Sunday, January 30, 2011

But I Don't Wanna Be a Princess...

I come from a line of strong women. On the maternal side of the family, we are direct descendants of Marie-Anne Lagimodiere. She was a French Canadian woman who bucked the tradition of her day by venturing west with her voyageur husband rather than staying back in the more "civilized" regions of Canada waiting for his return, as most wives did at that time. Due to this, they played a crucial role in establishing many cities and their children were some of the first of European heritage to be born in the western provinces. But I imagine that at the time her decision to go along for the journey was scoffed at and heavily judged because "that's just not what women do." But I think she's pretty amazing for it. When all was said and done her defiance still holds a place in her nation's history, helping it grow into what it is today.

The more I look around, I see so much of that same attitude within certain Christian circles. There is this idea that there's an entire category of things reserved for men, because they are just "not what women do" or that God doesn't want women to do them. As a woman, this has a big impact on me because it boils down to what positions, identities, and societal roles I'm allowed and/or expected to take on.

I know that people can be very defensive on this matter and I'm well aware of the arguments on both sides of the issue. But I can't help but wonder why we are so willing to accept this view that the New Testament verse that instructs women to always cover their head in prayer or worship is a cultural concept that no longer applies, but those that instruct women not teach men and to quietly submit to them are seen as completely valid in this day and age.  (Is it because if the head covering instructions were still valid, then the instructions in the same section for men not to have long hair would infringe on the hipster style of a lot of young Evangelical leaders?)

I know this may sound controversial, but I truly believe that the way in which American Evangelical Culture tries to teach gender roles is very capable of creating a sort of identity crisis for females. In many circles, the identities they are allowed to assume are extremely limited. I never knew these sorts of view were still being taught to the degree that they are in some circles until I started encountering them more frequently at Conservative Christian College. (Although I will say that I think there are many others like myself who refuse to abide by these narrow definitions, which is what helped me survive surrounded by them.)

Here are some identities that were consider acceptable and/or actively promoted:

1. Princess

This was a play off the idea that God is king and we are all his sons and daughters. Therefore, all girls are princesses. It was a spiritual way to buy into the Disney hype many of this generation already have in their psyche without having to step on the toes of any Southern Baptists who may still be boycotting Disney. This was a great option for girls who were raised with strict ideas of what roles were allowed to each gender and to those who were anxiously awaiting their prince. The problem is apart from being a "daughter of the King" this role isn't defined. I can't imagine the most godly way to live would be under what our society knows/has known of the role of princesses which didn't amount to much more than a self-indulgent life of idleness and luxury that is often completely dependent upon men. On the flip side, I have never heard any Evangelical leader try to get young men to embrace their identity as a prince. If someone has (especially if you have a link to sermon audio/video/text) I would love to know.

2. Wife in Waiting

This actually closely ties into princess in many ways. I'm not in any way trying to put down the institution of marriage or families. I have nothing against either and in fact support both. But I can't help but think that if you rest the vast majority of your identity in your marital status or children, it's going to create some problems. I saw many girls in college who, with the best of intentions, seemed to constantly be trying to prove what a great wife and/or mother they would be. Some would do so to the point where they were cooking, cleaning, and even doing laundry for guys. When a friend who was going to be an Resident Assistant the following year asked me what advice I would give to her freshman girls, I replied, "No laundry before marriage." We both laughed. But my point was that it creates a very unhealthy relationship that can often lead to girls constantly seeking a boy's approval while he is in a position that easily allows him to take advantage of her. I even knew a guy in college who used to walk around during visitation hours (we'll get to that later) and write on the girls' message boards "Bake me a cake" along with his name and phone number. I was appalled and asked him why he did that. He replied "Because a lot of the time it works. I've gotten a lot of cakes." Some of these girls really thought he would be impressed with them. In actuality, he wasn't even really paying attention. He just wanted some cake.
Apart from that, we should probably consider whether it's worth the tens of thousands of dollars a year that private Christian colleges cost just to try to learn how to be a good wife and/or to find a husband.

3. The Proverbs 31 Woman

This is a often pointed to passage as to what a woman should be. And this is one of the few identities that I actually like, a lot. But I seem to interpret these verses much differently than most I met at CCC. When I hear people talk about this passage, they seem to say it supports the idea of a woman isn't obsessed with outward appearance and takes care of her household and family (i.e. cooks, cleans, and raises kids). But look at these verses. They also talk of an industrious, creative, and hardworking woman. These passages clearly talk of a women who looks into land investments and buys one (no mention of her husband being involved in that deal). They speak of a woman who works on that same land (aka outside of the home) and uses what it produces to make a profit (once again, husband not mentioned in this work). It speaks of a woman who not only makes goods for use in her house, but also makes goods which she in turn goes out into the city to sell. This isn't your happy homemaker who is just waiting for her husband to get home. She sees what needs to be done and does it rather than waiting for her husband to take charge in every single matter. While he is conducting his business, she conducts hers. In the end it says she deserves honor and praise. Why? Because of the work her hands have done. Enough said.

 Those are the main ones that come to mind, although I'm sure there are others. Tomorrow I'll discuss some of the negative identities I saw given to women at CCC. This isn't an attempt to vilify men or those who believe strongly in established gender roles. It's just to say that some of us don't and we still seek to follow God. I wanted to talk about the expectations of women in American Evangelical Culture, because they really can put a lot of strain on some women or make others feel like they don't belong in the church at all. How sad.

I'll probably talk some more about this topic as I keep writing, because established gender roles and in some cases indulgence in sexist language/behavior were one major thing that made me feel like a misfit in the Evangelical world. I was always taught growing up that I should never assume I couldn't do something just because I was a girl. (Thank you, Mom and Dad!) Suddenly I was in a world where people were telling me precisely that. Based on some of the articles and videos I've seen being passed around lately on the internet, this idea that we need to put men back in their "rightful role" seems to be gaining some traction with well known church leaders and organizations. (I'll discuss that later as well.) If we believe that women are created in the image of God, with a worth and value all their own, is that reflected in our churches? Do we treat them as such? If you're a woman, do you feel valued as such? I think those are questions worth considering.

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