!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> Emerging Women .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Made in the Image of God: Female
Gifted for Leadership’s most recent post is What Our Feminity Means. Here is an excerpt that sums up the entire post:

The benefits of modesty aside, femininity became a new way to behave, a role I played, a corset I wrapped around my soul and tightened down to get approval. Femininity quickly became something I did to get what I needed or wanted in life. It was something to use, not something I owned.

I don’t think this is what God intended when he created Woman. In Genesis 1 God wanted to splash more of the Trinity onto Earth. So God made Man and Woman to mirror his image (Gen 1:27). Femininity in its truest, original sense was one way God’s image appeared, and this image was not weak, catty, emotionally crazy, or inferior because God is none of these things. Femininity wasn’t a role Eve played to get what she needed; femininity was part of who she was. Even after Eden, as broken image bearers, we reflect God. If a child is humble, she mirrors her God. If a man is gentle, he mirrors his God. If women are feminine in the original sense, we reflect our God.

My main problem with this is that “feminine” and “femininity” are social and sociological constructs, not biblical or theological terms. Genesis 2:26-28 states:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

God did not make “masculine” and “feminine” in God’s likeness. God made Male and Female in God’s likeness. And what does this image and likeness look like? According to these verses it means that man and woman subdue the earth and rule it as well as being fruitful and multiplying. Both the man and woman are commanded to have a family and to have a vocation.

In Genesis 2, we found that God created a human being and placed the human in the Garden of Eden. God decided that it was not good for the human to be alone, so God made an ezer cenegdo for the human. After the ezer is made there is now man and woman. What exactly is an ezer? Outside of Genesis 2, it appears 20 times in the Bible*. Seventeen of those times, ezer is used to describe God. In each instance military imagery is used to describe God coming to help Israel against its enemies. I found Psalm 146 particularly fascinating:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help [ezer] is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

After telling the congregation not to put their trust in human leaders, the psalmist proclaims: “Happy are those whose ezer is the God of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah!” (author’s paraphrase). The psalmist then goes on to describe how God helps Israel: God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, and loves the righteous. God watches over the strangers, upholds the orphan and widow, and brings the way of the wicked to ruin. God’s help is not to dominate the people, but to lift them out of poverty and hunger, to set them free from oppressors and oppressive debts (most people in prison then were in debtor’s prison: they could not pay their debts). God helps the orphans and widows: those in society who have no one else to help them and be strong for them. God uses God’s strength and power to help those that no one else will help because they are seen as weak, poor, and marginal. Again we see military imagery used to describe God as Israel’s ezer or helper.

Carolyn Custis James does a wonderful job of exploring the word ezer and its military connotations in her book, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories, in the chapter on Eve. She translates ezer as “strong helper.” Woman was created in the image of God to be a helper to the man as God was a helper to Israel. But this does not make her superior to the man. That’s where the second word of the phrase comes in: cenedgo, which means standing or sitting face to face. It means equal. So the full translation of ezer cenedgo is a powerful helper equal to. Woman was created to be a powerful helper equal to the man the way God is a powerful helper to God’s people.

Man and woman are created in God’s image to image God in our world. Psalm 146 gives a description of what God is doing in the world. God is not only fighting enemies and saving God’s people. God is also taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. This means that both man and woman should be doing the things God does to image God to our world. This includes fighting systemic and spiritual evil, but it also includes tenderness and compassion toward those who are poor, needy, and those whom society overlooks.

I want to look at two women in the Bible; one in the Hebrew Scriptures and the other in the New Testament. Deborah is the woman of Hebrew Scriptures that I want to look at. We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4. She is a prophet and judge, and she leads Israel. The Israelite people come to her with the problems and disputes, and she mediates God’s will as Moses had once done. She is married, but she is a working woman. God has called her to be a prophet and judge, and she has answered. When God commands Israel to go to battle with their enemy Sisera and the Canaanites, Deborah summons the military commander Barak, and tells him what God says. But Barak will not go into battle without God’s representative, Deborah. Both Barak and Deborah lead Israel’s armies into battle. Here we see a man and a woman working together to fight the people’s enemies and obey God’s words and will. And irony of ironies is that Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth, is probably in the troops following his wife.

Deborah, Barak, and Lappidoth do not resemble or act according to the societal constructs of masculine and feminine, but they are obeying God and building God’s kingdom side by side. Leading men into a battle is not considered “feminine” in Western society, but Deborah was obeying God. God called her to lead her people and protecting them from their enemies. She was an ezer who was imaging God in her every word and action.

The next woman I want to look at in the New Testament is Priscilla (or Prisca). Priscilla ran a business with her husband, Aquilla. They made tents together. They worked in Corinth with Paul where they heard the Gospel and were saved (Acts 18:1-3). Later the couple would meet Apollos who had heard only of John’s baptism and not heard of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and “explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (v. 26). They also lead a home church when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:3-5). It is very odd during this time for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s, and yet four times Priscilla’s name is put before her husband’s. Many scholars believe that she was the dominant one in ministry: the teacher and pastor of the churches that met in their home.

Again we see a man and woman working side by side making a living and building God’s kingdom. There is no mention of what is masculine and what is feminine. They work together as the team God created them to be.

I think being made in male and female in the image of God has very little to do with modern notions of femininity and masculinity. It has everything to do with faithfully imaging God to our world by obeying God’s callings on our lives and working together–both men and women–to build the kingdom of God on earth.

*Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalm 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; and Hosea 13:9.

The New Revised Standard Version is used for biblical quotes unless otherwise noted.


posted by Shawna Atteberry at 3:41 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/21/2007 09:51:00 PM, Blogger Dale Fincher

    I think if you read Jonalyn Grace Fincher's book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, you'll see a rounder picture of her view, which doesn't disagree with your comments.

    And you may find some insights into 'female' that might include 'femininity.' To whole-heartedly punt femininity out of theology and into social construction may be a premature mistake, in part, because the jury is still out on this under-studied subject.

    After reading your wide and smart reply, I think you would find Fincher's work, at a minimum, worth wrestling with both personally and intellectually. I would expect 'emergent' women to find it rather refreshing and poignant, moving a much needed conversation forwarded without polarizing those standing in opposing corners of the debate.

  • At 11/22/2007 08:43:00 AM, Blogger Jo Saxton

    Thanks for your post - I've just discovered this blog and I"m enjoying the read.

    On the question of being female, feminine,and femininity:
    It's interesting to see how our cultural backdrop shapes our definition. I'm an Nigerian British woman (living in the States.At times I've noticed that what was seen as unfeminine in one of my "cultures" was totally an utterly feminine in the other!

    After way too much time spent feeling confused, I'm coming to an understanding that God's definition of the woman I am is far broader than any cultural context.And so far, I'm enjoying the challenges and the discoveries of this journey

  • At 11/23/2007 06:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Regarding the word "ezer" translated helper in Genesis chapter two. I think it is important to note that the text clearly states that the woman is created to help (or maybe better translated "rescue") the man from his aloneness.

    "Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him."

    As was point out, both the woman and the man were commanded to have dominion over creation. Eve was not created to "help" Adam get all his chores done. She was created to help or rescue him from being alone.

  • At 11/23/2007 04:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    The "male and female" created in Genesis 1 in hebrew terms, is speaking wholly about sex.

    There is a difference between "sex" and "gender". Female gender is often called "femininity" and is a societal construct.

    It is gender that is being referred to in Galatians 3:28:

    "There cannot be Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor freeman, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

    There were a lot of constructs about women built up biblically and Jesus knocked 'em down :).

    Just some thoughts..

  • At 11/24/2007 04:05:00 PM, Blogger Dale Fincher

    I like what Jenni said. And as I guy, I think it is dead-on!

    As for Amie's comment, if Gen 1 is 'sex' and Gal 3 is 'gender,' this isn't exactly how the Hebrews thought to make a distinction, since the same word is used for both in the Septuagint.

    But even more, if gender is social construct, then the difference between men and women are their body parts. But there may be a good case for the Thomist view of the soul that the body is actually informed by the soul in its very makeup. This would entail that even apart from the body there is a gender 'something' that is grounded on the soul level.

    While different cultures have tried to interpret gender wrongly or rigidly(and make us throw our hands up and call it a 'construct'), it doesn't deny that 'something' is there. At least the possibility is open if human identify isn't grounded in matter alone.

    Again, I would recommend Jonalyn's book, Ruby Slippers, and give it a proper review. She takes more of a Wittgensteinian approach (something I would think Emergent women would appreciate) with a cluster concept model to get at the intrinsically feminine--rescuing it from constructs one one hand and rigidity on th other. Her research integrates psychology, women's studies, theology, and philosophy... a true integrative approach to free women to think beyond the typical polarizing ideas about femininity.

    This blog post which is a response to Jonalyn Fincher's blog post on Gifted for Leadership may be forcing something that isn't there... Jonalyn's purpose in her blog post is to get people who don't usually think outside the box to start thinking (especially a Christian world fascinated with books like Captivating). It wasn't to give a difinitive answer. As Emergents, you know it is hard to steer the ship toward new ideas. So you've got to take baby-steps without sounding like an overreacter.

    A lot of the Emergent Movement has the texture of overreaction. We want to avoid that. And it'd be helpful if people could pause and really listen to each other and cheer one another on for taking the courage to stand up in unfriendly waters.

  • At 11/24/2007 04:22:00 PM, Blogger Jonalyn Fincher

    Hi Shawna,
    Glad to have your post in response to the Gifted for Leadership Blog I wrote.

    I want to understand your criticism better. I'm curious as to what you mean by the words "female" and "feminine."
    What does it mean, to you, to be female?
    What exactly do you believe makes a human? Is it body and soul? or just body?
    If we are a soul, what do you believe makes a soul? In other words what is a soul to you?

    Hope to dialog with you more on this. Please feel free to write me at: jonalyn@soulation.org.

  • At 11/24/2007 06:47:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Thanks you Shawna for posting this here and to Dale and Jonalyn for showing up.

    In reading the original post, I was left having no concrete understanding as to what the author meant by feminity means (although the title claimed to describe it). I tried to read Ruby Slippers, but found it to stereotyped and girly to get into, so I don't know the bigger perspective that this article is obviously channeling.

    But I do get wary when terms like feminine get discussed in such general terms. People in American culture, especially evangelical christian culture, download way too many assumptions about gender roles in an absolute sense when such terms arise. As Jo points out, gender assumptions vary drastically across cultures and across time. How much we can separate ourselves from our culture is questionable, but to speak about gender generically can be dangerous in that it can bring up more hurt and pain than truth.

  • At 11/25/2007 03:37:00 PM, Blogger Shawna Atteberry

    Sorry I have not responded in a timely manner as some think I should be. Between Thanksgiving and a sick husband, I have not been on the computer that much: just to check email and keep up my own website. Thank you for the discussion, and I will comment when I have time.

  • At 11/26/2007 09:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous


    The Septuagint is a translation from Hebrew, and in Hebrew the words used in Genesis 1 have everything to do with sex (biology).

    The difference between men and women are their body parts and the different experiences that those differing body parts create.

    Per gender being a societal construct, I would disagree that view is an overreaction. Sure there are some true stereotypes, but they evolved into what they are. Femininity is defined by the individual living it. Seeking for a pre-definition creates rigidity imo.

    Why the need for it?

  • At 11/26/2007 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Dale Fincher


    Maybe I'm not up-to-date on my blog etiquette, but when there is a lack of understanding wouldn't comments on the actual blog post help generate the discussion that is needed?

    I see in your profile you're an advocate for women equality. Me too. (We were at CBE in Denver this year, did you make it?).

    Jonalyn's book is a gentle iconoclasm. It begins an egalitarian framework from the ground up without using the word 'egalitarianism.' She wants the reader to see that egalitarianism is entailed once you have all these premises (personal and academic) arranged.

    I'd encourage giving her book another look. By the end of chapter one she's already deconstructing the stereotypes (calling them 'corsets'). Then she goes into showing how men and women are similar (very unstereotypical for the conservative 'captivating' evangelical audience) as well as how they are different. By the end of chapter 5, you'll see a new way of looking at femininity based on a cluster concept model. The rest of the book is soul formation in how Christ lifts the curse in redemption, including his shattering paradigms in first century Palestine. There's original thinking going into these pages drawing from many disciplines, including philosophy (a discipline underused in gender questions).

    We have a feminist lesbian friend who hates all things 'girly.' She didn't like the shoes referneces, but found the content very satisfying and freeing.

    So I want to gently recommend open those pages again and read a comrade. It may help draw some new distinctions in your own journey. And it's intelligently written.

    And I am with you that we generalize in an all too American and all to evangelical way when we speak of gender. We want to be careful with it. But that's why we want to invite other culture ideas to the table as well. We may see through a glass darkly, but we can still see. I'd hate to give up simply because the task is difficult. Never before in history have we had the multi-culture invitation to explore ideas such as this one.

    Graciousness, yes. Respect, yes. Gentleness, yes. Charity, yes. Open minds, yes, but to bite into something solid.

  • At 11/26/2007 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Dale Fincher


    Yes, I'm aware of the origin of the Septuagint, but it still sheds light on how Hebrew translators viewed words.

    I cannot draw the same conclusion you do that Gal is about gender and Gen about biology. The words don't call for it. At minimum, we may be able to say contextually that gender and biology is all wrapped up in the original connotations of the words--a complete package (and since Hebrews didn't have a definition of the soul apart from the body, then this general view would work... it was Messianic Jews that realized this later).

    What does seem clear to me is that based on contexts of Gen and Gal, there is more going on than meets the eye. It is obvious Paul sees 'male and female' as more than biology, otherwise we'd have a contradiction (saying there is neither male nor female). But he's using the same word the LXX uses and he's aware of this (being trained in it). So it is possible he reads Gen with more than mere biology as well.

    I personally believe Paul is referring to equality and not to sameness.

    As for why the need...

    I think if we can find some hints that point beyond body parts, then I think the need is sufficient to look beyond merely the atomic structure of our species. Pre-definitions are not always rigid (religion, pornography, and science are three examples of this). Jonalyn's work at a non-rigid definitions helps (again, you'll have to see her book... go to chapter 5 if you don't want to read anything else).

    Without belaboring the point, there seems to be a soulish quality overlooked. If God made human beings in his image, male and female, I read that as saying that unless there are men and women working together and relating together on the planet, then his image isn't complete (I'm not talking marriage exclusively as single people can work with the opposite gender as well).

    Since God has no sexual body parts, then it seems there must be more to male and female than their body parts if they are made in his image together.

    Otherwise God's image is complete on earth with just a man or just a woman. But both are not needed. Adam's aloneness may testify, not to his existential need, but to the image of God on earth (especially when looking back to Gen 1:27).

    Why not simply make another man, complete with male body type, etc., and give him a uterus and cause reproduction to take place in a different, more 'male,' way. But he doesn't. There seems to be more than body parts that informs how a woman is built for reproduction, nursing, and cultivation of a young soul. There's something going on here. Femaleness was God splashing more of himself on the earth.

    I want to see women on elder boards because they offer more than body parts and experiences from those body parts. They actually see things differently, informed by their bodies, yes, but drawing on also in other ways depending on the person. Otherwise, let's just not complain that the women don't have the right to do certain tasks if men can do them as well... after all the task will get done. But we still think women have something to offer as legitimate as a man... and I think it's more than mere insight. It's presence. It's a quality of completing the image of God.

    Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, probabaly the leading Christian research sociologist on gender, believes there are differences beyond biology (top of page 10 in her book on masculinity). So research is noticing something and the case is still open.

    I hope that at least gives a small reason why there may be a need. Occham's razor only works when all the data already has satisfying causal explanation. At this point in my journey, I'm thinking there isn't yet adequate explanation on the physical level.

  • At 11/26/2007 02:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Dale, I agree with you and think you have articulated it very well. I pray for the day that your perspective is the majority among men in the church!! (BTW, I am also a member of CBE and support their work whole-heartedly, prayerfully and financially.)

    I do think that feminine and masculine are biblical and theological constructs. Unfortunately, trying to define them is difficult and much of what has been presented as feminine and masculine from a theological perspective has not, in my opinion, been accurate, but merely stereotyping as Shawna seems to be pointing out.

    I won't attempt to define feminine here because, honestly, I'm not sure I can do it. However, I do think Scripture is clear that there is something in female that bears the image of God. As a woman leader in the church, I want to be accepted as a woman, not merely a woman who is expected to think, behave, and act like a man. I do not want to be tolerated but instead valued and invited to bring my feminine voice and perspective into church leadership. The church needs men and women living and leading together in a relationship of interdependence.

    I am intrigued and look forward to reading Jonalyn's book.

  • At 11/26/2007 04:31:00 PM, Blogger Dale Fincher

    Thanks, Jenni. I appreciate your encouragment. Maybe we'll see you at CBE next year!

  • At 11/26/2007 05:11:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Dale - thanks for the reply. This is where I encountered the article and where discussion had started and so I joined in here. It is a very common thing on blogs to comment on articles one has read elsewhere.

    Perhaps I should ask for clarification of what exactly the author meant with her terms at the original posting. It is a bit off-putting to continue to be told that I need to read a book in order to understand the article. Perhaps one day I will get back to it, it just didn't work for me at the time I first attempted to engage it.

    I think the idea of presenting egalitarian ideas in a gentle format is helpful, but one does fun risks if one's words are easily misinterpreted as being otherwise. Anyway, thanks for the conversation.

  • At 11/26/2007 05:58:00 PM, Blogger Dale Fincher

    Hey Julie,

    Thanks for letting me know about blog etiquette. :)

    Didn't mean to be off-putting. Jonalyn did post up a comment with questions to the author's post, so I was leaving part up to her.

    And, yeah, it is risky to present things gently. It does risk misinterpretation. I guess there's a time for it and a time to be more explicit. Sometimes it is hard which time calls for which. Maybe check out Jonalyn's blog where she's a bit more explicit (jonalynfincher.com). That is, if you have time and/or are interested.

    Thanks to you too, for the conversation.

  • At 11/26/2007 10:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous


    It is my point exactly that God create human beings in his image who were biologically male and female.

    Those biological differences do lend to different experiences in this life that form us into who we are as individuals. Certainly I am able to relate to other women in some ways that I would not be able to relate to you about -- birthing stories for example.

    And I'm not sure which Hebrew that you are reading, but "zakar" translated "male" is referring to the male phallus and has to do with the 'recall' function. "Naqebah" translated "female" has to do with a "pierced hole". Those sound wholly biological to me.

    If there are words which become before or after them which add a clarity that I'm overlooking, I ask your forgiveness. As well, I pray that you are gentile in correction.

  • At 11/27/2007 04:24:00 PM, Blogger Shawna Atteberry

    I do think masculine and feminine are social constructs because they change from culture to culture, ethnicity to ethnicity and generation to generation. It is us always asking how do we fit into our world? Of course the answers are different for men and women because we are wired differently (science has proven women and men think differently) and because of hormones. Yes I do think that gender rises out of sexuality. And I think the Bible shows that. Different things are expected of women at different times in the Bible because they are women, except for marriage and childbearing.

    As far as my definition for female, I thought I had defined it fairly well in the article. Being female is being made in the image of God and being made a partner with man to build God's kingdom by being fruitful and ruling. Since I am barren, I do take "fruitful" metaphorically. I'm a pastor, and all my children will be my congregation. The Bible never really tells us what being made in God's image is--it shows us. So I look as see how women in the Bible acted.

    Miriam led the people in worship at the Red Sea, Deborah led the military into battle with Barak, Ruth spent 12 hours a day picking wheat by hand to feed Naomi, Huldah told Josiah the truth, and the Proverbs 31 woman makes sure her family is fed clothed, makes and sells fine materials, and buys and sells land to take care of her family.

    Mary accepts the possibilities of being an unwed mother and possible death when she says yes to God's plan for her to be the mother of the Messiah. The Samaritan Woman by the side of the well went and told everyone about Jesus and brought them back to well, and Mary Magdalene was the first preacher of the Resurrection. Phoebe was a deacon, Tabitha made clothes for the widows in her community, Priscilla and Aquilla were pastors of a home church and tentmakers, and Lydia hosted the first church in Europe after drinking in Paul's words by the river.

    This what being human, being female, and being made in the image of God looks like. It's when we obey God and faithfully image God to our world. As in the the illustrations I chose for this post, I think that happens best when men and women are working side by side and arm in arm to fight societal, systematic, and spiritual evil and building the Kingdom of God where there at.

    Does this answer all the questions? No, but then I don't think the Bible answers all the questions. And to be honest, we don't know what parts of God are male and female, so the only thing we can do is to imitate Christ and obey God in the tasks God has given us to do. Honestly, I think the gifts and abilities God has given us and what we do with them is much more important than gender. I do think men and women are going to do different things with the same gifts and callings because they are male and female, but I'm not sure you can distill that down into a simple definition. Or at least I can't. It also doesn't help that I have a lot personality traits that are considered "masculine" by our society and church. So for a good part of my life I had to come to grips with the fact that this is how God made me, and that meant these traits for me were part of being a woman whether the church agreed or not.

    Once again thank you for your comments and all the wonderful discussion. I was very surprised. I figured that since I posted the day before Thanksgiving, there would not be a lot of traffic. In fact, I wasn't even going to check in until yesterday, and then I figured there would only one or two comments. It was quite a surprise when Dale left me a message wanting to know when I would start responding to comments, and I came over to see this. Thank you!

    Jonalyn, I am going to get your book and read it. Dale said that you gave a great overview of Genesis 1 and 2 and being male and female in it and then started going into femininity. I wish you would have done some of that on your blog post. I really felt like I was reading about this elusive term "femininity" that can mean so many different things to just as many people and just got left hanging. You know what I would love to see more? And I need to do this on my own blog as well, and I would love to know if it is in your book: Part of being a woman is our bodies, which include how we view our weight, menstrual cycles, hormonal fluctuations, etc. I would love to start seeing more theological reflection on this and how it affects our spirituality. I've started thinking about this and just beginning to post. Have you done in any work in this area?

  • At 11/27/2007 11:04:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    This topic always draws a lot of responses. : ) And I do love reading them all!

    I read through the whole article by Jonalyn and personally, I was pleased that she did not offer up any answers so much as she asked probing questions for all of us to ponder on the meaning of femaleness/femininity. Now maybe the book is different but I think it would be somewhat presumptive for one person to assert they have that definition nailed down. Maybe the answer to the question is relative to the woman responding to it? Or maybe we need to get back to the issue of archetypes (supposedly more universal than societally-dictated stereotypes) when we attempt to define masculine and feminine and how each of these energies display themselves in both men and women? From the point of view of Genesis, maybe it provides more of a metaphor than an historical accounting and through that use of pictures reflects more the mystery of male and female than simply the biological fact? Maybe it was more about relationship (think Trinity) that was being imaged than the things that make a man, a man and a woman, a woman? Maybe what is truly feminine or masculine changes over time? Maybe not.

    Outside of the research that has been done to try and define these concepts more empirically, we are left with conjecture and that is largely based on anecodtal experience and observation. In the end, male and female are probably more ALIKE than different. Curious how we obsess about the differences and kind of gloss over the greater similarities.

    Finally, this question is so dear to my heart. I've been interested in "women's studies" for 30 years and it is kind of amazing how little ground has been made since books like "In a Different Voice" in answering this riddle. It is one of those things that might always remain a kind of mystery and maybe that is one way we truly DO bear God's image.

  • At 11/28/2007 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Shawna Atteberry

    Nancy, I absolutely agree with you. Thank you for posting.

  • At 11/28/2007 02:15:00 PM, Blogger Jonalyn Fincher

    It’s encouraging so many women are part of this community bashing around ideas of femininity and female. I love the graciousness and clarity of this group of women. Thank you for modeling good blog etiquette! I’ve just caught up and thought I should respond to some of the posts.

    Julie- I originally titled my Gifted for Leadership post “Where is the Refresh Button on Femininity?” not “What our femininity means?” I agree that the second title, created by the editor, is not what I’m answering. My original goal was to refresh and begin trying to redeem the word “femininity” not to define femininity. I’m, of course, disappointed that you found Ruby Slippers girly and difficult to get into. I’m fairly confident that if we sat down and chatted we would find ourselves on much the same page in being frustrated with the girly, romantic, flimsy notions of what makes up womanhood. One of my major concerns was with how women are boxed into narrow definitions of gender that hurt them (as you pointed out). This blog was meant to free, to encourage and to open up more dialogue about what makes a woman unique. In writing my book I worked to get beyond the stereotypes and discover what God had in mind when he created us. As I mentioned in the introduction to Ruby Slippers and hope to continue to communicate, I do not intend to give THE Biblical model of femininity, I do not think we can exhaustively find that. I do think we can get glimmers. That is what I’m after.

    Jo- I love how your experience as a Nigerian Brit offers clarity about how culture shapes our ideas of femininity. I agree that God’s thoughts on gender are broader than ours. I’d value knowing some specific things that are unfeminine here but uber-feminine in other cultures. Would you be willing to share more? jonalyn@soulation.org

    Jenni and Shawna- I agree that helper (ezer) is best understood in terms of the warrior or strong helper. Carolyn Custis James played a formative role in helping me work out my section on ezer in Ruby Slippers. Jenni, thanks for being willing to check my book out. I’d be curious, since you are in the emergent scene, what you think of Chapter 5.

    Amie, Shawna, - the term “feminine” often does refer to a sociological construct and not biology. I’m afraid, however, that because there are so many types of femininity (Shawna as you say feminine often changes between generations, cultures, ethnicities) we assume that there is no essence to being a female. That’s where I would disagree with you. I think you have assumed that variety of feminine codes entails no essential femininity. But if we applied that to morality, for instance (morals change between generations, cultures and ethnicities) we’d have to assume there is no timeless morality (a statement I’d disagree with since morality flows from the attributes of a changeless God). In a similar way, variety of female types does not prove there is no essence to femininity because femininity comes from God’s nature, as does masculinity (notice I do not mean female or male organs here, just the soul differences come from God). There could be a variety of explanations for the variety of femininities we see:
    1- The Fall creates aberrations of the original intention of what male and female was to look like
    2- God loves variety so he is honored by the differences in women, but this doesn’t preclude the possibility that God has given us a few essential things by which we know women are united.
    3- We haven’t hunted down and found the similarities, but instead are either daunted by the differences or frustrated at how simplified women are often described to be so avoid it altogether.
    4- Or as you’ve pointed out, there is no essential femininity
    When I use the word “feminine” I mean it to refer to the ways a woman can be female and I grant that there are many, many ways. But the variety of feminine ways to be does not, in my mind, undermine the importance of discovering some, or even one, of the essentials of females. Since our body seems to be one agreed upon, necessary characteristic of females, I think Christian women would serve theology, philosophy and spiritual formation disciplines well if we developed a theology of female embodiment (for instance, we need to question even the “scientific” evidence as has been popularized by The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine and Carol Gilligan’s In A Different Voice,and compare these findings against comprehensive meta-analyses on gender studies e.g. Janette Hassey’s work. We need to guard ourselves from the modernistic, materialistic tendency to value science over theology, especially if we believe in the ability of all humans, including women, to be able to choose how to use our biological differences. A brain difference might not be quite as determinant as a soul difference. We don’t want to fall into the trap of elevating a body difference as more substantial than a soul difference).

    In Ruby Slippers, I use “feminine” to mean the how we own the ways God has made us female. This will include a variety of roles, season, behaviors, occupations, etc, customized to each woman (childbearing for some, singleness for others). I do believe we have a need to feel free to walk with God into what he’s made unique about us. If we find there are other women similar to us (like when you discover you’re an extrovert, for instance, and that there are others similar to you) that helps us in companionship and community for the journey. That is why we gain by seeking out what makes women unique.

    In Ruby Slippers I talk about how we are intricate strands of body and soul fabric, woven by God. Our soul permeates our bodies like salt dissolved in water. This enmeshed view of the soul in the body is over a thousand years old and philosophically known as Thomistic dualism. According to this view any body difference impacts our souls, too. Our soul-infused body is never generically “human.” Humans are only male or female. There is no such thing as a generic human. And it makes sense to me that the physical differences of sex (chromosomes, sexual organs, hormones,) make essential differences on our soul’s capacities (mind, will, emotions, spirit) and therefore on our essential selves. How can a body difference not create a substantial difference to who we are? All our experiences are mediated by this body which in turns informs our soul. And since our experience is gendered from conception, our souls are incapable of non-gendered existence. That’s what female embodiment is all about.

    Shawna- I love that you take the phrase “image of God” seriously in your investigation of what it means to be female. I’m glad you’ve chosen to embrace that. And I agree that men and women take dominion in all areas of life best when we are, as in Eden, side by side. My question for you is what makes your soul own your female body differently than if your soul owned a male body? How does that change the way you engage with the world, friends, men, superiors, inferiors, God, angels, etc? How is your humanness dyed female?
    You’ve stated we cannot know which parts of God are female or male. This is why I believe “feminine” is the best word to describe the unique female soul characteristics of women. God is not female, but he own feminine characteristics. God is not male, but he owns masculine characteristics. How do I know? He says so in Scripture. I think it’s worth digging into these metaphors (father, son, nurse, hen, mother, birther) to know our God better and to know our humanness better. So in your life, how does your femininity change the way the parishioners see God? How does your female body and feminine soul round out, fill up and build up their picture of God? What does female embodiment look like as you pursue metaphorical fruit (by the way I love that you’ve chosen to value building the kingdom through the family of God, that is something my husband and I have chosen for the last 6 years of our childless marriage). I know you’ve said, so vulnerably and beautifully, that you own some typically “masculine” traits. This is where your experience as a woman would help others round out our understanding of how femininity does look. You are fully woman, fully feminine when you own all the traits God’s given you. I struggle when people assume a trait is masculine even when it’s owned by a woman (from my reading I think this is much more Jungian than Biblical, if God made us male and female than the traits we have are things we can call feminine, another way God is shown through a woman). This why I want to redeem “femininity” not just toss it into the socially constructed milieu pile. This is what Ruby Slippers led me to work through. I think we all would profit from your investigation into these questions, too.

    In answer to your question (Part of being a woman is our bodies, which include how we view our weight, menstrual cycles, hormonal fluctuations, etc. I would love to start seeing more theological reflection on this and how it affects our spirituality. I've started thinking about this and just beginning to post. Have you done in any work in this area?) Yes, I work through a beginning of female embodiement in Ruby Slippers. It’s on page 106. I would LOVE to do more on this, though! 

    And I agree with you, defining femininity will not be a simple definition. I hope I don’t come across like femininity or masculinity is a simple, clear-cut matter. I don’t believe it is, but I still find it worth investigating, poring over, writing about, talking about, finding. I believe femininity is real and we can catch glimmers of it in all the women we know.

  • At 11/28/2007 02:32:00 PM, Blogger Jonalyn Fincher

    One correction: Janette Hassey should read Dr. Janette Shibley Hyde.

  • At 11/29/2007 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous


    God is a spirit. God contains the same function as women (birthing) and men (planting seed) as is reflected in biology. I would disagree that God contains gender at all.

    I don't see myself or a man as partaking in only half of God's divine nature, but as being whole representatives thereof -- both 100% in his image.

    I'm not sure what morality has to do with any of this. How do you define "morality"?

    1. How do you believe the fall changed male/female "looks"? I would say that perusing the knowledge of good and evil was the beginning of the societal constructs (gender) of male/female. It was the "fruit" thereof which resulted in death, and not the knowledge itself. How then they internalized that knowledge created a deadly outcome.

    2. As I said to Dale, I certainly would be able to relate to other women in ways that I could not relate to him (or other men) - so I agree. Those connections are based on biological difference and how we experience the world because of biological difference. Other than that, men and women share being human - we're the same.

    3. In conversation with other women I learn what we have in common.

    4. I agree with you, if I understood you correctly, that we define femininity. However, femininity becomes individual rather than stereotypical in that way, else femininity then defines us.

    I do (and did) acknowledge that our biological differences do lend to different experiences in this life that form us into who we are as individuals. I do not attribute my experiences to every other biological female as in gender.

    I appreciate your thoughts :-)

  • At 12/17/2007 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Shawna Atteberry

    Jonalyn, I do want to continue this conversation. But between my husband's illness, the holidays, and starting a home church after the first of the year--well I'm a little short on time to say the least.

    But after the first of the year, I would like to pick up where we left off. Hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  • At 12/17/2007 06:29:00 PM, Blogger Jonalyn Fincher

    I believe it's possible that the Fall made women's bodies weaker and men's bodies stronger, so "rule over" would be physically possible. That's just a guess, thought.

    I'd love that. Looking forward to more dialog in the new year! Merry Christmas,