In the feminism of the late 1970s, it was seen as giving up ground in the battle for equal rights if a woman quit her job to raise children. On an increasing scale, full-time parenting was let go as a necessary sacrifice in seeking social change. To be a stay-at-home mother was to retain the yoke of curtailed decision-making, to be an enabler of the economic powerlessness which allowed abuse and second-class citizenship to be inflicted on fully half the population.
My mother marched with Take Back the Night rallies against rape and assault. She learned how to write advocacy letters to corporations who objectify, hypersexualize and degrade women in advertising images. She educated herself and those she encountered on the traits of abusers and how to identify that danger. She didn’t just sit back and gripe at the badness of bad people. She got involved in changing the world.
And then, my mother had her first child. But she didn’t stay at work. In spite of peer pressure, she decided to place her child above ideology. She placed her child above changing the world. In doing that, in choosing where to invest years of a life that’s inherently dedicated to bettering this world, she staked her hopes for change on that child.
She staked them on me.
The message of feminism seeks to encapsulate words written thousands of years ago: she is more precious than rubies. (Prov. 31:10) In the quiet, contradictory act of coming home, my mother gave that message to me. I carry it into my womanhood.
The Judeo-Christian Scripture was birthed in distant cultures, its laws and precepts formulated against a background that in many ways, we can’t hope to understand. At the same time, this collection of tomes carries an internal consistency and transcendence that has allowed it to persist across world cultures for millennia.
In our culture today, its words are often used in a clash between secular feminism and the American evangelical culture. I was raised mindful of the former, for better or worse. I live mindful of the latter–for better or worse. For years, I’ve examined ways to explain both sides of the coin of my realm, without incurring a “freak show” label from one perspective or another. And mostly, without compromising my personal values.
The legacy of womanhood that I carry could easily intimidate me into silence, because I’m not here to change the world. Fortunately, that’s not on my shoulders–the world has already changed. Now, in looking at the path of change, it sometimes seems all our efforts are caught in a sucking vortex of evil. But I want to mention an overwhelming vortex of good, one which carries an internal consistency and transcendence that has allowed it to persist across world cultures for millennia.
That timeless event took place 2,000 years ago, when one more petty insurgent was nailed to one more cross. The locus of its transformative force was not in the base physical torment which was inflicted on many similar convicts over time by many similar human executioners, but in the heart of God.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
Sorrow. Grief. Despising. Well-being. Iniquity. Things not measured within the scope of physical penance. Matters of the heart and soul. Who has believed this message? To whom has the bared right arm of God been revealed? (Isa 53:1)
And what, then, does it mean to be a woman?
Movements are more often reactionary than truly visionary. Currently, the American evangelical culture is polarizing, on the one hand against social changes which many of its leaders view as threatening to its long-held values. On the other hand, postmodern Christianity and the subsequent rise of emergence are drawing disenchanted evangelicals in another direction on gender issues: very much in the direction of the ongoing feminist movement in the wider culture.
Confusing messages and jargon abound. Titus 2 womanhood. Complementarianism. Egalitarianism. Patriocentricity. Proverbs womanhood. And as sure as the day is long, wherever there’s jargon, there are those who will develop a trite or downright misguided sales product to interpret it. (See here for a fine analysis of such.) While it’s the American way, I question whether this is constructive to the journey of a woman as any kind of first approach. Is it really effective to reroute the search for feminine identity into consumerism? Particularly of the religious sort?
To me, trustworthy community is a far more effective and uplifting vehicle than the most trustworthy consumer approach. And much of what’s out there is not the most trustworthy product.
Well, I have no scourge, but it is my Father’s house. I have no particular strength, but there is one who wielded solid force against those who made a market of the sincere desire to follow and sacrifice in the name of God. And He is the same one who welcomed a woman to sit at his feet and learn.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
In the face of confusion, contrary opinion and opportunism, it’s time for me to go back to that collection of ancient Middle Eastern wisdom and determine what it really means to be a woman in the hands of God.
It’s my turn to take up a legacy of standing unashamed.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…