Monday, December 7, 2009

The Realm of Women

"When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking." ~ Gail Sheehy

I want to reach one kind of Christian with this post. This is the person who misunderstands woman's "role" in the world--that is, the tasks for which God has granted her the capability and perfect capacity for. Because everyone misunderstands it, you know. The over-compensating "career woman" who gets unreasonably angry that
someone might even suggest there are things women are better fitted for than men (i.e., childbirth). The ignorant teenage boy who boasts to his friends that he wants a "submissive wife" when his every action toward girls repulses and offends them. The people who say women shouldn't work, the people who say women shouldn't stay home. The women that agonize over that uncomfortable submission verse, as if it should make anyone uncomfortable. The men who love that submission verse and forget that the "love your wife" verse is far graver and should transfix any man with humility. Anyone, male or female, who tries to make women feel better about their role by telling them, "It's all right. Men are dogs, you are far smarter. Don't feel bad that they run everything."

I hesitate to even say anything, because there is so much, but the theme of this blog keeps it together. I am to write about beauty and loveliness. I want to talk only about what is beautiful and lovely in the God-ordained "role" of women, and hopefully the flip side of that will instruct as well. (For the curious, I put "role" in quotes because there are many roles for women, just as there are many roles for men--they are only different in capacity, not in number.)

I love vintage things. I saw a girl on the train reading a magazine for women that I would like to buy for myself. It did not feature a bikini-clad Scarlett Johanssen on the cover (who are those covers for? Lesbians? Definitely not for the straight older women who are their main demographic). Nor did it feature 300 billion sex tips (come on. There can't be that many) or ways to stretch your face back so men will still like you. I think it was about clothes and music and crafts and things. Anyway there was an article about vintage magazines from the 50's, including one called "Home Improvement for Girls". It was accompanied by a cute picture of a 50's girl in red lipstick and a skirt sitting on the floor and building a piece of furniture. I thought that was adorable. I mean a girl should know how to fix and build stuff...even if you're a stay-at-home mom, if the baby's highchair breaks, you don't want the kid to starve until Daddy gets home. And single women need to do that stuff all the time. It just really stuck in my head that people always assume that being home-oriented means that ALL you do is cook foods and clean floors, when any homemaker knows that managing a household is a monumental and often varied full-time job.

In the Victorian era, a very wealthy woman was not expected to do much of anything at all. If she had servants to clean and cook and plan meals and shop and nurse her baby, she did nothing at all. As a result a lot of women became depressed, ill, and often insane and suicidal. ("The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Gilman is a good example of this, when a woman is deprived of her God-given task of running her home.) This is not the Biblical idea of woman's role. My favorite expulsion of this is Proverbs 31, which everyone knows but not everyone really grasps, I think. I am so thankful God put this work in the Bible, because it is so beautiful and so full of meaning, for married and single women.

A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

"Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Upon reading it myself I am overwhelmed with the sheer amount of wisdom contained in this small passage. I don't think it's possible to over-rate the profound knowledge it contains for women themselves and the men who live in this world with us. (I am sort of envisioning a nice several-week study on this passage that I would like to do, theoretically, because I think more women need to understand what they are here to do and this passage states it so clearly. Any interest from those in the Brooklyn area? Just a thought) Read it. Read it again. This woman is not a CEO. I don't see the word "power" in here at all (though we can debate till the cows come home about woman's flirt-power and how she can reel men in, so on so forth, which I don't totally subscribe to but I digress). That is not what this is about. Nor do I see anything about sitting around gossiping and watching What Not to Wear (although I do like that show). This is a busy lady, not a busybody. She is not locked in her house, unaware of whether a bomb is currently settling on her city. The Proverbs 31 woman has a car--a decent, working, versatile car, if not a minivan--and she is smart and capable and talented. She is also compassionate and unselfish and responsible. She is frugal but generous, serious but joyful, thoughtful but not anxious. She is a true Woman.

You know the bit about being a helper to Man? A lot of single women might come to better terms with that part by thinking of "Man" in terms of mankind. There is nothing worse than a woman who is self-centered and unhelpful simply because she tells herself she has no husband to be a helpmeet unto. Sorry to say, when you do find a husband, those old selfish habits are not going to just disappear. A selfish single woman will make a selfish wife. Just because you are not married does not mean you cannot extend your hands to the poor. Just because you are alone does not mean you cannot bring good, not harm, to others all the days of your life.

I think the gist of it is that women are here to make this world easier, not just for men, but for ourselves and each other as well. If you are a homemaker, which is an amazing calling and very fulfilling for many women, you are there to make living easier for your family. Everyone knows that a messy, ugly, undecorated house is depressing and can ruin your whole outlook. (Why do you suppose organization experts and interior decorators make so much money, or why Extreme Home Makeover is so popular and mesmerizing?) Homemakers are experts in that, and you can always tell an unhappy woman, married or single, by the state of her home. What about single, working women? God has given you your calling for the moment, and you are to excel at it. But never let that get in the way of your calling to be a helpmeet to mankind. Psalm 68:6 says that "God sets the lonely in families". If you are single, set yourself in a family. Your church family, if you cannot have your blood family with you. Get to know the older people and the children, not just the cute guys or fun girls in your singles group. Surround yourself with human souls that you can love and who will love you and embrace you, and do good to them, and you will be fulfilling woman's role. It is by no means only married women who can fulfill the ultimate goal of woman, which is not solely motherhood. I believe it is utilizing your special ability to get close to people and immerse yourself in their love and esteem. However, if you are a mother, than you know what your first priority is. You don't need me to tell you that it is your children. Nancy Wilson in the book The Fruit of Her Hands relates that she was once washing dishes and began to worry about glorifying God. Doesn't God want me to witness to someone? Lead a Bible study? Start a prayer group?? She then realized exactly what God's holy will was: He wanted her to wash the dishes. We make a grave mistake when we assume that menial tasks do not glorify God. Not all of us should presume to be teachers, we are told. Some of us will be copy editors, dancers, waitresses...and still others may feel like little else besides diaper-changers, but God finds that work holy when it is done to His glory.

*I feel as though one more group needs mentioning, especially since I am of this group--young single women still living at home. You are in a family, and it is hard to be a woman in a home dominated by another woman. Your mother's decisions will dictate how it looks and functions, and this can be hard. But it is doable. Sometimes it may require adjusting your instincts to respect your mother's wishes, even if you disagree and think you can do it better. You're not meant to be in that position forever, but until you move out and/or get married, it can be tricky. Realize that it is uncomfortable for a reason, and a season. While you are there, continue being a helpmeet to your family, and learn all you can about how families work. Whether you marry or not, what your family teaches you about people will be a boon to your whole life.*

I am by no means trying to preach...because I know women Biblically can't be preachers. ;) Which is why I'm talking to women mainly. But I hope some men read this too. I think it would help them understand those woman-things that they share the earth, and sometimes a dining-room table, with.

That's my girl Rosie. She is telling you that not only can women do everything God wants us to do, but also that we can do it in killer red lipstick. Plus, have you ever scrubbed mildew off a bathroom ceiling? Gives you great biceps just like Rosie's. Trust me.


Sabe said...

I'm not really sure what sort of comprehensive comment I can leave here, but wow! This whole topic of "gender roles" is something my friends and I constantly argue about, but you put your opinion so elegantly!

Elizabeth said...

Perfect. Thanks Melissa. I think we need to have that Bible study. I want to be able to say that I'm proud to be a woman, and this post definitely helped. :)

Jenn said...

What a wonderful post! I agree 100%. You should allow your own words to be a comfort and encouragement to yourself, just as they are to me, and I'm sure many others!

Shannon said...

This post is so true Melissa. What an insightful blog. I'm so glad I read this. And I agree with Beth, we should have that bible study!

Regina said...

I realize I am a bit late to the party here. However, I want you to know I lost count of how many times I said "Yeah! Amen!" while reading this post.

Great stuff, here.