Monthly Archives: May 2012

Two Definitions of Femininity

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I’ve recently come across two very distinct definitions of femininity.  One comes from John Piper’s book, What’s the Difference?  The other comes from Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s book, Ruby Slippers.

John Piper’s definition of femininity:

At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.

According to John Piper, being a woman means affirming men’s leadership.  That’s it.  So, I’m not really a woman unless I’m affirming the leadership of men around me.  All men.  Do I even have a purpose on this earth if I don’t come in contact with men very often?  Think about this definition…I mean really think about what he is saying here.  My purpose, my life, as a woman is to affirm and receive the leadership of men.  I don’t know where he got this idea, but I can’t find anything in the Bible to support it.  (If anyone can find the Bible verse where it says that men should lead women or that husbands should lead their wives, let me know…)

Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s definition of femininity:

the unique, unfallen ways God shows himself on earth in women…femininity is the way females are made in God’s image.

Now, this is a definition I can understand.  I am made in God’s image.  I am a woman.  It’s right there in Genesis, He made them, male and female.  I don’t have any list of things to do to prove I’m a woman, I just am one.  Fincher’s definition may seem vague to some people.  I think that’s because, as Christians, we crave rules.  We want to be told what we can and cannot do.  We want the law, in black and white.  But it isn’t always going to be easy to know what to do.  I believe God purposely doesn’t tell us exactly what to do in many situations, because He wants us to seek Him, to pray, to cry out to Him for wisdom.  There are restrictions on us as believers, but I’ve found that most things aren’t black and white.  There are many gray areas where we have to seek, pray, and trust that God will show us the way.

Jesus didn’t come to give us more laws and rules, or to tell us to fill roles.  He didn’t tell women to “get in their place”.  He came to set us free from the Law.  This doesn’t mean the Law has no value or that we can purposely sin and take advantage of God’s grace.  But what it does mean is we are free from prejudice, from meaningless restrictions on our personhood that are based on gender.  Women and men should be free to pursue giftings and develop their talents and intellect in any area they choose, regardless of their gender.

What’s the Difference?

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I’ve been thinking about gender differences lately, and how it seems that the complementarian view of scripture is obsessed with making sure we Christians understand that men and women are different.  It seems as if we might be in danger of completely misunderstanding the gospel if we don’t understand and agree with this secondary teaching(the so-called biblical differences between men and women).  I’d like to share some excerpts from a book I’m reading that touch on this subject.  The book is called Ruby Slippers, by Jonalyn Grace Fincher

In talking about the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, by John Gray, Fincher goes on to say, “The Mars-versus-Venus mythology is accepted as the norm.  We can hear it at coffee houses, at playgrounds, and in marriage fellowship groups.  I regularly find assumptions about total, radical gender difference lurking in the glossy bulletin pages of American church life….To back up these assumptions about gender, churches often quote Ephesians 5:22-25.  The teaching goes like this: God commands men and women to do the things that are most difficult for us.  Besides a sort of sadistic version of God’s love, this communicates that women are naturally loving, which is why women aren’t commanded to love, but to respect.  Men, however, aren’t as naturally loving, which is why God must command them to love their wives.  Endless convoluted ideas about manhood and womanhood grow from this strange interpretation of love and respect.  Are women better at men at loving?  And if women are loving their husbands already, ergo the absence of ‘love your husbands,’ why does Paul underscore their need to respect their husbands?  Can we really love someone without respecting them?  Are men so emotionally stagnant that they need to be commanded to love?  Is this passage even talking about gender theory at all?”(page 76-77)

It’s my opinion that Ephesians 5:22-25 has been misinterpreted to be about gender roles, but it is really a passage about love.  Paul is helping the married people in Ephesus learn how to love one another as Christ loves the church.  There are no rules and no roles.  We’re not living under a new set of laws since Christ came…he came to free us, not bind us into laws about play-acting roles.

Fincher goes on, “Devotional books for women often present exaggerated gender differences and shopworn anecdotes as proof of God’s ideas of femininity and masculinity.  They do it without citation, without collaboration, and without justification.  And I am rather weary of it.  The church is perhaps more eager to find sex differences than to honor the human similarities.”(page 77)

In chapter three of her book, Fincher sites work on gender done by Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, who has put together a summary of thousands of psychological gender studies.  Basically, to summarize it quickly and bluntly, the studies show that though men and women differ in a few ways, they are more similar than they are different.  Dr. Hyde doesn’t claim men and women are identical, but that we don’t differ that much at all, even in assumed, stereotypical ways.  (page 72)

I am not advocating a genderless society, nor do I deny there are differences between men and women.  However, I think a case can be made that number one; the Bible doesn’t teach us what the differences are between men and women(besides the obvious fact that women can give birth and men cannot), number two; the Bible DOES NOT tell us to  pursue masculinity or femininity, nor does it define what they even are, and number three; being obsessed with highlighting the differences between men and women divides the church.  The very teaching that men and women are different in specific ways and that they have different roles is a divisive teaching.  It plays on stereotypes and quenches the Holy Spirit’s work in individual’s lives and in the church’s life.

Fincher says, “Gender stereotypes hurt both sexes, relegating women into the private, softer sphere, barring the Marys from learning at Jesus’ feet, in the name of protecting them from the ‘real world’ of theology, commerce, and politics.   Stereotyping the sexes forces men into emotional constipation and excuses them from relational community.  Community, the very thing god knew Man needed in making Woman.”(page 78)

Gender stereotypes have been divisive since the beginning.  Knowing that women are just “different” kept them oppressed for thousands of years.  Emphasizing the difference between men and women, rather than celebrating the similarities has kept women and men divided, throughout secular and church history.