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Monday, July 09, 2007
What Makes You a Woman?
Biology aside, that is. As important as reproduction is for the continuation of our species, I'm more interested in looking at this from a spiritual and cultural angle. :)

I don't enjoy many of the things that the mainstream media -and often even the church* - depicts as the interests of the "average" woman: makeup. manicures/pedicures. shopping. fashion. the everyday lives of celebrities.

Not that there's anything wrong with liking these things. My interests just fall elsewhere.

While I was thinking about this, I realized that I define many of the things that I think make me a woman in some pretty negative terms and situations, most of which involved one's interactions with strange men in public places. Especially if it's after dark or if he acts a little too friendly. This isn't to say that I think that the majority of men wander around looking for someone to hurt...far from it. I was just brought up to be wary.

Has this been your experience? How do you define what it means to be a woman?

*I recently visited a Christian bookstore. Their books were divided into sections, and the "women's" section was, well, quite the pastel experience. But that's a topic for another day. ;)

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posted by Lydia at 9:52 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/09/2007 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I had a crisis of womanhood so to speak when dealing with infertility in the 80's. I was brought up with the notion that being a woman was a real pain, except that we had the blessing of having babies. OK ... that's a bit oversimplified, but you get my point.

    Now, I have a sense of my womanhood being: a wholistic approach to problems, an intuitive sense, a sensitivity to feelings and an ability to be empathetic. In pastoring these things are extremely valuable, also the ability to preach with authentic passion.

    I'm not sure how much of those qualities are just me and how much has to do with being a woman.

    On the other hand ... I am not immune to the many social forces out there made to make women feel badly about themselves. I believe woman are extremely capable, and the media should never assume that women are just interested in make-up, hairstyles, fashion, celebrities or how to bake a better cake.

    Oprah has a good balance on her shows between women's fluff and real social issues.

    I think I'm rambling ... and not sure I eve addressed your question.

  • At 7/09/2007 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    For me, I understand my femininity in the context of my ability to create, birth, nurture and raise not only human beings, but also ideas and gifts and art and other expressive and tranformational endeavors. As a woman, I tend to see things as part of a greater whole, rather than in isolation, and I make connections between things, thanks to my nice chubby corpus collosum :) I help others learn to read themselves and one another; I help my kids and my husband and friends become aware of and understand their own feelings.

    These gifts are not unique to women, but they are more common and frequently more fine-tuned and natural among women.

  • At 7/09/2007 12:57:00 PM, Anonymous becky

    I've had numerous conversations with men about the issue of the role of women in the emergent church. This is usually addressed in the context of asking why yet another panel is predominately male and white.

    The basic response I seem to be getting is that the emergent church's response to issues such as co-parenting demonstrate their willingness to include women. Yes but there's still an implicit understanding that the women in their circles are married with children. What about those who are single either by choice or design? How about those who either can't have children or don't feel called to have children? Then you have the issue of incorporating lesbian and straight women - when I was at divinity school, I wasn't welcomed at the women's center because I was straight. The understanding was that one could not be attracted to men in order to be a feminist.

    As a religious satirist, the issues I write about tend to be gender neutral though I know my experiences as a woman living in the United States colors my writing.

  • At 7/09/2007 01:42:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 7/09/2007 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Becky, if you can't be straight and feminist, then I guess there are either alot of closet lesbians or closet feminists :)

  • At 7/09/2007 03:10:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    I'm not sure how much of those qualities are just me and how much has to do with being a woman.

    I wonder about this as well.

    The lines are much blurrier than they used to be (assuming that the stories I've heard about the lives of women in previous generations are correct.)

    I haven't watched Oprah in ages, though, Wendy, so I'll have to take your word on that. :)

    not only human beings, but also ideas and gifts and art and other expressive and tranformational endeavors.

    I have to admit - I wasn't thinking of it in this way, Jemila. But good stuff. As a writer, I concur. :)

    What about those who are single either by choice or design? How about those who either can't have children or don't feel called to have children?

    Good questions. And again I wonder how things are going to evolve as the lines grow fuzzier. It will be a good change, but I'm interested to see what will come to replace the old definitions.

    Maybe there won't be a new definition? Maybe our identities will shift to just being human (much as most of us who are white probably don't think about the implications of our "whiteness" on a daily basis)? Just a thought.

    And this...

    I wasn't welcomed at the women's center because I was straight.

    is just bizarre. If you ever write anything about your experiences there, I'd love to read it. :)

  • At 7/09/2007 05:27:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I do think more and more we are moving to just seeing ourselves as just human. Not that differences aren't allowed or that we all have act male, but more in a respecting people for who they are. Not assuming someone fits the stereotypes.

    There is obviously a lot more that needs to happen (women's voices are still ignored in certain settings and our safety is still very much an issue).

    Maybe its because no one I hang out with fits the sappy, pastely, shopping and celebrity crazed image of women portrayed by the media (which makes me wonder if it even exists or if its a marketing construct we are seduced into following...), but it seems like the average woman is becoming more of a real person with real thoughts and preferences.

  • At 7/09/2007 08:42:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    Here's my short answer.

    I believe it is helpful to think of human beings as having both feminine and masculine characteristics no matter what their sex. Jemila, I like what you said about the creative and nurturing part of being feminine. I am creative and nurturing in most areas of my life, but my husband is even moreso in very specific areas. (And yet he manages to have all the testosterone-related characteristics most men have, such as liking gadgets and living like a slob when I'm not home!) I also have what would be considered some very masculine characteristics. So it seems to me as though the major difference between the sexes may be the degree to which masculine and feminine characteristics are manifest and the societal expectations that are placed upon each sex - and of course the plumbing! :-)

  • At 7/09/2007 10:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    "Here! Here!" Linda! I agree!

    I think that other than biology, it is only societal constructs that exist as differences. Humanity created gender, and not the other way around.

    Gender does exist however, and there are certain "masculinities" that I am thankful that my husband portrays.

    As well, there are many things "feminine" that I enjoy.

    I think that it's important to remember that relationship, love, acceptance, humanity, etc takes precedence to the expectations of gender - though it often isn't played out that way.

  • At 7/09/2007 10:35:00 PM, Blogger Lori

    I was thrilled to see this question! Back in March, at the emerging women midwest conference, this was the question that really hit home, and I've spent the months since thinking hard, and hitting up all my friends for input on the issue, as well. I've toyed with bringing it up here, so thanks, Lydia, for posting.

    First & foremost, I'm increasingly comfortable with my identity being simply "me". I realize that I have long resented being a woman, mostly because it put me in a box that doesn't fit well. I'd like to shed that resentment, though, and embrace what God has given, as I assume gender is one of God's gifts & means of self revelation.

    I think it was Nancy that used the term "archetype" some time ago in regards to gender characteristics. That seems like a very helpful word in this context--I think we all agree that there is no one clear definition or description that fits every woman (or man) out there. On the other hand, there are things that tend to be more true about one gender or another, and I find it helpful then to think in terms of the female archetype.

    Within that context, then, a couple of the observations I (and others) have made include:

    -a unique ability to see needs & meet them (at the conference, for example, coffee pots got filled, beds made, song sheets shared without any effort or fuss. Helpfulness seems to come naturally to many women, and I see this as a healthy reflection of the "helper" side of God's character)

    --the freedom to be complex, even complicated. Our wholistic, integrated perspective (referenced several times already) can result in a unique ability to experience & express vastly divergent perspectives with simple authenticity. That whole "who can understand a woman?" points to the potential weakness of what can also be a great strength.

    --a sensitivity to, and desire for, beauty. I know I'm treading on thin ice here, but hear me out. I was discussing this with a group of women friends several years ago, claiming that beauty isn't a high priority for me. (My favorite shoes at the time were black, clunky, flat boots, as opposed to my daughter's passion for all footwear sparkly & impractical) I'm more oriented towards comfort & functionality. Anyhow, one of my friends pointed out that I am, in fact, interested in beauty--it's just that my aesthetic sense opposes stereotypical feminine beauty. She nailed it! I do, in fact, care very much for what is beautiful--I simply don't define beauty in terms of pastel, or, as a general rule, florals. I'm sure society has a hand in our concern for beauty (especially the unhealthy varieties) but I'm also aware that the best lies contain a seed of truth. I think we are so easily manipulated into an unhealthy body image, etc. because deep down, (again, in an archetypal sort of way) we're wired to care about beauty!

    Well, enough for one night. Besides, I'm dying to hear what else you all have to say! Please, continue to speak up!

  • At 7/10/2007 12:28:00 AM, Anonymous becky

    My experience at the Womyn's Center really helped form my thoughts on the gay/lesbian movement. Also, I was the only WASP in my hospital training CPE program. These two experiences hit me on a visceral level just what it's like not to be accepted simply because of aspects of myself that I couldn't change no matter how hard I tried.

    That experience led me to march with the Episcopal Church in two NYC gay pride parades because it was a way for me to get rid of any anger I felt towards this particular group of academic lesbians for discriminating against me.

    These are experiences that happened back in the 1990s and I'm at such a different place now -
    what's frustrating is to see how many people are still stuck in the past. I still hear in some academic circles the need to exclude males as though they are the enemy. Along those lines, I am finding a sentiment in certain church circles that all women should support say a woman candidate for bishop or a particular piece of church business. Those of us who object are seen as being unsupportive of our sex when in fact, we might have some serious objections to the issue at hand.

    If I obsessed about the fact that I am a female religious satirist writing on subjects that are almost exclusively covered by men, I couldn't do my work. What I have learned is that I have two options - whinnying because certain people won't let me play in their sandbox because I'm a woman or find sandboxes where I can play. The more I chose the later, the freer I feel.

  • At 7/10/2007 08:12:00 AM, Blogger Happy

    Lori, I like what you said about how helpfulness seems to come naturally to a lot of women, and that it's a healthy reflection of the "helper" aspect of God's character. When I first came to faith and was learning - well, everything - I heard someone teach on how the role of women in marriage was to be a "helpmeet" to their husbands, and while I will grant you that in retrospect I think it was a much more conservative and limited view on things than I'd take now, there was something about that idea that really appealed to me. I never really thought about it as reflecting God's character - that's just cool. Thanks for the insight! :)

    Becky's question about single women - yeah...that's something I wrestle with a lot. Most of my friends are married with children, and while I'm grateful that I'm not, for a number of reasons - there's still a part of me that feels like I'm majorly missing out. I've been thinking about that a lot lately, and actually blogged about it a bit while I was trying to come up with something for "Faith In A Dress." Feel free to check it out if you like - afundamentalshift.blogspot.com; the post is entitled "Coming to Terms with My Inner Donna Reed". :)

    Jemila, I love what you said about creating, birthing and nurturing ideas and art; I definitely find that when I'm paying attention to that creative streak in me - even if it's something as simple as finally getting around to staining my kitchen table so I can actually use it - I'm more ME, if that makes any sense. Maybe it doesn't. I'm only halfway thru my first cup of coffee...

  • At 7/10/2007 09:17:00 AM, Blogger CLPC Kids

    In response to the mention of the women's section of most Christian bookstores: I try to avoid them because they are often too vapid. I saw once, no kidding, a book on which shoes to wear with which skirts with some little Bible verses about the armor of God thrown in for good measure. What is even more disturbing, however, is a look at the teen girls' section of Christian bookstores. The limiting social constructs and patriarchal doctrine placed upon them is disturbing.

  • At 7/10/2007 11:50:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    Well many know my personality, so here comes my sarcasm...
    Good question! To warn you ahead of time the part about womanhood I hate...is fueling this answer (ie. a long night with horrible PMS)! LOL

    I am still on this journey to what "I" am as a woman. The first part of the journey being taught, as some said, that I was created to mother, and be a good wife; a helpmate. The longer I go down the road, I want to be me, and am not ok with that box I was taught. My problem is I personally can be all over the charts. I have typically gotten along with men better than women most of my life. I have a hard time in friendships with women, however being married and many of my friends being from church, this can cause some problems. So I have found that even though I would rather talk to many of my male friends, many times I don't, for fear of "how that looks".

    My interests also wave all over. I love discussing my current readings (i.e.. bible scholarship or borderline personality disorder), but many of the women I know aren't interested in those things. I am a huge poker player. I play in a game online, or with friends almost daily. I love the competition and strategy that goes into play. Many days I have my hair in a pony and live in flip flops. Shopping to me is ordering out of a catalog or online a few times a year. I love to camp, live at the drag races with my husband, and spend half my life watching all kinds of TV.

    On the other hand, I like to cross-stitch and in the past, did a great deal of scrap booking. I usually wear makeup, keep up my nails, and I am very chatty (surprise), but I hear people, am more observant than I think people realize, and have a great deal of empathy and grace for people (much to my own dismay many times-it can bite me). I am a card sender, people are in my thoughts a lot, and I like to make sure people know I care. (Do unto others...right??)

    In my current state, I am frustrated. I have some situations that I am trying to be open and honest about (i.e. work related), but sometimes my perception is that the rules are different for the men then the women. For example we extend overwhelming grace for men "in hard times of their life", but when we get emotional or it's hard for us...many of them don't like to deal with it...we just need to get over it! (and to you wonderful guys who are reading this...not you LOL...you're wonderful!)

    I try not to hold things against people as I believe they do what they know...but it feels like many times speaking from my perception (or from a woman's perception) can feel like beating my head against the wall. I recently had a "emotional" discussion at a meeting for work. Unfortunately, (and I hate that I can't control this) I teared up more than a few times! (Mainly because it was THE day in my month where I can not NOT cry!) However, I am sad, frustrated, pissed off, irritated, etc. about many things within this situation...and yet I walked away "feeling" condescended to, not really heard (or maybe heard, but feeling it's unimportant), and well like I was just another "crazy, bitchy woman" with issues. However, in this particular instance, I know things (or should I say have heard things) that I am sure I am not supposed to know. SOOO, it is tough, because the indirect issue to my frustration are things I can't be honest about (things that have affected my respect and trust). The direct though is that I am being as honest as I feel I can because I care and want to see change. But, in this world, I am answering to men that have completely different personalities than my own. The only thing that makes me not feel crazy is that other men in this situation have expressed similar problems, irritations etc., I just don't know if they are saying anything. And even though I know our approach to the situation is different, the woman I share my job with feels the same way, she just isn't as open or "confrontational" as I am.

    So for me there is always the fine line between what is a "woman" battle and what is a "personality" battle.
    I hope to come to a place eventually where I can choose my battles better. There are many places where I think we need to stand for women...there is still a long road ahead in many areas, and being hopeful and grateful for where we have come. My hope is that people will try to see the whole picture of me (not just as a woman), but every aspect of me. The good and the bad. I may annoy the crap out of you, but I am a very loyal, loving, caring, smart, organized, strong human being, with a lot to offer this world.

    Finally, back to the main question, what makes me a woman is obviously different in many ways than others, but we are the same in many things. There are things that "typically" are unique to women such as giving birth etc. We contribute to the world in wonderful ways, however, many times aren't acknowledged in the same way as men. I am still finding my womanhood...and hopefully, will continue to grow in my own skin. I want to be the woman I can be, and not the woman that people "expected" me to be. I don't want to be in a box, or disrespected because I have PMS moments. I long to be where some of you seem to be; comfortable in your womanhood, and confident in the face of oppressive situations. I love hearing about the journey's you have been on. It can be helpful and inspiring.

  • At 7/10/2007 07:58:00 PM, Blogger Deb

    It is a fascinating topic. Just when I think I have it figured out (after 50+ years on the planet and parenting 2 girls) then I discover I have no clue.

    My younger daughter surprised me when she wanted more of a "girlie" birthday party - decorating flipflops, polishing toenails (complete with toe rings and toe bling!) and my older one struggles with how one is female AND intelligent AND called to serve God.

    I want God's best for my daughters and for other young women I know. It might not mean the route I chose (postponing career until later in their upbringing). It also might not mean having children. But more than anything, it means allowing GOD to be the one to define and direct them, not some culturally-determined "norm" that has lost its punch and its veracity in our post-modern world view.


  • At 7/10/2007 08:29:00 PM, Blogger Heather

    Hmmm. It's so hard to define what makes me a woman because it's what I have always been that. If I was able to switch bodies and become a man for a while it might make things clearer. :-D

    I'm like most people here, I think. I fit into a couple of gender stereotypes. I wear makeup and do my hair, and sometimes wear dresses. And yet, I'm good at mathematics, can read maps better than many men, and I love computers. I hate frills and lace, and I can't decorate my home to save myself. But I love literature, art and music, and I certainly fulfil my quota for talking. But I work well with men, and dislike baby showers and girliness. There are so many "buts" it's ridiculous - I just don't fit any stereotypes properly.

    Regardless, I am a woman. I figure women are supposed to be paradoxes. If we were easy to understand and fit in perfect boxes, where would the mystery be?

    Besides, I don't even understand me. How can I expect anybody else to?

  • At 7/11/2007 06:49:00 AM, Blogger Kimberly

    I quite agree with Michele L on the blurring of lines between what makes up a woman and what is personality. And this becomes more interesting as you look at what makes a woman in different cultures/countries. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I’ve always emphasized to my daughter, now 17, what an incredible gift it is to kick butt on the football/soccer field in the afternoon, come home to a bubbly bath, put on make up, high heels, a cute skirt, and hit the town in the evening. Despite the stereotypes, how great is that? The ability to give birth, nurse, and nurture all shape the lives of women and create intense bonds with one another as we share in the journey. It gives us a unique spiritual perspective as we relate/reveal the feminine side of God. Expressed in each persons individuality, womanhood, as with so much else in life, is what you make it.

  • At 7/11/2007 07:08:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    I've really enjoyed reading the various thoughts on this topic. It is interesting how we struggle to understand, what seems at face value, should be so easy to comprehend. This must be a reflection of how complicated (and yes, this seems to be a "feminine" quality perhaps)and diverse our souls are that there are no easy answers to what makes us women.

    When I think of what it means to be a woman, I DO think in terms of the archetypes of feminine. I think of words like intuitive, creative, perceptive, receptive, gentle, feral, deep, loving, compassionate, and nurturing. I agree that women very often seem driven to bring beauty and comfort into the world. I think of strength in terms flexibility, resourcefulness and endurance under great pressure. I think of passion and sensuality.

    It is not that men do not have some feminine qualities and it is not that women do not have masculine energies, it is that each one of us has our unique combination of each. And it seems because women and all things related to women in our culture are so devalued in so many ways, that we as women often struggle to accept the feminine, value it and develop it in our lives.

    Let's keep talking and sharing. It is so helpful to do so and work our way through this puzzle.

  • At 7/11/2007 08:03:00 AM, Blogger Sensuous Wife

    Oh! this is SUCH a good topic! I have just hungrily read all your comments and so enjoyed it and am eager to add my voice to the chorus. but I must. get. out. the door. to not be late for meeting. Argh! I'll be back. -SW

    ps love yall and your precious womanly hearts of every color and shape and variety.

  • At 7/12/2007 01:29:00 AM, Blogger Candace

    What an enlightening dialogue...

    I do not think I would (or have) give any consideration to being anything other than the woman I am. I do not do "fluff." I have never owned a designer anything, and the lives of celebrities do not even cross my mind - probably why I never watch the news, morning talk shows, read tabloids, etc. I hold the artistries given to me by God in highest regard and would not wish (or want) otherwise.

    The first time I truly embraced my femininity was such a serendipitous experience - I realized what a privilege it was to be a woman. The night I unexpectedly birthed my second child at home (without a medically trained professional in site) I discovered the depth of my character and the strength of my soul. I like to think (and I am probably right) that a man would not rise to this challenge with such grace, peace, and brilliance. I like to think I began living my life that night - I knew that I was now in possession of some mystical power that only a woman could know and cultivate.

    We are each given very truly feminine qualities - some more, some less, some yet identified, but we all have at least one...a gift, in my opinion, that we should always let shine bright and true, to lay odds against and create balance between our male counterparts.

  • At 7/12/2007 06:53:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    A related question...how do you think that "feminine spirituality" differs from "masculine spirituality" (if you think they might differ at all)?

  • At 7/12/2007 07:55:00 AM, Blogger Linda

    Nancy said...
    A related question...how do you think that "feminine spirituality" differs from "masculine spirituality" (if you think they might differ at all)?

    Wow, Nancy! What a great question! I'm not sure, but if I had to guess and rely on broader gender characteristics (IOW, not necessarily true for each individual man and woman), I would start with relationships. I think more women are about spirituality within the confines of relationship (both people and God). Of course, men need them, too, but I wonder if women (in general) need them more for the experience and expression of their faith. I know I do!

    This said, it seems as though men in missional and emergent churches are connecting more with the feminine qualities of relationship in order to experience and express their faith. So maybe it's not just a "girl thing". :-)

    Anybody else have ideas?

  • At 7/12/2007 09:33:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    Wow Candace, I didn't know about that experience...I can't imagine.

    As for the difference in feminine Spirituality, my experience is that many females experience their spirituality more within relationships than many of the men I know. I would say for the current situation in my community, some "traditional" concepts are lacking, and that has been hard for many of the women. For awhile now our community has not been "caring" quite the same way we had in past years. It depends on who you are, but we have had women in the hospital, deaths in families, hard situations, etc. where women have felt the personal care is not quite what it was. I think many men think that those things maybe "aren't a big deal" or figure someone else is taking care of it. For some however, they relate how they are treated, cared about, loved with in the faith community to their experiences with God etc.

    Working for my church has been a little frustrating lately. We have a fairly decent size staff with mostly men, and a few women. The "direction" is mainly decided by the men. If I speak up about how I feel, or for what many woman have commented on, I don't always feel heard. I don't think that it is done maliciously, however, there are differences in the experiences. Sometimes, I don't think they understand the needs of the community of a whole, they base the decisions on what they would like to see.

    For me personally, I am a "relationship" kind of person. I am extroverted and have a "caretaker" personality. Having relationships with others, has always been an encouragement in my faith. When a friend cares, I feel the presence of God.

  • At 7/12/2007 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    *When a friend cares, I feel the presence of God* I'm with you, Michele.

  • At 7/12/2007 01:36:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    (which makes me wonder if it even exists or if its a marketing construct we are seduced into following...)

    Interesting question.

    I know women - some of whom are related to me :) - who appear to fit into this stereotype pretty well...but then again, I met many of them at parties, barbeques or other social events that often don't lend themselves well to deeper discussions.

    (And I've never been close to the family members who appear to fit into this box, so, once again, it could just be that I'm only seeing the side(s) of them that they want me to say.)

    I do agree that part of it is probably a marketing construct, like you said.

    But I also wonder if part of it isn't some form of self-selection -that is, I wonder if some people choose to stick to "safe" topics like fashion or celebrity gossip in social situations in which they don't know the other people well?

    Another idea: maybe it's also due to self-selection in terms of who we choose to hang out with - like Julie, I tend to hang out with people who are interested in talking about things like philosophy, religion or the latest Scifi movie/tv show.

  • At 7/12/2007 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    er.. "say" = see in my last post. :)

    Lori and Nancy - have either of you ever studied Carl Jung in depth? He had some really fascinating things to say about archetypes, especially as they relate to the Anima/Animus. (Wikipedia has decent articles on the Anima/Animus if you're not sure what I'm talking about :) ).

    how do you think that "feminine spirituality" differs from "masculine spirituality"

    This is where I'm unsure...unless I'm being discriminated against, I don't really think of my spirituality in gendered terms.

    But when there is discrimination, I find myself searching for diligently for the "feminine" side of God.

    Whatever that means. :)

  • At 7/12/2007 11:28:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Lydia: Yes, I've read Jung. I wrote a poem about Anima/animus in college...I guess I've been contemplating these issues a looooong time. So, either I am a real dimwit or this topic is just that deep and mysterious because I still feel I have more questions than answers in this regard. I have so loved reading the thoughts everyone has posted here...yours included. Thanks for sharing...and for asking!


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