This was originally posted by AWH reader Toranse at her blog, Perspective. I identify with so much of what she writes in this post. Thanks for letting me cross post it here, Toranse! The original post can be found here.
One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Adolescent Literature. I want to be a school librarian at the junior high level (yes, I know “you’re crazy, why would want to deal with teenagers, etc., etc”) and I’m really enjoying the class.
My professor – a quirky, overly dramatic man that makes each class interesting with his reading performances – asked this question on the first day of class. “Does teen literature tell us about teens…or about our perception of who teens are?” And then in class just the other day, he asked this, “Are teens similar to teen literature because it accurately portrays them, or because by telling teens this is who they are, they actually become it?”
That last question I found so interesting, and thought it related to the discussion on a few of the blogs that I read. Is our perception of who men and women are in Christian culture actually who they are – or by pastors, theologians, and Christian writers telling us that’s who we are – is Christian culture creating people into that role?
It makes me both sad and angry that even now, the idea that people can be more than their gender is still so hard to accept. That if you propose the idea that gender is a secondary issue, they actually panic, as though at the same time that they’ll say gender is biological and innate, if you don’t stringently enforce it, your child will grow up irreversibly damaged.
Growing up, I fought so hard against the gender role that I was told was normal. There were two sides to it. “You are a girl, you must act this way” at the same time as it was “Girls acting that way are so stupid and silly lets make fun of them.” I didn’t want to be considered stupid or silly or childlike or innocent, so I had a love/hate relationship with being a girl. I wanted to be a girl, I liked being a girl, I just didn’t want to be a girl if I had to be like that. I’m a woman, I’m a human, and I am deserving of being treated like an individual, and with respect – no matter what my personality is.
Sometimes, in more “liberal” circles, women are allowed to deviate – but the deviations are merely hobbies, activities. I can be a “rebel” woman there if I say I don’t cook – just as long as I’m still sweet, demure, and empathetic, and still have a good chunk of my desires and activities lining up with “womanly” things.
But it’s more than that with me. It’s not that what I do doesn’t fit the gender roles – its who I am that isn’t right. I’m not nurturing. I’m capable of empathy, but have a hard time showing it. I’m a bad listening ear (like I’m supposedly supposed to be); if you tell me your problems, I’ll try to find ways to fix it for you (sound distinctly male, or what?) I’m sarcastic, prone to self-deprecating comments and cynicism, and if you give me the option of fight or flight, I’m going to fight with everything in me.
And I’m told that I am sin. Not that what I do is sin – but that I am sin. And even if I fit the stereotypical role of femininity, I’d still be sin – my body, my gender would be accused of causing men to stumble, that by existing, having a female form, I am something wrong. “God created you – but He created something wrong, bad, evil.” That’s the implication, that’s the message.
How dare Christian culture reduce women to that. Strip us of uniqueness, of our design – by shaming and blaming that design in one form another. By placing us in a box and saying, “Don’t move from there” because the idea that a woman is actually human – capable of being an individual, separate entity from all other women, seems to baffle and terrify them. It is wrong – it is the destruction of a child of God, it is bullying and abuse, to dismiss us, and not acknowledge who we are. We’re not “women” as an all-encompassing umbrella that can be analyzed and scrutinized as a homogeneous entity, we are ourselves – human. Each capable of different things, each with a beautiful and unique personality given to us by the Ultimate Creator. Women are deserving of far more than what Christian culture gives us.
And the reason I won’t accept it – not even in its soft forms – is because it is wrong on all levels. I was told that Captivating by Eldridge was so freeing because it wasn’t about gender roles – you didn’t have to fit the rigidity that say, “Biblical Womanhood” might enforce. But no, it still is gender roles. Any time you judge a person solely on their gender and from that gender tell them the ways in which they must act and behave, or generalize their wants and desires, you are telling them “You are x gender, so you must be this.” You are reducing them to that, and then you are telling them – either implicitly or explicitly – that if you are anything else, God made you wrong. So I won’t accept it, and I won’t stay quiet and let it pass without critique because it has to change. In all forms. How many people have already been limited by this – who have become these automatic and stereotypical roles not because God created them as such, but because, like my professor pointed out, we’ve conflated being this roles with being godly? We’ve put God and people into a box, and the only room they have to move and mature is within these polarized, sharply defined roles?
What kind of things could God do through people, what kind of ways could His love and mercy and goodness shine when we allow everyone – women and men – to be exactly who God created them to be, and that it is beautiful and right to express that uniqueness in any righteous form it takes? B
Anything else is not only to limit the potential of your fellow siblings, not only to squash and cripple their nature, but it is to limit and deny the power and creativity of God.
As a side note, because I’m so passionate about this issue, recent discussions have reminded me of a poem I wrote about it some time last year. So I just posted it to my writing blog, if anyone is interested in reading it. It can be found here: Christian Girls.