I can’t solve the gender discussions of the world. I won’t even try, but I will talk about some of the things I’ve been wrestling with.
First, it doesn’t really bother me THAT culture seems to inform our understanding of biblical femininity or masculinity. This seems logical and reasonable, and quite consistent with biblical principles of culture and Christianity. Sometimes there is a divergence (and I haven’t even begun to think about how and when in this context).
The inequality of thought bothers me (that I’m more restrictive in how I define masculinity than how I define femininity), but I think it’s okay that I don’t have it all figured out. It’s possible that the tendency of our culture towards certain excesses cause people to respond to that particular immediate need. In light of the march of militant feminism, perhaps Christians in the past responded with more time thinking about biblical femininity than masculinity. As we see our culture move toward a more matriarchal society, perhaps we’ll see greater attention placed on responding with the need for cultivating Godly male leadership.
When I get bogged down, I keep asking myself, what biblical principles are non-negotiable? How does God’s Word help me here?
Two things help me (and if you have other overarching principles, please share!):
First, Distinction. I am confident that God created gender on purpose. He made male and female different, and it pleases him for us to be distinct. (Although Deut. 22:5 has been misused in the past, it does illustrate this principle.) As a result of this way of thinking, my overall goal is to be different. Women can be distinctively female in a wide variety of ways, but the basic idea is still a good one. I like wearing skirts. If I’m going shopping, I’ll put on a skirt, not merely because I like them and find them comfortable, but also because they are distinctively female clothing. That’s a good thing, and worth encouraging. If I’m hiking, I want to take care that the overall effect leaves no doubt that I am a woman, and balances the fact that my clothing is in some ways less distinctively female. [i.e., I’m not hiking in a skirt.]
Second, Contentment. However I dress or act, contentment with who I am and the role God gave me is not negotiable. As I develop interests and hobbies, as I plan the things that occupy my time, it is wise to plan those things which help me to be content and flourish where God has placed me. When I was unmarried, I needed to gain a sense of what God’s plan for me included. Paul’s discussion on the role of the single believer was helpful for me in seeing the specific and unique place I had as a single woman in God’s church. I believe that is the essence of femininity. Now that I have a husband and children, understanding who I am and what I hope to accomplish must also be consistent with the new role God gave me.
I can encourage my daughters to pursue those things which will give them the ability to fulfill God’s plan with joy, as an expression of their own personality and abilities. I can encourage the development of those skills which will allow her to create a beautiful home. Sewing? Cooking? Sure. Building beautiful furniture? Yes. One isn’t required to crochet lacy doilies to be “feminine.” One may in fact love her husband and children by seeking frogs in a bog. Another may eschew icky things and use special spoons with which to stir her tea. If a love of frogs and bogs keeps a woman from being hospitable, she’s not feminine. (Hospitality is commanded for believers, and since it is intrinsically associated with the home, it is something I believe a feminine woman will make a priority, regardless of marital status.)
Likewise, a young wife who loves all things dainty may find that she is unable to show genuine Christian hospitality without offending her own sense of order. This also is a problem.
If I’m going to encourage my daughters to develop interests, I’ve got wide latitude in how I do so. I could encourage the frogs in a bog, and I can encourage tea parties. Sometimes I can encourage both. But I cannot encourage everything, because I don’t have enough time in the day. It makes sense to prioritize. Sometimes I have no control of factors that might make a difference in my child’s development. (A girl in a family of boys will have more exposure to frogs than a girl without brothers.) Can a young girl be feminine and wrestle with boys? How about sisters wrestling? I’ve pondered these questions. Here’s my conclusion. Wrestling isn’t going to help her in her pursuit of godliness and femininity, and thus I’m going to discourage it. Climbing trees and finding frogs could be feminine. I won’t discourage it, but I think it might be wiser to encourage other, “more feminine” things. Given a choice between fixing the car with daddy and baking cookies with mom, I’m going to encourage the cookies more. It’s a higher priority, but it doesn’t mean that fixing the car with daddy is a bad activity.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about some principles I’ve found have helped me prioritize what I work on and what I encourage. Then later I’ll talk about masculinity in the same way.
Michelle, I have been so blessed by your sharing of your thoughts on this topic as I have struggled with it as well but haven’t been able to so beautifully pin it down as you have. I am looking forward to your future notes on the subject!
Something I try to encourage my daughter to do to aid her in her development as a female is to show respect for her brothers (and other boys in general) to begin the training of showing respect for her husband. I know a woman is not commanded to obey all men, just her husband, but respect should be universal and mandatory in a wife/husband relationship. If she grows up NOT showing respect to her brothers, it will just make it more difficult in my opinion to make that transition to a husband. Likewise, I encourage the boys to treat their sister with love, like a delicate flower. Their sister would prefer to wrestle with them and tackle them, but I want the boys to learn how to treat females in general so I discourage that as well.