Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Feminism and Faith: Learning to See People as They Are

 Another one came across my Facebook feed today, and I cringed a little, but I clicked on the link:  "23 Qualities of a Woman Worth Dating."  Actually, for the most part I thought it was pretty good.  It's written by a pastor and assumes that readers are looking for someone to date who they will consider marrying.  It stresses faith in God and personal character.  But my question is, why a list that focuses on qualities of women?  Why not just make a list of qualities of a person worth dating?  Finding out what differences this particular blogger thinks are important was not too hard since a link was conveniently provided to "23 Qualities of a Guy Worth Dating."

After a few minutes bouncing back and forth between the two posts I decided I really wanted to know and made my own table with the characteristics side by side.  What I found was interesting to me because I think it points to some of the assumptions we make in the church about how men and woman are different.  I also think it demonstrates some of the ways that those assumptions keep us from relating to people in healthy ways.  First, we tend to make generalizations about people.  Second, we perpetuate negative attitudes toward women.

Over half the items on these two lists, are identical in wording and in the order in which they are listed.  Another three seem to me to be mostly a matter of slightly different wording.  This makes me think that the areas that are different can actually tell us something about the author's attitudes toward gender and gender roles.  And the ideas seem pretty consistent with what one finds in the church and often in the culture in general.

First there are several assumptions about the role of a man in marriage.  His ability to provide, manage finances and protect a woman are all seen as important.  These characteristics are not even mentioned in the list of what to look for in a woman.  Some would argue that scripture teaches that these are the proper roles of men in marriage.  If you are convinced that these roles are spelled out with absolute certainty I am not going to be able to convince you otherwise in this one post.  You might want to check out this whole series of posts by Rachel Held Evans, who sort of specializes in this topic.  But I find that most of my Christian friends allow for some flexibility in these roles.  I know many women who work outside the home.  Most of the women I know are involved in spending, and therefore managing, the family income.  And I have found very few circumstances in which a man is actually called to physically protect his family.  

Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be "kind, modest, and appreciative."  It paints a much more passive and retiring role for women.

In spite of the fact that we have, to some degree, moved away from these roles we still hold them up as an ideal for how we should fulfill our roles in marriage.  This opens us up to valuing ourselves and other people based on how well they measure up to these roles, rather than seeing them for who they truly are and allowing each person to contribute what they are best able to give to the relationship.

The negative attitudes that are displayed toward women are more troubling to me.  The second characteristic to look for in a "guy" is that he is "driven."  In women?  It's that she's "supportive."  It turns out that our society doesn't value "driven" women, and tends to see them as overly aggressive.  This dovetails quite nicely with the "Biblical" role of women as "helpers" and ignores the idea that the word "helper" used in the Bible is often used to describe God as a "helper" or ally of His people -  not someone who is subordinate or weak.  Another one that jumped out at me is the contrast between the statements "He is trustworthy" and "She laughs at your jokes."  Both are characteristics I would value in any human, but contrasted like this it seems that a woman's job is to make a man feel good about himself, rather than have a good character.  Which is further supported by the contrast between "He is willing to work hard to provide" and "She doesn't gossip."  Gossip is not mentioned at all in the list of male characteristics.  Why?  Could it be that we tend to think of women as having this character flaw but men being generally immune from it?

My own marriage is, in some ways, very "traditional."  I am a stay at home mom and my husband provides all of our income.  He handles our savings and makes decisions about his retirement account.  But in many ways we work as a team, with each person contributing as he/she is able.  Yesterday I was feeling sick.  On the verge of getting mastitis.  I needed to rest, but the baby woke up late, crying inconsolably.  I couldn't deal with it and if I didn't get some rest I would be much more likely to face the new day seriously ill.  My sweet husband took the baby, calmed him down and then kept the restlessly sleeping child with him until almost five in the morning so that I could sleep.  It worked.  I am not sick today.  But my husband feels pretty miserable.

So if today we were in a crowded church service and you assumed that the chivalrous thing to do would be to get up and give me a seat (as this blogger encourages men to do) you would be wrong.  My husband would be the one who really needed to sit down.  The ideas that society and the church have promoted for so long about gender would make you blind to the actual situation.  If we are going to really love people we need to really see them.  And if we are going to do that we need to be able to put aside stereotypes and preconceived notions.  And maybe we can just make one list of traits to look for in a future spouse.


  1. No wonder you were wondering what happened to me, how could I pass up this great post!?

    Seeing people as they are is part of the reason I couldn't get behind the idea of God-given roles. I knew God knew who I was and knew my strengths. I couldn't see why He would want me to sit out using my gifts and abilities.

  2. I used to think that the Bible defined gender roles and that was good, or at least neutral. But the more I look at it the more I realize that most of our definitions are determined by culture and have changed over time. And then I started to see that even in the Bible there were women who didn't fit the "standard" but were portrayed as being within God's plan. Finally I realized that lots of people get hurt when we try to put everyone in the same mold. Either they don't get to use the gifts God gave them or they are stuck trying to fill a role they are not well equipped for. And when we look at the person in terms of how well they fill a role - well it seems like we are unlikely to really see the person as they are. I guess maybe that's what I was trying to say to begin with. Just a little fuzzy and distracted when I was trying to write the post!