This morning I met with a dear friend for a lovely Sunday brunch. Although I think we both would have rather been enjoying mimosas and pancakes, at this time of year in Montana, it was nice to have a hearty Irish meal at a well-known pub downtown and enjoy the warming effects that a good cup of Irish coffee afforded us.
I always enjoy every conversation I have every had with this friend. She challenges me in the best sort of ways, and more often than not, I walk away feeling refreshed and encouraged that I am not alone in where I stand. I hope she knows how much I appreciate her presence in my life.
At any rate, our conversations lately often turn to current events, and what it means to be a strong female voice in the world, and in the church. I know of many women that feel there is a struggle in feeling like they have a place in society. Especially in the church. This has been a struggle that dates back for generations, and while I know we are moving forward, it seems as though that progress has been slow. I know there are many minorities and marginalized voices that feel this way as well. I will not deny the fact that as a white female, I still have a lot more freedom, and opportunities than many other woman of other demographics. I am believing and fighting for the day that we are all equal in Christ, as he so intended it to be.
As I walked back to my car after saying our goodbyes, I got to thinking about what it means to be feminine. Perhaps the problem is how we have not only defined the word, but also in how we have applied it. To be feminine means to be of a female quality, of the female gender… so naturally that means that to be feminine means to be soft-spoken, and gentle, and sensitive, and pretty…. right?
This appears to be what our culture has taught us. I fear that we have done a lot of damage as far as the identities of individuals go. In the ways we associate these characteristics with the feminine, we have in essence said that any woman that does not fit the mold, is not really a woman, at least not the way “God intended her to be.” The other side of this effect is that we have given the impression that men who are gentle, soft-spoken, sensitive, nurturing… are not masculine, simply because they don’t fit in with the burly, loud, aggressive stereotypes.
Although we may not vocalize such ideas, they are certainly there in the underlying makeup of our society. There is a well-known quote that I’ve seen circling around the internet that says, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing its stupid.” To apply these stereotypes to the people around us creates a whole slew of people who begin to believe they are broken if they don’t match the definition our culture has provided.
The truth is, labels limit people. Labels also only work in terms of people, if the person we are labeling agrees with them. To quote the great novelist, Toni Morrison: “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” The only person who can truly know who we are, is ourselves. The only one who knows us better than we do ourselves, is God. So if God says you are a woman, or a man, or whatever… and you are not what the world says you should be. Oh well.
I know that sounds rather trite, but it is the truth. You owe no apologies to anyone for being who you know God has made you to be. Let that sink in, let it settle. You are you. For a reason. You matter. You have tremendous purpose. Even when it isn’t recognized by the rest of the world yet.