I've been thinking and writing lately about what it means to be a good man or woman, but the more I think about it the more I realize it's not necessarily a gender issue. I mean, for every guy out there whistling and cat-calling there's a girl who's very goal in life is to get guys to notice her. I also know there are plenty of men confident enough to support and empower strong women. Maybe it's time to be defined not by our gender, but by our humanity.
We're not so different after all. I think we essentially want the same things; to be heard, respected and loved.
We've been told men and women are opposites.
Men want respect, women want love.
Women are emotional, men are stoic.
Men want sex, women want intimacy.
The truth is I want respect just as much as my husband does. I like sports even more than he does. I love hiking and backpacking. I can "rough it" and live without a hair-dryer. I also occasionally like to watch a girly movie and dress up. I don't think being a woman encompasses who I am. My personality, interests and beliefs are what define me.
I recently watched a video series with a church group about marriage. The whole premise was the differences between men and women, how to relate to each other and understand each other. While I appreciated some aspects of the message, I constantly found myself wondering if it isn't just about the fact we are man and woman, but that we are two separate people with differing thoughts, ideas and needs.
If I want to be a good wife and have a strong marriage, I don't need to learn everything there is to know about men, I need to understand my husband. I need to know what he's passionate about, what makes him upset, what being loved means to him.
Marriage isn't so much about men and a women learning to live together, it's about two people learning to live together.
If men where all the same then it would makes sense to study their gender in order to learn how to be a good wife. Obviously they're not all alike, just as women are not all alike. It's strange to me that we buy into this idea of gender roles so wholeheartedly. There have been situations when I've felt trapped by stereotypes and expectations of my gender and I feel unable to be myself. Sometimes I just want to hike a mountain or watch a football game, not go shopping or sit around talking about (or in my case listening to) birth stories. I know other women who, like me, feel somewhat out of the loop within their community of friends and/or church because they don't fit the bill of how a woman should think and act.
I feel like so many relationships, not just marriage, could be stronger if we stopped trying to make people fit into the roles we think they're made for. I know men who've felt ostracized for being sensitive and experienced major pressure to be "manly" or "sporty". I know women who've felt looked down on because they choose not to have children, they're made to feel like part of their womanhood is broken or will never be fully realized.
What if we accepted that we are unique individuals with our own ideas and beliefs regardless of gender?
Yes, genders were created to compliment each other, but that can't happen until we stop trying to force people into preconceived notions of who and what they are.
My spirit has been bruised and damaged too many times by messages of how to be a Godly woman/wife/mother that conflict with my personality. Early in our marriage Josh and I had arguments because of unmet expectations of each other. We'd been told from books and well meaning mentors exactly what a husband or wife should be like. Josh was surprised to find out it wasn't my life's dream to clean the house and cook meals every day. As we began to understand each other better we grew to love the things that made us different than what we'd expected. Josh likes that I'm not high maintenance (usually) and I appreciate that he has a soft side and writes me love letters and tears up at sad movies. (Don't tell him I told you! He's also hard working and strong and drives a truck!)
I can only speak from my own experience, but growing up, the church communities I was in seemed to put a lot of emphasis on being a "Proverbs 31 Woman". My interpretation of Proverbs 31 was that being a good woman meant being a wife, a mother, a morning person, a cook, having a clean house, always being happy and patient, never getting discouraged, being good at everything. Essentially, I thought it meant perfection. As a young wife I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. It didn't work. I was just more discouraged and imperfect than ever. Plus, what about women who aren't married, don't have kids or can't have kids? Where do they fall in the spectrum of godly women?
Then, in Bible school, I actually studied Proverbs and made a crazy discovery: The Proverbs 31 woman isn't real. That's right, she's fiction. The author says in verse 10, "An excellent wife, who can find?” and then goes on to make a list of desirable characteristics. He's not describing his wife, he's describing his dream wife. (It's also an acrostic poem using the first through last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.) The characteristics described are admirable ones wives should strive for, but that probably no one woman can fully encapsulate.
*Side note: if Proverbs 31 is the Bible's portrayal of a godly woman, where is the male equivalent?*
Now lets think about some of the real life, flesh and blood women of the Bible:
Rahab, a prostitute.
Sarah, who doubted.
Ruth, who worked the fields.
Leah, who was unwanted.
Esther, became queen.
Hannah, who begged and cried and never stopped praying.
Mary Magdalene, who stayed at the cross.
These are a few of the women who are honored in the Bible. They struggled, sometimes failed, found redemption and were far from perfect.
I only say all this because it's easy to get wrapped up in the idea of gender roles and being a good man or woman, when really I think it just creates a lot of pressure, confusion and frustration. Ultimately, in order to be a man or woman of God, we don't need to subscribe to a set of rules and expectations based on gender, we only need to follow the example of Jesus.
Jesus didn't tell Mary to get back in the kitchen with Martha, he honored her desire to listen and learn. Jesus himself washed the feet of his disciples. And wept. He didn't go around acting tough and demanding to be served and respected. Let's start emulating our savior and value our differences. We were not all created exactly alike, we are men and women, but we are individuals. We are all human.