I don't like kids, and I don't play the piano

As a female in a conservative church, I was expected to love little babies. I can still remember people giving me strange looks when I said I didn't want children of my own. They gave me strange looks when I didn't ooh and aah over the new babies in the church, or jump right into nursery duties.

During my teen years, adults signed me up to help in the nursery or junior church not because I wanted too, but because they felt I needed to serve the church in that way. I hated it when people told me to do something I knew I didn't want to do. Eating my vegetables is one thing; watching kids is an entirely different topic.

Now, because I am of a certain age, most people expect me to have children. This is true across the board, so it's not something exclusive to the church. What is exclusive to the church is the misconception called 'the gift of singleness' anyone not married by the age of twenty-five, but I'll get to that in another post.

Settle back with a good cup of tea

Because of my introverted nature, I don't like being around people I don't know, let alone little kids I don't know. What I hate even worse is having to be the one to keep them quiet. I'm one of those adults who treats little kids like little adults. Not expecting them to be adults, mind you, but talking to them as I would adults. I carry on conversations with kids. I expected the same when I was a kid (and often treated that way, anyway), so I do the same to children I'm around. I can comfort a crying or sleepy child, but don't expect me to carry one around, and do not expect me to feel comfortable with them crawling around me or piling onto my lap.

Kids, Scrapbooking and Chitchat

I've taken a few of the Myers-Briggs tests over the years, and I consistently fall into the INTJ/INTP categories. Most often it depends on the day, and how I feel about the information I process. What probably leans one way can look differently on another day because I fall squarely between the two types of information processing (the J and the P in the test).

Take this into account, however: the INTJ and the INTP categories are about 3% and 5% of the total population, respectively. Of that 3% and 5%, the categories are predominately male (roughly two-thirds of each category is male). So, I being female, places me in at 1% and 2% of the population - a very small percentage. Fictional characters who fall into this territory include Katniss from The Hunger Games and Hermione Granger from The Harry Potter Series. We're highly intelligent, but sometimes lack in social skills with people we don't know. We can often be bossy know-it-alls, because, well, we are.

Being an INTJ or an INTP female in the world is hard enough, but we often find occupations that suit us: writer, archaeologist, accountant or anything in a field that requires solitude and intelligence. We can handle small-talk, but tend it tends to bore us. We gather information quickly and process it into the categories we need it. I don't mind digging for information, but a rambling speaker annoys me. Conferences where the speakers congratulate one another and spend fifteen minutes discussing unimportant information wastes my time. I have only so much time, and I want the information now.

Christianity loves conferences - networking in the business world, and women especially love these conferences. My former church was part of the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches, a subset of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). Each year they would have a conference called Ladies Advance providing a compendium of topics focused around the theme. While the topics changed from year to year, certain ones remained: how to communicate with your husband; how to raise your teen; how to balance your time; and Christian topics dealing with modern culture.

I can remember looking at one of the brochures a couple years back, and thinking, "None of this applies to me in any remote connection." Out of the nine or so topics, I saw one that I wanted to attend, and a second one that I thought might be interesting. I was required to sign up for three.

Here I was a twenty-eight-year-old woman who was not married, had no children, and hated crafty things (I'm an artist, not a crafter), but there, pinned to the wall in front of me was everything I was expected to be for my age and gender, but I wasn't. In looking back, I don't remember them offering a topic on singleness in the church either ... ever.

I had no place to go even at a woman's conference put on by my own denomination.

Talk about an epiphany.

Talk about hurt.

Talk about a snapshot of what many women face, single or otherwise.

Breaking the Cookie Cutter

In writing, we have a concept of master characters called archetypes. These archetypes are further divided into two general areas: male and female; good and bad. A male messiah archetype will behave differently than a female one and have different trials. For example, a female messiah archetype will face opposition from her community whereas the male might not. A good daddy's girl will behave differently than an evil daddy's girl.

Stereotypes, on the other hand, are providing a set of values and placing them onto a group be it gender, race or religion. All women like crafty get-togethers is a stereotype. Painting women's bathrooms in shades of rose with frilly lace curtains is also a stereotype.

Archetypes are skeletons for a character; stereotypes are cookie-cutter characters. One is three dimensional; the other is two dimensional.

To a point, stereotypes began as archetypes, but instead of evolving they stopped. For example, generally, women prefer softer colors and surfaces. Generally, women like frills, but not all women do. The tomboy stereotype is such because she breaks the girly-girl stereotype. As a teen, I didn't like shopping or hanging out, but I liked fashion (I made many of my clothes). I wasn't afraid of spiders, and I could talk intelligently about most sports. My sister liked shopping and hanging out with friends, but she's also athletic and likes mechanics. Neither of us were necessarily tomboys, but neither of us were your stereotypical girl, either. We were somewhere between the two.

Those creating conferences have to work on elements reaching a large population. They focus on topics that minister to those attending the conference; therefore, in the Christian world, most topics are going to focus upon family relations between spouses and children. Other topics will circle around depending upon the speakers available or conference theme.

For women who don't fit the stereotypical Christian woman, falling through the cracks is normal, and sometimes painful. We don't fit easily within the cookie cutter, so we don't try to force it. Because conferences are based upon audience feedback, the majority speaks for the following season's topics, and the cookie cutter becomes more rigid. As the cookie cutter becomes more rigid, those who don't fit comfortably within it tend to stay away, and the cycle continues.

Within the conservative culture I grew up around, certain elements are taught as doctrine, and trying to fit within that cookie cutter is painful. Proof text are those used to defend a topic in Christian culture, for example: "We do not support murder because the ten commandments say, "Thou shalt not kill."

My farming community is big into hunting, the military and 2nd Amendment rights. I grew up in a world that was filled with pacifist communities of Quakers, Amish and Mennonites. I know of other Christians who are vegetarians. For each of these three different groups, they use the commandment of "Thou shalt not kill" as their proof text.

While helpful, proof texts are not perfect which becomes apparent when people argue Biblical doctrines exclusively from the Bible. When certain subjects such as pre-destination, baptism, and end times are debated, anyone can support these topics from any side through Biblical proof texts ... and get nowhere in the argument.

For women who are gifted to teach adults, the proof texts used to keep the women from leadership hurts. Part of the reason is that they are taken out of the large context, and used exclusively. Church tradition and other standards are shoved to the side in the name of so-called doctrine. Because a few women in the past were presenting false doctrines in the church, all women have been stereotyped into a subordinate position.

Not all squares fit comfortably into a circle shape, and to get a square out of circle, you have to trim some edges. Neither option is pain free.

Beyond the Traditional Positions, Roles and Expectations

Traditionally, women in Christianity have been seen as the "keepers of the home". In this tradition, women remain at home tending the children, helping the husband, and cleaning the house. Her position is very much dictated by the position of her husband. This has always been the case across cultures, and is part of the reason that traditionally, in Western cultures, the woman takes the man's last name.

Within conservative Christianity, these traditions have become standards to the point of dogma. In some ultra-conservative churches, women are viewed as second class citizens, and treated as children. This, thankfully, is not the norm, but because of the traditions being taught as dogma, it is rapidly turning this way.

Conservative Christianity needs to take a step back to re-evaluate it's stances on certain traditions, and quickly. We're harming a lot of women due to silly stereotypes.

Positions

Currently, women in conservative Christianity are regulated to a subordinate position to the men.  Because of proof texts, women cannot hold leadership positions in many churches, and cannot teach mixed adult classes regardless of ability. For many women, the positions of children's teacher, nursery worker, or children's youth group worker is the highest they will ever attain. My former church had deaconesses that were elected into the position, but these ladies were primarily in charge of setting up communion. The actual power in the church - the pastor, deacons and trustees - remain exclusively male.

Within the church, women are generally, second class in regards to leadership positions and decisions. To adjust this, we need more women in leadership and decision making locations. Not the subtle wife position (i.e. married to the deacons, pastor or elders), but in actual positions of deacon, pastor and elder.

Oddly, many of the churches who practice this separation of women from leadership roles have few problems with women in other countries doing the same. Countries American Christianity views as third-world or developing. In countries where American Christians send missionaries, it is quite all right for the woman to pastor or be a deacon, but woe to the woman who suggests that American Christians should have the same ease here. The reason given for these allowances: "Maybe there aren't any men who are qualified. Once more men become qualified or convicted then the women will step down."

Roles

In most conservative Christian churches, women fit into the role of wife and mother. Many women's activities center around these roles. Mother/daughter teas, retreats, and other activities focus on the woman as wife or mother. In the case of younger women and girls, the roles of wife and mother are elevated as their raison d'être. When little girls grow up, graduate from college and still have no husband or even a boyfriend, some women begin to push for marriages or pull away from these single ladies. Women who do not fit into the traditional roles of wife and mother are sometimes viewed as second class, or as not yet attaining what the wives and mothers have attained.

As I stated before, when I was a teen, I didn't want to have children of my own. Even now, I don't want many children. Adults always told me that "You will feel differently once you have your own children." The implication, of course, was when I had children of my own, I would want to be around other people's children ... that may or may not be true. It is a role women are expected to fill: love children. We use the term: motherly instinct; not all women have it, and to say we do insults our knowledge of ourselves.

A subtle jab at unmarried childless women is experienced every Mother's Day. At my former church, my pastor made a point to include the unmarried, childless women because they "are mother types to other children." It hurt me because it grouped everything under a mother type. I wasn't in any sense of the word a mother: I was a cousin, sister, friend, niece or daughter. When I ministered to my family it was as the role required. When I babysat for my cousins it was as cousin, not as a mother type. By making any position in which an adult woman ministers, nurtures or helps a child into a mother/child relationship, it degrades all other relationship types. It was as though Pastor was saying: "Listen, I know you women out there want to be mothers, because, you know, that's the only reason you exist is to have babies. Since you don't have any children, I'm going to twist the roles around to make you feel better. I don't give a rat's ass about any other role a woman can have because they don't matter. A mother is all that matters."

Expectations

Every group has certain expectations that they promote either through express descriptions or subtle attitudes. Think of the individual who shows up at a black tie event in jeans. Expectations were not met. Churches have expectations: some churches expect everyone to refrain from excessive displays of emotion in service. Other churches feel terrible if they can't have an 'amen' from the pews.

Generally speaking, conservative Christianity has expectations for the little girls in their churches to develop a love for God, babies and marriage. Little girls are expected to play with dolls and dream of weddings. We often inquire about a girl's crushes quicker than we do with boys. We expect little girls to play house, whereas little boys are expected to do fun things like build forts.

We expect women to want to stay home raising the kids, and we often talk about how we can help these mothers. For some women, it just isn't possible to remain home all day. Some need to work to provide food; some need to work to remain sane.

We expect women to talk, and churches create ways for them to talk with each other at conferences, teas and get-togethers. I enjoy talking about art, writing, current events, and social issues. I don't like talking about children, husbands or the latest romance novel. It takes me a little while to warm up to people and find a topic we both can discuss. Small talk is hard for me, and something I prefer not to do.

Expectations can harm individuals. I'm fortunate since my family has allowed my sister and me to be ourselves. We don't have to fit into a pre-formed mold of expectations. While my younger sister does will with little children and enjoys baking, she is also a mechanic and a medic. While I enjoy teaching Junior Church or Vacation Bible School, I can't work with children every week or I burn out. We have never been, and probably never will be, normal individuals. Most people aren't normal - we come with disconcerting likes and dislikes.

Changes

Changes need to be made in the conservative churches. No longer should churches bow to the altar of marriage and family. No longer should the unmarried or childless or one-who-does-not-fit be sacrificed to the god of marriage and family.

If our personalities, views and experiences don't fit the stereotypes of your positions, roles or expectations, change them. For many of us, this isn't a part of our adulthood; it is a part of our childhood. We didn't fit into the normal roles, positions or expectations so we felt out-of-touch ... for some unloved.

Personally, I have attended churches that respect me for as a female human of a certain age and socioeconomic background. My artistic nature and my INTJ/INTP personality has been viewed as an asset, not a detriment. I've also felt as though the same elements were somehow less than because I wasn't married, I didn't have children, and I didn't like to chitchat.

I see myself as a person who has fought battles, and has the scars to show it. I could have continued battling along the path I started on, but made a tactical retreat and found another path. It will come with its own pitfalls, battles and scars, but in the long run, it was the better choice.

I have never been average, and I have no intentions of beginning now. The church needs people who are not average, not stereotypical, not normal. It needs a variety of people with gifts, talents, dreams and experiences. We're like a tapestry of color and texture united to create something beautiful. We are not cookies cut from the same mold with different decorations, and to treat people as such is humiliating.

We are meant to be free ... not enslaved. We are meant to break chains, not bind them. We are meant to sing and to dance, not to criticize and destroy. We are meant to elevate women, not push them down.

It is time for conservative Christianity to realize this, before all hope is lost.

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