W hen sitting down to research this post, I decided I needed more time to work through these newer books on Feminism I haven’t really digested yet. So I am rearranging the order of the books I want to cover in this series.
In the process, I also came across an article today that immediately sent me back in time to painful memories of an experience I never thought my family would ever go through. This article documents well beliefs concerning marriage and women I was taught from a young age and once held unquestioningly. These memories that it stirs up really mark the beginning of my journey with Feminism. So before moving on to new territory I want to share a little more of my journey, how I got to where I am today, and who influenced me along the way.
Growing Up in a World Where Women Were Taught to be Lesser.
Growing up my views of marriage were largely influenced by a mixture of teachings on marriage roles, the family unit, purity, modesty, courtship, submission, and the role of women in church. Voices like Elizabeth Elliot, Josh Harris, Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, and many others teaching a Complimentarian view of marriage taught me that in everything women were to always carry the lesser, more submissive role. Submission was the most godly principle a woman could develop in her life, whether it was to her father, husband, or leaders of the church. Women who were loud, more vocal, more of a natural leader in the home, or heaven forbid a woman pastor were seen as threats to this very entrenched view of women and the family, and were judged accordingly. Marriage was also seen as the ultimate expression of Christ and His leadership of the church. Divorce was only tolerated within the grounds of explicit adultery, and even then there was always a plea that forgiveness could cover a multitude of sins.
When I was 14, our family Methodist church, a place where my father’s family had been members for over 100 years, got its first female pastor. My parent’s had been unhappy with the church for a while, and this gave them the perfect, socially acceptable reason to move on. I remember my Father sitting down at the time and walking our family through the passages in the Bible that forbid women to speak in church and be in authority. A woman pastor in that rural area was unheard of. Sadly we weren’t the only family to leave. If only our family had known how those beliefs would later come back to haunt us and be used to break out hearts…
I have learned the hard way that its easy to hold rigid beliefs when life never actually asks you to examine them. It’s easy to be zealous about doctrine, when its tenets are only considered in the theoretical, and you only apply their most extreme application to other’s people’s lives but never your own.
The Year Darkness Fell.
My sister’s marriage was in ruins. The childhood dream… The courtship poster children of our community… The relationship and marriage everyone had seen coming and believed in for years destroyed by addiction, lies, and abuse. The details are still so painful and still so surreal, nor are they my story to share.
All I know is the fall out shook my family to the core.
Any suffering endured will be for the cause of Christ.
Divorce is never condoned, except for in the case of adultery.
If you divorce, love and any future marriage or relationships will forever be cursed.
You are harboring another man’s wife.
The accusations came quick and were unrelenting. Intervention attempts left us battered and shaking. Our doctrine had shipwrecked us into the jagged rocks of cold, merciless dogma.
Reeling from betrayal and in utter disbelief that we had found ourselves in this situation in the first place — we were faced with choosing between saving one of our own or forsaking her for the sake of our beliefs, our lifelong friendships, and our community of support.
Protect the reputation of the church, of men, of the community…her sacrifice will be rewarded.
Beliefs we once championed were turned and twisted into us like a knife.
When it came down to our family, to love, to everything we knew deep in our core — the demands being asked of us were impossible. Turning against one of our own was unquestionable, unthinkable. Was this really what love demanded? What Christ asked of us?
Left with no alternative, lines were drawn, and friendships formed from childhood were broken overnight.
My family fled the community and the state, nursing wounds and shattered hearts.
My Heaven Sent Angel — My Closet Feminist.
A few years later I met the love of my life. When he heard my story, my family’s story — I felt redeemed as he expressed horror and broken rage that people could in the name of God hurt us so deeply. Incredulous, it was hard for him to imagine that people could believe a God of love would demand such a twisted sacrifice. (If you could even really call it that.)
We fell head over heels in love. He saw me. He believed in me. He celebrated me. He supported my dreams. He challenged me to be stronger, to think for myself, to speak my mind, to be me.
What kind of man was this?
Now, the funny thing is — my man is a born and bred Air Force man. Conjure up images of the typical military man: disciplined, conservative, loyal to God, Country, and Family — and you would be right on many accounts. I can imagine that among anyone who knows him very well “Feminist” would not be the first description that comes to mind, hence why “Closet Feminist” is probably more accurate.
Tall, nerdy, annoyingly smart, confident, and sarcastic would be more like it.
Personal views on faith, politics, women, homosexuality — all the controversial issues of life for him are very private. Stuff you only talk about and discuss with people you trust.
I have learned to love that about him.
Instead of shoving in, he sits back, he observes, he’s not one to speak up about these things unless asked. This might also strike other’s as strange, given he has no qualms speaking his mind about work, or computers, or online gaming, or fishing, or science — anything he know’s he’s good at and well-informed in. My logical, factual man exudes confidence. He doesn’t have to follow the crowd and has no fear in speaking his mind. But in that, he also nourishes a strong belief in protecting an individual’s right to have their own faith, their own beliefs, their own opinions, their own life, their own love.
So when it comes to issues in life he finds to be sacred and personal he waits for safe settings, for trust to be built, and for an invitation to speak.
For someone like me who grew up with little boundaries, and believing practically anyone I saw as further along in their faith or more mature than me as having a right to tell me how to think or what to believe (especially men) — this man has been my safe harbor and my fear and insecurity’s worst nightmare.
Even though the beliefs I held growing up had already come under attack prior to us meeting, getting married to this man showed me just how ingrained and defective they truly were.
Marriage for us has involved a lot of trial and error. Largely due to the longterm effects of the beliefs I once held, I came into marriage assuming he wanted to be and needed to be this “spiritual leader” of a man who I had seen modeled my whole life.
So I pushed him. I pushed my version of church on him. I pushed spiritual marriage books on him. I pushed tithing on him. I pushed him to make decisions for me. I transferred my dependency to him.
In some areas he was gracious and acquiesced, until I was able to see how I was trying to make him into someone he is not. In other areas he struggled and pushed back.
I’m not opposed to church, but I appreciate an intelligent sermon from someone who has half-way decent speaking skills.
I’m sorry I just can’t get into the worship music. It sounds like a terrible copy of secular music, unoriginal, and like they can’t come up with their own ideas. Like they are trying too hard to be hip and cool.
I’m not your father. I’m not going to think for you. What do you want? You make the decision. How the hell are you ever going to survive for months on end, when I’m gone? You are an adult, not a child. Act like one.
As we settled into marriage and I struggled with the vision of a perfect biblical marriage I had built up in my head for so long, we found ourselves at our wits end with each other on more than one occasion. Him not knowing what to do with someone so scared of life, herself, and making decisions; me not knowing what to do with someone who didn’t want me to be subservient and who didn’t want me to be lesser.
I don’t want some meek woman behind me. I don’t just want a maid and housewife at home. You can be and are more than this. You have so much more to give to the world.
You can be an amazing mother someday, but that is not the end all be all. We don’t have to have kids right now just because that’s what your family wants, or what people you grew up with expect you to do.
What do you want to do? Who do you want to be?
Who made this man?
When I asked my husband who he think influenced such a progressive view of women in his life — he said, “My mother.”
A strong and beautiful mother. A mother who worked his whole childhood alongside his father. A mother who worked several jobs, who put herself through school while working, a mother who worked nights when needed, a mother who kept the home strong for months at a time while his father was gone. A mother and father who approached the family and marriage as a team effort.
The past four years of marriage have been beautiful. Far from perfect, but wonderful because we are building something through love, hard work, lots of conversations, and tears. We have our good and bad days — but I wouldn’t want it any other way. We choose vulnerability even when its hard, and when we fail we say we’re sorry.
As marriage continued, and he continued to push back against this complimentarian mold I was trying to force us into — I grew frustrated and curious. This wasn’t working. I wanted to believe him, and as scary as it sounded — it sounded so much freer. Someone wanted me to be me? Someone wasn’t afraid of me being strong or having an opinion?
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
A Book of Truth that Set Me Free
In January of 2012, some girlfriends and I started gathering in my home every saturday morning to start reading together this book we had recently discovered called A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.
Apparently there was this woman out there, who had actually spent a year of her life trying to live out the Bible’s commands to women to the letter. From camping out in a tent during her period, to calling her husband master, to wearing skirts and head coverings, to praising her husband in the city gates, to not cutting her hair, to trying to learn how to be the next Proverbs 31 woman — this brave woman made us laugh, made us cry, and she made us think.
A woman’s who blog I have been eagerly following ever since. She is also a great provider of resources, and is who alerted me to the article linked above.
For the second time in reading one of her books, I was forever changed. Through A Year of Biblical Womanhood, not only did she reveal the teachings I had long known, but she took them and bravely revealed how she struggled with the scriptures because of its broken, forgotten treatment of women.
As she writes,
Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories. They have forgotten that the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.
I learned I wasn’t the only one who had stumbled into an egalitarian marriage.
Rachel shares of this by saying,
When you find yourself running two businesses and a household together, tasks tend to get assigned based on efficiency rather than gender. And when you share a common goal of avoiding the nine-to-five lifestyle in order to make a living as creatives, you don’t care who brings home the bacon so long as it’s enough to pay the Internet bill. And when you realize that faith is not static, that it is a living and evolving thing, you look less for so-called “spiritual leaders” to tell you where to go, and more for spiritual companions with whom to travel the long journey. And when you learn that marriage is a slow dance, not a tango, you worry less about who’s taking the lead and instead settle into the subtle changes in other’s movements, the unforced rhythms of each other’s body to life’s music.
It would take far too long to try to compile every lesson I learned from this book. I learned something from every chapter. Pretty much every scripture and belief about women I had been taught, she covered and challenged me to not only understand it but to also hold it up to a new standard – a standard of honor and value for women.
Rachel summed it all up for me when she concluded,
For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: ‘Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?’ If you are looking for Bible verse with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verse with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate and honor women, you will find them.
Suddenly I had been given permission.
Permission to take the scriptures and my beliefs, and to call a spade a spade.
All those scriptures I had read countless of times — Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5, Titus 2…
All those horrible stories of women I had found ways of distancing myself from in the scriptures: Hagar (banished slave wife left to die in a desert) Tamar (woman forced to prostitute herself to her own father-in-law in order to produce an heir to provide for her), Bathsheba (raped and impregnated by King David and then forced to marry him after he murdered her husband — a man lauded throughout history for being a man after God’s own heart) and so many others that were too painful and terrifying to dwell on.
Suddenly I could own up to them, examine them, and be as honest with the scriptures as I needed to be.
In doing this I could also be honest with myself about what beliefs and view of women I truly wanted to build my life around — love, compassion, honor, and equal value or selfishness, control, inequality, and power.
I have chosen the former.
Now instead of prescribed roles, I am learning to embrace mutuality in my marriage.
Now instead of hiding and conforming to a lesser version of myself and believing I have to be smaller — I am learning to be strong, independent, brave, and unafraid.
Now I am learning that respect in a marriage is not about what you get, what you take, or what you demand of your spouse. Instead, for us we have found, it is like a tender plant that grows strong as a result of tilling the soil with mutual interest, mutual celebration, love, vulnerability, honesty, and teamwork.
Like so many, I came into marriage believing the lie that I somehow secretly, masked in the shrouds of biblical submission, needed to work on changing my husband into a better man, whether through quiet encouragement, pleading, or prayer.
But now I am learning from a man who models it well, to instead just get to work on being a better, more honest me — faults and all.
Instead of praying for faults of his that frustrate me, I am trying instead to see what is it in me that hides from conflict, hides from being honest about when I am hurt, or is scared of admitting much less asking for what I need.
It’s sometimes a daily, hourly, and minutely effort to catch myself. I find myself focusing on him and how he could fulfill my needs better or work on being better at this or that — but then I have to own up to the fact that I am usually unwilling to ask for what I need and just expect him to know what I am thinking and how I am feeling. Even deeper than that, I also usually just running from the harder work of working on myself.
Instead of assuming he needs me to be a lesser version, I have learned he is more than secure enough to handle me being the best version of myself.
We are far from perfect, but we are a team.
As different as that may be from what I ever pictured marriage to look like, I now know from experience that it is so much better.
- Have you experienced an empowering view of women in scripture and through the church?
- To what extent do you see Patriarchy and its traces through the Bible, still leading and influencing the church and its treatment of women today?
- How can feminism, in its beliefs that promote finding equal value, sharing roles, and giving equal power to both men and women make for a better marriage? Do you have any thoughts or experiences on this to share?
- Did you check out the article linked at the top? What are your thoughts and responses?