Feminism


This week we have talked a lot about success–about our answers to questions people have about our futures (“what are you doing after college?” etc.), and then about the pressure we sometimes feel to become the mythical perfect woman.

And as I have been thinking about all of this, I began to wonder if we as women sometimes feel the need, not necessarily to “have it all,” but even to just strive to succeed in one or a few areas, because deep down, we believe we aren’t enough. 

One of my guilty pleasures this past year, has been Pinterest. I really love baking and cooking, so it is a great place to “see” recipes already made. I love pinning baked goods with the thought that on a rainy day, I will make them. The other thing about Pinterest is that all the pretty things we love about life–fun kitchens, beautifully decorated rooms, already coordinated outfits, quotes that “say it all,” etc.–are all grouped into one place! It’s so fun!

But then, this past week, I came across an article entitled “How Pinterest is Killing Feminism”. Perhaps a little exaggerated, and I am not deleting my beautiful pin boards anytime soon, but the article did reveal some scary pinning habits of women that speak to the pressure we feel to reach some version of “perfection.”

For example, if you use Pinterest, have you ever searched for women?

A couple of months ago, when starting Redefining Female, I did. What you’ll find among a few inspirational and funny quotes, is a lot of photo’s of women with either incredibly sculpted bodies or emaciated, sickly thin bodies. Scroll down some and you will begin to  see a few better, more realistic images–but not many.

The article pointed out that “Pinterest…blurs the lines between unhealthy diet obsessions and health tips.” Among dinner recipes for families, are pins for fad diets and weight-loss smoothies.  Among pictures of fashion, are photoshopped images of sickly thin women, pinned to encourage weight loss.

But what the person writing the article doesn’t realize, is that this isn’t a Pinterest issue (after all, we women are the ones doing the pinning!); rather Pinterest is revealing an issue in our hearts as women.  Though perhaps it is not as much as an “issue,” as it is a question.

As women, our brains have been flooded all of our lives with images of the “perfect women,” or ways to try to become her.  At the same time, many of us seem to feel a sense of inadequacy from a young age that we tend to try to fill either by controlling our weight/looks, entering into dating relationships, or by being incredible overachievers. The question our hearts is trying to answer is:

Am I enough?

Another variation of this question may be: Am I lovable? 

Some us, have tried to become “enough” by going to some scary extremes.  Others of us, have just teetered on the edge of unhealthy. Either way, this question has taken up residence in our hearts, sneaking up on us when we least expect it or spurring us on when we think we have found the answer.

So how do we answer this question, once and for all? How do we get to the point of embracing who we are?

This is where I think we need to start:

We need to stop looking at/pinning things that make us feel less than enough.

We need to stop looking to others to answer the question for us.

We need to start seeking to really know ourselves, so that we can answer this question on our own.

Yet, none of these things, I believe, we can do without seeking the One who created us. I don’t believe we can truly know ourselves without seeking God;  only He can tell us that we are enough, in a way our hearts will believe it.

If you have been following Redefining Female this week, you know we have been covering the topic of Feminism.  Monday, I shared my ever evolving thoughts about the importance of fighting for women’s economic and social rights. And Wednesday, we talked about how women and men need each other, because it is their calling to jointly lead and take care of the world.

So, rather than do our traditional Fabulous Female post, I thought it would be so cool to share a few famous examples of successful working relationships between real men or women that weren’t romantic. Do you know how many examples I found?

Zero.

It could be that I couldn’t find the right language for a google search. I tried “Successful male/female partnerships” and got something about transgender relationships. I tried “successful female/male business partners,” in which the closest find was an article on the top business partnerships in History–all but one of the partnerships, were between men. (The one including a woman, talked about how through her partnership with a businessman, she became rich, yet he basically cheated her out of her company).  I tried many variations of the same to no avail.

Does this mean that successful non-romantic partnerships between men and women aren’t possible? That they don’t exist?

No, but I would say that they are rare, and they are not talked about in our world the way that they should be. And, I believe that there are a few reasons for this:

Successful People/leaders are usually loners: Many leader types know how to take control over a company or group of people, but very few of them know how to share that power with another human being. Both women and men can get caught up in the responsibility at hand and not realize the benefits of having another perspective in the mix.

Male/Female partnerships are important, yet difficult: Besides power, I think another historical reason some men have hesitated when it came to inviting women to partner with them in business, is because we are different. We as women approach things differently, and so inviting us in, means change.  Finding the right balance of her way/his way and working together for the betterment of the whole, is necessary, yet not easy.

We live in a sex-obsessed culture: Since Freud, the emphasis in our news, entertainment, and story-telling has been on sexual attractiveness, desire and relationships. “Sex sells,” hasn’t only effected the world’s spending habits, it also has negatively effected our ability to see someone of the opposite sex for more than their physical attractiveness–and this isn’t just a male issue!  Many times have I heard women talk about a male co-worker’s looks or relationships status, without any part of his attributes as a co-worker coming into play.

So, do we just give up? Do we just say this is the way its always been? Or do we seek to more knowledgeably overcome the obstacles we face as both men and women, believing that our differences can be what make our world better?

I choose the latter, believing we have so much more to gain together.

(P.S. If you have any examples of non-romantic partnerships between men and women, I would LOVE to hear about them!)

“Girl’s rule and boys drool!” some of my Jr. High girls used to say. Then, the next minute they would be chasing one of those “drooling boys” down the hallway, trying to get his attention. There is a connection between men and women at any age that is undeniable, and yet we still have such broken ways of relating to one another.

Last week, I shared that during our vacation my husband and I visited the National Park dedicated to Women’s Rights, in Seneca Falls, New York.  What I didn’t share was that as we left, I experienced this unexpected sadness. In a place where many had fought for women to have a more equal footing in the world, I thought I would feel inspired to pick up the torch and carry it on.  Instead I felt depressed.

In the upstairs of the Women’s Rights Center, there is a whole exhibit on the history of the suffrage movement all the way up to the 1980’s.  There is station after station, all on women’s journey towards equality, with the end of the exhibit sharing that there is still much to be done. Perhaps some of my sadness was based on that fact–but that wasn’t even close to most of it.

I left with this low feeling in my chest because no human being was meant to ever have to fight for another to acknowledge their humanity, worth, and beauty.

“This isn’t what God had planned,” I felt, as we slowly went down the steps and toward the exit.

Today, because people have many different beliefs about Creation and God, I think we have lost sight of what the Genesis Creation Story tells us about what our relationship as women and men was intended to be. It was supposed to be way better than what we know, and our role in creation, as women, is greater than history has made us believe.

In the book of Genesis, when God goes about creating Earth, He does all these things and says “it is good.”  He spoke light into being, separated the earth from the water, put the stars in the sky, created fish to swim in the sea and animals to walk on land, and out of dust, created man in His likeness.  And after every thing He created, He “saw it was good”–until He saw something that was not good. In Genesis 2:18a:

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’” 

So what did God do?  Did He create “man’s best friend,” a golden retriever to keep him company and do whatever he said? Did He create another man–a Frat buddy–for him to rule over creation with, and on the weekends, watch football with?

No. When God created Eve, He said:

“I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18b)

Only in the original Hebrew, the language the Bible was written in, the word meant a lot more than “helper.” It was actually two words: Ezer Kenegdo.  Hebrew Scholar, Robert Alter, translates the phrase as “a sustainer beside him,” but John and Stasi Eldredge in their book Captivating, write that a better translation “of ezer would be ‘lifesaver.’ And that “Kenegdo means alongside, or opposite to, a counterpart.”

We talk so much about how men are supposed to be our “knights in shining armor,” yet the Creation Story tells us, we are supposed to do the same for them.   We weren’t created to be under them, we were created to be alongside–leading, creating, and living together.  Yet in a world where women are oppressed–from the western work place to the darkest corners of the world in which they are literally bought and sold–we are unable to fully accomplish our God given calling as daughters of Eve.

And this is where Feminism and Men need each other.

If women are unable to use their voices, gifts and talents fully as they seek to flourish alongside men, and if men are given such a distorted, small view of the role women are to have in their lives, than the world misses out on experiencing the most incredibly designed partnership.

In fact, the whole world has been missing it.

With some beautiful exceptions where men and women have truly seen, celebrated, and worked with one another, the world has largely missed out. Men have missed out on having their Ezer Kenedgo, the ultimate best friend, because they have been told that to be “the man,” means dominating and leading your family or business by yourself.  Men need Feminism because they need to be freed from carrying the weight of the world entirely on their shoulders.  They need the women of the world to be reinstated to their true place--not above them as some Feminist would argue–but alongside them.

In order for women to be reinstated, however, we need men who are willing to join the plight of Feminism. We need men to tell us that the world needs to hear our voices.  We need men to speak out when they witness other men speaking degradingly about us. We need men who will help us change man-made business structures that are only friendly to the male way of doing things. We need men who will give us opportunities and empower us to use our gifts. We need men who are more concerned with the best for all, than the power they may lose for standing up for our cause.

Finally we need men because we were created to be unified and to rule over the Earth together.  After God created male and female in His likeness, He blessed them and He told them together:

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28

If I am honest, I never would have guessed that I would be writing a blog for women. I am loving it, yet how I have arrived here is an interesting journey that I hope to share more of with you soon.

Today, however, I will share one part of this journey, that began long before this year–my ever evolving thoughts about Feminism. I will tell you upfront, just as I believe Female needs to be Redefined, I also believe that Feminism needs to be Refocused. I can’t possibly cover the topic of feminism–or my thoughts about it–conclusively in this post or even this week, but here is how my journey with Feminism, has gone so far:

I first heard about Feminism probably around the time I was eight or nine years old, and I have to admit, it was something I had a hard time understanding.  Feminists are usually portrayed in the media as angry women whose slogan is “I am woman, hear me roar,” and they are known for things that didn’t make any sense to me as a preteen.

For example, they would burn their bras publicly. I would wonder, “why would any woman burn her underwear in public?” After an embarrassing incident with the boy across the street when I was three-years-old, I learned you do not show your underwear to anyone, especially a boy. The symbolism of being restrained was obviously lost on my eight-year-old self.

Then, there was the fact that they were against men, which also didn’t make any sense to me, because I was fortunate to have a dad who is a good man and worked hard to provide for us. I also had a grandfather who never showed up to our house without lollipops or mini rolls of Lifesaver candies. He would say “Hold out our hand,” and the candy would be so perfectly hidden in his big fist that you weren’t sure what he was giving you until you felt it drop into your palm, and his hand moved away. He was one of my favorite people.

So Feminists to me, just seemed like people who got angry just to get angry.

But then, as I entered college and began to contemplate my future as a woman, I began to realize that the landscape ahead was quite complex.  I had grown up in a pretty liberal part of the U.S., and yet in a conservative home.  I was an ambitious student with big career dreams, and yet still knew how amazing it had been to have a stay-at-home mom. The message of our culture seemed say “you can do anything if you just try.” But what I didn’t realize was that some paths were going to be harder for me because I was a woman.

When I felt a calling to youth ministry, I was told by enough people–either by the look on their faces or straight out–that because I am a woman I wouldn’t get a job in the church.   And then there were times, after getting a job in the church, when I was treated by some (even by congregation members who loved me), as if my ministry wasn’t the “real” ministry, because “real” ministry is done by men. I found out the hard way that there are still paths that are difficult for us to take as women, paths that are still thought of as belonging to men.

My heart began to stir with a feeling of injustice–the feeling that women, not just in our churches but in our workplaces and society, aren’t truly being seen for who God has created them to be. I was wrapped up in what I saw in my small sphere of the world, until God expanded my definition of injustice, to see the ramifications of this issue globally.

In 2009, I had the privilege of going with a team from our church to rural, southern India, to spend time in a girls’ home and teach English in a school. In the mornings, we would teach on homonyms and adjectives, and the majority of faces looking back at me were beautiful, smart, young women. In the afternoons, I would visit these same girls where they lived, and they would teach me their dances, decorate my hands with henna, and in quiet moments, share with me heart breaking stories of their lives. Because of women’s low social status in India, I found myself over and over, praying that God would bless these young women with good husbands in the future, knowing that it would be key to their quality of life.

Then, we visited a baby home, where parents dropped off the children they couldn’t or wouldn’t afford to raise, and the majority of babies and toddlers there, were little girls. Because of the cultural system in India, it is far more economically sound to have a son, than a daughter, so literally thousands of baby girls are abandoned every year.

But India is not the only country in which female infanticide or poor treatment of girls and women occurs. In her Ted talk about her book Half the Sky, Sheryl WuDunn, shares that demographers have estimated that there are between 60 and 100 million missing women in our population due to infanticide, gender based abortions, poverty, and discrimination.  In fact, she says that more girls in the last half century were discriminated to death than all the people killed on all the battlefields, in the twentieth century.

And we haven’t even talked about the $32 billion sex trafficking industry.

Feminism is at its core about fighting for the social and economic rights of women. I am not in agreement with everything everyone in the Feminist Movement has stood for, but I am finding that the more I am aware of our state in the world as women, I am not becoming an angry Feminist…I am becoming a grieved one.

A Chinese Proverb says “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.”

It is my prayer that our hearts will awaken to our worth as women, and that we will begin  to use our voices to speak on our own behalf, and on the behalf of our sisters world wide. That we will see that we can move mountains, and do it.

Wednesday Sneak Peak: I don’t believe we can or are supposed to fight for women alone. Wednesday we will talk about why Feminism needs men, and why men need Feminism.