Sunday, 2 March 2014

Clothed in Strength and Dignity

        Hear me out. I’m all for the empowerment of women, enabling the fulfilment of their full potential and removing restrictions on achievement. I’m fortunate enough to be benefitting from a great education and exercising my right to vote. I take none of that for granted, and I respect women like Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett as some of the greatest, bravest heroines of all time. I’ve seen so many incredible women utterly change the world in recent years, who have done nothing but inspire me to be everything I can be. But there’s a fine line between fighting to be who we could and should be and forgetting who we are…

“God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.”  
Pope John Paul II

        I recently overheard a group of girls my age arguing in favour of women priests in the Catholic Church. That’s an argument I won’t go into now, but what affected me was the fact that those girls weren’t actually Catholic. In terms of their own faith and lifestyle the initiation (or not) of women priests was neither here nor there, and yet they were so vehement about their case! It struck me that their primary cause for objection was simply that men had something women didn’t have, regardless of what that thing was. When the fight for women’s empowerment falls down is when it becomes fighting for the sake of fighting, or fighting to essentially BE men.

        I get that the history of the Church has been filled with misogyny. It hurts me too. But if we allow that hurt to stifle our femininity then that in itself means we’re accepting it. Somewhere along the way being ‘equal’ has become synonymous with being identical. If it’s being identical that we’re fighting for, then equality goes out the window because we’re sacrificing everything that makes us uniquely women and conforming to the patriarchal stereotype we claim to oppose. We’re fighting being repressed by repressing ourselves!

“In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”
Genesis 1:27

        The first phrase of this verse reveals that all of humanity is made in God’s own image. Every person – every gender, race, shape and size – is equally reflective of the nature of God. So why, then, is there a need for the second phrase to be added? Because it emphasises the intentionality behind manhood and womanhood. 

        The creation of Woman wasn’t a mistake in the production line. Neither was it an afterthought or an experiment with the human mould. Woman was the culmination of the whole of Creation!! God was not satisfied with Man alone, because He saw that ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ (Gen. 2:18). He scoured the earth and all He had created but ‘no suitable helper was found’ (Gen. 2:20). 

        How many times do we hear women complain that men just aren’t men anymore? Is that any surprise when we don’t allow them to be? We emasculate them by attempting to take over manhood rather than to complement it with our womanhood! We spend so long trying to be the same as men that we end up adapting ourselves for our cause – surely that actually undermines that cause?!

        If we choose our battles wisely rather than automatically going on the defensive we can achieve so much more. If we appreciate who we are, then others will appreciate that too. Catherine of Siena said: ‘Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire’. SET THE WORLD ON FIRE!! How much better could the world be if we all individually aimed to fulfil our own unique purpose rather than lusting after someone else’s?

        Yes, if your purpose involves certain careers you’re going to have to fight harder than others to fulfil it. No, society hasn’t reached its ideal stage of acceptance. There is still plenty of work to be done and progress to be made. But in order to make it we need to take a step back and figure out what that work actually is. No wonder we are tormented by low self-esteem and attacks on our self-worth: we’ve learned to see the features that make us unavoidably and beautifully female as negative!

“To me a woman is not frilly, flippant, frivolous and fluff-brained, but she is gentle, she is gracious, she is godly and she is giving.

You and I have the gift of femininity... The more womanly we are, the more manly men will be and the more God is glorified.

Be women, be only women, be real women in obedience to God."
Elisabeth Elliot

        Go to the root of typically feminine traits and the reality is a theme of strength and beauty rather than weakness and inferiority. ‘Giving’ doesn’t mean subservience, it means selflessness and life-giving: in the way our bodies are naturally designed, and in the way Mary the mother of Jesus courageously changed the world. ‘Sensitive’ doesn’t mean flaky or melodramatic, it means empathetic and compassionate. ‘Vulnerable’ doesn’t mean defenceless, it means being open to let others in and trust them with what we value – an act of bravery!

        Ladies, let’s stop doing ourselves a disservice by battling to become what we are not and to rid the world of the beauty of authentic femininity. Instead, let’s embrace our womanhood in all its splendour and step out into the world confident in the knowledge of who we were created to be. Let’s clothe ourselves with strength and dignity, and laugh without fear of the future (Proverbs 31:25). Let’s embody the fullness of our purpose.

Let’s be wholly, fruitfully, and unapologetically, women!

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