Biblical Womanhood is Often NOT Biblical
We wanted to highlight this very good comment from Missdaisy who posted it on our blog in response to another commenter. So here it is, and many thanks to her. I highly suspect that many of you will identify precisely with what she is saying. [you can find her original comment here]
Basically what many conservative Christians or conservative churches do is present codependency as being “biblical womanhood,” as though being a doormat is, or was, God’s intent for women, and is the only “biblical” way a woman or girl could be. I was certainly raised this way.
Most materials and sermons I got from Christians in my girlhood emphasized that the only way a girl or woman could be pleasing to God was to be a doormat to other people. Meaning, many hallmarks of codependency are present in this teaching, such as:
- It is biblical or good for a girl or woman to be passive
- Getting one’s needs met is selfish; showing or feeling anger is wrong and un-Christian
- One should always care about other people’s feelings, needs, and wants more than one’s own
There are other characteristics as well, those are just a few.
My mother, who was a Christian, was very much in line with all that so she also role-modeled this for me. As I grew up, I watched my Christian mother take a lot of emotional and verbal abuse, or general rudeness from my father and my older siblings, from people at church, her own siblings (my aunts and uncles), and neighbors. My mother rarely stood up for herself when she was treated poorly. My mother had me, from childhood onwards, confused. Being a sweet, loving, unassertive, doormat who allows herself to be mistreated was conflated with being a good Christian.
Any time, as a kid, I showed or expressed anger because a kid at school had bullied me for example, my mother would say things like, “What would Jesus do?,” and “Be sweet.” In other words, my mother assumed – and taught me – that Jesus would expect my response to being bullied to always be “turn the other cheek” and to be meek and mild, never to defend myself. I was also being taught to bottle up all my anger and never speak up on my own behalf, if mistreated.
I was taught that the bully’s feelings were more important than my own. As a result, after many decades of living like this, when I got to adulthood I had no clue how to deal with conflict and was terrified of confrontation so I allowed people (bosses, co-workers, my ex-fiance, friends, store clerks, etc) to take advantage of me, be rude to me, etc.
Sometimes it took weeks, months, or years before I even recognized that I was being used or being treated poorly by someone because my mother (and Christian literature, sermons, Christian books, magazine articles, etc) had taught me to never think about myself, my feelings, or my needs, but to be intently “outward-focused,” always striving to meet other people’ s needs because to do anything less was supposedly “selfish.” Therefore, I grew up not knowing who I was or what I needed or wanted and sometimes I had a hard time determining that I was being used or exploited by another person when it was happening to me.
I also had no skills or practice at how to handle conflict. I was taught that conflict was to be avoided, Christian women ought not to debate or argue with anyone nor to be assertive for any reason. This left me vulnerable to being picked on in adulthood with adult predators, as well as being mistreated as a kid by other kids. When I was targeted I had no clue how to respond, so I would just sit there and take mistreatment in silence.
Many well-meaning Christians and churches unfortunately encourage girls and women to be this way, to think it is pleasing to God, or that God commands all women to be this way, which leaves women and girls very, very easy to be taken advantage of by men and women users, con artists, and abusers.
but that I was continually sinful for being myself: boisterous, gregarious, precocious, intensely curious and inquisitive, creative, imaginative, and a host of other personality descriptors that were collectively labled as definitely NOT having “a gentle and quiet spirit.”
As I was just saying on another blog, to this day I am a little bit of a tom boy. I was (and am) interested in things like cars, science fiction, and other things not considered stereotypically feminine enough by most Christians. I sometimes felt ashamed of myself or like a weirdo, because I did not match the feminine ideal held up in churches, and by my mother, of what a girl is “supposed to” be. I was not interested in playing with dolls as a kid, and I hated wearing dresses.
As I was growing up I kept getting the message from my Christian mother, Christian TV shows, preachers, and other Christian content, that being female meant I was supposed to want to do or be “X, Y, and Z” (and that is how God wanted me to be), but I never had much interest in “X, Y, or Z.”
But yes, a lot of these harmful and damaging things, that I’ve mentioned and that you have mentioned, are being taught to Christian women, since they were girls, in the name of God. And these teachings that Christians espouse about these things leave girls and women open to being easy targets for dishonest, abusive, rude, selfish, or garden-variety jerks – in all walks of life, too, from being bullied and harassed on jobs, to being exploited in platonic friendships with men and women, to also, being conned or abused in dating and marriage.
These things become even more of an obstacle and detrimental for girls who grow up taking the Bible, Jesus, and God very seriously, who very much want to please God, as I was growing up.
I’ve had to do some serious pondering the last few years, and a lot of book reading of books by psychologists, to re-think how I was raised and to figure out who I am, how to deal with conflict, does God really want me to be a doormat to be feminine?, etc. I’m having to start all over again, and it’s not been easy.