Friday, February 15, 2008

True femininity?

O.K. ladies, now it's our turn!

There are a lot of mistaken, wrong-headed, and unbiblical notions about femininity rampant in our culture and even in our churches today. Here are some of the major ones:

1. Feminine = bad and/or defective or, at best, inferior.

2. Feminine = sexy.

3. Feminine = passive and/or weak.

4. Feminine = "kitchen wife".

5. Feminine = unintelligent, illogical, and overly emotional.

I'm not saying that a kitchen wife, or a sexy woman, cannot also be feminine; I am saying that true femininity is not bound up in those simple equations. A "kitchen wife" can be feminine or unfeminine, for example. Contrary to some men's fears, hanging out in the kitchen too much will not make one feminine, any more than hanging out in the garage will make one a car.

A simple definition of feminine is "of or relating to women or girls; characterized by or possessing qualities generally attributed to a woman".

Sometimes we act as if we've forgotten that God created women --- and that He declared all of His creation good.

However, in some circles among those who claim to be Christian are men who lob the word "feminine" and "feminized" as if these were the worst insults. They act as if a woman's influence is to avoided at all costs.

So...without further ado, here is my list of those things that I consider unfeminine:

Women who are not ladies. By this I mean real ladies. My grandmothers worked hard. They were strong. They were courageous. They would even sweat. One of my grandmothers, who recently went to heaven, was remembered at her funeral as, among other things, loving to exercise. But my grandmothers were ladies who, even when being outspoken, knew how to be well-mannered, cultured, hospitable, and proper.

Couch potatoes. Slothfulness is so unfeminine!

Women who do not treat their husbands kindly, respectfully, and as they want to be treated. I thought about how to word this for a long time. Submission is such a loaded word. I've met husbands who insist that they don't want their wives to submit to them. It's not that they want rebellious wives who don't treat them respectfully; it's just that they don't want doormats. True submission, in my opinion is treating your husband as he wishes, unless to do so would violate Scripture, violate your conscience, or be a poor testimony. (Yes, there are some husbands who deserve neither kindness, respect, nor anything else. I'm not talking about those kind of horrible marriages.)

Women who lack courage. Cowardice is not feminine. It's just wimpy. Real woman do what they need to do despite fear.

Women who lack compassion. That's hardly feminine. We're supposed to be the relational ones.

Women who are arrogant. Why should we behave as the worst of men?

Women who are more concerned about criticizing men than about becoming godly women. That should go without saying.

Women who make excuses for not demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit. Ditto.

Indulgent, gluttonous women. It's just as sinful for women, even if you don't end up looking as ridiculous as the men. But there is nothing feminine about food binges. Really. [Edited to add: please note that I did not say that all overweight women are unfeminine or in sin. I realize that not every overweight woman is gluttonous. Carrying extra pounds following childbirth is, in fact, quite normally feminine. There is nothing unfeminine or sinful about thyroid disorders or other health problems that cause inadvertent weight gain. However, no matter how heavy or skinny one might be, gluttony is still a sin. It's not a sin because of how it does or doesn't make us appear; it's a sin because the Bible says so. No matter how much we may try to "pretty up" our food binges, blame them on hormones, or pretend they are somehow part and parcel of being women, they are still sin. There is nothing feminine about indulgence and gluttony. See "Is Gluttony a Sin?" and "Gluttony: Still a Deadly Sin" ]

Women who mock what is feminine. Please don't mock me for having children, for enjoying to cook, for being married, or for dressing up on occasion. Note: saying "I don't have children" or "I don't like to cook" or "I have learned to enjoy being single" is not mocking me. I'm not that thin-skinned. But telling me that only an idiot would have children --- well, I have a hard time putting a positive spin on those words. It's hard not to view that as an attack on my womanhood and as quite unfeminine of you.

Women who don't like women. If you run around trying to convince people how dangerous and violent and sneaky and horrible and stupid and mean and attacking and catty women are, it's all too easy for me to start thinking that maybe you aren't really a woman. At any rate, you certainly have gender issues and aren't very feminine.

Sorry, ladies, that I was harder on you than on the men. But I presume we've all got our big girl panties on and that we can handle it!


  1. Hi, Rebecca. I'd add that I find women who constantly tear down other women (and men) to be unfeminine. And I include the ones who try to box other women into a monolithic kind of "femininity" that looks more like nostalgia than real life. It's really insidious when other women's intelligence is either questioned or ridiculed, or their pursuit of or achievement in higher education is ridiculed. IMO, it's probably a bad case of sour grapes, which purses the mouth and squints the eyes into the MOST ugly countenance!

    The anti-intellectualism is something I find really difficult to take. Studying to show oneself approved is not a "masculine" or a "feminine" trait; it is a godly trait.

  2. great posts! i borrowed them to discuss on a forum i'm hanging around at ;-)

    come join the fun


  3. I would have put on my big girl pants, but they don't fit anymore--I've gained too much weight.

    It would seem, I'm not feminine because I weigh too much and therefore I am a glutton or something like that. Interesting.

    It's easy to judge the exterior (remember Samuel at Jesses' house?), it's harder to judge the heart because only God can see that.

    The truth for me is that I have a thyroid issue that is being treated. I am also an emotional eater--I admit that, but I won't bore you with the details of my life and what makes me run to food (though I don't drink or maybe if I did that instead, I would be more holy? I heard smoking helps keep you thin...maybe I should try?).

    Of course, if I had just thrown up everything I ate--I could have maintained my average-sized figure...shame I didn't know that being fat removed my feminity...I may have picked the puking option as to retain my status as a woman instead of an "it."

    As for the rest of the post, I am sure it was lovely...but I got stuck on the fat part and didn't *hear* much else beyond that...

  4. I was thinking that preoccupation with the body, to the point that one judges another (or oneself) based primarily on the outward appearance of the body, is not only unfeminine, but unchristian.

    Thank you for speaking up about this, Shanna. We none of us know what's going on with another to the point that we should judge them based on their outward appearance. That's one of the hard things about really digging in and following Jesus: it means we CAN'T rely on the outward appearance, but must get to know the person where they are. One of my biggest gripes against the patriarchal-oriented groups of Christians is that they try to box everyone into one of two stereotypes that don't fit most of us very well, then judge everyone precisely on how well they fit. The boxes are of their own making, not God's.

  5. Shanna and Psalmist, thanks for your comments, because they pointed out that I failed in saying what I really intended. When I said gluttony was unfeminine, I should have been more clear to state that being overweight does not necessarily mean being gluttonous. As someone who has struggled with this sin, and continues to do so, I can also say that, at my most gluttonous, I was also at my thinnest --- not because of purging or any attempt to stay skinny, but because I was pretty much incapable of gaining weight. This does mean my gluttony was any less sinful or any less unfeminine.

    I'm sorry for any offense that my lack of clarity caused. Certainly God looks on the inward heart, and we should not judge the outward.

    However, as much as I might personally balk at the idea, the Bible is still clear that gluttony is a sin. The Bible does not say that being overweight is a sin, so I'm sorry if I gave that false impression.

  6. Shanna, I re-read your words and added an explanation to my post. Thanks.

    I also wanted to respond, as gently as possible, to something I'd overlooked in your comment until now. You mentioned that you are an "emotional eater". I'm not sure what you mean by that. However, I'll be honest about the struggle in my own life. In our extended family, food is...well, fraught with emotions. To give perspective, I laugh loudest at the scenes in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" that have to do with food. I so relate. I have an aunt who loves the movie called, I think, "Fatso". She so relates.

    In my case, I had to recognize that my "emotional eating" was simply a nice term for gluttony. I had to quit blaming my family culture. I had to quite blaming stress, life situations, etc. I had to quite making food my idol, my comfort, my solace, the first thing I turned to, etc.

    Again, I'm not sure what you mean by "emotional eating". But when I realized that I was consistently overindulging in food in order to attempt to make myself feel better, and that God didn't say, "Well, gluttony in that case is really not a sin because it's so understandable and it's better than running off with a good-looking guy, taking up drugs, or murdering someone!" --- well, then I had to beg God for mercy and for His strength in overcoming this sin.

    Have I complete victory?

    No. I'm still horribly weak. In fact, I'm currently working on getting my eating back to healthy. God is good, and He is helping.

  7. Hmmm. Since you asked...

    It sounds like you are making some pretty hard rules for women to live up to.

    How does grace fit in here?

  8. Donna, I'm sorry that I was not more clear. When I wrote "here is my list of those things that I consider unfeminine", I was writing it as just my opinion.

    I realize that you don't know me very well at all, so let me hasten to assure you of several things:

    1. I am not a Christian leader.

    2. I have no authority to make any rules for other women as to how they should live their lives.

    3. Even if I were in a position of Christian leadership, I would hardly presume to make rules for women I've never met or for random strangers over the internet. I can't imagine any position of leadership that would carry that level of authority.

    4. I believe that women should submit to their own husbands and not to some stranger over the internet. If a particular husband insists that he finds his wife most feminine when she is sitting on the couch doing nothing, that's between him, his wife, and God. What I say shouldn't matter.

    5. The Bible trumps me and anyone else --- including husbands. If the Bible calls something good, so should we. If the Bible calls something sin, so should we.

    Sorry I wasn't more clear.

    As for grace...we are saved and sanctified by grace. It is not of ourselves. Everything that is remotely good in our loves is all of Him. Grace is amazing. You may want to read my "Fall to Grace" series (see in the sidebar) if you're interested in my opinions on grace.

  9. OOPS! In one of my previous comments, I kept saying I "quite" this and "quite" that, when I meant to say "QUIT"!

    That's why I'm called the Typo Queen.

  10. Rebecca, I think your exercise in discussing what are unmasculine and unfeminine traits has shown us all very clearly that the same negative traits apply to both men and women. In other words, I think that when either a man or a woman acts in an unchristlike manner, it adversely affects him or her at a very basic level: as a man or a woman.

    Conversely, both men and women who are being conformed to the image of Christ, enhance their masculinity/femininity as well.

    Which is probably why all the grandstanding about "(such and such group) is a bunch of unfeminine (epithets)" renders the finger-pointers pretty unattractive as men or women themselves.

  11. Psalmist, exactly. But it wasn't something I began to realize until I sat down and asked myself, "What do I consider unmasculine? unfeminine? and why?"

  12. Rebecca,

    Thank you so much for your clarifications, especially those on gluttony. I have been reading your writing for several years now (your wisdom on breastfeeding was my frequent companion during those early and HARD days of nursing), so I knew what you MEANT.

    But what you wrote was a bit off from that. In fact I found myself thinking of several people I have known that consumed and consumed and consumed (VARIOUS appetites), yet through genes or purging or crazy exercising managed to maintain appearances. So I really do appreciate your clarifying that.


  13. Rebecca,

    Great post! Lots to think about! Point #1 seems to be a popular one in patriarchal circles. Anything bad/defective/inferior is thought of as "feminized". The Church is feminine by its very nature. The body of Christ is made up of male and females so the church should reflect BOTH. Masculine is not the preferred nor should it be the default.

    The issue of weight is a very sensitive issue, for sure. I always had a very nice figure until baby after baby came on the scene. My body goes into hibernation mode when I am pregnant or something. I don't eat more, I just gain and hold onto fat. I do have some great milk, though! ;-)

    So, I have had to work my rearend off, literally, after I had my babies. There were times I didn't and it was some sort of self-defeating cycle of beating myself up, eating more because I beat myself up and then beating myself up over eating more....

    I watched as many of my friends could PIG OUT and stay thin and hardly gain any weight during their pregnancies while I had to really watch it only to gain the same 50 - 60 pounds each pregnancy, even though I exercised, I would gain the same amount. I know several naturally thin people who eat whatever, think about food all the time, can't wait for their next meal and would never think of themselves as "gluttons".

    This is really an issue of the heart. Are we running to food or God for comfort? Are we eating way past the feeling of full? Do we have food as our idol? It is not so much size as it is our heart.

    I also think of Jesus who was called a glutton. Obviously it wasn't because he was fat.

  14. Corrie, you're so right about it being an issue of the heart.

    And I used to be one of those obnoxious people who ate and ate and ate and never gained an ounce for the most part...well, until I had babies. Then it all dramatically changed.

    What's funny is that even though I ate pretty much the same during each pregnancy, in some the pounds just piled on and in others I actually had to force myself to eat more so that I would gain a healthy amount. This made no sense to me!

    While it was fairly easy for me to eat healthfully during pregnancy --- I was highly motivated by the sweet little baby growing inside me! --- and it was almost as easy to eat sensibly while nursing wee ones, once they reached toddler age and before I became pregnant with the next one, it was all too tempting to return to old, bad habits.

    It wasn't until I reached my 40's that I finally began to realize how unhealthy and downright sinful some of my attitudes towards food were. I wish I could say that I simply repented of gluttony and everything has been peachy keen ever since, with me at a perfect weight and living on easy street. But I've realized that I will probably face a lifetime battle against this "besetting sin" and will always have to stay on guard against the temptation to turn food into something that God never intended it to be.