The question at the table: “When was a time that a woman greatly ministered to you?” Dieula spoke up; it was when she walked into the back of the room of our women’s bible study and I was preaching. Immediately her mind started racing, “Uh no! This is not right. She’s not supposed to do that! That’s what men do. And her hair, it’s wild.”
Dieula grew up in the Haitian church where women did not teach Scripture; that was a man’s role. But that night in the back of the room while she silently rebuked she also experienced confusion. She was fighting something in herself. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope. Could it be? Is it possible? Perhaps, just perhaps a woman could do that?
A follow up question: “Why do women do that to each other?”
It’s a legitimate question. Why do women put up obstacles for other women who move into positions of public power or responsibility?
The answer requires more than can be addressed in a blog but I want to offer up a few ideas here. Hopefully, with deeper understanding, we can become women who are “for one another” rather than
against. Stephen Boyd’s book, The Men We Long To Be, sheds light on the issue of oppression by one group for the perceived benefit of another; alas women putting obstacles in front of other women. As you read his comment consider how we communicate what it means to be the ideal biblical woman. Consider how that definition determines who’s in and who’s out. “What happens in an oppressive situation is that victims are often forced to internalize a false, or distorted, view of themselves as a coping mechanism … the problem is that they then collude in the perpetuation of their own oppression, because they come to believe that it is justified… “(Boyd, 84) This is why victims of childhood sexual abuse can become perpetrators, and women who’ve been prostituted can become brothel owners. One reason women put obstacles in front of other women in the Christian community is because they themselves have had to internalize their unjust exclusion from ministry (or some other area of life work).
A few years ago I was asked to teach at a woman’s conference in California. I was surprised to get a scathing e-mail from one of the pastors’ wives. This woman let me know, in no uncertain terms, that she didn’t approve of my working while I still had children (three older teenagers) at home. She, too, could be teaching around the country, but she had set those opportunities aside in order to raise her children, because staying home — not working — was the Biblical mandate for women.
Can you hear the pain in her voice? The loss? Something in her had to die because the definition of biblical woman didn’t allow it.
In the conservative faith communities, we have stereotypes about what it means to be a woman or a man, and stamped those stereotypes with a “Thus says the Lord.” It’s just how God designed us. How is a woman to go against that? She can’t. So she internalizes those stereotypes about herself (i.e. women are “naturally” less rational more emotional [hysterical] than men) so she can cope with the exclusions in her life. So she can cope with the loss of what can’t be simply because she’s a female.
In my new book, Lime Green, I call the church’s ideal woman “light pink.” Light pink women are married with kids. Their work is to undergird their husband and children. They stay at home and create a warm, hospitable space for others. They serve at their church in the nursery, children’s church, women’s ministry, or on a hospitality team. That’s our ideal and we communicate it in overt and covert ways. Problem is, this 1950’s ideal doesn’t fit most of women in America today (I would argue it is one expression of womanhood but it’s not “thus says the Lord.”) Today in America 71 percent of women with children under the age of 18 works outside the home. Fifty–one percent of women do not live with a spouse in their home. Forty years ago women owned five percent of small business. Now they own thirty.
What happens when women are faced with an ideal that doesn’t fit? An ideal that is limited and limiting, but is stamped with “God’s design”? We internalize the oppressor’s values and make them our own. It’s how we cope. And then we police others to follow suit.
That’s how we protect- out of pain and loss. That’s how we cope with our insecurity of not quite “living up to the standard.”
Years ago I invited a light pink woman over for coffee. I wanted to hear her thoughts on a conference she had recently attended called Gifted to Lead. When I asked her thoughts she shrugged her shoulders and said,”They are feminists.” I knew this woman therefore I knew she didn’t have a clue what she was saying. She had never studied the women’s movement nor did she have an understanding of what it meant to be feminist. I knew she was responding out of insecurity. A conference on women being strong leaders didn’t fit her paradigm of being a “godly woman.” It was a protection mechanism. These women of different colors made her feel insecure about her own.
Women in America have a whole lot of choices (thanks to the women’s movement we can own land, vote, go to college and get paid for our work). We have choices about marriage, childrearing, and lifestyle, and the limited and limiting definition of the “ideal” biblical woman taught in our Christian midst simply creates insecurity.
Is it okay for a woman to work while having kids, or is a stay-at-home mom more “ideal?”
Is it okay for our kids to go to public school, or is it more “ideal” to put them in a Christian school?
And what do we do with single women and those married without children?
Underneath we are all wondering if we are measuring up? We walk around with a layer of insecurity, guilt, and self–doubt. We look at other women and think, if she represents the “ideal” biblical woman then who am I? Or, Is it okay to be lime green in a light pink world? We face judgment for our choices: from society, the church, each other, and from ourselves.
Pastor and Author Irwin McManus give us a challenge, “When you understand what Jesus means when He says you must follow Him, you finally realize this is not a cattle call. He is not calling you to the same life everyone else will live. He’s not even calling you to the same path every follower of Christ will walk. Your life is unique before God, and your path is yours and yours alone. Where God will choose to lead you and how God chooses to use your life cannot be predicted by how God has worked in the lives of others before you.”
The ideal biblical woman does not exist not because women are in rebellion. Rather because our God created women (and men) from a color wheel that encompasses every color we’ve seen, every shade of those colors and colors we haven’t even seen yet. Lime Green, light pink, soft yellow, majestic purple. When we hear that message then we will see more and more women be “for one another.” Then we will see more of Jesus and experience more of his kingdom on earth.