Like a Girl

Our living situation allows my husband and I to walk back and forth to work. As we were walking home for lunch the other day, we had to run across the six-lane road between where we work and our apartment building. As we were running, I heard my husband chuckle and say

“You run like a girl.”

I immediately got defensive.

“You’d run like a girl, too, if you were wearing a pencil skirt and these shoes and had to carry a purse and–”

“Hey,” he said, cutting me off, “I didn’t say that was a bad thing.”

The company Always ran a campaign for a while with the hashtag #LikeAGirl. The campaign kicked off with a video of teenagers and children (both male and female) being asked what it meant to do something “like a girl.”

A little boy who was asked to “throw like a girl” imitated limply tossing a ball, only to have it land at his feet. He was then asked if, by doing that, he was insulting his sister.

“No! I mean, yeah, insulted girls, but not my sister.”

A girl about the boy’s age, when asked the question “Is ‘like a girl’ a bad thing?” responded with “I don’t know if it’s really a bad thing or a good thing. It sounds like a bad thing. It sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone.”

A major complaint among women is that male attributes are accepted as the norm, while female attributes are a deviation from the norm. Women have been described as “too emotional” (compared to men), “irrational” (compared to male thinking patterns), or “too compassionate” (instead of thinking “practically” or “realistically” about situations or people).

What’s even worse–at least, to me–is that the things that women are really good at, such as being moms, being aesthetically sensitive, being relational, and having high emotional intelligence, are treated as lesser skills and secondhand gifts. Not just by men, but by women.

Now, the last thing I want to do in this post is make a lot of sweeping generalizations about my fellow women. No two women are alike. Some women love hunting, others love sports, some love politics, some are aspiring chefs, artists, teachers, presidents. Some of us aren’t very social or relational, and some of us don’t consider ourselves to be “mom” material.  I can’t say “all women are like x” because, frankly, all women aren’t. There’s not a mold somewhere. The stereotype fails most of us. There are several attributes of womanhood that most of us share, however, and I’ll be discussing those here. Speaking as one who has never really fit the “girl mold,” I want to add this caveat for others in my audience who don’t, either.

There are few things worse than being mocked for being what you were designed to be.

So let’s go back to Genesis again, shall we?

Man and woman both were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). That means that men and women both share His attributes.

I’d like to spend more time studying what the Bible says about God’s “gender,” if He can be said to have a gender. He refers to Himself consistently as a “he,” but also reminds us that he “is a Spirit” (John 4:24) and not a human being. My initial conclusion is that God is not male or female, but both and then some. I haven’t delved enough into that area to anchor myself to that thought permanently, but that’s what I conclude from God defining Himself as a spirit.

But what cannot be ignored about how God refers to Himself is how He frequently gives Himself uniquely female descriptions.

I talked about His ezer-hood last week. That’s an important consideration, but ezer can easily apply to men as well. What’s interesting is how God makes a point of describing Himself using terms that can apply to women alone–those of motherhood.

  • Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
  • Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
  • Matthew 23:37: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

While there are plenty of attributes of God that could easily apply to both men and women–strength, wisdom, gentleness, etc,–in these and other verses, God compares Himself to women in and element of their nature that excludes any possibility of “maleness.” Men can’t bear children. Men cannot experience what it’s like to nurse a baby with their own bodies. In God’s mind, there is no greater means of explaining His deep, unshakable compassion for His people than to compare Himself to a mother.

Later posts will dwell on other ways God is feminine (there are plenty). How He’s compassionate. How He’s aesthetically sensitive. How He’s relational. How He has the highest possible emotional intelligence. The thoughts that come most immediately to my mind are these:

If God acts as a mother, how dare we think motherhood is degrading?

If God is compassionate, how dare we think that compassion is foolishness?

If God authored emotions, how dare we belittle those most in tune with their God-given emotions?

If God is a helper, how dare we think being a helper is second-best?

If God made us in His image and His likeness, how dare we treat those divine traits He granted women as weaknesses?

If God made women in His image and identifies with women, how dare we treat female characteristics as somehow being of less importance?

These are half-formed thoughts. Formed out of sadness when I hear women criticize themselves for being what they are. As my husband told me, there is nothing wrong with being “like a girl.” In fact, being “like a girl” is pretty fantastic.

And, at least from what I’ve found so far, I think God would agree.

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13 comments

  1. Vanessa · October 22, 2015

    Let me start by saying that I am greatly enjoying your blog and that I’ve learned a lot already. I’m a working mother of an adorable toddler, and I work in a typically male-dominated field as an IT Technician. I agree with nearly all you’ve said here.

    I am cautious, though, about your statement that “God is not male or female, but both and then some.” As you mentioned previously, God consistently defines Himself in male terms. Yes, He definitely does apply female characteristics (nurturing, comforting, etc) to Himself. Proverbs 8-9 are also great passages for this – Lady Wisdom seems to be a clear representation of Christ Himself. So I personally think it would be more accurate to say that God defines Himself as a He, but He also has female characteristics. And because He is perfect, those characteristics do not detract from His person. I personally believe this would carry the same weight as your conclusion without crossing into potentially dangerous territory.

    Hope this makes sense. I would be happy to hear more of your thoughts on this matter. Feel free to delete this comment if it’s not approved. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • E.A. Stephens · October 22, 2015

      Hi, Vanessa!
      I definitely agree with you. AS I mentioned, I’m not solidified yet in what I think God’s gender is. It’s important to remember that He calls Himself “He.” You’re right, this is fuzzy territory, and I could very quickly dive into speculation instead of what the Bible says about God. Your observation about Proverbs 8-9 is very significant, I think. God is not limited to our perception of Him–His ways are not ours.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

      • Teacherlovesbooks · October 22, 2015

        I tend to agree with Vanessa’s wording on this issue. The central conclusions are the same, of course. You both have caused me to think more deeply of those essential traits we (women) share with our Creator. I stand amazed at His love for me and the responsibility of being made in His image.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim · October 22, 2015

    Looking at the way a man does something and calling that the norm while the way a woman does something is only understood in comparison to men – the whole “throw like a girl” mindset – is one of the most pervasive forms of sexism in existence, and it’s been with us for as long as there have been people I bet. Thanks for pointing out those Scripture passages with the female imagery attributed to God as well. Men aren’t the norm and women only to be understood in comparison to that norm, because all people – women and men both – are made in God’s image and to be understood in relation to who God is.

    Like

  3. Timothy Pemberton · October 22, 2015

    This was a very well done piece. I agree with the reasoning that all people are capable of all things (in a being sense). While I may disagree with the method used to get at the conclusion, I believe it is correct. We should not discount certain traits because of the sex to which they are traditionally ascribed.

    My only big issue with this post is the paragraph:

    “What’s even worse—at least, to me—is that the things that women are really good at, such as being moms, being aesthetically sensitive, being relational, and having high emotional intelligence, are treated as lesser skills and secondhand gifts. Not just by men, but by women.”

    To me, this at its core confirms the idea that women are fundamentally different than men. They are more aesthetically sensitive, relational, and have a greater emotional intelligence than men do. The way I see it, the only reason women seem to have higher capacities for these traits is because our sexist society has either seen to these qualities being esteemed for women or denied their practice by men. I believe that if you were to take a woman and a man as a blank slate without any societal programming, on average they would have the same capacities for all of these traits. It is a core problem that is just as prevalent in secular society as well as the religious.

    I believe until we can convince society that women can be practical along with the message that men can be emotional, problems such as sexism will remain.

    It seems to me that the best way for humanity to thrive is for everyone to strive to have equal measures off all of these traits. Strength without emotion/empathy can lead to atrocities just as emotions without strength leads to a lack of action. All humans should want to be emotional and active rather than cold and passive.

    Liked by 2 people

    • E.A. Stephens · October 22, 2015

      Thanks, Timothy.

      I can understand why you have a problem with that paragraph. My reason for listing those traits in particular was because in my experience, I’ve seen more women with those traits than men. I know several men who exemplify those traits as well. We’re all different. That’s the fun of being human.

      Whether or not women are born with these traits or whether society has conditioned them to develop them has always seemed like a chicken-or-egg question to me. Any evidence I have for either conclusion comes from personal experience only. That’s why I added that caveat paragraph. I’m not very “traditionally female” myself, but I was born with a certain set of gifts that no one taught me or told me I needed to have that are often attributed to women. And I’ve met a lot of women from all walks of life, many of whom (who?) have a few of these traits. There are some things that come naturally to us–and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Hence this post. There are some “girl traits” that I think are definitely socially conditioned (for example, how many of us think we need to have makeup or be thin to be beautiful) and are, frankly, wrong. Other traits–like those I mentioned in this post–are gifts.

      But you’re right–all of us should strive to exemplify the best of what we see in each other. Men can and should be gentle and nurturing. Women can and should be assertive and strong.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Vanessa · October 22, 2015

      I agree. My husband and I were just discussing this weekend that different emotions are allowable in professional situations.

      For instance, if a man seems angry at work, that’s perfectly fine. People figure he’s just not going to take any nonsense. He’ll may actually get promoted… because he cares enough about the quality of work to be upset when it isn’t right.

      But if a woman gets mad at work? Whoa. Way out of line. Totally inappropriate. It *might* be okay – or understandable anyway – if she cries at work. But getting mad? Not OK. Even being blunt is considered rudeness, if it comes from a woman. (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2015/10/13/jennifer-lawrence-has-a-point-famous-quotes-the-way-a-woman-would-have-to-say-them-during-a-meeting/

      And let’s not even talk about men crying. (See, that even looks wrong in writing.) And yet in some cultures it’s very normal for *everyone* to be far more emotional.

      I know my husband and I would love for our son to understand that it’s okay for boys to be sad and to cry. It’s okay for women to be upset. (Not to respond wrongly in anger, no, but feelings of anger are not necessarily sinful.) It’s doubtful that we can actually raise him to act that way in this current culture, but perhaps we can help him be more understanding of others.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Timothy Pemberton · October 22, 2015

        Absolutely. Remember the backlash Boehner faced during the papal visit? How derided he was because he showed emotion? It’s ridiculous.

        My girlfriend and I were recently talking about this too, regarding how differently we react to prompts. Usually, my reaction is a brash, quick, biting response. Hers is to take the high road (generally). While I do hold myself responsible for that, it is somewhat indicative of our culture where men should be quick to respond and sort out problems with the response later (if ever). It is a masculine trait that is usually pretty harmful to men.

        Liked by 2 people

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