I’ve known for a while that I just don’t fit. I don’t fit the prescription for biblical womanhood. I’ve squirmed and I’ve stretched, impatiently, hoping to slide easily into the mold. And even then, after years of barely squeezing myself into the category, I’ve still found the box too constraining.
My womanhood is messy. I think many men and women can relate to that realization. Most of the time, our personalities and gifts don’t fit into the neat little categories of masculine and feminine. People are messy. And, it’s a beautiful, messy world.
So, when I see men and women struggle to squeeze into the compressed vacuum-storage box stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, only to find that they just can’t make themselves fit, I feel claustrophobic for them. I really do.
And I feel claustrophobic for me too, because I don’t want to have to squeeze my womanhood into a box. I don’t want to compress the mess. I don’t want to trim away the unique stuff that makes me who I am—the stuff that makes me complicated, and contradictory, and different.
I want to honor all of who God created me to be, including the messy parts of my womanhood that just don’t fit in the box of “biblical womanhood.”
I have a whole awkward pile of traits that aren’t stereotypically “feminine.” I’m bold and confrontational, something submissive Christian women are not supposed to be. I like war and sports-themed movies. I could never stay clean as a kid—I was always covered in mud from running around in the woods playing pirates. I’m hopeless at cleaning, and I’d rather do yard work, grill, or wash the car than do inside household chores. My instinct is to take the lead, to take charge and lend direction when a challenge arises. I can’t sit back and down when God calls me to step forward and up. I like feeling strong, competent, and independent.
So, I could just say that I don’t relate to “womanhood,” and leave it at that, but that wouldn’t be quite true.
In a whole host of other ways, I do fit the “womanhood” stereotype. I like chocolate and romantic comedies. I feel deeply, and I talk about those feelings a lot. I’m relational and a huge communicator. I let the tears fall when a good movie or book taps at the floodgates. I like to cook—without recipes and only if I’m allowed to be messy. I do feel a certain nurturing, fierce protectiveness when I hold a child. I like to wear dresses, and I played with a lot of dolls growing up.
So, sometimes, I fit the stereotype.
But here’s the thing. I’m not all one and I’m not all the other. Nor do I believe that men and women actually truly are. We can't be reduced to "masculine" or "feminine," because we're complex human beings. We're men and women shaped and affected by the culture we create and respond to. I’m a woman, yes, and that experience will sometimes differ from a man's. But my "womanhood" is shaped by my cultural context and my socialization.
These pedestals we hold up as "biblical manhood" and "biblical womanhood" are cultural. They’re rooted in how we are socialized from the day we're born until they day we die, and they're also a product of centuries of tradition and values.
This cultural concept of manhood as strength, protection, and pursuit and womanhood as gentleness and submission just isn't biblical, though it's certainly been celebrated as if it were. It's man-made.
Articles decrying the blurring of gender lines explain confidently that little boys play with certain toys because they are divinely designed to thrive in competition and aggression. But little girls reach for dolls, because they are always instinctual nurturers; they're the softer, more cooperative gender.
Yet, nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly say that men are called to be the exclusive pursuers and protectors of women. And nowhere does it say that womanhood isn’t fiercely, fiercely strong. These are cultural divisions that we create for ourselves and pass on to our little ones
I see a lot of evidence that history and culture have had a huge, sweeping effect on what the church celebrates as masculine and feminine. The Word of God has been twisted and stretched to construct a gender dichotomy where men are always like this and women are always like that; women always need this and men always want that.
It’s an exhausting and impossible division. It causes us to constantly strive for a manhood or womanhood that means the denial of so much of who we are.
I’m not arguing that men and women have no biological differences. I’m not arguing that we are literally exactly the same. Science, if nothing else, would contradict me.
I am arguing that men and women share their humanity, their imperfections, their giftedness, their worth before God, and their function and role as his people. So, when we focus on what makes men and women different and when we rely so heavily on the culture around us to tell us who we are, we miss out on the beautiful complexity of God’s creative genius.
God is a creative genius. He's the master and architect of beautiful complexity. He created the human body for the purpose of sustaining life, with seemingly endless connections that must work together to keep that intricate creation alive.
And yet, it works, because God is a master of complexity. God is big enough to handle the complexity of manhood and womanhood, and masculinity and femininity.
In fact, it sometimes seems like that's where God thrives—in the mysterious, the unexpected, and the downright different. Our Creator has never been afraid of a mess, because it's only disorder to our eyes.
It’s up to us to recognize that God knows what he’s doing. We need not be afraid of not fitting into the boxes of masculinity and femininity. We need not run from the complex people that he created us to be, men and women. We can be sensitive, strong, emotional, courageous, nurturing, protective, and intelligent—sometimes all at the same time.
We can be messy out-of-the-box people and still serve God faithfully. We can be both wild and holy. My womanhood can be messy and complex and subversive and I can still ever and always seek the will of my God.
I pray that Christians will move beyond boxed-up masculinity and femininity. I pray we will come to see God’s creative genius in the beautiful complexity of manhood and womanhood.