Last month, John Piper gave a controversial answer to a question about whether a woman should be a police officer:
Mind you, his answer is utterly predictable given his general position. In that respect, there should be nothing controversial about the fact that Piper said it.
I find Piper's reasoning in this particular case rather obscure, even mystical. So I'm not defending his argument.
Among others, Carl Trueman responded:
The whole piece also indicates the problems that occur when the issue of male-female complementarity is detached from the specific issues of marriage and church. Once you try to extrapolate to the world at large, three things follow...Second, you become increasingly dependent upon subjective and vague criteria for making decisions, criteria which are as malleable as those in positions of (sub)cultural authority – formal or informal -- wish to make them.
Problem with that response is that it artificially compartmentalizes the issue by confining it to "the specific issues of marriage and the church."
But if there are important natural differences (both physical and psychological) between men and women, if Scripture underscores gender essentialism (or gender realism), then that ought to have implications for public policy in general.
Take women in the Marine Corps, or firefighters, or the whole transgender debate. Trueman's response is superficial and evasive.
If we are gender realists, if we deny that gender is just a social construct, then we can't avoid questions about whether some occupations are suitable for men rather than women or vice versa.
I think Trueman's response suffers from his knee-jerk aversion to the culture wars. We live in a time where it's increasingly considered outrageous, even within evangelicalism, to merely pose a question like that ("Should a woman be a police officer?").
Before attempting to address the question directly, I'll venture some brief observations about gender. Gender is a combination of nature and culture.
If, say, your ideal of femininity is Lady Marjorie (Upstairs, Downstairs), then there are many things a woman shouldn't do. But that's a culturally-conditioned view of femininity.
A woman on a farm will do many unladylike things, such as wringing the head off a chicken, plucking it bare, then gutting it. By the same token, you have women who work on ranches or girls who are crazy about horses. Is that ladylike? Probably not. But that's cultural.
I wouldn't be surprised if girls who grow up in the Alaskan outback, or girls who grow up in a family of five brothers and one sister, are more Tomboyish. Likewise, I don't think there's anything wrong with teaching a girl self-defense (martial arts).
That's different than girls who play soccer "to make a statement." To prove they can do whatever boys can do.
Regarding the propriety (or not) of women as police officers, that depends, in part, one what we have in mind. I don't think complementarianism conflicts with a woman as a homicide detective. Likewise, it's more appropriate for a policewoman to interview a rape victim or battered wife.
There is, however, the dominant image of uniformed police. They ride around in squad cars or walk the beat. They confront suspects face to face.
I don't know enough about police work to offer an informed opinion. I just have a question.
Uniformed police have to interact with the public at close quarters. How close is a judgment call.
If they accost someone who fits the description of an armed bank robber, they will take extra precautions. Maintain greater distance, call for backup.
But in many cases they don't know in advance how a member of the public will react. They can't treat everyone they stop or question like a suspected bank robber.
I wonder if that doesn't make the dynamic more dangerous, both for the police officer, and the private citizen, when the officer is a woman. If the private citizen is a man, then her only real protection is her gun. By that I mean, the average man can overpower the average woman. Reaching for her sidearm becomes her first resort rather than her last resort.
With a policeman, there's more of a buffer. He has a man's natural strength. He may work out at a gym. And he has some martial arts training. That combination gives him another line of self-defense.
With a policewoman, it's easy for me to see how it could escalate more quickly into a physical altercation or shooting.
Likewise, man-on-man psychology is different from man-on-woman psychology (or woman on woman psychology). I doubt a gang-banger takes a policewoman as seriously as a policeman. A feminist might complain that's sexist, but who says gang-bangers can't be sexist?
Although I can't speak from personal experience, I expect an encounter between police and gangs (or perceived gang members) is a game of poker, where each side is sizing up the other side. Staring each other down.