Monday, May 6, 2013
Femininity, Part 2
A reader of the first post on this subject this evening, and trusted friend of mine, brought to my attention that my definition of femininity could use some expanding and clarifying. :) Hence, the following:
Femininity can be defined one of three ways. In the first, it is equated with femaleness, eg. the sacred feminine. In the second, for example in secular circles, it is defined as a set of qualities, behaviors, or external features that comprise the current cultural picture of ideal womanhood, and/or the stereotypical picture of culturally based female behavior, appearance, et c. The third definition, synonymous with the picture of the "godly christian woman" is defined as adherence to a set of predetermined criteria and the exhibition of traits which are necessary to the "godly woman" label, and which, though sometimes considered inherently and intrinsically female, are not.
The first, physical femaleness, cannot be an issue of degrees. The second is very much an issue of degrees, is neither universal nor prescriptive, and is more a picture of the culture and currently acceptable socialized behavior than a timeless ideal of what a Christian female should look like. I would contend that much of the third, while masquerading as absolute and intrinsic, is actually not, but is as relative as the second. I would contend that the only version which is absolute and intrinsic is the physical femaleness.
Women's personalities, looks, mannerisms, social traits, gifts, et c vary widely and overlap those of men far more than they differ from them; their chromosomes and physical makeup are generally consistent within the gender. So, any time we define femininity as something other than femaleness, we are, according to the the preliminary conclusions upon which my ideas here are based, defining it as NOT universal, NOT intrinsic, and NOT limited to females. If it is based on traits that can also be found in males, traits that are not naturally present in every female across times and cultures, and traits that can be developed or repressed and exist naturally in varying degrees, then it must not be exclusive and intrinsic to females. My primary assertion in the first post was that to tell women that a certain picture of "godly womanhood" is intrinsic to their gender when in fact it is relative and not at all universal is a negative thing. For instance- some believe that a love of children over a love of a competitive workplace is an intrinsic part of christian femaleness. Thus, if a woman does not adore every baby she sees, and express a desire to be a mom instead of have a busy career, she must be an either a defective or an incomplete woman. She must not be feminine. (I realize that's an incomplete example; a woman may of course like both, as do I, and have both, though not perhaps at the same time.) In reality, a desire for motherhood is not present in every woman, and thus cannot be intrinsic to femaleness. Of course a desire for parenthood is perfectly natural in both genders, but it is not universally represented in or exclusive to females.
This idea, the idea that a female already has every intrinsic quality which makes her truly female and is not in need of any external standards conformation to which is indicative of Godly Femininity, is based on the idea that God did not make females who are not real, true, genuine, authentic females, and that the created nature of every female is as God intended; there are no "seconds" or "mistakes." (Of course we are flawed by sin, but I'm speaking of our unique personalities, gifts, et c) While there are women who are abused and brutalized to the point of being a mere shadow of themselves, women who have deep psychological issues, or women who have various mental disorders, a simple deviation from accepted norms of expected behavior (not talking about sin here- that would be an unacceptable deviation and is not gender-related) does not constitute an abnormal or defective female. It should be the reality of the natures and qualities of real females who define what is feminine. (which ends up not appreciably different from the expression of maleness, except in a physical sense, because of the great diversity within the group Actual Females) not an external standard of what is feminine into which females must fit themselves to be considered properly feminine females. This also assumes (as a preliminary conclusion upon which other ideas are based) that there are not separate qualities (different from those for males) that a christian female must exhibit in order to be a proper christian female. A christian female is simply a female who is her authentic self, under the lordship of and in divine relationship with Christ; the same would be true for males. A female need not be overly emotional, nurturing, empathetic, soft, responsive, want a family, want leadership from her husband, et c. to be a proper christian female, though she may be/want any or all of those things.
Instead of focusing on telling women to be feminine in a subjective sense, i.e. exhibit certain traits, we should be telling them to be Christlike. If a any person is following Christ, and doing what they are uniquely gifted and called to do, I fail to see how trying to squeeze them into a gender role would ever be a good thing. If they are following Christ, and doing what they are uniquely gifted and called to do, they will be doing exactly what they should be doing and they will be impacting the lives of those around them in glorious, Christ-honoring ways.