People say “we” are made in the image of God, but for a female what does it mean to reflect the image of God? What does our culture say a woman should be?
My husband is writing a paper on pastoral care for men. He asked me if I would read his paper before he turned it in. As I was reading his paper, which is geared toward men, I began to think about pastoral care for women. I started to think about some of the expectations which are placed on women in society. Here is a list of some I feel have been expected of me at one time or another. I am generalizing these expectations to my experience in American culture, and fully admit it is limited because I have only lived in three states in the US.
- Look beautiful, and mostly this means being skinny, wearing makeup, and clothes which draw the attention of men and those who surround.
- Not act as smart as they really are, and follow the dreams of their husbands. Don’t ever act smarter than a man.
- Have children.
- Get married.
- Clean and cook.
- Not rise in leadership positions, because women are “weak.”
- Take care of their household, and submit to their husbands.
- Put their family first, even if this means denying their dreams.
- Be seductive, and not seductive depending on the occasion and place.
- Aspire to be famous like movie stars.
- Be quiet, because boldness is somehow not attributed to a female character.
- Be teachers, but do not use the title “preacher.”
- Be quiet if you are being abused, because it is better to not break up your family.
- Stay with your husband and forgive him after he has had an affair, for the sake of your reputation and his.
- Be everything if you are a single mom.
- Respect even when you are not respected.
- Go to college.
- Party, get drunk, wear revealing clothes, have a one night stand, and then wake up and pretend like none of it happened. This is considered “fun.”
As I look at this list of expectations, it feels overwhelming. Some of these expectations may or may not be true for all women. There are obviously more than this list of 18. What do you think? Add your thoughts in the comments. Let’s get a discussion going.
I’m going to take each expectation I have listed, and give a response, which I think reflects a more accurate view and realistic expectation.
- Beauty includes women of all different skin colors, races, ethnicities, heights, jean and skirt sizes, and style options. You don’t have to wear makeup and revealing clothes to be beautiful. If you don’t look like a magazine, that is great, because magazines are computer edited. Our definition of beauty needs to go beyond actresses and actors who spend their whole life trying to create an image, and are focused on outward appearances. Beauty is both internal and external.
- Women are smart, and they deserve every opportunity to use their gifts and talents in society. If you are smart, own it. Don’t be arrogant, but don’t try to act “less-smart” because of a cultural expectation.
- Not all women will have children. If a woman decides not to have a child, she is no less female than if she decided to have a child. Children are a gift, but not for everyone.
- You don’t have to get married to be a woman. Being single is okay. God can still use a single woman to be in ministry and leadership!
- Cleaning and cooking are goods things, but these do not inherently give worth and value to women. These are acquired skills that both women and men can practice and have.
- Women are strong, and should fulfill leadership positions. We need both women and men to be leaders.
- Both wives and husbands should take care of the things God has entrusted into their care. Both wives and husbands should submit to one another. God made marriage to be a partnership, not a dictatorship.
- Family is important, and we do need to care for those around us. We can also have dreams and purposes in life. We can have both. The modern era said we could have one or the other, but this postmodern era says we can have both!
- Sexuality is a gift from God. It doesn’t need to be turned into a source of pain and confusion.
- Movie stars are not our heroes!
- Humans were created to have a voice and speak. Boldness is a part of humanity, and both women and men share this attribute.
- Women who publicly speak and teach are often fulfilling the role of the prophetic voice in the church. Women can be preachers, and the church needs both women and men to speak the Word of God to the people.
- If you are being abused, you need professional help. You do not have to stay in abusive situation. The Bible does not condone abusive behavior from women or men. If you are being abused, please get help. Abuse breaks the marriage covenant.
- Affairs by either a woman or man in a marriage are terrible. If you betray your marriage, don’t expect the other person to stay with you. You have broken the marriage covenant.
- If you are a single mother, you need to find resources in your local community to help you. You don’t have to be and do everything by yourself.
- We should always respect one another, but this does not mean we stand by silent while we are disrespected and put down. Both women and men need to stand up for each other, and respect one another.
- College and education are important in our society. We need education, and it is okay to go to college. Women, it’s okay for you to go to seminary if God has called you to leadership within the church.
- Partying, getting drunk, and having one-night stands are foolish and unwise. You can become an alcoholic, get diseases, lose your life, feel empty from meaningless sex, and could get pregnant. I don’t consider this lifestyle fun. Does anyone really? I doubt it.
I think one of the greatest ways to care for women in the church, is to “de-mythify” unrealistic expectations society places on women. We need to speak the truth in love. We need to re-create and re-envision what it means to be a woman. We need to care for women by telling them what the Bible really says. The story and voice of God must be stronger than any other voice or story!
Copyright 2014 Crystal Schmalz