August 2011


As I was driving home from work today, various men on the street and in nearby cars at three separate times yelled “hii!”, whistled, and made lewd noises at me – all in a matter of 30 minutes.

As a child I was taught that it’s rude to stare at, point at, or talk loudly about other people. Even if you are pointing out something you like about that person, you just don’t it. It’s rude.

So why is it that some men feel that they have the right, the permission, and the authority to comment on, point out, judge, and – the absolute worst, to me – assert publicly what they want to do to my body – to my face?

Now, I know there are differences culturally when it comes to some of this. Some women feel affirmed by being whistled at. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with this, but I’m also concerned that, as women, we don’t attempt to empower ourselves with the tools that are being used to oppress us. We are not objects; we are beings with a soul. We are not for anyone’s viewing pleasure and we are not for anyone’s consumption.

Not to mention the fear that is perpetuated by every comment or whistle. “How close is he?” “Where’s the nearest store I could duck into?” “Are there enough cars driving past that someone would notice if he grabbed me?”

A whistle may be just that – an acknowledgement, an affirmation. Or it could mean more. One can usually tell by the pitch, intonation, and length of the whistle.

A “hii!” seems simple enough but in my experience, this is usually a distraction technique so that once you look over, blatant vulgarity is expressed.

I don’t think I need to, or care to, define lewd noises.

Most of the time I ignore the comments. Sometimes I’m caught off guard and I do look – and then berate myself for doing so. Occasionally I stare them down. Most rarely do I actually say anything in response.

A few months ago as I was driving home from my Life Group, I was stopped at a stop light and a man in the car next to mine started yelling “Hey! HEEY!!” over and over at me. I put on my “death face” and stared straight ahead pretending not to hear him. Eventually I realized that I recognized the voice – it was one of the men from my Life Group. I rolled down the window and yelled, “Now you know what I do when men yell at me from their cars!” Even after I realized it was him, I was still shaken up from tornado of emotion inside of me. We had a good laugh afterwards, but it was a rare moment in which he was able to experience the toll that these sorts of occurrences have on me as a woman.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

I’ve had quite a few conversations with Christian men who express their frustration that Christian women aren’t able to take a compliment. I definitely have problems in this area. But I don’t think it stems from insecurity of self or distrust of that specific man as much as it does from building a fortress around myself so that anything a man says about my body or my appearance is unable to penetrate its thick walls.

Because usually, the comments that are made towards me should have been checked long  before they made their way out of a man’s mouth. It’s a necessary fortress. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be sensitive to when I should let the drawbridge down (and maybe stop the archers from shooting). I’m thankful for the grace men have offered me after giving me a compliment and I shoot them a funny look or there’s an awkward pause before I say “thank you”. It’s challenging to let moments like that sink in and take the men at their word.

So what can we do to change this?

Men, you can talk amongst yourselves about making comments or whistling in public. You need to be having these conversations. You should be as outraged as some women are at this reality. Discuss the attitudes men hold toward women. Explore why men feel they are justified in letting their opinion about our appearance be known publicly. Educate yourself on concepts of privilege, power, and internalized superiority. Keep each other accountable. Confront men who do this. And continue to give compliments and the needed grace to accompany them.

Women, I’m afraid I have no simple answer. Be willing to consider that there may be cultural differences at play. Sometimes responding to men in the moment only incites them more. Most of the time I want to flip them off or yell a profanity or “would you say that to your sister?!” back at them. It’s more complex to think of a gracious response that takes the higher road, stripping them of the power they’re wielding. Sometimes a long stare might be enough. Other times there may be opportunity to start a conversation. We need to work harder at receiving compliments well too. Be slow in your response. Be willing to take the complimenter at his word. I think practicing giving compliments to men may also assist in the process.

“With [the tongue] we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing from the same mouth. My brothers and sister, it just shouldn’t be this way! […] Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. […] What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.” James 3:9-10, 13, 17 (Common English Bible)

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I have a soft spot for period dramas – particularly ones based on novels by Jane Austen. I’m not sure if it’s the long dresses or the beautiful shots of nature or just the ‘simplicity’ of the portrayal of falling in love but somehow these types have films have escaped the grasp of my embarrassed conscience and I continue to watch them.

But as I watch Sense & Sensibility I identify the extreme polarization of two of the main characters. Marianne is a naive woman of 17 who is a whimsical, romantic idealist. Colonel Brandon is an experienced military man old enough to be her father, who hasn’t loved since his wife died. Upon meeting her, the Colonel immediately falls in love with the young Marianne, but, of course, she fancies someone else. She follows her heart and he steadily loves her from afar.

Maybe though, what attracts me to stories like this is not the superficial aspects of clothing and screen shots but the deep rooted desire to have a love story that follows that of Marianne and Colonel Brandon. Maybe, what attracts me to this story is that I secretly wish the immaturity of someone like Marianne could truly attract a man like the Colonel; that I need not be anything other than my naive self to gain the respect of a mature, moral man.

Marianne’s almost-engagement crumbles and in her dramatic emotional state she goes out alone in the rain and falls. Colonel Brandon saves her (*surprise*) and she begins to realize how foolish she’s been. His steadiness tempers her and she becomes worthy of him.

And I’m wondering… where does this sort of fantasy love story turn into an expectation?

This isn’t just a story – I’m absorbing lessons from it. Such as, that it’s reasonable for a quality man to love a fickle, undeserving girl. That it’s okay or even normal for growth in relationships to take one path: the man teaches the woman/the woman learns from the man. That regardless of what the woman does to negatively impact her life, the man will be there waiting for her.

Hold up. This is sounding a little too close to my relationship with God.

When we get down to it, Marianne is an immature child. Colonel Brandon is more like a father figure – or God figure – who guides her development than a loving, equal partner. Granted, this story has context in its time period, but if women (and men) make this love story an ideal today, then it can be pretty destructive. Women abdicate responsibility for their personal growth and development while feeling entitled to a near-perfect man. Men strive to be an unwavering, emotionless provider/protector and don’t believe they have anything to learn from a woman.

I’ve thought a lot more about the repercussions for women than for men at this point. And I think there is a lot for us to consider. First, I think that a lot of young Christian women moan about the lack of quality men around when we aren’t doing a whole lot to pursue our own character growth. Second, we shouldn’t be pursuing our own growth only because we want to make ourselves deserving of a quality man. Third, we aren’t entitled to or promised a near-perfect man or even a man at all.

Don’t get me wrong – marriage is wonderful and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be married. But as a wise, single woman in her 30’s said, “I know a lot of women who’s desire to be married is so strong that they are unable to live the abundant life that Jesus has given to us to live now.”

So, single ladies, if you so desire, join me in striving to be a well-rounded, accurately self-perceptive, confident in my giftings, deeply and intentionally loving woman regardless of whether or not a man is waiting for me at some point in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, and I’ll be in need of some company. Single gents, you can do the same. I hope and pray that, single or married, we can all experience the reality of the abundance of the Kingdom now, which is ultimately incomparable to these love story fantasies.