Non-Traditional Female Careers for Girls

If it's important to maintain clear distinctions between the sexes – and I agree that it is – should we encourage our school-age daughters to think in terms of pursuing non-traditional female career choices? One of our girls has been talking about becoming a firefighter when she grows up. I realize that most people in contemporary secular society wouldn't have any problem with this, but as a conservative Christian I can't help wondering: does a goal like this align with genuinely biblical womanhood? Should I try to steer my daughter in another direction?

When we speak about “biblical womanhood,” we need to remember that Scripture doesn’t dictate the cultural or economic roles of men and women. Genesis 1:28-29 outlines God’s plan for mankind as a whole. It specifies the work that both man and woman are supposed to do as part of their calling to “replenish the earth and subdue it.” God instructed Adam and Eve to tend the Garden together. The text never mentions anything even remotely resembling the male-female division of labor that entered western society at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

As a matter of fact, the passages that are usually cited in connection with the topic of “biblical masculinity and femininity” – most notably, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:12, and Titus 2:5 – are concerned solely with the role of women in marriage, in the family, or in the church. Not one of them addresses the question of which jobs are appropriate for men and women in a specifically work-related environment. Indeed, the Bible contains many examples of women who were actively involved in business or who assumed positions of leadership over men: Deborah, for instance, who was entrusted with civil and military (as well as spiritual) power as one of Israel’s most famous judges (Judges 4-5), or Lydia, who, as a merchant dealing in purple goods, must certainly have had supervision over workers and subordinate employees (Acts 16:14). It’s worth adding that Lydia’s example harmonizes perfectly with the portrait of the “virtuous woman” that we find in Proverbs 31.

Today we live in a culture that takes it for granted most career choices are open to candidates of either sex. So pervasive is this assumption, and so numerous are the examples of its being lived out successfully in real life, that there appears to be little reason to question the validity of the trend. In view of this, and taking into account the biblical testimony referenced above, we’d suggest that girls should be encouraged to believe that there are all kinds of opportunities available to them. This will serve to boost their confidence and self-esteem. When it comes to deciding what they want to do with their lives, there’s a very real sense in which the door is wide open.

What really matters here is discerning each individual girl’s natural bent. Remember, girls aren’t all alike. The wise parent is the one who knows how to nurture a girl’s special inborn inclinations so that she can grow into the unique woman God intended her to be. Like so many other aspects of parenting, this is an art rather than a science. Instead of worrying about the “traditional” acceptability of a given career, try to find out what your daughters really like to do. What are their gifts and interests? If they can come up with clear answers to these questions, the next step is to help them identify the various kinds of work that utilize those talents. Rather than forcing your girls into culturally predetermined molds, help them to understand that it’s not so much what a woman does as how she goes about it that makes her truly feminine. After all, Amelia Earhart made her mark in a man’s world, but she behaved very much as a woman there.

As a caveat, we should add that while the Bible doesn’t really give us any sex-distinct mandates or strict gender-related guidelines as regards the work men and women should or should not do, it does, in a very general way, call upon us to acknowledge and respect the inherent differences between the sexes. “From the beginning, He made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4; Genesis 1:27). From this flows a multitude of implications – inescapable “givens” which are part of the nature of sexuality itself. The attraction between the sexes, its consummation in marital sexual relations, the consequent mechanics of conception and birth; the functions of pregnancy, childbearing, nursing, and nurturing which are biologically delegated to the female; the relative freedom of the male to look after other basic necessities of life and to support and protect the female and her offspring – all of this implies certain things about the nature of relationships between men and women in all spheres of life.

To be specific, these basic realities imply that a man should always behave as a gentleman towards a woman. They suggest that a gentleman should never overpower a woman in any context. They also incline us to believe that women, as bearers and nurturers of the next generation, should generally avoid any task – military combat service is a good example – that would have the effect of placing them in harm’s way. In other words, while Scripture gives us a great deal of freedom as to how we culturally interpret and apply the fundamental distinction between the sexes, it doesn’t grant us license to disregard it altogether. It also prejudices us strongly in favor of the high calling of marriage and motherhood, and thus leads us to believe that girls should be encouraged to at least consider how their future job aspirations align with family goals.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your concerns in this area with a member of our staff, call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department for a free consultation.


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