I decided to do something I haven’t done before… I’m participating in a blog link-up. Check out the other contributions to Feminisms and Me
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female.
For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galations 3:28, NLT
When I was a little girl, I had a t-shirt with “First Woman President” emblazoned next to a drawing of a confident-looking Lucy, the little girl from Charlie Brown.
I wore that shirt threadbare, secretly believing that on my scrawny frame, it might just be proclaiming truth.
Just now as I sat down to write this, I couldn’t remember Lucy’s name. A quick search of Charlie Brown characters led me to my answer on Wikipedia, but the description of Lucy’s character gave me pause. It succinctly sums up my early-girlhood perception of strong women, the kind of feminist-in-training girls who believed they could be president. Lucy is a “bossy, crabby” girl, reports Wikipedia.
Bossy and Crabby. That’s what I thought I would be.
It’s a little odd… I’ve always been confident, believing that I could do anything I set my mind to. But at the same time, I’ve always been at war against what kind of a woman that would make me. I didn’t want to be mean, crabby, and bossy, but in my small, Bible-belt community, I didn’t see examples of women in non-traditional roles who weren’t smothered with negative stereotypes. I love my mama dearly, but from the time she was a high school student, she proclaimed her lifelong aspiration was to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, supporting her family from behind the scenes. And her unique embodiment of her desire resulted in a relationship that at least from the outside looked to have absolute deference to my father. I do not think her path was less or more valuable than other ways women support their families, but the fact of the matter was, it was the only example of womanhood I saw in my immediate family. As a little girl, whether by intent or routine, my childhood church said the main way women could serve in the church was by keeping nursery or teaching children’s Sunday School; I don’t remember women offering the communion devotional (something done by members of the congregation) or even passing the trays. The only female professionals I saw were teachers, and if women worked, the general social assumption was that it was an unfortunate reality for families who didn’t have what they needed financially in order for the woman to stay home. Working women – especially working mothers – were pitied.
It didn’t get better in high school. Jacob and I were best friends in High School and started dating when I was a senior. I cried and cried the day we decided to finally turn the friendship into something more serious… I only said yes to dating him because I didn’t want to lose Jacob, and at the time it seemed the options on the table were to seriously date or go our separate ways. But I remember sobbing to my girlfriends that I didn’t want a boyfriend because I didn’t want him to “hold me back.” He was my first boyfriend. I have this vague memory of my dad being relieved I finally consented to dating a boy because it would “soften” me.
So I was the little girl who grew up wanting to be strong, but thinking that was a bad thing. The little girl who thought there were two dirty words that started with F – One with 4 letters, and one spelled f-e-m-i-n-i-s-t.
To be honest I’ve lived with this tension and confusion for 30 years, feeling like my drive and determination and opinions were generally unfit for my gender… and if I just kept trying hard enough, maybe eventually I’d be a better woman. If I didn’t have slightly rebellious tendencies, I’d probably have given up on the idea that a woman of faith could do anything other than quietly submit to our local cultural expectations of what it means to be a “Good Christian Woman” and joined the ranks of those who thought anyone who talked about women’s rights or liberation was a bra-burning, man-hating, children-scorning degradation of God’s perfect plan for the daughters of Eve.
Motherhood has changed me. (Which is ironic, because currently I’m a stay-at-home mama in conservative West Texas who is thankful for the opportunity to be with my little one day in and day out.)
But I think becoming a mama to a little girl has made me more of a feminist than I ever was, and I no longer think I’m being rebellious or foolish or bossy or crabby. I’m not being Lucy. I’m being Carrie.
God has given me a daughter, and I believe in the unique power of her femininity. And through that experience, I am starting to see the truth that’s always been within myself… that I’m a daughter of the King, uniquely equipped for ministry in this broken world – not crippled by my femininity, but rather strengthened by it. My conservative community may have suggested feminists were brazen and aggressive, but now I see my strength isn’t in my brazenness, but it isn’t in my silence either. My strength isn’t in my aggression, but it isn’t in my submission either. My strength is in knowing that I have been called for a purpose in His Kingdom… following in His footsteps, I’m to bind up the brokenhearted, and as I’ve become a mama, I think I’m better equipped for that than ever before.
The callings God has given me… a passion for justice, a heart for the refugee, a burden for orphans, a seer of good things in those who think they are worthless – those have a place at the Table, and the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m less equipped to meet them than my male counterpart.
We talk about the Father’s power and strength and glory. But the gifts He’s given me come straight from His heart too… gentleness, compassion, mercy. These aren’t distinctly masculine vs. feminine traits; please don’t think that I’m saying all men are powerful and strong and all women are compassionate and gentle. But in a Christian culture that elevates certain virtues as “manly” and certain virtues as “feminine,” and then proceeds to tell women that their virtues can be best expressed (some would say only expressed) behind closed doors in the service of their families and as their husband’s “help mates,” is it any surprise that the dominant image of the Christian community as perceived by outsiders is one of dominance, power, and unyielding authority?
Undoubtedly this world needs to know the Father’s Heart. But in a culture where His people are often seen as harsh and cold, judgmental and stoic, and in a generation where that mirrors the way many fathers treated their children, is it any wonder that we have such misconceptions about what His heart may look like? I think it is time that we know the Father’s Mama-Heart, too. And as I look around at a new generation of women – confident in the gifts God has given them, and bearing light and love in their homes, communities, and worlds, I’m beginning to see new currents of compassion, grace, mercy and gentleness come alive. It’s always been a part of His heart, but when mama-hearted-women step into their calling, I believe it unveils the Father in new and vibrant ways.
I want to be a part of this unveiling. I want my little girl to always see Him — and herself — clearly. We’ve choosen a female pediatrician and we’re going to a church with women on the pastoral staff. I’ve wanted these things for her because I want her to see examples of strong women in all walks of life from her earliest days. I want her to discover her calling and not see her gender as a help or hindrance to achieving it. I don’t want her to elevate or denigrate her (or anyone else’s) potential and purpose based on their gender. I want to tell her that yes, she can be president someday (actually, she can’t – she was born in China), but she can do it with compassion and grace. She doesn’t have to be bossy and crabby – that isn’t what being a Daughter of the King looks like. That isn’t what being a feminist looks like… You know, maybe in the end, she won’t even need to be a feminist.
Maybe she can just be what we’re all supposed to be… a Child of God, uniquely equipped and called to unleash love in a broken world.