Mixed Messages

My Dear “Kindred Spirit,”

I just put on Martina McBride’s song “This One’s for the Girls.” It seemed fitting, because that’s where I’m headed with this one.

Don’t worry, guys. You can keep reading. I’m not planning to get really gross or girly or anything. And I’m not gonna start bashing y’all either.

But, if I may, I’d like to just throw some thoughts out there.

So, girls: Are you as confused as I am?

Are you by any chance struggling as much as I am??

I don’t think this is just a “me” thing. I think a lot of girls out there have absolutely no idea who they are and what they’re supposed to be doing. I know in my own case, I’ve received mixed messages ALL my life.

The world tells me to be a man. That is, the world tells me to act like a man. Of course I’m still supposed to have a very “female” body: female features and shape and paint my face and all.

It’s a very strange message, really. According to most of society, I’m supposed to be on the “girls” team and hate the “boys” team. I’m supposed to think that guys are pretty much unneeded and unnecessary, and yet at the same time I’m supposed to act like the guys.

And then we have the other end of the spectrum… the side I grew up on.

I was very fortunate to be taught that women should be women. That when you’re a woman, it’s a good thing to act like it! To embrace your femininity!

But there are dangers to this side as well.

The world’s message: “be a man” is one born out of fear. The fear of being vulnerable.

Femininity is naturally more vulnerable than masculinity. That vulnerability is what makes it so beautiful – it is open and inviting. It is giving and safe. It is also very risky. When you’re vulnerable, you aren’t in control. You can be very easily wounded and hurt.

The risk of being hurt is what prompts the world to say “don’t be a woman! Don’t be vulnerable. You’ll only get hurt. Stay in control of your world! Don’t give anyone else the power to hurt you! YOU keep the power, YOU stay in control!”

Masculinity is strong. There’s a reason men are traditionally thought of as being protectors and providers. There’s a reason women feel safer and cared for when they have a stable man to hang on to. Men are the first line of defense for their family – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We readily recognize this strength, and especially in Christian circles, we applaud it as the very important and needed trait that it is.

But the often overlooked reality is that femininity is also strong.

Not in obvious ways, as masculinity is, and I think that’s why women have received so many mixed messages over the years.

No one wants to be weak, and the world only recognizes one kind of strength – the strength men have. Being physically and emotionally strong. Fighting through tough times. Standing strong for what you believe in. Being that solid anchor when everything is falling apart. The proverbial shoulder to cry on. That is what is viewed as being strong, and I’ll be the very first to say that that kind of strength is desperately needed!

But there’s another kind of strength, too.

Feminine strength.

It takes strength to be open and vulnerable. It takes strength to risk being hurt. It takes strength to relinquish control of a situation. To trust someone else – to be open and vulnerable and painfully human with them, and trust that they will not take advantage of that openness. That they will not use it to wound and hurt you, but instead will use it as an opportunity to be more open and vulnerable themselves.

My dear Kindred Spirit, that takes strength!

The world does not recognize that kind of strength, and instead looks down on femininity and vulnerability. They think that strength should always look like masculine strength: solid, fearless, on the defensive, and ready to fight.

They don’t recognize the strength it takes to let go of the reins and relinquish control. The strength it takes to let someone else fight for us. The beauty in openness and vulnerability.

So the world sees femininity as weakness, and encourages women to be masculine instead. Don’t be weak and vulnerable, be strong and fearless!

It doesn’t work. Women long to be open. It’s part of our beauty. To be vulnerable and inviting. We fear the risk and the pain, but we long to give of ourselves and be loved and accepted in the midst of, and because of, our vulnerability.

Ah, but what about the Conservative Christian circles? They’re different, right? They let women be women! They recognize and encourage femininity and vulnerability!

Well… the Conservative Christian community does encourage femininity.

As I said before, I’m very glad that I grew up with the mindset that it’s ok for me to want to be a girl. That’s it’s not just ok, but good that getting married and having a family is at the top of my “bucket list.” It’s ok that I don’t want to have a grand career and make a huge mark on the world – I just want to make a happy home for, and be a good helpmate to, my man. That I want to follow, not lead.

If that’s where that mindset ended, we’d be great.

Unfortunately, it goes deeper than that.

In most – I pray not all, but in most – conservative Christian circles, femininity is still viewed as weakness. A weakness that is idolized and encouraged.

The conservative Christian mindset (rightly so) recognizes and values the strength of masculinity.

But unfortunately, there also seems to be the idea that to support and value this masculine strength, a woman must be weak. That her weakness will encourage his strength.

It’s really sad. Because in actuality her strength will encourage his strength.

It’s true. Femininity inspires masculinity. Feminine strength encourages masculine strength. What a shame that the message many women receive is not to be strong enough to be vulnerable, but to be weak in order to put the spotlight on masculine strength. They think that encouraging and valuing their man’s strength requires them to sacrifice their own strength!

These messages of weakness run deep, and they’re scary. They are not limited to discouraging a woman from wearing “mens” clothes, having work outside the home, or doing “mens jobs” such as carpentry or mechanic work.

These messages go so far as to discourage a woman from having her own interests and identity. They discourage her from following the dreams and desires God has laid on her heart. She begins to think that in order to be an encouragement and inspiration to masculinity, she must be weak, and therefore hides her beauty, her strength, her openness, and her vulnerability.

She becomes a “hiding” woman.

She lives in just as much fear as the women who act outwardly strong and in control, but has swung to the opposite extreme and gone into hiding as a result of that fear. She sacrifices her very identity in a misguided attempt to honor and respect masculinity.

It’s both scary and sad.

During the past several months my life has taken some very unexpected twists and turns. For the most part, it’s been great. On my good days, it feels wonderful to be where I am. I’m excited for the new adventures God is sending my way. I’m happy to be pursuing some of the dreams he has placed on my heart.

But on my bad days, I still find myself thinking: “Oh my gosh, I’m going to hell for this!”

For moving 1000 miles away from my God-ordained authority and protectors. For not living at home until I get married. For pursuing dreams He has laid on my heart when they don’t fit the template of what I used to believe a good Christian girl does with her life before she gets married.

It’s freeing. It’s terrifying.

I’m struggling.

When all you see are two options, two examples: be controlling or go into hiding – it’s difficult to recognize that there is a third option.

It’s difficult to be open. To be vulnerable. To be strong enough to risk hurt and pain.

Ladies… let’s risk it anyway, shall we?

Who’s with me on this one?

Love, N.

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2 thoughts on “Mixed Messages

  1. “The world does not recognize that kind of strength, and instead looks down on femininity and vulnerability.” One of the key questions is why do they not recognize? The world has lost view of what those unique strengths of a woman, and a man for that matter look like. It’s no wonder it is difficult being a woman or man trying to look at the world through the eyes of Christ.

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  2. Good stuff! As a man I can tell you that you are exactly right when you say that feminine strength inspires masculinity. When I see a woman taking the risk to be open, vulnerable, and trusting it not only encourages me to be more open, vulnerable, and trusting, it also inspires me to be strong in a masculine way. That vulnerability is very, well, vulnerable and masculine strength is needed in order to protect it.

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