The (Almost) Overwhelming Power of Culture

mf6Tt50Culture is a powerful thing.

Perhaps it’s a bit like rushing river, where unless you’re a super strong paddler, ideally with a raft full of comrades, you just get carried along wherever the river takes you. On the world’s mighty rivers, when you’re in it’s grasp, it can be tough, even impossible, to get to the bank. Culture can be that way.

Let me illustrate.

The other day, a good friend and I were working on our house. Specifically, we were installing doors. That meant a decent amount of planing, chiseling and sanding.

It also meant Hurricane Lucy.

Our daughter Lucy, almost 11, was our junior carpenter. And to say she was fired up for the job understates it. Question after question, idea after idea, wanting to get a closer look…you get the picture.

You see, Lucy fancies herself a DIY queen. My wife Amy likes the tell the story of how Lucy wandered into a room in our house recently and proclaimed that the space would look better with a tray ceiling.

And then she went on to detail exactly what it would take in order to create such a ceiling.

What’s her source of home renovation confidence? She is a devoted Rehab Addict fan. When she’s around the job site, she’s the micro version of Nicole Curtis.

Just ask her.

So there we were, out in the garage, sanding the edge of the door, when our 13 year old son Joshua appears. Joshua surveys the situation, takes one look at Lucy, sand paper in hand, and says:

“Lucy, that’s a man’s job.”

Whoa. Back up. Slow your roll.


To be honest, it was a disturbing comment for me. Here’s why.

Let the reader understand that Joshua has spent each of the 13 years of his life around a marriage that strives hard to be fully egalitarian. From our decision-making to how we divide up the house chores to our co-parenting, Amy and I work hard to live out a marriage of equals.

Next, let’s understand that I work in a job where men and women share power, and so all of his life Joshua has been around powerful women. I’ve lost count of how many “honorary aunts” he has. Josh has seen women preaching, women directing conferences, and women leading meetings. In short, Josh has never lacked for examples of women in roles that have  traditionally been in the hands of men.

Still further, Josh has lived in a house where gender equality has been not just been modeled, it’s been taught. For instance, Josh has sat in a room of 200 college students while his father, in partnership with a female colleague and friend, taught on the topic of gender reconciliation. On a smaller scale, as we watch sports together, Josh has had me interpret more Old Spice commercials than he cares to remember.

In sum, while I am sure that in our house I/we could be doing more to both model and proclaim a model of egalitarian partnership between the genders, of any kid I know Josh should be the last one to make a statement like that.

So what’s going on here? How does a 13 year old boy, the scion of committed egalitarians, come to the conclusion that if power tools are involved, it’s a man’s job?

The answer is culture.

Like the rest of us, our son lives in a culture tainted by male privilege. And the older he gets, the more engaged with culture he is, and thus the more influenced by it he becomes.

If I’m honest, it’s at this point in the story where I’m tempted to feel hopeless, to throw up my egalitarian hands and say, “how can we possibly compete with the patriarchal river of culture?”

Perhaps some hope comes from Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making. Crouch’s assertion is that it is indeed possible to change, to shape, culture. For Crouch, the river can indeed be re-routed. He writes:

“The only way to change culture is to create more of it…if culture is to change, it will be because some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world…So if we seek to change culture, we will have to create something new, something that will persuade our neighbors to set aside some existing set of cultural goods for our new proposal.” (p. 67)

Want to move a river? Tell (and live) a better story.

So, more of the same in the Dixon house. Amy and I will keep making decisions in partnership. I’ll keep preaching and teaching on this stuff. And, for the love of Nicole Curtis, Lucy will keep sanding the doors.

And, gradually, over time, we’ll kick Tertullian out of our house. And then out of our community. And beyond.

May it be so.

5 responses to “The (Almost) Overwhelming Power of Culture”

  1. Billie Ford says :

    Sometimes with our own children, there can be something else at play in addition to ‘culture.’ They see something modeled at home, but don’t necessarily relate what they see and hear with the theory of it. At home, parents aren’t ‘egalitarian’, they are just mom and dad acting like mom and dad. They haven’t yet made the connection between the idea and its application, so their default is with culture.

    • rdixon1365 says :

      Thanks Billie, and I think you’re right. But that won’t stop me from being more intentional about making the connections for our kids!

      • Billie Ford says :

        That’s what I think , too. We need to be intentional, and make connections as we teach them

  2. Dalaina May says :

    I loved this! I have 4 boys who are being raised in the same way, yet I’ve heard a few things come out of their mouths that dropped my jaw. “Oh no you didn’t!”
    You are totally right that culture plays into so much of their learning and much of our job is modeling a better way to live. I think as they can get older and follow the logical progression of a value system like patriarchy, if we have done our job well, they will reject the value for where it leads if nothing else. Thanks for sharing this story. It encouraged me that I am not doing this wrong either.

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