Lent 8 on March 8 which is International Women’s Day.
I have lots of thoughts on this. And they’re sort of bubbly and frothy in my mouth, so I’m trying to take a deep breath and speak slowly.
I grew up in a female-empowered family. I thank God for that. I was always told I could be anything I want to be. Much to the shame of my feminist father, I wanted to be a Princess and I wanted to wear pink fluffy dresses and I think I sometimes I felt like that was dangerous; like I was letting women down.
After college I found a culture that didn’t mind if I wanted to be a Princess, but in that place I found I was dangerous for other reasons. I asked too many questions. I had ‘masculine’ strengths. When I would fight through that insecurity to use my voice, people would question my femininity. Even on this blog, people have speculated in the comments section that I must be a man because ‘women don’t write how I write.’
It’s taken me many years of fighting through the noise to figure out what I think it means to be feminine, which is lesson number one:
Lesson #1: feminine is whatever you freaking are.
Both worlds tried to tell me what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to be feminine. Both presumed that culture had made me who I am. Culture makes you want to be a princess, fabs, fight it! Culture makes you want to be ‘masculine’, fabs. fight it!
But I found the truth: I am feminine. Because I’m a woman. And as a woman, what I do is by definition womanly. So be a princess and be outspoken or hate princesses and be reserved. Whoever you are – be it unashamedly. May that become the new generalization of ‘feminine.’
Lesson #2: we’ve got a cultural problem
You’d think, growing up in such a great progressive family, I wouldn’t carry the usual female insecurity. But I do, because you and I are shaped by culture in a way we rarely consider or understand.
I’m getting my masters in cultural psychology right now so I’m fascinated by this stuff. Your cultural beliefs are more than the explicit messages you have been given, they’re your instincts. Our culture is what we do and believe without thinking about it.
EG: I told a friend once that if he lived in a different time/place he’d be attracted to a different body type. He couldn’t believe it. He wanted to believe something as instinctive as attraction was his preference, his choice.
We cannot be independent of our social circles. Our instincts are shaped by culture.
It’s tricky because you and I may love women, value women, treasure women, but that’s not enough. We’ve got to come together and create a culture that loves women, values women, treasures women.
Culture, believe it or not, is constantly (at least in my life time) communicating through tiny details that women are lesser.
It’s the pay gap. It’s the whisper of the dad encouraging his daughter to know her worth by telling her how beautiful she is – as if that’s where her worth lies. It’s the reality that there’s not a woman alive who has ever seen a woman hold the highest office in this country. It’s that we assume Dr’s are men. It’s that we assume secretaries are women. It’s every rolled eye when a woman speaks up, every comment about her period when she’s angry, it’s every locker room conversation.
Your daughters listen. We listened – all of us – male or female. Even when we didn’t know we were listening. And it’s snuck in – to all of us. That’s why it’s instinctively hard to believe I am worth the same amount of money as a man. It’s instinctive to believe my worth is found in looks. It’s instinctive to believe that men are more capable. It’s instinctive to believe that if I speak up I’m annoying. It’s instinctive to believe my emotions are a burden. It’s instinctive to believe I’m a thing to be groped. These are things not things I believe, they are instincts I have to fight to overcome, written in deep parts of me by cultural messages I can’t even identity.
This is the power of culture, which is not just a reflection of who we are, but is SHAPING who we are. And, that has real and powerful consequences.
Lesson 3: we’ve got a real problem
This is embarrassing, but this is a little newer to me than I would like.
Cause culture taught me – just like it taught some of you – that women complaining about women’s rights are overreacting. Cause – and this is truly tragic – culture taught me a lot of things were normal, that I’m just now realizing AREN’T.
Less than 15 years ago, my college friends and I would laugh when men would grope us without permission. Sometimes we would hold it up as a mark of our worth – we were hot enough to be grabbed. We had no cultural context for the reality that IT IS NOT OKAY.
In cultural psychology we study culture-bound occurrences – because basically every mental illness you can see of shifts in different cultures. Nothing is the same across cultures. Except, you know what? Universally, violence against women is a systemic issue. In every city in every country in this world, women are being sexually and physically assaulted.
Think of five women you know. Got em? Pick which one you expect will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Think of two women you know. Pick which one of them you expect to be the victim of sexual violence. Those are the stats folks. That’s real life.
Be brave and ask the women you know if it’s ever happened to them. Don’t be surprised when they say yes.
We don’t get to say that assault is a problem, but equal pay doesn’t matter, because they’re both the symptoms of the same disease. It’s the same disease that causes some women to crave the approval of men (which – has less to do with daddy issues – and more to do with a culture that tells them the approval of men is worth more). The same disease that causes women to throw each other under the bus. The same disease that causes eating disorders and self harm.
It’s a real disease of a culture that communicates that women are worth less.
One last thing, a side note to the Church: I know you want to avoid a pendulum swing here. But can I just say something I think might be worth considering? You might be fighting the wrong fight right now.
‘The future is female’ doesn’t mean that men don’t matter in the future any more than ‘Black Lives Matter’ means white lives don’t matter. We all mean: it’s got to change. These stats have to change. The cultural messaging and the explicit messaging, has got to change. And if you are going to devote your resources to a fight, that seems like a worthy one.
I feel confident that a fight I want to be in is the one for both men and women to actually believe women are image bearing, equal, unique and valuable creations – worthy of respect and worth learning from and worth listening to.
- Reflect on what you instinctively feel and about women’s worth
- Reflect on what might have influenced those thoughts