Symbolic traditionalism and pragmatic egalitarianism: Contemporary evangelicals, families, and gender

Gender and Society 13 (2):211-233 (1999)


Drawing on Connell's notion of gender projects, the authors assess the degree to which contemporary evangelical ideals of men's headship challenge, as well as reinforce, a hegemonic masculinity. Based on 265 in-depth interviews in 23 states across the country, they find that rather than espousing a traditional gender hierarchy in which women are simply subordinate to men, the majority of contemporary evangelicals hold to symbolic traditionalism and pragmatic egalitarianism. Symbolic male headship provides an ideological tool with which individual evangelicals may maintain a sense of distinctiveness from the broader culture of which they are a part. At the same time, symbolic headship blunts some of the harsher effects of living in a materially rich, but time poor, culture, by defusing an area of potential conflict, creating a safe space within which men can negotiate, and strengthening men's material and emotional ties to their families.

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Author Profiles

Chris Smith
Louisiana State University
Sarah Gallagher
Napier University

References found in this work

Outline of a Theory of Practice.Pierre Bourdieu - 1981 - Human Studies 4 (3):273-278.
Doing Gender.Don H. Zimmerman & Candace West - 1987 - Gender and Society 1 (2):125-151.

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