10 December 2012

because she is a person

Webster is not particularly helpful in this matter.
This past summer I spent a lot of time mulling (stewing? simmering?) over the topic of manhood and womanhood. What God says about it, what that might look like for me, where the culture and church have gotten it right, where we've gotten it wrong.

I put the subject to bed for a while when the school year began, as I felt that I'd gained a much better understanding and was at a relatively peaceful point in my reflections. Plus I was too sick to do much thinking anyway. :) Since the discovery that we are having a little girl, however, the topic has resurrected itself.

Mainly, I'm struck by all the terrible images of womanhood floating about. It seems like every slice of society has a different, bad idea. There's the misguided push to be "just as good as a boy."* There's the flaunting of female sexuality to manipulate men.  There's the ongoing oppression of women (whether in American pornography or in African sex tourism). Underlying them all is the assumption that the two genders must always be at war-- an assumption that generates a dizzying spectrum of nonsense, bitterness, and utter rot.

Well. Part of my job to help my daughter to sort through this junk and understand the truth about who she is.

For example, I want her to grow up knowing that she is valuable. But not because she's just as good as a boy, nor because girls rule and boys drool, nor for any other reason than because she is a person. She is a female person, which is delightful for many reasons. However, that does not affect her essential value, which rests on the fact that she is the image-bearer of God. It does not change her essential purpose: to know and love and exalt the Creator. Our daughter is neither more nor less important because she is a girl.

oh good, I was wondering.
Does this mean that we'll be downplaying her femininity? Ha, no. We're certainly going to teach the Tadpole that God made her to be a woman, and furthermore, that womanhood is a wonderful thing. We won't be parenting a genderless child, believe you me.

Yet I don't want our daughter's primary identity to be "girl." I don't want her to go through life obsessively filtering everything through her femaleness, believing that she must be distinctive in every way from the males around her, and that if she isn't, she is somehow failing as a woman. This is a suffocating and ultimately self-centered mindset, a trap into which both secular feminists and orthodox Christians often tumble-- they just get there by different roads. (Jared remarked the other day that no matter who we are, we just love to take God's good commands and run over the cliff with them. Our exaggerations get us into worlds of trouble. While we may think we are honoring our femininity or masculinity by making them into the most important thing about us, we are actually abusing them, because we end up focusing on ourselves and forgetting Who assigned us those roles in the first place.)

So I don't want that to happen to our daughter. Instead, I want her primary identity to be "human being who belongs to God," so that she walks through life with eyes fixed on Him. Her femininity is secondary. A remarkably crucial second, and one whose neglect causes disaster, but still . . . secondary.

After all, when we first realized that this baby existed, we had no idea what its gender was. Why did we rejoice, then? Simply because a soul had been created. When I felt our baby's first movements, I praised God for giving us a child. No matter which way things developed, our joy would have been the same.

This, perhaps, is what Paul means in Galatians 3 when he says:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
The Creation of Eve by Michelangelo
Taken in context, it's clear that Paul is not suggesting that gender has been erased or that it does not matter. (Just think about the rest of his writings, where he spends whole chapters upon the proper conduct of men and woman within the family and church!) Rather, I think he is reminding us that we have all put on Christ, all become heirs of His promise, so our first identity is now in Him rather than in our chromosomes.

In the end, of course, that core identity in Christ liberates us to live up to those chromosomes in a new and wonderful way. And we'll teach our daughter about that too. Not only is she a human, a remarkable and complex thing in itself, but she is also a woman. Wherever her womanhood ought to bear upon a situation, we want her to freely embrace it for the beauty that it is, and to understand that God was deeply pleased when He created Eve-- and when he created her.**

I have other thoughts on this. So many. If I ever organize them, take cover: it will be an inundation. But that's just something that's been rolling around in my head.


*Though I think that this impulse is misguided, it's also thoroughly understandable in light of the historic preference for males. Consider who has received the education, inherited the money, enjoyed legal protection, and been celebrated at birth in countless societies around the world. Injustice is real. I just don't believe that the solution is to try to be a man. Instead, I believe that Scripture provides the much-needed corrective to history's twisted view of women: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

**I think that my parents did a great job of this while raising me. Whenever my femininity was Scripturally relevant (i.e. what I wore or how I related to boys) it became part of the conversation. Whenever it wasn't (i.e. what history class I would take that year), well, it didn't.


  1. “Vive la diffĂ©rence!!!!!!!!!”

    As I grow in my understanding of God’s creation of man and woman in his image the above term takes on meaning way, way, way beyond the issue of sexuality.

    As you and Jared grow to see these differences and recognize the goodness of God toward you in the differences…. well at times you simple can have no response but to worship Him.

    I truly thank God that he created “woman” especially “she” who He has gifted to me to share this life.


  2. I wonder why God's right foot is wrapped in his red under-cloak while his left foot is bare.