So You Hate Biblical Womanhood
Last week, after teaching a workshop about biblical womanhood, I was asked a question that has resonated with me ever since.
I’ve been reshaping my ideas about Christian womanhood. Ironically, as I’ve delved deeper into the Bible, I moved further away from what a lot of people would consider biblical womanhood.
For instance, I recently read a quote from a popular book that stated, “Orienting our lives to our husbands not only helps them, but it helps us as well.” It went on to encourage wives to conform to their husband’s preferences as a safeguard against comparing themselves to other women. “You shouldn’t feel condemned when you see your neighbor’s beautiful garden if your husband appreciates home-baked goods more than fresh bouquets of flowers. While there is much to learn from the unique talents and abilities of other women, our goal is to more capably help our husbands—not measure up to our friends.”
A few years ago, that quote would have struck me as a practical rule to live by. But when I read it the other day, it struck me as mildly (or perhaps not so mildly) idolatrous.
The question I was asked at the conference sprang to mind as I tried to understand exactly why I felt this way. “As you’re on this journey to learn what the Bible actually says about women and to reconcile it with what you always thought it said, do you ever struggle with guilt or cognitive dissonance?”
All the time.
The Triumph of Transfer
Last year, I taught my ninth graders a unit on propaganda. The technique that stood out to us the most was called transfer. Excuse my ninth-grade-level speak here, but transfer is:
A technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another in order to make the second more acceptable or discredit it.
I describe it to my students as taking the qualities of something good and ascribing them to something questionable. That way, when we reject the questionable thing, we’re seen as rejecting the good thing. Transfer relies heavily on definitions that have not been mutually agreed upon.
For instance, during World War II, the positive quality that many Americans agreed upon was that the United States and its values were superior to their opponents. So any time an American flag loomed in the background of an ad, it unconsciously messaged: “You must agree with this text because it is the American way.”
We still see “the American way” used as a catch-all for “the value system that I want you to submit to.” During WWII, an ad might have implied your distaste for your America if you declined spending ten percent of your income on war bonds. In this scenario, the merit of buying war bonds moves from a topic worthy of discussion between rational human beings to an unquestionable test of one’s devotion to the American value system.
Now, replace “the American way” with “biblical womanhood,” and you see the dilemma.
Replacing the Holy Spirit
When we talk about biblical womanhood, oftentimes transfer takes the job of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what I mean:
Think back to the quote at the beginning. Many women may read a similar line of thought and find it unsettling. Yet, instead of examining that feeling to see whether or not it’s biblical discernment, it is automatically assumed to be sin. Because we’ve so readily transferred so-called “traditional womanhood” into the basket of biblical womanhood, and because biblical womanhood has become code in some circles for “the gospel for women,” we freeze.
Is it okay to not think our lives should be oriented around our husbands? Or is that like Eve giving in to Satan’s sneaky whisper, “Did God really say?” Never mind that the quote isn’t God-breathed. Because of the beauty of transfer, it may as well be.
“I’m not sure our husbands should be seen as a safeguard against the sin of envy or jealousy,” says one woman.
To which another responds, “Oh. So you’re a feminist and you hate biblical womanhood.”
So You Love the Word of God
Here’s the thing: We all come to the word of God with a certain lens. Hopefully that lens is shaped by the work of the Spirit renewing our minds, but we have to acknowledge that the flesh can take many forms, from questioning biblical truth, to blindly accepting any sweet fruit that masquerades as such.
While orienting my life around my husband might seem like God-honoring obedience, I don’t believe it is. And before you assume it’s because I hate my husband’s leadership and am going to end up in hell, remember that I’m a Texan girl who lives in Mississippi precisely because it’s the best place for my family, even though it was not the first place I would have picked. My life has changed because of my husband and son. I have sacrificed beautiful skylines and city living for this man I married, and while I have no regrets, it’s also a testament to the fact that I really do trust his leadership.
You feel me?
I do believe my husband is the head of our household. But I also believe that responsibility ought to be defined as it has been historically: “A divinely sanctioned office that conferred a duty to represent not his own individual interests, but those of the entire household” (Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey).
That is to say, this household is oriented around how the Holmes family can best serve God, not how Mrs. Holmes can best serve Mr. Holmes. Because, honestly, who does that guy think he is?
It is not glorifying to God to take an extreme view of Paul’s Ephesians 5 analogy, such that your husband literally takes the place of Jesus. It’s idolatrous. Paul gave us an analogy and treating it as one puts our husbands back in proper perspective. But you can’t get there by hiding from hard questions and labeling them as inherently rebellious.
You Can Ask a Question
I ended up having a very fruitful conversation about the quote at the beginning of this article, by the way. I wasn’t labeled a feminist or told I hate the Bible. But even when that doesn’t happen with others, sometimes the voices in my head do the work for me.
Don’t be afraid to reexamine what you’ve always assumed to be true about being a woman.
I’m not saying it isn’t scary. Some days, I’m absolutely terrified. I’m not saying you’ll never come to conclusions that are still hard to swallow.
You guys. I live in Mississippi.
But what I am saying is to not let transfer define your view of biblical womanhood. The fear of being (mis)labeled a feminist should not be as strong as the fear of mishandling the word of God. Let them talk, even if they’re just the voices in your head. God’s word is true. And you are his daughter. Ask all the questions in the world—truth can handle it.
Truth is never afraid to look you in the eye and give you a well-reasoned answer.
Propaganda on the other hand? She hates that kind of thing.
Tell that to your cognitive dissonance.