embracing femininity (on international women’s day)

In celebration of what happens to be the the international women’s day, I thought it would be good to dedicate a post to all the women out there, as well as the men in our lives who have pushed us to be the women we are today. Oh, here’s to the beauty of femininity (and masculinity)––thanks be to God!

I am grateful that we live in a day and age where the awareness of #girlpower and the equality between man and woman have been subjects of discussion. We live in such an exciting time where women are given opportunities that they had never been allowed to even consider in the past–especially in matters of schooling and work.

Growing up in a more traditional, patriarchal society (as most Eastern cultures have the tendency to), I believe that my Indonesian heritage has embedded in us a perspective that subjects ourselves to men. And it is in recent years that women have stepped out of that mould, to desire to break the glass ceiling and begin on the journey of women empowerment.

feminism and femininity

Yet what has been a sad result from all this is that I believe we tend to move towards an ill understanding of women empowerment. Many, myself included, had begun to believe in what we have come to know as feminism. Yet what we do not realize, is how destructive feminism is to the empowering of women.

Feminism, a movement that gives a great deal of consideration to something called personhood but very little to womanhood, and hardly a nod at femininity.”
– Elisabeth Elliot

For what is it that feminism supports? On the outer shell it purports an “equality movement” (personhood) where women seek to be seen on the same playing field as men. And though seemingly of good intent, what it has likewise pushed for, is to despise and demean female characteristics (femininity). Women with masculine traits are seen as more superior, as more “worthy,” as more “modern” (as though modernity is a better thing than those of the past…but that is another post in itself).

Take into example the case of women in the workplace. Those who are seen as cold, frank, brisk, “less feeling and more thinking” are seen as more superior women. Others with more feminine traits, such as gentleness and soft-spoken-ness are often easily judged as indecisive and “not strong enough.” In believing in feminism, femininity is reduced to a weakness, while masculinity elevated.

“…in feminism, femininity is reduced to a weakness, while masculinity elevated.”

Ultimately the topic of feminism and femininity, rests upon our perceptions on gender. And in a society where there is an ever increasing number of genders being listed daily, no wonder it is difficult for us to navigate through the waters. Yet what I love is that as Christians, we have the anchor of Scripture to guide us through what is truth–that is, what God had intended His creation to be.

in the image of God

What I love most about the Creation Account in Genesis 1-2 is that it is there where the blueprint of what God had intended all of creation to be is laid out. What I love is that in the beginning, God created man in His own image, and He called it very good (Genesis 1:31). It was this very same man, that God later put in a deep sleep, and took a rib from, to create Eve. Knowing that Eve was made of the very same substance as Adam was, is to echo the truth in Genesis 1:27, “so God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

If we only knew how sobering this passage was, especially as compared to the surrounding culture that was prevalent at the time Genesis was written–how women were seen as property (kind of like the culture today, if I may say) and were of a lesser degree than men. The thought of “being made like God,” was only exclusive to the monarchs, and that as you went down the hierarchical tiers you would eventually find women at the bottom.

On the contrary, in the Bible we find that from the very beginning, we see the point of equality being made–that God created mankind, both man and woman, in the image of the Creator. How more dignifying can this get?

Yet as women, we are ever on a pursuit of finding our dignity, seeking our worth. If we only knew that it is a given that had already been bestowed over our lives, as image bearers of God, along with man.

“If we only knew that [our dignity] is a given that had already been bestowed over our lives, as image bearers of God, along with man.”

the helper and the help

It is in this perspective, in knowing of our equality in value and worth, that we can then venture on the truth that as women, we have been created as a helper. It is funny how this portion of the passage is often misinterpreted in two very extreme ways. 1) Some would conclude that as “helper,” we are then of greater strength, greater capacities, of greater value or worth than man, 2) or the alternative, that is, that we are merely seen as “the help,” namely, one of lesser value and worth, who is of a sidekick mentality.

Only if we paused and recalled that we had been made, both male and female, in the image of God, would we come to understand the purpose of our creation as women. Being called “the helper” does not cause us to be of lesser or greater value. It only implies the difference by which we have been created to function.God did not create another Adam for a reason.

If we took some time to distance ourselves from whatever connotation we have had of “gender roles,” and assessed the male and female anatomy–we immediately see a difference. We know it to be true that in most cases, a man tends to be physically bigger and taller than a woman, and a woman to be of a smaller and more fragile figure. It is not to say that a man will always be physically bigger and stronger, but that this is true generally. Likewise is true for a variety of other traits, that we can classify certain things to be masculine, and others to be feminine.

So why is it that we have come to echo culture, and portray femininity as being weak?(Growing up as a tomboy, I personally felt this first-hand–I would be embarrassed when I started to love “feminine things.”)

equal but different

How important is it for us to know that we were created equally, yet so differently. Knowing that this is what God had intended at the start, these must be things that we are constantly assessing and seeking the Lord’s wisdom, as we live our lives. We must wrestle with the hard questions of what it means to be a woman (and a man, if you are male and reading this) who fears the Lord.

Some of the questions I have been asking myself so much especially upon entering the marketplace, is how am I, as a woman of God, to view my leadership? Is it wrong for a woman to be at a place of much power as she progresses in her work? (And the details of these will be for another day’s post, for they will surely require much wrestling through.) But surely, strength has to look different in a man and a woman. Leadership will be different when embodied by a female and a male.

women, we need men too

Swinging away from a culture that is patriarchal (as most cultures tended to be), we have often emphasized on the fact that “men need women.” But if we are truthful, the same can be said of women–we need men too.

As a woman I must admit that I will always have limitations as I embrace my femininity. But it is to likewise soberly say that men will have their limitations in their masculinity, too. No one trait, neither feminine nor masculine, is the greater. But they are surely different.

To say that we need men (and that men need women) is not to say that every person is to be married, but to acknowledge that God had created us to be in community. As a female, I must embrace the male figures God had placed in my life–my father, my brother, my grandfather, and the many spiritual brothers and fathers I have gained in the years. Likewise I pray, that the men in my life may embrace me as a daughter and sister in their lives.

May we, therefore, in empowering women, not be advocating for them to “stop crying like a girl,” and instead “be a man.” For that is rejecting the glory and beauty of a woman that God had intended you to be. But oh dear, you have been created in the image of the Most High God who calls you His beloved daughter. And how great it is to be loved by Him.

“Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near to his heart to be loved by him.”
– Matthew Henry

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