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Published Date: May 6, 2015

Published Date: May 6, 2015

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How I Came To Fight My Womanhood

I’m one of these people who is all brains and very little else. From a very early age, I was into analytical thinking. Math, and philosophy. Civic theory and political science. I stayed up in the night with a flashlight, reading huge books, bigger than my little child arms. 

I wanted to know everything there was to know. I wanted to give my life to the task of learning the way that Hannah gives her child to God. I wanted to make my way into the inner sanctum, to the place where the most precious knowledge was kept. I wanted to see the inside of the vault. 

Trouble was, I was a girl. 

I know now, after wasting hours of my precious life on these things, that I cannot trace for you the thread by which I learned that my gender was an obstacle between me and my most treasured hopes. I can’t tell you exactly how I came to believe it, but I will tell you that I did. 

Maybe because women were only allowed their own line of credit for the first time just a few years before I was born. Maybe because I knew of not one single marriage in which the wife had more education than the husband. Maybe because I witnessed domestic violence, street harassment, emotional abuse, and all the “protection” of systems and law that left these woman abuses fully intact. Maybe because I attended churches with all male power structures and explicit language prohibiting women from entering the priesthood. 

However I received it, this is the message I received. If I was going to make it into the holy of holies, to touch the Torah itself, my femininity was going to have to go. 

Like Hannah, I made my sacrifice willingly. Or at least, I meant to. As a child, I did everything my brother did, went everywhere my brother went. I didn’t prefer to play with other girls. I learned competition and aggression. I worked the sharp retort. And I studied harder in school than anybody else I knew. 

It was when I got to be a teenager that the trouble started. As much as I was willing to identify as having given up my female gender, the world didn’t see me that way. I still had the physical features of a girl, and the world was beginning to respond to those characteristics. I started trying to change my body, but it didn’t work. I hurt myself.

My internalized fear of being a woman—of being trapped a woman—contributed to a decade of disordered eating behavior and self-harm. I literally tried to lift out of my body. 

We have since learned to coexist, my femininity and I. We have learned to re-integrate. I went to years of therapy and dreamed a story of myself and myself falling in love with each other again. I gave birth three times, nursed my babies, and learned to understand womanhood as something other than an obstacle between me and my God-named vocation.

But to this day I carry that memory, right here, in this very body. I can’t be told that there is no such thing as woman-shame. I can’t be told that there is no such thing as internalized emotional violence. I can’t be told that the double bind for smart, ambitious women isn’t real. My body literally carries marks.

I share this story when I hear it said that it is no big deal to track boys in one way and girls in another, especially in church. It does seem innocuous, I’m sure, until you carry in your heart the characteristics classified as not your kind. Then these social codes are anything but harmless. 

And as much as I thought when I was a teenager that all this was just me—the gift of teenage years–I’ve since come to understand the gender binary as a line that cuts through every human heart. I’ve learned not to misidentify my personal journey as an aberration, or believe that I am somehow made of different stuff. Insofar as we are whole and complicated people, most everybody crosses some kind of line somewhere. 

I don’t want to run away from our complexities. I don’t want to hide our looping journeys or black out the gray areas between all the different roles we play. I don’t want to fall to the pride that can’t conceive of a God who would make so much room. I want more than that for our youth and our children.

I want to offer them a faith so strong that it doesn’t break when women are judges or men care for their children and their homes. I want to shout out the claim that God knows exactly what God is doing. Let’s please trust. 

And if there is a little girl somewhere, sitting up nights with big books and dreaming her way into the priesthood, may she follow her true call undeterred. May she give her sacrifice clean and not twisted by shame. May she contribute her greatest gifts to the glory of the one who calls her by her true name.