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.