I’ll admit it: I struggle to fully know what it means to be female.
Growing up, I was a “girly-girl”: think dolls, playing dress-up, and pink everything. And for a while that’s all I thought femininity was about. I never realized how complicated it could be.
Anatomically, it’s simple. No matter what the world says amidst today’s “gender confusion,” God made the distinction between men and women, male and female very clear. You really have to blind your eyes to pretend not to see the differences. Christians who believe God’s Word embrace His creation of gender and gender roles.
But what actually muddies the waters are the many misconceptions about femininity (and masculinity)–false and harmful ideas that arise from, not only the unbelieving culture around us, but sometimes within the church as well.
So how do we bring some clarity to this issue? Let’s go looking, using God’s wisdom in the holy Scripture as our guide.
First: I spy six things that femininity is not:
1. AN UNOPENED BIBLE AND A SHUT MOUTH
The fact that women can’t and shouldn’t be pastors does not mean that they shouldn’t know God’s Word.
It baffles me, but I’ve found that many Christian women have been taught that they need little-to-no knowledge of the Bible compared with men. In fact, it’s looked down upon in some circles for women to study theology and be able to articulate and defend sound doctrine.
Some roots of this wrong thinking include beliefs that women don’t have the capacity to learn as much as men, or that they need to be constantly busy with something else. There also seems to be the fear that women will usurp the pulpit–even if they are explaining theology in acceptable positions, such as during casual conversations or among women-only study groups.
How can a Christian lady possibly fear the Lord and be obedient to Christ if she doesn’t know His Word? Remember Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet, ready to learn from Him and enjoy His presence. Some people speak as though Martha should have been praised for fretting over housekeeping, and Mary condemned for being a disciple.
I’m not putting down the woman’s biblical role in the household–I totally embrace it–but her priority is her relationship with the Lord.
2. AN APRON AND A DIAPER BAG
I’m going to be careful here not to be misunderstood.
I love being a wife, and I know it’s an amazing gift to be able to love and serve my husband as his helper. God created this role; it is holy and should never be slighted in the least.
But… there was a time when I was single. 26 years of singleness, in fact.
I questioned what it meant to be female as a single woman. For a while it felt like the Bible somehow didn’t apply to me, or that I could never be complete without a family of my own. (And being told “just wait till you get married!” didn’t help me much.)
Now that I’m married, I’m facing similar questions about motherhood.
I was recently diagnosed with Stage-4 endometriosis, a debilitating genetic disease that scars and distorts reproductive organs. Not only has it been insanely painful since I was 12, but now that I deeply desire children, this diagnosis tempts me to think it’s impossible for me to get pregnant.
I’ve had two surgeries and am pursuing natural treatments for my endo, but my fears are not quelled by these things. Only when I look to the Lord and trust His sovereignty over the womb can I find peace.
You see… even if I never have children, that doesn’t make me any less of a woman. It doesn’t impair my femininity at all.
Why? Because being feminine is an inner thing. As 1 Peter 3 teaches, it has to do with the hidden woman of the heart, her graces and virtues. Opportunities to display your femininity, like being a mother and wife, are wonderful, but that’s what they are–opportunities. In fact, it’s possible for someone to be a mother and wife and not be feminine in the way God desires.
So even though I hope to raise children, whether naturally or through adoption, I need to remember that being a mother does not equal to being a woman. Motherhood is a role through which I can express my femininity. It’s a beautiful role, but it’s one of many roles that I can embrace.
And if you’re single, whether permanently or just for now, know too that you are still a woman, a female, created in God’s image, and there are many wonderful ways to express your femininity outside of marriage.
I’m not discouraging you from desiring the amazing roles of wife and mother. They are certainly two of the most common and blessed roles God may give you as a woman. But we need to remember–we are more than these roles. We are, ultimately, followers of Christ.
3. A PIECE OF LINGERIE
Surely you’ve heard of the Proverbs 7 woman–she stands in bleak contrast to the Proverbs 31 one. She is a woman of seduction, lust, and death.
She could very well be the mascot of today’s world, which idolizes sex and objectifies women and their bodies. No Christian woman wants to be her, but every Christian woman feels the pressure of the culture to be like her.
We usually see this perversion of femininity propagated in our unbelieving society, but sometimes it can be seen in the church, too. Women are considered either playthings for men, or seductresses who can’t be trusted and deserve the mistreatment they receive. Both views are sinful and need to be changed to reflect God’s view of women.
But perhaps the greatest struggle occurs in our own minds and hearts. Just think: how much do you and I worry about…
- Whether or not we are physically attractive enough–especially compared to the “perfect” women we see on social media, TV or in the magazines?
- What our female friends look like (why can’t I look like her)?
- How others are going to view the clothing and make-up we wear?
- Our flaws that we can’t change, but wish we could?
Now, to be clear, I’m not against using make-up or wearing pretty clothes or looking your best. But when those activities are fueled by envy, anxiety, and a deep desire to be accepted based on our outward appearance, they become signs that something is very wrong inside of us.
Our femininity is not rooted in how we look on the outside. This is a truth we already know, but one we need to embrace more and more. We need to pursue it, chase it, until we fully believe it: The beauty of our womanhood is cultivated within. In our souls, where Christlikeness replaces vanity, and a woman who fears the Lord is forged.
4. A PORCELAIN DOLL
I inherited a creepy old doll as a kid. Her head was made of porcelain, and her face was stuck forever in a fake smile that kind of looked like a smirk. I don’t remember all the details (since I was very young) but somehow I managed to break the doll’s face! I just hated her expression.
See where I’m going with this yet?
Femininity isn’t about fake smiles and stuck-on happy faces.
It’s easy to feel like everyone around you “has it together.” As I’m scrolling through Facebook I see such happy-looking, smart people getting lots of “likes,” and even subconsciously I start to compare my life with theirs. The sin of discontentment begins to rise up in me.
The same thing can happen at church. We can put on masks and bare a toothy grin without revealing what’s really going on in our lives. Women especially can do this. We want to seem like super-woman–beautiful, put-together, in control.
But the reality is that every lady you meet is experiencing sins and struggles, her own and those of others in her life. That woman who posts Instagram-perfect pictures of home-cooked meals and happy children is the same who would tell you how hard it can be to just live life, day by day.
Again, we all know these things. But the truth needs to sink in. Self-control doesn’t mean the absence of emotions. We’re not robots. It’s about taking off the mask, pouring out our hearts before the Lord, and looking to Him for wisdom to lead our hearts in the way they should go.
5. A DOORMAT
There was a time, in my B.C. (before Christ) life, when I was a feminist liberal. I scoffed at the idea of submission–in particular, that wives must be subject to their husbands. It sounded like slavery to me.
But now as a Christian, I know it’s actually freeing to embrace God’s calling as a woman, including (for wives) the call to submit. There is nothing enslaving or degrading about biblical submission. If there were, God would not have commanded it.
Yet though abuse is totally and completely against the Word’s teachings on submission, some twist the Bible to try and make it support their sinful mistreatment of women.
It’s true that the husband should lead the family, but that doesn’t mean he should control his wife’s every move. As Proverbs 31 demonstrates, she has a particular domain of leadership–in serving the household, where she conducts many activities freely and is able to make wise decisions on her own. The husband should trust his wife’s prudence and experience. A husband trying to force his wife to do everything, even the little things, exactly his way is unloving toward her. He is abusing his authority.
Likewise, punishment is never acceptable in marriage. Whether physical, verbal, or emotional, we are never called to punish one another, but rather, to love and forgive one another. The husband’s role of leadership is one of being a servant, and not a tyrant.
I could go on, but the point is simple. Being feminine does not mean being walked all over and keeping your eyes lowered to the ground. It means freedom in partaking in the same type of submission Jesus displayed toward His Father throughout His life, and one that we should also show to one another. Submission that is meant to bless and not curse.
6. A TIARA
On the flip side of #5 is the concept that women should rule and reign over their households, the church, and even the world.
Go back with me to Genesis 3–the great Fall of mankind. Eve sinfully took and ate the forbidden fruit, and then gave some to Adam, who also sinfully refused to lead his wife and was led by her instead. In just that short episode we see the distortion of God’s order and how it affects our relationship with Him. It brings nothing but destruction.
But remember the curse? Eve was told, “…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). The word desire here is the same as the one used in the very next chapter, when God warns Cain of sin’s desire for him: “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7 NASB, emphasis added). It’s not a good desire. It’s a desire to take over, and ultimately, to destroy.
A woman with ungodly authority is dangerous. If that authority isn’t from God… who is it from? That’s the scary question.
Weak men often find themselves submitting to their bold, aggressive wives, while some women covet the pulpit, sinfully seeking positions of leadership not granted to them by the Lord. And many apostate churches have given them what they want.
Instead of giving in to these selfish ambitions, we should be content, humbly embracing God’s way for us as so much better than ours. When we use our talents and gifts to be a servant of others, rather than for our own benefit, we will experience the prosperity that comes from being a true woman of God.
Christ exchanged His crown of glory for a crown of thorns. In love, He became a servant, obedient to death, even death on the cross. We don’t need tiaras to show that we are daughters of the King. They’ll know us by our love.
Stay tuned for part 2 of “I Spy Femininity”–6 Things Femininity Is!