This post was written as a prelude of sorts to the series Human Sexuality & Redeemed Image-Bearing Series. It is me sharing a little bit of my life experience and how it has fostered in me a particular desire to understand issues regarding human sexuality and female image bearing specifically. It is an explanation of my personal interest in this topic, it is not part of this study per se. But, for any who are interested, it is an opportunity to get an idea of where I am coming from on this issue and why I have made such efforts to understand this topic.
Having been raised in a home deeply impacted and driven by a feministic agenda, I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to untangle the subtle strands of what I would call a psychological sexual ambiguity. In the home that I grew up in, there was no clear distinction between male and female. There were, of course, the obvious physical differences, but beyond that differences between the two sexes were neither acknowledged or encouraged. Generally, sexuality was understood to be a matter of sexual practice, and masculinity and femininity were defined in terms of lust and desirability.
My mother had more education, a better job, and made more money than my father did (at least in the early years). For the most part, my father was the more emotionally intuitive parent that often played the role of both mother and father – cooking dinner when he wasn’t working, doing the food shopping on the weekends, attending school meetings, and doing what he could to pull the family together. On the other hand, my mother was a tough, no-nonsense sort of woman that prioritized her career and education. Although she tried, she generally found that childcare, housework, and the domesticated life were frustrating, overwhelming, and boring.
As a public-school student in the eighties, I was constantly bombarded with the message that girls could do anything boys could do – and probably even better than a boy could do it. Women’s rights, education, and the pay-scale divide between men and women in our country were common topics in literature, curriculum, and in the class-room. Women were tired of being ‘stuck’ with the kids, relegated to second-in-command, and making less money than their male counterparts for the same jobs. The repeated refrain for girls was ‘get your education’ and ‘do whatever you have to do to get a good job.’
The Battle of the Sexes
Marriage and a family were the furthest things from my mind, and being a female seemed to me to mean that I was in a cosmic battle of the sexes. A battle that women had been losing for years – and it was on my generation ‘to right the ship’ and win the war! I think that we were supposed to become the men that our mothers wanted to marry….
Anyhow, after highschool, I enlisted in the army. And after taking the ASVAB test, I was given the option of becoming a chaplain, a police officer, or a fire-fighter. I chose fire-fighting. I had never thought about fire-fighting a day in my life, but I knew that I didn’t like church people or cops – so the choice was easy.
At that time the military had just made a transition in how they were training their fire-fighters – they had adopted the National Fire Protection Standards and built a new multi-military training facility. I was one of the first female recruits to be trained to the new standards. Unexpectedly, I became the first female recruit to complete the training with no interruptions in the training cycle or mandatory restarts. (Most females were not able to complete the arduous physical requirements of the training. Although, from what I understood, there was one experienced professional female firefighter that underwent the training program successfully.)
My success in the training – as well as my easy adjustment to military life- went right along with what I already believed about men and women: there were no real differences between them. For all intents and purposes, on an emotional and mental level, I was sexual ambiguous.
I believed that there was no male or female per se, we were all just people – people with guy-bodies and people with girl-bodies. And, if anyone had asked me if there was a difference between a man and a woman, I would probably have responded by saying that the only real difference was that women were unfairly treated by being underpaid and undervalued. Knowing how audacious I could be back then, I might have even added that as a female firefighter for the Army, I had just won a small but decisive victory in the battle of the sexes.
He Treated Me Like a Lady
However, the Lord had other plans for me.
Around that time, I became a Christian. When I started attending church, I noticed that among church people there seem to be an intentional difference in how men and women behaved. I felt out of place and not really part of this new sexually diverse world. I felt most comfortable in tight fitting jeans, a flannel shirt, and combat boots – not a dress, flower prints, and matching heels. I wasn’t offended by the difference between me and the ‘church girls’ – but I knew that I wasn’t one of them.
After about a year of avoiding people at church, I met my husband (to be). Ironically, he came from a family of fire-fighters. Our earliest conversations were about taking a civil service test for the Boston Fire Department. He was a Christian, respected what I said, and wasn’t insecure about my job in the Reserves as a firefighter.
Most significantly, he was gentlemen. He opened the door for me, helped me take my coat off, and pulled the chair out for me to sit at dinner. Something made him different than all the other men that I had ever known. He never said anything inappropriate and always paid for dinner when we went out (there was no ‘Going Dutch’). In short, he was a man, and he treated me like a lady.
And, much to my own surprise, something about me wanted to ‘be a lady’ when I was with him. I felt bashful when he opened the door for me and happy when he complimented “the red in my hair.” I was free to be quiet when I was with him, free to have strong opinions or free to have no opinion at all. It felt uncomfortable at first (being treated with such deference), but I didn’t want it to stop. And, something deep inside of me knew that I had finally met someone who was (as the song goes) ‘strong enough to be my man.’ It is no wonder that we were married less than six months later.
When I married, I wholeheartedly embraced the role of wife and mother – I was relieved that I didn’t have to prove myself by doing what men did. My husband provided for me to stay home and study the Word, pray, and serve in the church as I desired to do so. I quite happily stayed home! I cooked, cleaned, and enjoyed every minute of it. When I gave birth to my first child, a baby girl, I felt that I had finally discovered what I had been created to be. And all in a moment, there was no more sexual ambiguity. I was a wife and a mother. That is, somehow I had come to understand that I was a woman through and through.
In the following years, I read many, many books on being a Christian woman. I listened to as many teachings as I could find on Biblical femininity and sought out mentors and older women to “Titus 2” me. All of this, in the hopes of becoming the woman that God had created me to be. But even though I knew that I was created to be a woman and longed to understand femininity, I still didn’t know exactly what being a woman meant.
All of the teaching on Biblical womanhood that I received could be boiled down to two words: biology and function. I became increasingly convinced that true femininity couldn’t be reduced to merely childbearing and submission. (Although in the Lord, I do believe both of those things are beautiful and fitting in their rightful place and time in a woman’s life). But, as the task of teaching my daughters what it meant to be a woman became more of a priority in my life, my desire to understand true womanhood became more important to me. I wondered, if femininity isn’t primarily biological and functional, what exactly is it?
In other words, I wondered what does it mean to be a woman at a soul level? What does it mean to be a female created in the image of God – distinct from being a male created in the image of God? I wondered, are there any essential-to-nature (dare I say ontological?) differences between men and women – differences that have their foundation in the creation account, are easily perceived throughout the Biblical narrative, culminate in the new creation work of Christ, and are present everywhere in all female-image-bearers in varying degrees regardless of their spiritual state?
And so, it was, that I had moved from a state of sexual ambiguity– to a state of ontological uncertainty. And here we are. The rest of the posts in this series are explaining the truths that have helped me move from a state of ontological uncertainty to a state of sanctified sexuality.
Other Posts in the Human Sexuality & Redeemed Image-Bearing Series:
Foundations: Sexuality, Gender, Essence and Ethic