I was watching a movie the other night where a character remarked: “I enjoy being a girl.” Not long ago, I wouldn’t have given that line a second thought. But then I realized that there was something that was different about her experiences as a girl: she had autonomy to decide what that meant to her. So she could not only wear make-up and do make-overs, but she could also fight in combat and speak up for herself and still be a girl – or woman. (It irks me that Rey in Star Wars is “a/the/some girl” clearly she is a young woman.)
When I was growing up in church, being a girl meant that you were expected fulfill a set of behaviors which men decided for you what those were. Like the time somebody brought up the question about whether or not women should wear make-up. The church elder laughed as he said: “If the barn needs painting …. then paint it!” Meaning that women who don’t need make up shouldn’t wear it. Or the other time when a young woman wore a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops to church during a heatwave and the week after that a dress-code was initiated by the guys running the church. At any time, an elder could pull aside a young woman and scold her about the way that she was dressed. Since only men are allowed to be teachers and preachers, every sermon about the roles of men and women are given by men. Even on the occasions when a woman is invited to speak, she is doing so under the authority of or on the behalf of a man, saying only those things he approves of. So what it is to be a girl or a woman in Christianity is a set of conditions decided upon by men that women are to fulfill because they are not men and not exempt from those conditions.
Culturally speaking, every time: “like a girl” was thrown around, a young boy was using it to insult another boy by suggesting that the way he ran or the way he threw a ball was inferior, weaker, slower, compared to the way that a boy should do such things.
Being a Christian girl, then, is less about being a person and more like being an idealized doll. Look pretty, but not too pretty, that’s vanity and it’s a sin. Look good, but be modest, being a temptation is causing your weaker brothers to stumble. Wear make-up only if you need it, and don’t make it obvious that you’re wearing it. Jewelry is okay because it’s feminine; but only if it’s a little bit of jewelry because showing off is the opposite of humility. Wear dresses and skirts and blouses because they’re feminine, that’s why they’re women’s clothes. Jeans aren’t feminine even if they’re bought from the women’s section and have fancy decals on them, so don’t wear them. Don’t wear short hairstyles, they’re masculine. Grow out your hair nice and long. But not too long. Don’t braid your hair either. Christian girls don’t get tattoos. Your body is a temple, take good care of it; exercise. But not too much, girls need to be soft and shouldn’t have muscles. Be quiet and humble, these are traits of a godly woman.
I couldn’t be happy like that. When everybody else was buying IPODs, I bought a Sony Walkman. When everybody else was into Facebook, I wasn’t. It’s just not in me to be into what everybody else says I should. So when the guys who run my church tell me how I ought to be a girl, it makes me want to run away in the opposite direction. The movie Serenity put it this way: “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.” I’m happy with who I am on my own terms; I’m not happy being told that I’m not meeting somebody elses’ expectation of who I have to be in order to please them … or God for that matter.
So I find the whole theology of gender to be bothersome. If God really, truly cared about gender as an expression of worship, why didn’t he tell the first man and the first woman how to appropriately worship him through their genders in the Garden of Eden? Why didn’t he take the opportunity of creating the tabernacle as one where he should create a system of rules and regulations about how men and women are to worship as men and women? Why not lay down the dress code and expected behaviors when telling Moses about the Ten Commandments? Why wait for centuries and centuries to finally establish hints and suggestions in various New Testament Epistles if were so vitally important? Perhaps it wasn’t that important after all.
Last night, I caught an episode of a t.v. shows where the equivalent of the Messiah had possessed one of the characters and lead some of the other characters to the only original version of the Bible that he had himself written. I wonder if our Messiah didn’t write things down just to prove a point – the heart of Christianity isn’t rules that we can write on our hearts or wear on our clothes, but it was about love and compassion and mercy things that you can’t write down. Jesus also didn’t say anything about what it was to be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl. Jesus was God and he didn’t care an iota about gender and propriety – especially in his culture where gender segregation was the norm and he frequently broke such rules; he was seen speaking to women in public and listening to them, he allowed women to touch him, he let women do things that his culture believed was appropriate only for men to do and he let women not do the things they were supposed to do as women.
I think, more people would enjoy what it is to be who the are if only they had the autonomy to define what that meant to them. I think that the reason why Christianity has lost so many people in recent years is because it thinks its sole purpose is to tell people what to do and how to live; it’s not about faith or belief but rules and restrictions.
4 thoughts on “What is it to be a Girl?”
I think your last paragraph sums everything very nicely! To me, and this is just my own opinion, I’ve never quite understood statements like “I’m glad I’m tall” or “I’m proud of my red hair.” These aren’t anything that you have any control over! (Well, I guess you could control your hair color with a little help from some chemicals in a bottle!) In other words, you haven’t accomplished anything. To me, if you have to work on being glad or proud about a characteristic that you have no control over, then maybe that’s an indication that society or your culture has some problems, not you! Anyway, thanks for another thoughtful post!
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I think this is an excellent honest and true blog post. I agree with everything you have stated. If God wants to tell anyone about something inappropriate he is perfectly able to let us know himself, not people making up false rules. Have a great day being you. Stephen
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I love that you pose so many questions… like concrete, every day examples and not just teleological exercises… It brings the effect of bad theology down to a reality. Thanks for this post!
This post is a powerful example not just of how many women feel in the church but in the world at large. The two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. These are most important to God. I’m sorry you grew up in such a smothering church. I’ve never personally been to one that has the same problems refferring to gender roles that you had mentioned. I have been to public schools who treat women like that. Either way it’s wrong. You mentioned the tabernacle so I wanted to share something I found interesting yesterday when I was reading about its building. Men and women were called to sacrifice for this project, men and women were given skills by God to make the best it could be. In a subtle way from the very beginning He tells men and women how they’re supposed to treat one another: from the marriage covenant laid down fir humanity in Genesis “the two shall become one” to the way that truly godly men treat any and all women. Like Joseph refusing to sleep with his master’s wife, Boaz providing for Ruth and her mother-in-law, Jesus tending to the heart and soul needs of the woman at the well even though He was exausted from the day’s travel… There are so many other amazing, stong and beautiful women in the Bible. So clearly they are valyed highly by Him. He called women to submit as wives and men to love their wives as Christ loves the church. If you look at how Jesus loves the church you find that He doesn’t go arounf making a lot of rules and regulations, He says we aren’t slaves to that anymore! Our job is to believe, love and follow Him. That isn’t to say that across both genders there isn’t a standard of behaviour just that why should we worry about the rest of that at all if we aren’t going to believe, love and follow Jesus anyway? All thise rules and regulations mean nothing at all if you don’t have Jesus as tge Lord of your life and when you do He builds the character in you that produces true beauty for all the world to see.