Internalized inferiority


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.

The Kingdom of God is:

– not feeling in competition with other women or as if I’m only a potential mate for men

– seeing women (younger and older) comfortable with their gifts of speaking and preaching

– hearing prayers in many languages and global perspectives

– being inspired and convicted by men and women who have traveled the journey of gender equality ahead of me

– being hugged by a professor who’s class was integral in building my foundation of gender equality

– listening to the pain of people of color who were deeply wounded by racism on a campus like Biola

– being affirmed as a White woman in the job I hold

– being asked by a much older, and much more well-educated man what books I would recommend

– much discussion and relating with a passionate, intelligent woman my age

– watching memorial slideshows of competent women who dedicated their lives to go where God called them, regardless of what society would allow

– elevators rides that aren’t awkward

– the grace for being late to a workshop on creating safe spaces

– the process of recognizing the extent to which I have been socialized

– combating the racism, sexism and myths of superiority, inferiority, and meritocracy in my own heart

– having someone I just met share a poem they wrote out with me

– conversations with people of all different races and ethnic backgrounds, in their 20’s and in their 70’s, first-time attendees and founders and board members, experts and beginners, those who paid their own way and those on scholarships…

…this is the Kingdom.

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.