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Act Like a Man ... even if you are a Woman

I will warn you that this post isn't from an immediate situation, but is the result of a comment made on the radio that exemplifies the struggles I think women face in Christianity. I've left and ignored churches over their position concerning women in the church, and it is a topic I explore in my books.

I heard on the radio this comment (not verbatim, but close): "Be strong, act like a man. Now, Ladies, I can say this because it's what the Bible says. Be strong. Men are always stronger than women, so Paul is telling us to act like men. Be strong ... in the Lord."

Of course, because women are weak; because women aren't strong; because women cannot stand up for themselves; because women are emotional ... because, because, because.

Bull.

What about this other quote: "When you choose to marry, you are also choosing to not be unmarried. That's a good choice. It's not just that we're choosing the good, but we're also choosing to not do the wrong."

So being single is wrong?!

Being a single woman is wrong? It makes me weak? Because the only ones who can take a stand for righteousness are men? The only ones who can inspire people to do great things are men?! Because of Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks and Boudicca didn't do anything to impact their worlds?

Granted, women are more susceptible to harm than men are. It is the nature of this world; as a woman, I am probably more aware of my surroundings than a man is. Late at night, or in a strange place, my senses are heightened. I take precautions: lock doors, check my car before I get into it, even though I rarely leave the car unlocked. I tend to have a book in my purse not just to read, but because a purse swung around with a book inside hurts when it connects with a skull. My hair is long, but I rarely wear it down; it's usually put up into a twist or knotted pony tail or something so it is difficult to grab hold of it. The same is true for most of my clothes: I wear clothes that fit me well, but are not overly loose. I want little on my body that can be used to hold me or pull me.

All these things I do not because I'm weak, but because I am aware of my limitations. The commercial below has made the rounds around social media. It's a powerful video in that it shows how men and women are perceived not only by each other, but by themselves (ie, men view women, and women viewing other women).



Women have come a long way in history. It's only been in the last hundred years that women have even been able to vote in the majority of the world. For the longest time, being a single woman was akin to being a child. The only women who seemed to have it easy were widows, and even then it was the exception. We are in a better place, generally speaking, in the 21st century than we were  even a hundred years ago.

Then I hear comments like the ones I began with on the radio; or after revealing a glimpse of my heart to a group of people, I have someone make the comment: "This is why we don't allow women to lead in church; they're too emotional." Or a female character who points something out to other characters is being preachy, or bossy, or whatever term you wish to give them.

Because being a godly woman means I can't be strong. To be strong I have to act like a man.

To quote Eowyn from The Return of the King: "I am no man."

So why the hell do I want to act like one?!

Christian Fiction and Women

In June 2013, I wrote an article about Christian fiction (here), and how most interpret Christian fiction, and how I interpret it. I leave a lot of room for faith in my writing, and boil it down to a Judeo-Christian worldview. Due to that standard, there is more out there that I consider good fiction that others balk at because it isn't Christian.

Christian fiction has come a long way, but like the remainder of the Christian world (in this case, American) it still has a long way to go. For example - women. Most of the lead characters are female, partly because (a) women are the primary authors and (b) women are the primary readers of Christian fiction. Let me be clear here: I write with a female protagonist in first person because of two reasons stated above. I use a third-person view when writing the lead male character's point-of-view scenes to (a) differentiate him from the female, and (b) because its easier to write his view as in third-person.

Strong female characters are lacking. There are a few, but there are also quite a few not-so-strong, but not weak characters. In many of the books I've read, the female characters spend a great deal of time worrying about what-to-do that it takes the male love interest to figure out what to do and go do it. Some women, though their male love interest shows them love time and time again, have a hard time accepting it. It's as though every little word from a rival sends them into a dither though the reader and everyone else around them knows better.

It doesn't help create sympathy for the character, let me tell you.

Now, I am not saying that the women need to do everything, or show no weakness. Not at all. What I am saying is that there still seems to be a lack of equality among the characters in regards to gender. In the books, it is often the woman who has the troubles, not the man. If the opposite is true (the man  has all the troubles) then the woman is beside herself with worry.

Let's put this into perspective with my favorite medium: a story. Little girl loses her ball in the tree because she was throwing it up and down and it got stuck. Mommy is there, and is quite capable of retrieving said ball, but she tells little girl that they'll have to wait until Daddy returns home. The reason: because it will make Daddy look like a hero to the little girl.

Why? Why would a woman want to wait to make her husband look like the hero? Why teach your daughter that if you have a problem, you need to let the big strong men fix it?

Why not go get the ladder yourself, and have your daughter help you retrieve the ball? My mother certainly did.

Because men are big, and strong and want to feel like they're the hero to their wife and daughter. Because women cannot fend for themselves, we need men to save us. Because women cannot be smarter, faster, quicker or whatever than a man is. Because if a woman is faster, smarter, quicker than a man it makes the man weak, and heaven knows we cannot have weak men.

What sort of lessons are these teaching our girls? What sort of information are we feeding women? This is not just a problem in Christianity, I realize this, but it is a problem that Christianity could do well to check. It is a problem that Christianity could address through our fiction, sermons or just life. It is a problem that we need to address, because for many women we are being pushed down based not upon skills, intelligence or anything else, but based purely on the fact we were born female and not male.

Christianity and Women

Christianity has a long history of cruelty to women. Church teachings said that women were uncontrollable sex monsters, and man should never be alone with one because women cannot control themselves. Women were the ones who brought sin into the world because Eve was weak and fell for the foibles of the devil. Women were inherently evil, and brought damnation upon the world whether it was Jezebel, the Whore of Babylon, or witches. Some of these teachings developed out of cultural beliefs, and some of the struggles in the early church were related to how different groups viewed women. For example, the Celts of Britain and Ireland had a fairly relaxed view of women in regards to their positions within a community. In Irish history, women could be bishops, and teach over men, but even in those worlds, men had more power than women had. Later on, Rome and Ireland came to verbal blows over their differences between how they viewed things like women in the church, marriage and the celibacy of religious individuals. Ireland allowed their religious orders to marry, and divorce among the Irish was fairly easy to come by. In fact, there were even rules laid out should a woman divorce her husband because of abuse. Divorce was also obtained by both parties, not just the men.

The denomination I grew up in was conservative Baptist. A very brief (and general) history of the Baptist church after the War of Independence begins with Baptists in every state of the Union; during the time leading up to the Civil War, the Northern Baptists split off from the Southern Baptists because the Southern Baptists believed in slavery whereas the Northern Baptists did not. Fast forward a hundred years. The Northern Baptist Convention allowed some doctrine into the convention that the more conservative branches did not agree with, and they began the Empire State Fellowship of Baptist Churches, of which my church in New York was a part. The same general feeling applied to the church in Pennsylvania as well, but with the Anabaptist traditions, fewer churches in Pennsylvania are a part of Baptist associations, and that is really the major difference between the church I attended in PA, and the one I attended in NY.

Two general statements apply to conservative Baptist and some Anabaptists, however: alcohol is prohibited, and women are not allowed to hold authority over men. Men, of course, include any male over the age of twelve, and authority is teaching men about the Bible. In a situation in which a man is the teacher, women can express their opinions on the Bible topic at hand, but a woman could never teach the class, because women are weak and inclined to bad doctrine. Having a man as the teacher of a class limits the ability of bad doctrine to enter into the discussion, (begin snark) because all men understand doctrine better than all women. This is true regardless of the woman involved. And by Jove, we've the verses to back it up (end snark).

Sigh.

I left the denomination because of this tradition and others, masquerading as doctrine.

Why are the good qualities always male and the bad qualities always female? Why is right always portrayed as white and evil is always portrayed as black? Why is it when a man takes a stand, he is being assertive, but when a woman takes a stand she is being stubborn? Why is it when a female character says something, she is preachy, but should a male character say the same thing, he is being forthright?

Why?

I don't have the answers, unfortunately. I'm human. I write to explore, and I study to learn. I am intelligent, funny, committed, and speak my mind. I can argue a point and learn from someone. I know a great deal about history and doctrine, and I can express myself in ways that people understand. I am gifted to teach. I am a writer.

Then why is it that the only ways I can use my skill set in a church is by teaching elementary age students? Why is it, in a church I feel somehow less than because I am unmarried and female? Why is it that people are 'surprised by your insight' at the age of thirty, but are not surprised by the same insight in a man at the age of twenty? Why is it that after four years in a Bible college, another ten years of personal study that I am still considered not quite good enough compared to a man with no Bible training, and maybe another four years of personal study?

I don't know.

Writers will tell you that portions of ourselves can be found in our characters. Sometimes it is because we struggle with things; sometimes it just happens. In the first of my Queen City Jewels Mysteries, my character Sapphira Wystan is fired from her job as a teacher not because she is poor at it, but because a man needs the position. Because she is female, she is fired, and that's the only reason.

Sapphira promises the school board she will make certain they regret their choice. They do, a few books later (I'm already plotting), because Sapphira leaves the school and becomes a journalist. She begins to investigate Buffalo, and eventually is hired as an investigative reporter for one of the major newspapers. She then returns to the town from whence she was fired, and uncovers elements that the school board could only wish they kept covered.

Maybe, like Sapphira, I have had to take the punches of being an intelligent woman in a conservative church. Maybe, I needed to be fired so I could do more. Azure Maris, Azure Lights and Shamrocks of Stone are all the result, even as Sapphira's story is, of my struggles with being an intelligent, female Bible scholar in a church where I was regulated to teaching children and wiping away baby's tears. While the men could both teach the children and wipe away baby's tears, they could also teach the adults, because my church was progressive thinking, and realized that, yes, even men could have a gift to help with children.

Maybe, just maybe, all of this was so I would be strong, and take a stand ... and act like a woman.

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