Christianity molded me in somebody who is non-confrontational: call me names – really say something insulting, question my honor, my parentage, get down-right mean and use a few expletives – and I really have no response for that. I’m told that until I “grow a backbone” and “stand up for myself” people will just walk all over me. Until that time, people won’t respect me.
Much of it was emphasized not so much in words but in action – ladies were supposed to be quiet, gentle – and the word most often used to describe me was “sweet”. Most would say that I’m a picture of perfection – particularly in what sort of character a Christian woman should have. Ultimately though, I’ve been set up to behave according to a standard of norms that in the real-world make me a doormat. Non-Christians interpret my behavior as weakness, and even my Christian co-workers think of me as pathetic. (To be honest, their Christianity was not the same one I grew up in – so they haven’t had the same teachings I have had.)
I loved the delicious irony of the lady telling me to grow a backbone having remembered an account where she had to break up a fight and she lamented that she had to be un-lady-like about it. “I’m supposed to be the gentle one, and it hurt me to have to show a tougher side of myself.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the insecurities that Christianity has filled me up with. I know – a perfectly sweet person like myself should take a sort of humble pride in having successfully carried out the Biblical commandment that I ought to foster a quiet and gentle spirit, this is the truest beauty I could possibly have – according to the scriptures. But there are so many times when people try to push my buttons where I have to carry on without showing how annoying they are being. There are times when people are being racist or just rude and I can’t call them out on it. There are so many times where I don’t say what I really think (I find it’s easier to just avoid thinking so that you’re not tempted to say those things as you’re thinking them.) Then I come home, get on my blog, and let the fury fly. I had to constantly question how my actions might alter that carefully constructed image and choose not to take any action that would mar my perfection as a result, I never learned to respond in any way to anything that anyone did to me. I’ll usually go silent and try to walk away, if possible. If I can’t walk away, then I’ll go into a sort of non-participation mode, shutting down, trying to say and do as little as possible until the source of irritation leaves – non-acknowledgement, I suppose.
You don’t really get a prize, any acknowledgement from the real world for your ability to take whatever they dish out at you. And when they push your buttons in an attempt to get you to stand up for yourself and earn respect in their eyes and you don’t do that – you fail the test and they keep on at it. But Christianity doesn’t really tell you that it’s okay to speak up for yourself, to give as good as you get it, to respond likewise – because you’re called to the higher moral ground of turning the other cheek. Doubly so if you’re a woman whose Christianity emphasized that your gender expectation is to be quiet, gentle, non-confrontational, and sweet. I’m not supposed to lose my cool.
What I find hardest though, is learning how to stand up for myself after so long of not really being prepared to do just that. I’m not a person who can do a come-back type response on the fly. When you’re taught to be non-confrontational, learning how to confront somebody is like being tasked with assembling a puzzle but being given none of the pieces to do so. Since I highly doubt my Sunday School class is going to offer Biblical Insults 101, I’m left with a rather puzzling conundrum and no real solution apparent.