do! You can advise, but you cannot insist – yet. To be honest, the way that he might do that might in itself cause me to rethink the relationship, to try to walk away while that was still possible.
Similarly with a boss – because we are talking about the male need for respect, let’s pretend that this boss is male. (Some of you people out there just assumed that any boss had to be male – didn’t you?! Well as it happens this particular boss is male!) So anyway, a boss might come along and instruct me to do things which fall outside the jurisdiction of work. And I would say “No!” If you are my boss at work, the only context in which you can exercise leadership over me is work. Trust me, I would make that clear if you tried to overstep the boundaries. Actually, this is more relevant when it comes to pastors. If you are a pastor, and you exercise leadership over a church, then yes you can issue instructions telling me to do this or do that within the context of a church. And yes, because you are the one exercising leadership over the church, I would largely obey you – within boundaries. Even if you are the pastor, you cannot “instruct” me about what I should do with my money, or my time. These are things that God has entrusted to me, and given me the freedom about how I should invest them into the church. These are my decisions, not yours, and please do not allow yourself to forget that for even a millisecond. Outside your own specific jurisdiction, you can only request, or advise about these things that God has entrusted to me. But this causes so much confusion in churches; the distinction between what a pastor can demand, and what he can only request or recommend. Many many many pastors overstep the boundaries in a way that I have never seen happen with work, for instance. Many pastors apparently think that because of their position of leadership, this gives them the authority to instruct their congregations about how to live their lives. However, outside of your own jurisdiction, the most you can say as a pastor is “The Bible says” or “I believe God is saying this.” The important thing about this type of respect is that it is all tied up in the position itself, rather than the individual man. If it so happened that I made a very bad choice in marriage, then yes, I would continue to submit to him, because of his position, because he is my husband, not because of who he is himself. Similarly I would go ahead with what my boss says on work matters because they are my boss, not because of who the boss is in himself. And I really need to emphasise that I am only demonstrating this additional kind of respect because I have to. And I would not give a millimetre more than I had to. So if I am only doing this because I absolutely have to, then I would only do what I absolutely have to do – no less, but certainly no more.
Additionally, a way to break these kinds of respect is to just get out from under that interaction. So I could possibly leave the job, or stop attending that church or, in very extreme cases, walk away from that marriage – and then I would never have to obey what any of those people might ever say, ever again. And I have certainly walked away from both jobs and pastors, precisely for this reason. I pray that I would never have to do that with a marriage. So is this what men are demanding, that their wives should do what they ask simply because they are the men, and only because they are the men? If that is the case, and you expect your wife to “respect” your perhaps unreasonable demands just because you are the man, then you might ultimately find yourself in a situation where your wife walks away from you altogether, to break that hold of forced respect that you have over her.
So let’s now look at the third type of respect: this is the type of respect where you literally look up to someone and listen to them even where they are not your boss or even yet your husband, not because there is anything in the structure of the relationship that forces you to obey them, but rather because they epitomise such wisdom and knowledge that you know that listening to them will bring the best possible outcome for your own life. Here is the thing though – this type of respect can simply not be demanded. It can only be earned. Asking me to pretend to look up to you when I have no genuine respect for you is asking me to lie to you, and also asking me to lie to myself. The mere fact that you would make such a request would make me respect you even less than I had previously, when I may not have considered that possible. The fact that you may want and desperately need this type of respect for the sake of your masculine self-esteem is – sorry guys – frankly irrelevant. Demanding it would neither empower me nor force me to give it to you – I would be much more likely to simply walk away from you. If you want this from me or any other woman, then you have to earn it. If you think it is too difficult to earn it from me, then you can always choose a woman with lower standards.
So then, the only respect that a man can really demand is respect based on his position as husband. And for me as a woman, the only reason I would give you this respect is because I absolutely had to, because the Bible says so. In this case, it would be tightly constrained, to Biblical parameters – only doing wht I absolutely have to do! However, if I ever found myself in that type of marriage, where I strictly measure out what I have to obey, and do only that, and that grudgingly, then you could argue that the marriage is already headed in a very negative direction. My aim as a woman is to find that man whom I can genuinely look up to, whose advice I sincerely consider as gold, whom I would naturally obey anyway, not because I had to, but because I knew it could only be good for me – and marry him. So then on an everyday basis, I could eagerly listen to his advice and obey his instructions, not merely because I had to, but because I wanted to, and I knew it could only be good for me!
So these are the different types of respect that I can currently think of that a man could demand from his wife.
But now, let’s look at the issue of respecting women. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating this is that I am about to recount. Many of these men who have previously demanded exalted respect from me have failed to show me even basic respect for my human dignity. The type of respect that any human being should reasonably be able to expect from any other human being; respect for my autonomy, and my right to make my own decisions about my life, and my expectation that those decisions be respected. And those will be the very same men who will be demanding some elevated respect from me: “I am a man, Tosin, I need respect!” I’m sorry but you cannot be serious. If someone cannot show me basic human respect, this is not something I am going to sit around and argue for. I am also not going to explain why I need it. I am not going to bother to attempt to interact with such people in my life. Rather, I unceremoniously cut such people from my life. Seriously, what kind of joker are you?!
But my need for respect in a relationship transcends that basic level of human respect. I would want a husband that respects my role as his wife. This means considering me and consulting me when taking big decisions. Yes you are the husband, yes God has given you the ultimate role of leadership, but if nothing else it is just courtesy to ask me too about my opinion, if my life is going to be affected. We’re talking about things like taking a particular job over another, making a large financial purchase, inviting someone into your home. Or when you are discussing things with your friends, instead of saying “Yeah yeah, we’ll definitely do that” – instead say “That to me sounds great, but I’ll need to discuss with my wife.” This shows everyone that your wife is not just a dumb and passive accessory that is tied to your life, but is someone with her own mindset and viewpoint that you respect, and it will also teach your friends to respect your wife too. Or say there is something that I have repeatedly asked you to do. If this thing is simple, and makes no real difference to you whatsoever, if it takes minimal or no effort, then even if you don’t understand why I am asking you to do it, then doing it shows respect for me as your wife. If the task is a little more arduous, or you have some objection to it, then that would be different. But if it is something trivial, and you disregard it, then that is quite a pronounced sign of disrespect. It shows that you don’t listen to what this person is saying, or you don’t consider their opinion important enough to take seriously. How many times has this happened to me with men? So I’ll be talking and without sincerely engaging with what I’m saying they will just be waiting to say “Yeah, but…”
Is this how you plan to encourage me to show you respect – by showing me as little as possible? By putting me in my place because “you are only a woman, Tosin!” – and yet you expect me to invest the utmost of my time, money and effort for your own endeavours? Once again, you cannot be serious!
If this is also what men themselves mean when they are talking about respect; that they want to be consulted, that they want their opinion to be taken seriously by their wives, then I believe that I can certainly do that!
Ultimately though, I want to marry the kind of man who sincerely respects my opinion and listens when I am talking, yes, because I am his wife, but not only because I am his wife, but rather because he sincerely sees value in what I am saying, the way I reason, the way I interact with the world. It broadens his mindset as he broadens my own. So even if he and I did not get married, he would still listen to what I am saying, he would implement my suggestions because he can see the wisdom in them.
PS: I have already spent so long writing this post! However it occurred to me that there are actually quite a few additional things that I need to talk about regarding this. These things include: a closer examination of what I mean by “jurisdiction”, the fact that some
men people apparently need to control everything to feel in control of anything, and the ways that people try to assert control over others. And I’m sure that there were a few other things too! So I hope to be able to add to this post over the next few days.