Don’t be afraid to be big, women.
That’s what I learned at a conference this weekend.
Women are taught to be small. Tomorrow, pay attention to how women walk, sit and stand compared to men. You’ll notice women take smaller steps with their hands closer to their sides, cross their legs, fold their hands in their laps. Men are more likely to swing their arms when they walk, stretch out their legs, drape their arm over the seat next to them. And of course, mainstream American media portrays thin women as the ideal. We women aren’t supposed to take up space with our bodies.
We’re not supposed to draw attention to ourselves in other ways, either. American girls’ achievement, particularly in math and science, starts dropping off in middle school. They think boys won’t be interested in someone smarter than them. Churches encourage women to serve – but often behind-the-scenes, in the kitchen or the nursery – somewhere they won’t take center stage.
Women who go big risk being hurt. If a woman tries to be a politician, the media puts her in her place by commenting more on her outfits than her policies. As a teenager, I walked with a fast stride and a swagger. A boy in my class told me I “bounce” too much. “Look who’s talking!” I said, rather rudely. He replied, “I’m a guy. I’m allowed to do that.” In middle school, I was bumped up a grade in math class. When we played boys-versus-girls dodge ball, suddenly I was the target.
So women are afraid to be a big deal. We’re told that we’re only worthy of the love we can attract. Maybe, we think, people would love us better if we faded so far into invisibility that we were hardly there.
But this weekend was different. I watched a woman present her research on sexuality. I learned multilingual worship songs from a woman who has led worship for tens of thousands of people. I listened to a woman discuss her dissertation with one of the premier professors in her field, another woman. I clapped for a woman publicly honored with an award from the Pope himself.
These women were a big deal. To paraphrase Proverbs 31, they spoke and sang with wisdom, they did noble things (vv. 26, 29). And you know what was beautiful? We recognized them for it. By letting these women shine and recognizing their accomplishments, we honored each woman for all that her hands had done. We let her works – not just her looks – bring her praise at the city gate (vv 31).
These women inspired and included me. I was the youngest woman at the conference, but a CBE member invited me to sit with her at lunch. Another woman complimented my presentation and urged me to attend next year. Like Paul encouraging Timothy, they reminded me to not to neglect my own gifts, but to fan them into flame (1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6).
Women, it’s not selfish to excel in the gifts God gave you. It’s good stewardship. It’s your unique service to the world and to the next generation.
After all, you’re already a big deal. You’re made in the image of a big God.