Thursday, July 31, 2008

What is godly womanhood?

Recently I read an article titled "Becoming a Godly Woman" by Candace Watters. In it, she responds to a an interesting letter that says, in part:
Would you throw in your thoughts on becoming a biblical woman?

I have trouble with this topic because it seems to me that manhood is "earned," whereas womanhood is just a fact about myself — if anything, my womanhood is something that I may need to transcend (these are observations from the wider culture, but I do not think they are always countered by the church). In other words, I feel like manhood is a trophy to be won, and womanhood is like a prize you get for participation.

Candace Watters answers mainly by quoting and referencing Barbara Mouser's Five Aspects of Woman. While I had some concerns about other parts of the response, this especially struck me:
Glory of Man (1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5) — As created, woman "glorifies her husband and her heavenly King with submission, adornment, purity and love. She emulates the Church's membership, as her husband emulates Christ's headship." In her fallen state, woman makes her beauty an end in itself, leading ultimately to ugliness (shame, lust, pride and sexual perversion, for examples; see Isaiah 3 and Ezekiel 16). Once redeemed, a woman is free to use her beauty for the benefit of her heavenly father and when married, for her husband.

Because this trait is so interdependent on created man, a godly woman must "find a man who commands her respect and wins her love; to please, be beautiful for, desired and cherished by such a man."

This raises so many questions, but I want to address two of them:
  1. What about women who are not beautiful? I realize that, in our culture's way of thinking, it is as if these women do not exist. Or, perhaps more properly, our culture acts as if these women should not exist and therefore, their actual existence should not even be acknowledged. For example, I recall reading of an experiment conducted by a beautiful young woman who had a professional make-up artist "turn" her into an elderly woman. She then went around for a day, doing the sort of chores she usually did in her city. She was shocked --- it was as if she had suddenly become invisible. Those who did acknowledge her were often dismissive and impatient. The church should not be like the world. Taunting plain, elderly, or disfigured women with "you are free to use your beauty for the Lord" and "you should be beautiful for your husband" is dismissive, demeaning, and somewhat cruel. Not all of us are beautiful. Please stop pretending that we don't exist, that only the beautiful women matter, or that we are failing God and our husbands by not being beautiful.
  2. What about single women? Apparently, if they are to be godly, they "must find a man" because this trait of godly womanhood is "so interdependent on created man". What if they can't find a man to marry them? Are they less godly? Less womanly? Or, do they simply not exist in the mind of these authors, just as plain women do not exist?
The smugness of these sorts of articles, which are legion, never ceases to irritate me. There was one woman who wrote, "Your husband didn't marry a wrinkled old prune, so why look like one?" I thought that either she was young or could afford plastic surgery. But what about elderly women? Are they sinning by having wrinkles? I recall another woman who turned the verse about husbands delighting in their wives' breasts into a command that wives were to make sure the appearance of their breasts was delightful! While I was happy for her and her delightful, perky breasts, I thought it was a bit unseemly for her to rub her good fortune (and perhaps financial ability to pay for cosmetic surgery) into the faces of those of us whose breasts, perhaps never delightful to begin with, now show the ravages of age, pregnancy, breastfeeding, breast biopsies, cancer surgeries, etc. Are we supposed to all run out and get surgery in order to "obey God's clear command"? What on earth did women of yesteryear do --- or were they all in sin because they didn't have the good sense to be born in our modern era?

Then there is the smugness that comes across like, "I am so much more godly because I am married. Neener, neener to you, single gal. If you were really godly, like me, you would have found a man!"

Please spare me the smug bragging about how godly and beautiful you are, and how much better you are than those who are not blessed with your beauty or your husband. That's really nice for you, but --- and this may put your pretty little head in a spin --- beauty is not next to godliness. And, even more shocking --- some of the most godly women I've known were plain, even disfigured...and a few were --- gasp!---single.

Oh, but how they glorified God! Much more so than your focus on fleeting externals.

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  1. Rebbeca,

    Thank you for answering this article. I have only passing experience with 5 Aspects business, but Brother Mouser once told me on True Womanhood that I made his day. (I'd made a comment about his blog piece on the Bible being written "by men, for men" and I thought he should come up with a pre-highlighted Bible with pink and blue passages for the respective sexes.)

    People frequently ask me about these teachings, and I have no experience with them. I'm grateful that you've provided yet another resource!

  2. Rebecca,

    I am disgusted by the women who commented about having less than "delightful" breasts or wrinkles.

    My husband was not bald when I married him. Has he failed me in some way?

    What stupid comments. The Bible does not tell a woman to make sure her breasts are delightful to her husband. There is really NOTHING she can do about them. Oh, she could refuse to have children and breastfeed them in order to keep them looking somewhat youthful but other than that, she is dependent upon genetics.

    The Bible tells husband that they are to delight in their wife's breasts. That means, he is to delight in them no matter what they end up looking like.

    Shall we now, as Christian women, go out and plunk $10,000 on a boob job in order to make sure our breasts are forever delightful?

    I am sick of the stupid comments. People should have to take some sort of IQ test before they are allowed to comment on the internet.

    I am sick of God's people parroting the Hollywood bombshell mentality when it comes to beauty and "biblical womanhood".

    I go to the neighborhood pools and I see women have have spent tens of thousands on themselves in plastic surgery to erase the effects of childbearing from their bodies. They look freakish.

    The moms who eat right and exercise and take care of themselves and accept what God has given them look much, much more beautiful and it seems their husbands delight in them just fine. (As if that is the standard for whether a woman is truly biblical? If her husband delights in her? Ladies, we are in trouble if our standing depends upon whether or not our husbands find us attractive or not. The Bible is FILLED with examples of men who are surrounded by beautiful women and that is never enough.)