To anyone else watching that Saturday night, we were just two women, obviously friends, walking along a bridge – talking furiously, taking photos for tourists and watching the world go by.
But really, amongst the laughter and shared memories – we were clinging to one another. My dear friend and I are undesirably separated; first by an ocean and then by lives no longer conducive to near constant communication. So these moments together were precious, more precious than words can aptly describe or pictures display.
We’re both real women – one married, one not. Both in creative, unusual occupations, both smart, compassionate and both lonely for authentic expressions of womanhood in our everyday lives. Both leaning on each other to find a roadmap through this life and spirituality that honours our beliefs, our character and our relationship with God. Neither of us certain of where we fit or find a place in the Church as we know it, without having to compromise or apologise for something of our being.
Firstly – why does it matter, what a biblical image of woman is? Well, like it or not – these ideas underpin centuries of human society, progressive or otherwise. So religious or otherwise, our ideas of what it means to be ‘woman’, carriers of the precious XX, are found deeply rooted in this collection of writings.
If you Google “biblical womanhood”, the results paint an interesting picture. The first is a paid ad for the book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” – where the author (Rachel Held Evans) spent a year living as literally to the biblical texts describing the perfect woman as she could. She grew her hair, rose before dawn, covered her head, sewed, cooked and went about made her husband proud (Proverbs 31).
The second result is a site mourning the impact of feminism on the church and encouraging women back into their homes, into their true calling and “the beautiful mystery of femininity best expressed through nurturing children and husbands”.
There are then pages of reviews of the book, links to academic articles and scholarly research on the place of women, the role of women, women in leadership and on, and on, and on.
Change the search to “real Biblical womanhood” and the results barely change – less than 1 in 10 on the first 20 pages I scanned linked to pages that didn’t include a reference to Proverbs 31 or the idea that real womanhood is in fact, closer to super-womanhood.
I found one blog, by a woman lamenting a lack of books in the Christian section of her local bookstore addressing what it means to be a Biblical woman and single, how to hold on til the right one comes along. And there in lies the issue.
A confusing picture
Scripture is littered with women. Prostitutes, widows and strong, independent and industrious types seem to be a trend. There are the holy, the devout, the workaholics, the mothers, the prophetesses, the hungry, the ambitious, the benevolent. Snapshots of women in our various characteristics – portrayed as Wisdom in one moment, as seductive temptation the next.
There’s Ruth and her fairytale ending. And then there are the ideals – Solomon’s young bride, likened to the moon and the aspiration of all young girls – the Proverbs 31 woman. Scan Pinterest or Instagram on any given day and these ideals are posted, re-posted, liked, shared and commented on with the likes of “Keep your standards high” or “The right man will bring out the best in you”.
Need I point out the nearly impossible standards we set for young women to attain to? Not just physical beauty, but spiritual and moral perfection. In fact, we also set a standard for productivity and achievement. It didn’t take feminism to suggest to Christian women that you don’t really achieve anything until you over-achieve.
I’m not refuting or diminishing Scripture when I say, to be honest, the Scriptures paint a pretty confusing picture of what a Biblical woman really is. And I’m having a hard enough time figuring out how to be a good woman, let alone a Biblical one. That’s a standard I don’t think I can achieve.
If we’re realistic?
Unless being a Biblical woman means to aspire to the ideal, whilst sometimes being wilful, determined, dreamy, hopeful, sordid, scandalous, bossy and full of contradiction. That’s the beautiful mystery of femininity I see in Scripture – about the same amount of confusion I see about how to be a good man, if we’re realistic.
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – ee cummings.
We were walking along a bridge, needing to hear that we were worthy women, still valuable, still worth listening to. That our XX chromosomes still have meaning when not defined in the children they produce or the homes they make. Realising slowly, that we were the voices we needed to hear, the encouraging of one another was solely in our hands.
I think we need to be given a chance – to redefine what it means to carry these chromosomes. To redefine for our own generation and those to come, what it means to be a woman, to be Biblical, modern, traditional, contemporary, challenging, wondrous and mysterious.
To be strong, to be powerful – to be leaders whether we are at the front or the back of the crowd. To be outstanding in our fields without being judged as less than for not procreating or parenting the way others would. In the same way, to be able to stay home and raise kids, make art or live in the way that best answers the expression of identity and hope that is within us. To explore and dance around in our spirituality without being called flakey, to be firm in our beliefs without being considered uptight or uncool.