February’s posts are going to be a bit different from any previous post. There’s no real lifestyle, design, or “Instagrammable” content here. Think of today’s post as a blast from my past, and the post to follow it next month as a personal letter. For today’s post, grab a mug of your favorite hot beverage (or three, if you live in my corner of the world where it’s been cold AF…!!)… and maybe a stress ball or a Kleenex box.
I have to first acknowledge that this post has been something I’ve been thinking about for over a year… but that doesn’t mean it’s going to come out polished & wonderful (the way I’m hoping it might). I wanted to post last year celebrating & appreciating womanhood during the month of February as a sort of “Galentine’s” tribute, but every time I’ve attempted to write down my thoughts, they’ve seemed… vapid, flat, trite.
And so, for a year, I’ve allowed the thoughts to steep as I have read, thought, and explored more of what it means to be a woman.
To do justice to this topic thoroughly, I am going to break this up into two posts. Part 1 today is going to be a bit of insight into the attitudes & worldview I was raised with; Part 2 will come mid-month and will dive into what I’ve learned about being a woman through my own life experience.
Being a woman is a complicated thing. And it’s complicated for a lot of reasons. The first reason it’s complicated is that women are taught a lot of lies about what womanhood is.
As a bit of a disclaimer on the above statement, I think that every person is told & taught a lot of lies about life, about personhood, and about gender identity. I’m focusing today on women only because it’s more relevant to my life experience.
These lies aren’t told & taught to us maliciously. They are taught lovingly, thoughtfully, and often spiritually. But the motivations behind them doesn’t make them right. Furthermore, what I was taught wasn’t always the lesson that I learned. As a child, one of my mom’s favorite sayings was that whatever parents do in moderation, their children will do in excess. The same can also become true in didactic lessons. Sometimes, what our parents believe in a spiritual sense, impressionable children can embrace in the most literal, horrible, and twisted sense.
Lie #1. Women should submit to men. Women are “the weaker partner.”
A passage I was often encouraged to read about womanhood goes like this.
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands… Husbands, … be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner… (from 1 Peter 3)
I’m leaving out a lot of ******* about braided hair and reverence and a bit about equal and heirs to heaven, but what you see here is the real meat of 1 Peter 3:1-7. Wives, submit. Husbands, your wives are the weaker partner. I’ve never been a wife, but the message was clear as day: the literal mind of a child re-words from wives to women, and from husbands to men.
Submission–and not in a consensual, kinky way. Submission: subjection, subjugation, yielding to authority, compliance, conformity, servile.
Weak–easily damaged, unable to bear up under pressure, lacking in physical capability.
These two things were what I was taught would make me a good wife. (And what was a young woman apart from her identity as a future wife?) Never once was I told or taught to be a strong, independent woman. Men were to be strong, to be considerate of women as the weaker partner.
Can you imagine anything more damaging?
Lie #2. Separate, but equal.
Another lie I was taught about women was that women had separate roles from men–in the church, in the family, and in the world. Men & women were ontologically equal, but functionally different. Men could be things that women could be, and men could be almost everything women could be (except women, of course, and mothers) and then some. Separate, but equal, they were often said.
It wasn’t until last year that I learned that the principle of separate, but equal, is also not just a lie applied to men & women, but also to racial legislation intended by white supremacists to subject racial minorities, most notable African American populations, in direct violation to the Fourteenth Amendment.
How damaging to young women to be taught not, “You can be anything you set your mind and your body to,” but rather, “You can be a mother & a wife, and a teacher & a nurse, but not a doctor or a lawyer or a pastor.”
How damaging to young women to be taught that they can have no spiritual (and some would argue, no political or otherwise governmental leadership) over any man.
How damaging to be taught, “You have your place you must keep.”
And even worse…
Lie #3. “Let the women be silent.”
“The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” (1 Corinthians 14:34)
You must submit to and be subject to men. You are weak. Keep your place. And shut your mouth.
It adds insult to injury.
Lie #4. Cover it. All of it. With… the right things.
Any other recovering or former Christian girls out there who remember The Rebelution’s 2007 Modesty Survey? A user of The Rebelution Forum lamented that her dad wasn’t a Christian and she didn’t have any brothers so she had no male perspective to whom she could address her questions about modesty. And so The Modesty Survey was launched. Girls from all over the world submitted questions. Are gaucho pants modest? Is it modest to wear a spaghetti strapped top? Are pants modest as long as they aren’t too form fitting around your curves? Is lip gloss immodest? The questions when on and on for pages and pages.
Women submitted photos of articles of clothing to clue in the clueless men who were trying to figure out not if gauchos were modest, but what the heck gauchos even were.
Men answered in scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree), providing demographic information on themselves–age ranges, type of school, etc.,–and comments.
And there were questions not only about types of clothing, but also about behaviors. The one that always stuck with me is, “Is it okay for a girl to remove a pull-over sweater over her head in front of a guy?” And I can still remember the pervy comments of guys who said that behavior was absolutely not okay because as soon as one layer was removed, they could mentally remove the rest.
By the tender age of sixteen, I was thoroughly disenchanted with the idea of being a woman.
Why was I required to submit? Why was I weaker? Could I ever be stronger, or was it essentially impossible? Was my weakness purely physical, or was it also mental, emotional, intellectual? What did separate, but equal, even mean? How would it play out practically? Did I have to submit to all men, all the time? Did I have any agency?
How was I to be quiet? Must my voice always be quiet? Must my dress and manner always be quiet? Was I free to disagree with a man? Which men? Why? To what degree could I express with dissent with authority?
What did it mean for a child to obey his or her parents? How long did my dad’s authority over me last? Until society said I was an adult and I turned 18? Until I moved away from home? Until I was married?
Why did it seem that all of the responsibility for sexual purity rested squarely on women? Men were supposed to guard their hearts. Women were supposed to cover their shoulders and their arms and their chests and their legs and their curves… and not wear too much jewelry and maybe not braid their hair and maybe not wear pants but definitely not men’s clothing (does that include all pants or just men’s pants?).
Rules… and rules… and more rules. That’s what it meant to be a woman for me.
No strength. No independence. No leadership. No noise. No voice.
I don’t believe any of that now. I’m still in recovery from the lies I was taught (intentionally and unintentionally) or otherwise absorbed. And I want to share with you how, this past year more than ever, I have come to embrace