The Complexity of Womanhood

Let me preface this, first, by saying that my words are filtered through my belief in the Bible and understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Secondly, this post is by no means definitive, but rather extremely explorative…

Duck #91

 

“Hey! Did y’all know that it’s a presidential election year?” is something no one has said in the past few months because, unless you literally live under a rock, it’s practically impossible not to escape the bigness of this year’s political frenzy. I don’t actually want to write anything about politics–I make it a habit not to really participate in too much governmental banter because, quite frankly, I don’t know nearly enough to engage in what I would consider to be a fully well rounded debate/discussion; however, this year’s candidates have brought attention to a particular group of people, a group of which I strongly identify: women.

I’m a millennial, and so among the seemingly endless list of categories that my generation doesn’t fully understand and is frantically redefining, womanhood seems to be a bright thread woven through today’s social fabric that I cannot ignore. What is a woman? Does she have a definition? How much does biology have to do with her makeup? She is complex, is she not? Is feminine an adjective that consistently rides piggyback on womankind? Can she be strong and independent, yet meek and servile? I don’t have all the answers to these questions, and maybe I don’t really have any, but I believe such questions will ebb and flow in a river of curiosity as our world continues to develop. And because these questions will continue to exist, I think it’s important to at least attempt a discovery of their answers.


When you think of “woman,” what comes to mind?  I think there are two categories people would generally* choose. Let’s call them Snow White and Olivia Pope. Snow is meek, soft spoken (serious question: does anyone actually like her voice though?!), dainty, and participates in all things melodic and woodland creature. Whether directly or indirectly, Snow’s character represents purity (I mean, just read her name), and a sort of helplessness that needs rescuing only by the aid of a prince. In a lot of ways, Snow White hints at the perfectly acceptable idea of need that women (but inclusively people in general) need other people. However, because Snow isn’t presented as the most self sufficient of characters, there’s this undercurrent of inadequacy that runs in her story.
Conversely, Olivia is the HBIC**, powerful, strong, independent, intelligent, quick witted–her catch phrase is, “it’s handled.” While Olivia has proven for season after season that she does not need a man to be whole, viewers are shown that men–two men in particular–are her kryptonite. The funny thing is, she is always calling the shots. Her lovers are putty in her hands. She tells them when to jump and they say, “how high?!” She gives in to their enticing sexual bait, but not out of selfless love, rather because she, quite frankly, is horny and knows she can get what she wants. Unlike Snow White, comparatively, Olivia is far from pure.

So what do we have here? We have two characters that strongly oppose each other. Cast against one another, there is an obvious difference. However, Snow White and Olivia Pope are tied together because they are both women. Regardless of how apparently divergent these ladies are, their womanhood unites them intricately. The same holds true for non-fictional women as well. Do  you not identify, even partially, with both Snow White and Olivia Pope? I know I do.  The woman is not one or the other. She is both/and. I believe that the reason there is so much tension between these two groups of women is because society recognizes the complexity of the woman, but has not created a safe space for her to be both, at least not in a way that she so chooses. For example look at the Lil John’s lyric we all shout in Usher’s song Yeah!: “I want a lady in the streets, but a freak in the bed.”
In another song, called Good Girls by Nick Jonas, this same idea plays out. Big Sean says, “What I really want is a bad girl tonight, but a good girl for life.” You see, the woman is calm and fierce, she is reserved and assertive, she is prudent and rash.

Okay, cool, Jayna… The woman is a lot of things. She’s a both/and. But so what?
Dear reader, I’m glad you asked. We can take heart in the complexity of our womanhood, both the delightful and destructive aspects, because it points to the complexity of our Savior. That is not to say that our destructive aspects are a reflection of Jesus, but rather that he as the power and capability to transform our brokenness. We are women, created in God’s image, designed to bring him glory.  But truly, the only place we can reconcile and be free to explore the both/and, the immense complexity of our makeup, is at the cross and in the presence of Christ.

Take a moment and look at Proverbs 31:10-30. In churches across the country, this passage is looked at often when trying to understand what it means to be a woman of God. However, when I was younger, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled about this passage because I thought 90% of it’s content didn’t apply to me. As I’ve gotten older though, what I’ve come to learn is that this passage does apply to me. The description of this Proverbs 31 woman is not a set of standards that you must meet in order to be a true woman/woman of God. If you look at it that way, you’re going to fail.  At least, I will. I have failed several times today, already.
So what if we shifted our perspective? What if we looked at this passage as a measure for the capacity and the capability of a woman of God. I mean, just look at how many verbs there are in these 20 verses–I count at least 23. This woman is not just docile, nor she is not just servile. She is committed, determined, strong, creative, intelligent, respected, but most importantly she “fears the Lord” (v. 30).

This is something that I personally struggle with, fearing the Lord with all that I am. But as an image bearer, I realize that in order to be all of who I am, I must look to the One in whose image I was created. In Psalm chapter 34, verses 5 and 8-10 read like this, ” Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed…Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man (woman) who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord , you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lion suffers want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

I’ve been camping out in this Psalm for the past few months, because the Lord is kind and gracious, but also because he doesn’t want me to be stuck in my same twisted mindset forever. It’s been good for me, as a child of God in general, but specifically as a woman, because that is what I am, to be in this passage. Here’s a list of reasons why I need to read the above four verses every single day, in no particular order:

  1. I am constantly comparing myself to other girls.
  2. I don’t want to write this list.
  3. I want a boyfriend and eventually a husband.
  4. I want to have sex.
  5. I don’t want to talk to people.
  6. I watch Netflix more than I probably should
  7. I overeat.
  8. I under-eat.
  9. I want attention from guys and girls.
  10. I don’t want to write this list.
  11.  I want a career.
  12. I want to be a mom and have a family.
  13. I’m jealous.
  14. I’m selfish.
  15. I wear things so people will compliment me.
  16. Writing this list hasn’t gotten easier.
  17. I’ve been hurt before, by guys and girls.
  18. I’ve been taken advantage of.
  19. I’ve been made fun of.
  20. I like being the center of attention.
  21. I don’t always want to speak up.
  22. I don’t measure up to standards set by other people, as well as standards set by myself.
  23. I’m not good at saying no.
  24. I want to delete everything I’ve written so far.

The list could go on and I’m sure that you have your own list. Maybe some of our items are the same, and maybe they’re not, but honestly what’s on the list isn’t  what’s most important. You see, what really needs to be noticed is the fact that everything on my list (and probably everything on yours) points back to a fundamental disbelief I have in the fact that seeking the Lord means I won’t lack a single good thing. Don’t miss this or pretend that you too don’t struggle to believe this. I too often think that “just Jesus’ isn’t enough. This list shows my flaw of not recognizing the image of God that I bear and desiring something other than that image, an image I did not earn, cannot lose, and is wrapped up in my DNA as a woman.

At the beginning of this post, I asked, “what is a woman?” And now that I’m at the end, I still don’t really know. At least, not enough to give a catch-all, confident answer, but I do know that a woman who is to be praised, is a woman that fears the Lord. Indeed, there is a uniqueness to being a woman, but our uniqueness shouldn’t be a hinderance in seeking the Lord, nor should it be an excuse not to seek him. So, I believe that in order to explore our womanhood,  in order to explore our personal identities as women and the security we can have in our Savior, we have to start with where our womanhood comes from…Jesus Christ.

 

[Dear Jesus,
Thank you for creating me as a woman and for the complexity that comes with it. I don’t understand everything about you, or myself for that matter, but I’m thankful that you are patient and desire to grow me into a woman who fears you. Give me the the grace and strength to do that.]
<3Amen

 

*The research I did, though not extremely extensive, lead me to believe that these two categories (or combination of the two) are what a lot of people think about when it comes to women. From the Bible: The Book of Ruth, Esther, & Luke 10:38-42; TV/movie celebrity (Sophia Bush, Shonda Rhimes) social media responses to Donald Trump’s comments about Hillary Clinton being “Nasty”; Lucy Elizabeth Christopher’s stream of conscious poetry via her instagram account.

**Head B*tch In Charge. Olivia and her employees have used this term on the show to relay the idea that OP is not someone to be messed with.

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