The Conundrum of Femininity
As a girl who grew up in a very liberal environment, went to college in the Bible belt, and has attended numerous churches of various denominations, I have observed and absorbed many different views of gender and gender roles over the years. I find there are still many contradictory thoughts floating around in my head about what it means to be female. Subtly and silently, hidden attitudes and beliefs play tug of war in my head.
On one side, voices say I should be meek and submissive. I should follow and not make waves. That is feminine and becoming. That is right. On the other side, voices say I should assert myself. I should be vocal about my opinions and beliefs. I should be strong, bold, and courageous. That is both my prerogative and responsibility as a woman.
Lately I’ve been untangling some of these contradictory thoughts. I’ve been reading numerous articles, initiating conversations with friends and family members, and reflecting on my personal experiences. I’ve been examining beliefs I’ve always taken for granted and asking questions I’ve never thought to ask. Some interesting things have surfaced.
As I sometimes like to do, I’ve compiled a numbered list to present to you. Here are some lies I used to believe about being female and some I’m still wrestling with:
Lie #1: Being feminine means being gentle and quiet.
I think it’s nice when girls are quiet and gentle. I myself am quiet and gentle much of the time. My problem with this sentiment is that it’s limiting.
There is a time to be quiet, and there is a time to be loud. There is a time to be gentle, and there is a time to be firm and blunt. For women and for men.
Paul instructs the Philippians (male and female) to let their gentleness be evident to all. Proverbs expounds the benefits of holding one’s tongue no matter what your gender, and James says that everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). So being quiet and gentle is a good idea for everyone much of time, not just for women.
Somehow, however, quietness and gentleness have come to be thought of as feminine traits. Perhaps this has to do with the way the majority of women are. Perhaps this has to do with cultural norms that got passed down over time. Perhaps this has to do with instructions Paul gave in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy about women being silent during worship that have come to carry too much weight in many churches.There is a time to be quiet, and there is a time to be loud. Click To Tweet
Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t mind these admirable traits being associated with femininity if it weren’t for the negative implications that come along with the association. The underlying message becomes: Women should be quiet because their voices aren’t important. Women should be gentle because they are incapable of being strong.
That is very dangerous subtext, because suddenly we’re not talking about personality traits, we’re talking about value. Women’s voices are being dismissed as less valuable than men’s, and that is not okay.
Lie #2: Sensitivity is weakness.
I am a very sensitive girl. And speaking from mere personal experience, girls generally tend to be more sensitive than guys. (Though there are also sensitive guys out there too, praise the Lord.) Let me just say outright: Sensitivity is a gift. Don’t let anyone trick you into despising this gift, because it’s a powerful one.
A lot of guys believe the lie that they have to be macho in order to be manly. They think that being sensitive is a sign of weakness. But girls fall for this lie too. Especially in this modern world of feminism and girl power, women are told that to be strong, they need to reject traditionally feminine qualities.
It’s the opposite extreme of Lie #1.
Sensitivity is not weakness, you just have to learn how to steward it wisely. There is such a thing as over-empathizing and there is such a thing as forfeiting logic and reason, but being able to feel emotions and empathize with other people is powerful, because that’s how you connect with other humans. Connection should be one of our greatest goals in life, if not the greatest goal.Sensitivity is a gift. A powerful one. Click To Tweet
Lie #3: Girls were created to follow, not lead.
Let me just start by saying that we don’t all have to be the boss. Sometimes we get caught up in this idea that progressing to our fullest potential means moving up the ladder of success until we are the boss. I don’t believe that’s the case. Some of us are better suited for other positions and needed in other positions. We are all influencers, and it’s important we recognize and steward our influence well, but we don’t all have to be in charge. In fact, we all can’t be.
That being said, I think it’s a shame so many girls shy away from–or are discouraged from–pursuing positions of authority.
Women tend to have a different leadership style than men, but it’s a quite effective style. They tend to promote more discussion, nurture the development of those under them, and be good at building relationships. Studies have shown that women in corporate business positions are actually perceived as slightly more competent than men in almost all facets of leadership, though part of this is probably because women feel pressured to work harder in order to prove themselves.
My point isn’t that women should rule the world. My point is: Women make awesome leaders. Even the Bible demonstrates this. I present Deborah, judge and prophetess. She was the leader of Israel in a time when women were generally not given positions of authority. (So wow, way to shatter that glass ceiling.) She influenced not as someone’s wife (though she was someone’s wife), but in her own right. She made judgments, she ruled the people, she proclaimed the will of God, and she even led Israel into battle (alongside Barak, who was uncomfortable going into battle without her). Check out Judges 4 to read her story.
Lie #4: Women should always submit to men.
To be honest, this is one I’m still wrestling with. It may seem very similar to Lie #3, but for some reason, it affects me differently. As I write this, part of me questions whether God created men to be above women, if that is the natural order of things. Is it? I, for one, am not okay going against what God has ordained, no matter how little sense or how distasteful it might be to me.
Well, many Christians do indeed believe that men are created above women. A quick reading of passages like 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2 can give you an idea why.* I, however, believe those instructions were given in a specific cultural context and sometimes even in specific church contexts. One line in an extensive commentary on 1 Corinthians 14 (where Paul says women should be silent during worship) jumped out at me the other day: “Scripture does not require all women to submit to all men.”
Yes, thank you.
They cite Deborah (a civil leader, mentioned above), Miriam (Moses’s sister, prophetess and worship leader), and Huldah (prophetess who advised King Josiah) as examples from the Old Testament of women wielding authority over men. In the New Testament, the prophetess Anna is mentioned (Luke 2:36) as well as Junia, a female apostle whom Paul greets in Romans 16:7.
We are all supposed to submit to God, and we are all supposed to submit to one another in love (Ephesians 5:21), but all women are not supposed to submit to all men as a blanket rule.
Marriage is another matter, but I’ll just say this: According to Ephesians 5, wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord, and husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church (i.e. by sacrificing himself in death on the cross). Sounds to me like they both have their work cut out for them.
Lie #5: Freedom means doing whatever I want.
So since women are equal to men, that means I’m free to be and do whatever I want, right? I can dress however I want, speak to men however I want, and act however I want!
Not if you’re living for the Lord you can’t.
“‘I have the right to do anything,’ but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
God wants women to be free––free from fear, free from oppression, free from unfair limitations, free from shame––but not free from a sense of right and wrong. He doesn’t free us so we can fulfill our selfish desires. He frees us so we can enjoy life, enjoy Him, and so that we can love others.
Love often means constraining yourself out of consideration for others.
So I am a proponent of modesty. Of guarding one’s speech. And of lifting others up, even at cost to oneself. The world tells us not to care what others think. Just do what you want! But that’s not God’s way. He doesn’t want women to be free, educated, and empowered so we can flaunt our abilities to the world. He created us for something infinitely more beautiful. So be wise in how you steward your freedom, your talents, and your voice. You have influence. You matter. You are a role model. How will you choose to live?
What lies have you believed about femininity or gender roles? What tugs of war still go on in your head? What do you love most about being a woman? Comment below with your thoughts and reflections––I love hearing from you! You can also drop me a line on the contact page.
***This is the second installment of the 3-part series Young and Female.
For part 1, click here: Young and Female: Being Told I Can’t.
To go on to part 3, click here: Young and Female: Relating to Men.***