Femininity


The following are a compilation of photos I’ve snapped in the day-to-day. Some looked innocent at first glance but upon further thought I found they served to perpetuate stereotypes that ‘capture’ and render us limited in our identities. Others are a glimpse into a life that can so easily be seen as ‘normal’, that is in fact, just one of many ways of seeing the world. We must acknowledge that our paradigms shape how we see the world, and the world shapes our paradigms. My intention is not to call out any person, company or organization but to call all of us to a greater level of examination of our paradigms and what shapes them.

Difficult times indeed. First world problem?

Missing: Donkey. Lost during the Modernist/Fundamentalist Split.

White men this way!

I’ve seen another (probably more recent) version of this sign that says “crew working”, utilizing gender inclusive language.

I saw this ad in an airport and literally stopped in my tracks, mouth gaping open. If we assume the astronaut is male (especially based off of the proximity and intimacy with the main child) then there is only one woman portrayed in the image as a role model, hero, or someone to look up to. And she’s a princess. Note how the color differences in their outfits point to their gender.

Those who hold privilege in society are granted the ability to assume that their experience is ‘normal’. We assume that others’ experiences are like ours. While R.A. Torrey may have intended this book to be about evangelizing both men and women, he most likely overlooked the ways the genders experience the world differently. Non-inclusive language assumes that the experience of women is the same as men.

It’s impossible not to draw conclusions between the feminine brand name of the wine and the reference to promiscuity. What does this suggest about women who drink?

I thought I may have been looking too hard for objectification in this billboard (“she” + “thing” + “beauty”) but a friend told me about another ad (below) that confirmed my suspicions.

While searching for a picture of this billboard, this one popped up. Originally the billboard has the same caption: “She is a thing of beauty.” Is it referencing the beer, the woman… or both? I think we know. What does this say to men about permission to gaze at women in this way? The Billboard Liberation Front “improved” this sign to clarify the impact that it has on its viewers. It’s also important to note that the upper or upper-middle class individuals in this photo are both White.

Perpetuating the lie that women who hold positions of power hate and are a threat to men. Of the six professionals portrayed in this billboard, five are men and all are White.

A White female jockey, wearing pink and white. Is she whipping the horse or… ?

Spotted at my local lavanderia. Congrats, women! We can now choose a laundry soap that fits with our personality! Calm, passionate, or sexy. No overlapping allowed – you must choose one.

Every time I attempt to tell a friend about this video I end up laughing so hard I have a hard time explaining it. So it’s best you watch it yourself.

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.

I was determined to make this trip my “vacation” even though I would be having a lot of intellectual stimulation, emotional expression, and very little time to relax. After I arrived at the hotel and explored my room, it hit me.

I’m an adult. I’m a woman. I’m an adult woman.

During life group a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a Sister about why the small group for the high school girls is called “Women’s Group”. Are these teenage girls women? What does it mean if we call them that? It made me realize that I have very specific (and different) ideas about what it means to be a woman. In the adult, “grown-up” sense, “woman” carries a strong connotation of responsibility to me. In fact, I don’t think of much else… Growing up I went from a “child” to a “young woman”. While I was in high school, my parents didn’t like to call us “teenagers” because of rebelliousness, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-ness, and out-of-control-ness that is generally associated with the teenage years. Instead, we were “young women” or “young men” who took responsibility for our actions, controlled our impulses, and were respectful to authority. Lack of “teen years” does create issues but it did make us responsible.

So while I imagine that calling teenagers “women” will inspire them to responsibility and healthy adult life, my Sister pointed out that she doesn’t want her young daughter to think she has the advantages of being an adult woman. An excellent and very valid point! But it really made me think about what those advantages are. I’m still thinking, to be honest. Not because there is a lack of advantages, but because I have such a heavily ingrained mentality that “adult woman” = “responsibility” that it’s harder for me to acknowledge them.

Today as I was sitting in a conference room waiting for the first plenary session to start of the Christians for Biblical Equality Conference, I closed my eyes and took a quick spirit assessment. I immediately became choked up. Being the atypical, unemotional woman that I am, it really surprised me.

There was something powerful going on that I’m still not sure I have an understanding of. But I think it has something to do with feeling safe, feeling relief, feeling seen, valued and affirmed as a woman, and feeling the process of my soul healing from internalized inferiority*.

I felt safe because I was in the presence of like-minded community.
I felt relief because I could be real and honest about my beliefs without being told it’s “unbiblical” or “sinful”.
I felt seen, valued and affirmed as a woman not because of what I do or do not do as a living but because others in the room believe that women are full partners in the Kingdom of God – and not just in a spiritual sense.
I felt my soul healing from the damage I have perpetrated against myself that keeps me from believing life-giving truths about myself and from using the gifts God gave me to their full extent.
I felt more alive.

I told myself that on this trip I want to be present. Present with myself, present with others, present with God. No tuning out, no checking out, no skipping out. Fully present. Relaxing, yes. Mind-numbing, no. Fully present.

So far, so good. I realized that while I had been looking forward to the cable, this means that I won’t be turning on the TV while I’m here. And there are TWO of them in my room (??). I intentionally brought only one book with me, a novel. Purposed to be opened in long periods of transition (aka on flights). I thought my computer might be a distraction, but I hope to use it for times of process, like this one.

I praise God that his Kingdom is so wholly other. It’s so outside of what I can comprehend. There is so much freedom and so much affirmation and so much purpose and so much grace. The boundaries that he does give us provide us with health, life, and ironically, even more freedom.

I love being a part of creation that is being reconciled back to the Creator. Back to the way things were intended. Back to being fully woman, fully human.

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*internalized inferiority: a deep psychological belief that one is inferior to a privileged group; subscribing to the value system created by those in power who deem themselves superior and others (you) inferior. This can happen to people of color because of the system of racism, as with women because of the system of sexism (and so forth). As I struggle with internalized inferiority as a woman, I also struggle with internalized superiority as a White woman.

“The feminism I ascribe to and work for involves more than women and our fictional representations simply acting like men or unquestioningly replicating archetypal male values such as being emotional inexpressive, the need for domination and competition, and using violence as a form of conflict resolution. In my feminist vision, part of what makes a character feminist is watching her struggle with prioritizing values such as cooperation, empathy, compassion and non-violent conflict resolution in a world largely hostile to those values.”

This woman is brilliant.

Ophelia and the concept of Ophelia began my gender journey. I just realized this.

I spent this weekend propped on a plush, pillow-laden couch in a large studio in North Hollywood filled with Persian rugs, floor chairs, and even more colorful pillows, decorated with paintings resembling the intersection of pregnancy and seed life.

Why was I there?

I was taking a birth doula¹ workshop to become a certified doula. And it was amazing. For 2 days, 12 women ranging in age from 20 to 40 shared enriching and traumatic birth stories, role-played comforting a laboring woman, affirmed each others strengths, and watched videos of women giving birth. It was powerful. We sipped Moroccan peppermint tea from Trader Joe’s and talked about organic food and ate fresh bread with butter. We practiced massage techniques on each other and coached each other in breathing patterns. We were mesmerized as our instructor shared the contents of her doula bag with us – everything from grape seed oil to a light purple rebozo to her aromatherapy kit.

Our instructor said something today that stuck with me: “Women are dying for compassion from one another.” And I think that’s so true! We become so competitive, so catty, so desperate to “one-up” each other. So to be in an environment where we were cultivating health, affection, and support of one another was incredibly powerful and life-giving.

And that’s when I realized, I love women. I mean, I LOVE women. There is just something about witnessing women cry and grieve over their birth experiences or share in the struggles of parenting while working full-time. Somehow women who are single or do not have children are able to relate. We have so much in common simply because we share the same body design. And yet, we are so diverse and unique. The beauty of unity within diversity.

I think women are my calling. I want them to be my work. I don’t think it will always be in the same capacity, but I think that they will be the common denominator in whatever slew of careers I end up having.

We ended the weekend by sitting in a circle and listening to a song that spoke of sisters: women leaning on and believing in each other because of their friendship. Below are the lyrics.

“Sister”
by Cris Williamson

“Born of the earth
Child of God
Just one among the family
And you can count on me
To share the load
And I will always help you
Hold burdens
And I will be the one
To help you ease your pain
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
I will fold you in my arms
Like a white wing dove
Shine in your soul
Your spirit is crying born of the earth
Child of God
Just one among the family
And you can count on me
To share the load
And I will always help you
Hold burdens
And I will always help you
Hold burdens
And I will be the one
To help you ease your pain
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend”

We need more of this mutual support! I know I could use it, and I certainly need to learn more about what it means to provide it.

I was thinking about the women in my life and all the various roles they play. I want to share some of them with you, so below are links to blogs of women I really admire.

Jonalyn Fincher blogs on women and spirituality.
Hollie Baker-Lutz has a new blog on “finding feminism in the everyday”.
Kimberley B. George blogs on the intersection of gender and all kinds of injustice.
TulipGirl blogs on “mothering, theology, and gracious living”.

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¹Doula: a woman who provides emotional, physical, and informational support to a woman during pregnancy, labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period.

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