I cannot tell you how many times over my years in ministry that my clothing has been critiqued in relationship to my gender. Specifically, in reference to my cowboy boots and my jeans. "You should wear dresses when you preach" has been a common theme. Nope. No thank you. Not gonna happen. I mean, I appreciate the feedback and the concern, and don't get me wrong, I rock lovely dresses from time to time when the weather is blissful or I am going somewhere special, but I'm just not comfortable in a dress when I teach God's word for a number of reasons. I believe God created me and uniquely gifted me to do His work just as I am...ripped up jeans, crazy hair and all! The only reason I even bring this up is because I know I'm not the only one, right? Not even just in the context of ministry, but just life in general. There are so many opinions out there about what makes a woman a woman. I think it's worth digging into a bit.
Meet my friend, Logan. She is a rock star. She is loving and kind and just all around generally BA. She has a few thoughts to share about what femininity means, what it looks like to be a strong woman, and how we can support each other.
I’m going to make a confession. For most of my life, I struggled with the idea of “Girl Power.” Not because I didn’t think women should have power or because I didn’t like women standing up for themselves, but because of how I struggled with what it meant to be “feminine.”
I grew up in a smaller town in Nebraska and everything I knew of the women around me and what I was supposed to look like didn’t make sense in my brain. I loved watching and playing basketball (actually as I’m writing this right now I’m also watching the March Madness Tournament), I liked “boy” clothes because I didn’t like the color pink and I didn’t like when clothes were tight on my arms when I was trying to throw a football. I also started playing the drums at a young age which can be seen primarily as a “boy” instrument.
You might read that paragraph and think, “I don’t see anything wrong with that,” but at the time it was a big struggle for me! In high school I even tried for a little while to be what I thought “feminine” really was. It wasn’t until college until I started trying to just be unapologetically me. Key word there is “trying”
When one looks in the bible for how a woman should be or act, the chapter that gets brought up the most is Proverbs 31. So many men claim to want a “Proverbs 31 Woman,” and many women want to be that. In the NLT version of the bible, Proverbs 31:10 says, “Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?” If you look at the original Hebrew word that was translated to the word virtuous, it is “chavil” which means “strength and valor.” I looked up what valor means in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and it says, “strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness: personal bravery.” I’m sorry WHAT? That goes against everything I believed about the Proverbs 31 Woman.
I’ve always been completely overwhelmed reading that chapter and felt that I was failing as a woman. Has anyone else felt that way? I always thought didn’t have a lot in common with this woman. I’m not married, I’m not a morning person, I don’t have kids, I can’t sew, and everyone that knows me knows that I can’t cook anything but Mac and Cheese and Hamburger Helper.
After hearing this news about Proverbs 31, I went to my friends and family to ask them what they thought it meant to be feminine. One woman defined feminine as a “girly girl, soft and nice, pink, frilly, and pretty.” Another said, “Presenting yourself in a very ladylike way. Pretty. Girly.” When I asked these women if they believe they are feminine they either said, “Nope!,” or “I try to be most of the time.”
I then got some different answers. One woman said, “Strong, Powerful, Empowers other women.” Another friend said, “I was thinking femininity is something like connectedness to female or woman qualities.” These women both said they didn’t know if that’s what femininity is seen as right now or if their definitions are what they want it to be.
One of my students said something super insightful. She said, “I think my own femininity for the longest time was me trying to adhere to what I had been told femininity was from Christian women. I thought that the way to be the right version of feminine was to be just pretty enough and just modest enough and just delicate enough to be seen as a godly woman in the eyes of God. I think as I grew and started to finish puberty it got less and less easy for me to be able to balance the traditional Christian meek femininity with the feminine sex appeal that society wanted from me as a teenage girl. And so that was where a lot of the self hate and insecurity came from, because I could literally never find that balance, no matter how hard I tried.
But now, for me, femininity has shifted into an unlimited spectrum of all the different ways to be a woman, and now I know that nothing on that spectrum is wrong, there is no incorrect way to be a woman. My definition of femininity is the confidence to boldly be whatever kind of girl that you choose to be, and I don’t think anyone has the right to define what femininity is for anyone else. It’s a really personal thing, way more individualized than traditional Christianity wants it to be. It’s about feeling beautiful and feeling comfortable in your skin without seeing anything that you want to change.”
Wow. What I want all you ladies reading this to know, is that I believe femininity is whatever you want it to be, just like my friend said! Just because I am not typically what culture would define as feminine, doesn’t mean I can’t be comfortable with who I am as a woman and support other women! I want to live my life as a woman of valor! This “Proverbs 31 Woman” isn’t just another impossible standard we have to live by. This woman is present in each of us.
There’s a group of women musicians (now known as Her Songs) who all recently met over the internet and decided to take a retreat together and write an EP. One of the songs named, “Alright” articulates this really well for me in the first verse. “Feelin' confident in myself. I don't need nobody validating what I feel.Tell me what is really feminine, is it somethin' that I'm wearing, or is it within who I really am, who I wanna be? No, it's up to me.”
I think God delights in us being unapologetically ourselves! Don’t let anyone else define who you are.I play the drums, I like basketball, I can’t cook, I can’t sew, I love Jesus, and I strive to live my life full of strength and valor. I am a woman. I am feminine.