In Defense of Strong Women

In Women by Caris Adel6 Comments

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My 5 year old daughter sees this picture, and stretches her arms way back and says “There are THIS many girl movies.  Enough to fill the whole city!”  As she sits watching one, I overhear a bit of it and smile.  Barbie is saying “I’m going to talk to her.  This isn’t right.  I need to stand up for myself.”

In spite of the branding and the bad writing, this is why I give in to the purple and pink marketing scheme. This is exactly the message I want this XX chromosomally blessed image-bearer to receive.  She is worth standing up for.

Whether she needs to affirm her own worth now, in squabbles with siblings, later with a horny boy, or in the future with a pastor, I want her to know she has the strength and ability to do so.

I also want her to know I will stand up for her dignity and honor.  I have, after 30 years of being one, finally firmly realized the beauty and importance that being a female is.  I am no longer willing to shutter my soul because it is hard for people to envision a different way of reading the Bible.  I will fight, as gracefully as I can, for the opportunity to be viewed as a pre-curse image-bearer, for my sake, for the sake of my daughters, and for the sake of women everywhere who may not be able to speak up, or even imagine their true worth that lies within.

********

I have a friend who is a waitress.  She’s 22, and is the typical sweet, meek and mild Christian girl.  I just found out her restaurant is violating the minimum wage law, and some days she is only making $5-6 an hour.  When I told her that is all sorts of illegal, she said, “I know this isn’t bringing in the dough, but it’s a job.”  No!  If you are working for someone who is breaking the law, you are allowed to say something!

The obnoxiously constant refrain in the church, is meek, mild, tender, sweet, gentle women. 

When you are told over and over, for years on end, that this is the only way to be if you are female and want to follow Jesus, then guess what?  You end up with women who are ALWAYS MEEK!  The problem is only compounded when they are also told that they are different than men and must submit to them.  So now we have these meek women who submit to all men.  Which isn’t ideal, under healthy circumstances.  But it’s tragic when it meets the real world and they are put in situations where they are being taken advantage of.

Why do we want to keep creating women who lack confidence in who they are?
Why do we want to keep telling women that they are not valued the same as men?

Why do we want to keep breeding this system of submission when a major consequence is that it creates weak women?

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I can understand why men might like this.  I don’t understand why so many women, seemingly willingly, go along with it.  And yet I grew up thinking this, and even agreeing with the fact that women couldn’t do what men did.  But I didn’t know.  I trusted the men in authority, that they knew best.  I trusted that the teachings I was getting were right.  I was never taught to look at the verses about slavery and compare them to verses about women.  I was never taught there might be cultural context I was never taught about the amazing women.

I didn’t know.

I knew the facts of the Bible, but I didn’t know the Story of the Bible.  I couldn’t see the trajectory of freedom, reconciliation, and restoration that God was doing.

I thought to be a godly woman, I had to be weak, meek, and mild.

********

A friend posted this picture on Facebook, and it got several likes.  It really got under my skin, and I had to say something.  But first, I had to spend a couple of hours talking to myself, convincing myself it was worth the risk.

“I think this is kind of a false dichotomy. When it comes to standing up to abuse, inequalities in the workplace, slavery, or a whole bunch of other issues that need to be addressed….toughness and rudeness are sometimes needed. Too many sins get covered up by women who are just trying to be kind and tender.”

I was shaking when I got done, aware that I had said something that some people will consider unbiblical, ungodly, divisive.

(and sure enough, when I went back to look that up so I could copy and paste, someone (that I don’t know!) had already said ‘Though it is our right and our nature as human beings to demand justice, The gospel calls those who proclaim the name of Christ to respond with grace…’ Well maybe, but grace doesn’t always show up wearing a skirt and pouring tea!)

But I don’t care any more.  The future is at stake.

My friend the waitress is at stake.

My daughter is at stake.  And I’m not going to let Barbie be the only strong voice in her life.

My girls will not grow up and say, “I didn’t know.”

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  • Mags

    Outstanding!!!

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  • http://leadingchurch.com paulvanderklay

    Your posting struck me in a number of different ways. Part of what is hard about actually communicating through this cyber medium is that we don’t know each other and all and so mere text is subject to so much personal projection. I though the Barbie illustration very evocative. I hope my comments are helpful and not taken to be critical . 

    1. I hear so much pain in this. As a man I haven’t experienced the brand of pain, evil, cultural and institutional discrimination and subjugation that you have. Reading some of your statements in reverse (imagining back into the reality expressed) is a horror. It is an alien world for me being a man and imagining this kind of treatment makes me very sad indeed. 

    2. Part of the alienness too it seems to me is cultural. I grew up around very strong women, and most of the women in my church are African American women, who on one score we might imagine would have to face not only gender inequality but racial inequality, but most of them have little inhibition about speaking up for or defending their own rights. It’s a strange thing recently reading a lot of young, white, middle class, affluent women expressing all of this pain and outrage coming from what sounds like a victim space while seeing older women many who have suffered lots of different victimization, and had few of the economic, social, and institutional opportunities as a lot of these white, educated women sound very different. I’m not quite sure how to get my mind around it. 

    3. The Barbie illustration really struck me. It seems to be coming from such a different space as Jesus in the Phil 2 Christ song, who though he was equal with God did not equality with God something to be exploited. Now I don’t think there is any justification for inequal barriers or discrimination, but figuring out how to productively engage the patterns of oppression is very important. Assertion of power to power usually just results in a power struggle and the strongest win, which continues the cycle. The strength of Jesus is in the voluntary emptying of the demand and the other exaltation. Jesus says (to men, presumably) “take the lesser seat and allow the host of the banquet to lift you up.” 

    This world will mirror back to women, the disabled, low income persons, persons who don’t have the right accent, the right job skills, the right look a projected lack of value. How is this countered? It seems that self-assertion cannot carry the day. Another has to speak love and value into us and this love and value is not premised on power or performance but genuine love. The value of the self of the beloved is established by the lover. In the end the person that has to rely upon self-assertion deeply suspects that if no one else will do it, perhaps I’m just a poser. 

    We can’t see our selves and so we use other things and other people to try to see our selves. If in fact we can begin to see our selves through the mirror that is our lover and maker, then there is no power in this world (Romans 8) that can compare to that level of validation. 

    Thanks for your blog and your blogging. If you have a low comment blog (like I do) it can sometimes feel lonely or invalidated. I want to encourage you to keep blogging because if you’ve gone this far it is probably your maker who has given you this identity and your maker reads every word, even if he/she doesn’t leave a comment in Disqus. :) pvk

    • http://www.carisadel.com/ Caris Adel

       I’ve been thinking about this all weekend.  At first I didn’t know what you were talking about, and then I reread it…and oh my gosh.  You’re so right, about the pain.  I wasn’t even thinking about that when I was writing, but it’s so true.  I almost started crying in the middle of JCPenney when I read it, haha.  So your words at the end were very soothing, thank you :)

      I’ve thought about #2 a lot.  Which usually leads to me feeling guilty, because I know I shouldn’t complain about anything!!!  I used to work with these inner-city teen moms, and they would say their dream would be to get married, have a house with the picket fence, and be home with their kids.  And I would think, I have that…fence included.  And yet I’m not happy, content.  So I struggle with that a lot.  I like how Paul says he has learned to be content…that gives me hope that eventually I’ll learn how.  I’ve thought about that too, like say, poor people in Africa.  You always see them smiling and laughing, and I’ve even heard it insinuated by people that we don’t really need to help them, because they are happy with how little they have.  And I wonder how they can seem so joyful in the midst of such tragedy, and I wish I could have that.  And I know that’s a failure of mine that I haven’t cultivated that kind of attitude in myself.  But I also think that just because someone has learned to smile in the face of sadness, doesn’t mean we don’t go in to help relieve that sadness.  That kind of thinking just kind of blows me away and I don’t know what to say when people say that.

      #3 Yeah, I hear that.  I do really dislike all the tv shows and stuff portraying men as idiots and incompetent, just so that women look better.  I was thinking about the verse about being a cheerful giver, and how our goal should be service to each other, but when it comes from a place of oppression, then we aren’t submitting cheerfully.  So I want to be at a place where I find my identity in who God says I am, so I can then submit and serve from a place of pleasure instead of obligation.  That line is probably tricky to figure out and balance, especially when we are constantly having to remind ourselves to find ourselves in God in the first place.

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