“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s an ancient but well-known tale: the people were building a great tower. Working together, they were unstoppable. It was all so very glorious.
Then, someone went and fixed their vocal chords, and their speech came out all gobbledy-goo. Not being able to understand one another, they fought.
The vision lost, the goal garbled, all work ceased.
Oppressed, downtrodden, hurting people of this world have something to say; they have vision.
United, shoulder-to-shoulder, they would be an unstoppable force.
Stir them up, turn them against each other, and you’ve gone and shattered the beautiful Vase of Solidarity, rendering it unusable.
I love how Martin Luther King put it: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be…”.
Herein lies the intersection of faith and feminism: Faith says, “Love one another.” Feminism says, “Women ought to have dignity, rights, responsibilities and glories equal to men.” (See Sarah Bessey’s description of feminism in Part 1.)
Combine “love one another” with “treat women as equals” and you will create a potent elixir capable of bringing both healing and empowerment to “50% of the population”.
What do we women need healing from, you ask?
In reply, I shout, “SO MUCH!”.
And wrapped around the “SO MUCH”, I believe, is a thick saran-wrap called “Shame”. Without addressing this shame, I believe, we will never be truly free.
Research professor Brene Brown has spent decades studying shame (along with empathy, vulnerability and courage). In an interview on a website called “The Mothers Movement Online” , Brene Brown describes it in this way:
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame leaves women feeling trapped, powerless and isolated.”
For this reason, I would like to begin Part 2 of my faith and feminism series with a conversation about womanhood and shame and the power of love to heal.
There is always this danger of saying, “I am a feminist” and then isolating all women who don’t fit into our definition of “feminist”.
I get this. I’ve been there.
I wonder if we do this to each other because deep down we worry we have gotten some things “wrong”. Seeing someone making different life choices than us can make us feel shame, deep down in our bellies.
And guess what, friend? Shame moves us away from one another.
In Part 1, I described a feeling of being trapped by divergent “views” about marriage, motherhood and womanhood.
Instead of life feeling open, free and good, it felt constraining and frustrating. Can you relate?
Brene Brown actually talks about this feeling of being trapped, and explains its relationship to shame.
She says that many women experience a “trapped” feeling because, “There are hundreds of expectations, but very few realistic options for meeting those expectations available to us.”
For example, many mothers are faced with the following choice: "Build a career and place your children in childcare" or "Stay at home and lose money, time, and necessary resources to pursue a career".
(As an aside, I have witnessed so many amazing mothers coming up with creative solutions, refusing to be bullied by either/or options, and fighting for what is best for both themselves and their children.)
If, instead of pointing judgmental fingers at each other, we could step back and look at the problem of expectations-versus-options, we may just see a path through, a way to empower women.
Furthermore, a willingness to listen to other women’s stories would give us empathy.
Empathy, according to Brene Brown, is the polar opposite of shame.
What if, dear friends, we embraced a broad definition of feminism: “treat men and women equally,” and refused to hold up as unequivocally true other descriptors of what a feminist is or should look like?
What if we simultaneously embraced this motto: “love one another”?
For instance (and please forgive the generalizations):
As women, as human beings, our similarities far outweigh our differences. It is time for us to build solidarity. There is too much at stake not to.
If we as “feminists-of-faith” are a movement towards equality, we should not be guilty of isolating anyone.
Are you a woman who has experienced shame?
Have you felt trapped or guilty about simply trying to do what is best for yourself or your family?
How about the men out there, striving together through life with us? Any insight? Thoughts?
Last week, I promised to delve into the topics of sexual freedom, patriarchy in the Bible, the term “helpmeet”, and why it is important to give women equal leadership opportunities in the church.
I am so passionate about these topics, and am thrilled to share what I have learned with you.
As I’ve been researching, thinking and writing, however, I see these topics are juicy enough to take up several more blog posts (I wrote 15 pages this week alone).
I’m absolutely keeping my promise to address all these issues, and I can guarantee there will be one post every week, by Friday...
But would you hang in there with me over the course of the next few weeks to address all the issues I mentioned? There’s just so much proverbial ground to cover.
I appreciate you! Please do comment here or on my Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you.
And now, without further ado, let’s dive in.
On Marriage: Are We “Equal, yet Different” or “Equal”?
I’m not certain who began the narrative, or how it spread throughout the female population of our small church, but it went something like this: There was this gorgeous woman in a neighboring city whose husband was both verbally abusive and an alcoholic.
This woman almost left her husband, but in the darkening hours chose instead to do the “godly” thing and remain by his side, submissive and prayerful.
And, wait for it... because of her godliness, this woman’s husband became a believer, turned his life around 180.
You can imagine how this sounded to my young, “new-mother” ears. You can also imagine the feelings of horror it elicited in me. And yet…
Around the time this story was floating around, alighting on humble hungry ears, someone handed me “the best marriage book they had ever read”: Created to Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl.
About the book, author Debi Pearl herself says, “[...] I want you to know that it is possible today to have a marriage so good and so fulfilling that it can only be explained as a miracle.”
I devoured this book, as always an avid and hungry learner. And though many of Pearl’s words made me feel ill, I could not pinpoint why.
She used verses and scriptures I had trouble arguing with.
If you’ve only ever been given one “narrative” for what scripture means, and you have simultaneously been told it is the simplest, most literal reading (whilst also being cautioned about your deceitful heart), it is very hard to think critically.
While I didn’t follow all of Pearl’s advice, her point of view about marital submission became mine, as did her view on the wife’s sexual role in marriage (more on that in a later post).
To sum up Pearl’s view on the woman’s marital role:
“If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity you are a ‘good thing,’ a helper suited to the needs of a man. This is how God created you and it is your purpose for existing. You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man’s helper. You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature, for no man can do your job, and no man is complete without his wife. You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him.”
We will dig into the meaning of “helpmeet” later.
For now, I’d like to focus on this strong dichotomy between a husband’s role a wife’s role in marriage.
Remember how, in Part 1, I shared that I protected my “domain” from my husband? Yep, this is why.
Mrs. Pearl clearly states, “[...] no man can do your job.”
Furthermore, Pearl taught me that as a wife, I was created “to make him [my spouse] complete”.
Summed up, my life was to be about fulfilling a specific role only I could fill.
Furthermore, my purpose was eclipsed in completing my husband, and not in seeking any personal fulfillment.
How the "equal-yet-different" view affected my marriage...
Do you know what the fruit of this viewpoint was in my marriage?
I dropped my own desires and dreams in favor of “completing” my husband.
In losing much of my autonomy, I eagerly grasped at the little bit of power afforded to me by becoming the sole manager of my domain: the house and the children.
I felt ashamed about this, but I often swallowed bitterness and anger at having to take care of all the cooking and cleaning.
As the years passed, my husband and I found ourselves settling into this way of "doing marriage".
Changing my mind
I remember vividly when, one day, my husband, frustrated, pointed out to me that the pet passage for “separate-male-and-female-roles-in-marriage” opened with the statement: “Submit to one another” (Eph 5:21a).
Submit to one another...
I sat with this for quite a while.
It was the beginning of many “aha” moments for me about marriage.
I pondered why so many preachers focused on the woman’s job to “submit to her husband”, when it was clear from this passage that husbands and wives ought to be “submitting to one another”.
What did it mean for a husband and a wife to submit to each other?
This was a radical departure from everything I had thought up to this point; it was the seed which grew radical change in my marriage, change for the better.
Before I get into specifics, here are a few thoughts:
Here are some websites which discuss the two views of marriage. Some of them take a neutral stance, while others lean towards a certain conclusion:
And now, back to my new, “radical”, conclusions about mutual submission and how they changed my marriage (for the better).
Marriage Equality For the Win!
When I believed I had to submit, I appointed my husband as the final decision-maker in our home. It is stressful for a man to be “stuck” with making all the decisions himself.
Really, how can we say that a man, simply by nature of his male-ness, is all-knowing and all-discerning?
It was nice for my husband to know that I was standing beside him to face life, and not behind him.
As my husband and I navigated the new landscape of mutuality, we had more conversations than we had ever had. I learned that in some areas, I knew better what would be the right move to take, while in others he did.
Our conversations and debates sharpened each other, and, ironically, brought us both into more humility, mutual respect and admiration.
When we were doing marriage by playing out each of our "roles", I hadn’t realized how much I suppressed my own desires and dreams.
The more I awakened, the more I began exploring my own interests; I became much happier and more fulfilled.
Prior to this, I often looked to my husband to affirm me. After all, what else did I have? Submitting, meeting his needs, that was my job.
What a load off my husband’s shoulders when I found my own satisfaction and vision.
And what husband would not desire for his wife to feel capable and satisfied?
Stepping out of claiming any “dominion” over the house and kids also did wonderful things for our marriage.
First off, I used to denigrate housework as “woman’s work”.
Yet, isn’t all work around the house necessary and good? (Not to mention, since when did we begin qualifying work as work by whether or not we make money doing it?)
Oddly, seeing my husband cleaning the house and cooking elevated "house-care" and affirmed it as good work.
Secondly, my husband began to cultivate his own unique relationship with our children as he partnered with me in caring for them.
No one is perfect, and I have areas of weakness as a mother.
Disallowing my husband from comforting the children and meeting their needs was shortchanging them: how they have benefited from my husband’s nurturing style!
He has gifts and skills I do not, and vice versa.
Last but not least, I gained freedom to pursue my own business ideas and higher education opportunities. This made me a better mother.
My view of myself changed: I was not “just a mom” or “just a home-educator”, I was a smart, talented and creative woman.
I began to treat homeschooling as the job it is. This has greatly benefited my children.
Beauty in Equality and Covenant Relationship...
My pastor shared last Sunday an amazing vision for marriage as a covenant relationship: both parties enter said covenant agreeing to grow and learn and be affected by one another.
(A little hint about what I think of women's roles in the church: my pastor is a woman; I have learned so much from her...)
How often do we realize that God chose to enter a covenant relationship with us, "the bride"?
And because of God’s relationship with us, God is affected by our joys and sorrows, our celebrations and our pain?
In her book, Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey says this about marriage:
“[...] if our marriages can give some small and imperfect glimpse of the Kingdom of God in action, warriors fighting in distinct unity, then we need to dance, in and around and with each other, in intimacy and mutual submission.”
Wait, did she just call men and women, “Warriors fighting in distinct unity”?!
Single friends reading this: I promise, this entire discussion has to do with you, too. I know single women are often marginalized, especially in faith circles.
Dear one, you are just as important as the rest of womankind. The world needs you. We’re going to crack that powerful notion open.
Men reading this--we need you on our side, respecting us, fighting with us for equality in marriage and in the church and in the world.
So what does it mean for a woman to be a "warrior" fighting alongside men?
Let's continue the discussion next week.
Stay tuned for a post by next Friday, August 30...
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A warm thank you to everyone who commented on my first post: your thoughts were super insightful and a blessing.
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I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.