A faulty metaphor gets in your head. You feel it birthing new thoughts, feeding on your fears, spreading through your body, pulsing in your veins. If you believe it long enough, it moves to your chest and becomes your heartbeat.
I once heard a pastor compare women to teacups. He explained that husbands need to treat their wives like fine china, gingerly, with the tentative hesitation as one approaches a foreign thing, separate from themselves. Men need to revere them, to pamper them, to compliment them. He asserted that women are like teacups, emotional, soft, in need of protection. Embodied in their fragile frames is a delicate feminine essence incomprehensible to the masculine mind. “Women are confusing to men,” he joked. “It helps us to understand them as teacups.”
I do not think that speaker was a bad man. But I do think his approach was evidence of a culture that has far too long allowed poor metaphors to tell the story of who women are — of a culture that has relied on improper language to describe relationship. Teacup language is everywhere, objectifying women to nameless, inanimate things depicted as rosebud china or dainty porcelain.
We are told that this helps us understand our differences, but instead we see these metaphors break down as we fail to recognize personhood in the eyes of someone else. These flawed metaphors permeate our relationships, our homes, ourselves. The implications are heavy if they are internalized. Inevitably, they limit us.
A teacup has a thin handle, delicate interior, and a breakable surface. It will always splinter if dropped. A teacup must be frail.
There are marks on her body. They aren’t big enough to get medical attention yet. Not yet, she thinks, not yet. She rolls to the end of the bed. She can still smell the scent of him, a smell she used to love, now mingling with alcohol and the scent of her own loneliness. One effort gets her a shirt, another movement, she has dressed herself. There is a phone ringing somewhere. And the faraway sound of her child shifting in his bed. The day has descended and the violent events of last night seem removed and distant. Surreal.
She moves to the baby’s room, to watch him wake. She likes this part of the day. Her three-year-old stirs again. She can hold him when he is like this, hovering between the daylight and dreams. And she stares at the open window and her own hopes well up and threaten to spill out of her chest. She kisses the inside of her baby’s palms, his fretful eyes, his soft warm forehead. She envies him with his sleepy smile and those wide blue eyes eager to see the morning. But she can see nothing before her. Nothing but the fear and the rage and the love that still blinds her. While she once knew courage, she cannot leave now. She is too afraid she’ll shatter.
A teacup cannot move on its own. It is lifeless.
They are marks on her insides — stains appearing from the lies that pulse through her body. Her words are all shredded now, plastered on the inside of herself like graffiti against pavement. When she tries to articulate her thoughts, her words come out in tangled gasps.
She can remember a time when she was proud of what she had to say. She can remember a time when she dreamed of using her words to speak truth, to proclaim the message she loved, when she felt it burning inside so strongly she couldn’t help but speak. But she can also remember the first time she felt the sting of rejection. “The pulpit isn’t the place for you.” “You will be able to serve in other ways.” She can see the look in their eyes — she is somehow unqualified. Inadequate. Her purpose has been decided already for her.
Gradually, she learned that her emotions are invalid, that her feelings are weakness. She doesn’t know what it is to have men’s respect, only their coddled sympathy, their well-meaning condescension. She placed herself safely up on a cupboard shelf, to hide from them, and from her own pain.
There is a deep bitterness now; she cannot look a man in the face without it swarming over her like a cloud. She sits and waits in the darkness till her insides are raw and her words are smeared and ruined. And with the pain of injustice still rocking in her soul, she fears there is no way off the shelf.
A teacup can have no intrinsic value. It is empty apart from the beauty assigned to it from the observer. Its worth is gained from being looked at.
Julia is making marks on the windowpane, breathing little foggy O’s on the glass and watching her reflection fade and appear again. She watches the frost clear away and she sees her own chocolate brown eyes peer back at her. The reflection unnerves her and she slides back on the seat and waits. The bus slows and she slips off it.
Her mother can see her traipsing up the driveways, backpack slung over one shoulder, carefully avoiding the cracks in the pavement. She worries as she watches her daughter’s body careering into womanhood, aware of the pressures she faces growing up in today’s society.
The woman smiles and gives a little hello as her daughter enters. Julia is quiet, introspective, keeping mostly books as friends, drawn to tomboyish activities and spending the majority of her afternoons up a tree. Her mother likes this about her, taking pride in her daughter’s fierce independence, seeing something half-formed and beautiful about her
The question of how the school day went is met with a sigh and then “Mom, I just…don’t think I’m pretty enough.” With a surge of maternal defensiveness, her mother suddenly feels protective of her daughter’s quirks, her girlish face, her inability to fit into stereotypes. She wants her to feel free to love whatever it is she naturally loves. She wants her to live in a world where she won’t be afraid to use her gifts. As she watches her daughter struggle against the labels others stick on her, she calls for a new metaphor.
A woman is human.
A woman is not a construct of breakable glass, but shaped fully and powerfully in the image of Christ. Consider the impoverished woman in Luke 8:42b–48 who had been suffering from a condition that caused her to bleed continuously. But when she saw Christ, she knew her time for healing had come. In spite of her humiliation and in spite of her fear, she reached out, touched his robe, and immediately the bleeding ceased. Jesus responded by insisting on knowing who had touched him. He searched the crowd for this woman so he could find her, speak to her, and ultimately give her hope.
Through the midst of confusing labels and broken metaphors, we must remember to search for the face of a God who has not forgotten us. We remember to no longer be constrained but to reach out in spite of the fear and shame that engulfs us. In our places of pain, we can touch Christ, and find healing. When we encounter Christ, we realize our true worth, our humanity, our strength in Christ. We remember that we are not china, and we do not easily break.