“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
Chapter 8 of So Much More is different from the preceding chapters in one important way: a good portion of it was not, in fact, written by A&E. Instead, most of it is taken up by the story of Rebekah, a self-described “former tomboy” who embraced stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD). Rebekah’s is the most extensive SAHD practitioner testimony so far in the book, and conveys most of the actual information about what A&E think about “feminine strength.” The beginning of the chapter, however, is still by A&E:
Is it possible to be feminine and delicate, protected and sheltered, and also be a strong, dynamic warrior for Christ?
First, we need to properly define some words: strength, and femininity.
If you’ve been following this series, you probably already know what I’m going to do: express amazement that A&E actually decided to define their terms, which they’ve managed to mostly avoid doing so far. I’ll save their definition of “strength” for the next post, so for now, let’s focus on “femininity” (a term I’ve specifically complained about in the past).
The word “femininity” is also fraught with derogatory misinterpretations. It is a common misconception that femininity is all about being fluffy, pink, prissy, flirtatious, bimbo-like, or trivial. These are descriptions that the world brings to mind when the word “feminine” pops up, but nowhere in Scripture are such things mentioned as being signs of godly womanhood.
Disappointed? Me too. This gives us an idea of what A&E don’t mean by “femininity,” but it stops far short of a true definition. Thankfully, the chapter doesn’t stop there, and we’re able to glean more from Rebekah’s section:
My rebellious behavior was a reflection of my rebellious and sinful heart; because my heart was deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), my understanding of my role and femininity was perverted (see Proverbs 4:23). I could now see these godly influences in my life demonstrating that young women should be gentle in speech, voice, and manner, full of love for home – that there was no shame in that, for it was God’s perfect will and plan for women. …
Both men and woman are called to be soldiers for Christ, but we are commanded to be so in different realms. Man is fitted, qualified, and created for taking dominion in the storms of public life; we as women are ordained by God to occupy and keep the domain of the home. As women we are not to rival man by seeking to be a replica or copy of him, nor are we to compete with him, but we should seek instead to complement him and be his counterpart as God created us to be (Genesis 2:18). By exhibiting such virtues as meekness, gentleness, kindness, forbearance, obedience, reverence, modesty, and purity in a responsive, submissive manner, we bring a balance and completeness to man’s assertive qualities as an initiator, warrior, provider, leader, and protector (see 1 Peter 3).
Rebekah comes closest to a true definition in the first excerpt when she contrasts her old view of femininity with the one being modeled to her by her new “godly influences.” She sums up her new view (and the one A&E are advocating) as “gentle in speech, voice and manner, [and] full of love for home.” We can expand this a bit with the second excerpt, by adding the bits about submission and complementing men rather than competing with them. And at this point, I finally feel comfortable taking a stab at a summary of my own.
Femininity, according to A&E, is an inclination to complement men rather than compete with them, by submitting to their leadership, being gentle in speech, voice and manner, and prioritizing the domain of the home.
You may have noticed that this definition is pretty long and cumbersome, and not very specific. It covers the basics – being the opposite of masculine, valuing domesticity over a career or public life, and generally submitting – but there’s quite a bit of vagueness remaining. One of the ways we can see this, is by noticing how often A&E and Rebekah have to focus on what femininity is not, rather than what it is, by repeatedly mentioning various “false views” of femininity.
The word “femininity” is also fraught with derogatory misinterpretations. It is a common misconception that femininity is all about being fluffy, pink, prissy, flirtatious, bimbo-like, or trivial. These are descriptions that the world brings to mind when the word “feminine” pops up, but nowhere in Scripture are such things mentioned as being signs of godly womanhood. (A&E, p. 95-96)
My concept of femininity had been warped and twisted by the feminist culture that I grew up in, though at the time I was not aware of it. I thought that being feminine meant that a woman was so dainty and delicate that it rendered her incapable, or that she was so weak and dependent that she was powerless to provide anything for herself. It seemed to me that the constraints of femininity would produce a woman who was incompetent and of little use; someone so “good” that she would be good for nothing. Because I was repulsed by (this distorted view of) femininity, I embraced the antithesis, not realizing that there was a biblical truth, which was solid and balanced between these two extremes. (Rebekah, p. 96)
(Of course, the connection made between “fluffiness,” “prissiness” and the color pink, and a “false view” of femininity, did not stop organizations like Vision Forum from selling boatloads of pink, proper and delicate products to little girls. One wonders if this qualifies as throwing gasoline on an already raging fire, while screaming for someone to call the fire department.)
At the extreme end of things is this especially non-descriptive description:
A truly strong woman is not masculine or mannish, but is firm in decision, character, beliefs, and action; she has all the softness that does not imply weakness in the wrong way; she is possessive of a firmness that is not harsh or domineering or exclusive of delicacy. She has the ability to provide for herself, but in restraint does not. Instead she channels that ability by supporting and building up her father or husband, enabling him to fulfill his God-ordained role. The strong woman is loving toward family, helpful whenever she can be; she is competent, capable, and intelligent, yet dependent on, trustful of, and submissive to the Lord and her father or husband.
Once again, this covers the basics of not working outside the home and being submissive, but beyond that is hilariously unhelpful. Exactly how firm can a woman be without becoming “mannish,” “harsh” or “exclusive of delicacy”? At what point do competence and capability compromise her dependence on and trust in her husband? How does she “imply weakness in the wrong way”? Is there a right way to imply weakness? Should she be implying weakness at all?
(Imagine if we had to describe everything in life this non-specifically. Do you think the salesperson would know what you were talking about, if you walked into a store and asked them for a quadrilateral piece of furniture with more than zero but less than five legs? And then when they brought you a chair, you scolded them because you were clearly asking for a table, and how could they be so dense as to not understand that?)
Thus, one of the most pressing questions we’ll be led to ask in the face of all this vagueness about femininity, is “How far is too far?” Rebekah clearly condemns tomboys, and says women should not embrace the “antithesis” of traditional femininity. But what exactly does that mean? Can we play sports? Lift weights? Ride motorcycles? Go offroading in a Jeep? Hunt? Those are, after all, activities that have been traditionally portrayed as masculine, and we’re not supposed to be “masculine” or “mannish.”
And then there is the problem that girls who are uninterested in traditionally feminine things, will not automatically embrace the 180-degree “antithesis” of being a tomboy (which usually implies outdoorsy or athletic interests). For instance, I was never particularly interested in either sports or tea parties, so I couldn’t be described as either a girly girl or a tomboy. I did, however, love stuff like the Redwall books, which featured talking forest animals going to war with broadswords and longbows. War and weapons are decidedly masculine, and animals are usually coded more neutrally (though not always). So did I reject Biblical femininity because the otters had weapons? Or is this not “antithetical” enough to count?
But there’s more to analyze here than just the things that aren’t said. We can also analyze the things that are said – beginning with Rebekah’s list of virtues:
By exhibiting such virtues as meekness, gentleness, kindness, forbearance, obedience, reverence, modesty, and purity in a responsive, submissive manner, we bring a balance and completeness to man’s assertive qualities as an initiator, warrior, provider, leader, and protector (see 1 Peter 3).
These virtues seem to be part and parcel of Rebekah’s definition of femininity. Which leads me to a question I’ve asked before – which of these virtues is exclusively feminine? Or, put more simply, which of those virtues would be inappropriate if exhibited by a man? Hopefully none of them, since several are fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. But if they’re tied this closely to women and femininity, wouldn’t a meek and gentle man be behaving “effeminately”? And if not, how do meekness and gentleness look different when exhibited in a “responsive, submissive manner,” as opposed to an initiating, leading manner?
Rebekah also joins in A&E’s valiant effort to have their cake and eat it too about whether or not sex differences are hardwired:
Train, or retrain as I have had to do, your mind to think and work according to the guidelines that our Father God has given to us as women in His Word; ask the Holy Spirit to renew your heart and mind after Jesus Christ and to stamp His Word in your heart and mind.
A&E have insisted over and over again that men and women are different, and that they were created this way by God. But then why do they always follow statements like this with exhortations to be more feminine? This is probably the worst one yet, because it implies an active training regimen is needed to drill femininity into some women’s minds. As I’ve explained before, you’d think this would cause A&E to wonder whether these two beliefs are mutually contradictory. Still no such luck, however.
And, of course, no chapter of So Much More would be complete without A&E’s favorite rhetorical device, pre-discrediting their critics (this time via Rebekah):
At first I was quite pleased with myself and whom I was becoming, but the longer I drank from the well of feminism, the sicker I grew. Instead of gaining contentment, there was a sea of discontentment welling up within me. Instead of the serenity and gratification that I was seeking, it brought greater dissatisfaction and frustration than I had felt before. After realizing that, no matter how hard I tried, I could never be a boy, I then began to resent that I had been created a girl. I questioned God as to why I had (what I thought was) the unfair misfortune and oppression of being a girl.
You say you’re happy being a tomboy? Well, you’re wrong. You’re not really happy. You just don’t realize how sick drinking from the well of feminism has made you. I know you’re insisting that you love the outdoors, and are good at sports, and would go insane and stir crazy and probably punch a hole through the nearest wall if you spent most of your day inside doing housework. But none of that matters, because you have not yet been illuminated by the light of patriocentricity. Get back to me when the scales have fallen from your eyes.
A&E also indulge (again) in the ultimate pre-discredit, implying their critics are unsaved:
It should be every girl’s aim to possess in her character all the capacity of womanhood and to not only do the work the Lord has called us to as women, but to embrace and delight in that work. In order for this to be possible, our hearts must be right with the Lord and must be kept right. Our motivation and desire must be to please the Lord and bring glory to Him. I cannot stress to you enough the importance of a yielded and submissive heart – first to our heavenly Father, and second to earthly father or husband. The kind of life you will have – in fact your very life – depends on the condition of your heart. Remember the warning of Deuteronomy 11:6: “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived and ye turn aside…”
If you don’t “embrace and delight” in A&E’s definition of femininity, your heart is not right with God and you not in submission to Him, or your male covering. And since your very life depends on the condition of your heart, here’s a scary, ominous Old Testament verse to motivate you to get started on that Femininity 101 boot camp we mentioned earlier. Better safe than sorry, ladies.
What’s that? You didn’t know that disagreeing with A&E about gender roles proves you’re rebelling against God and barreling toward hellfire? You maybe even think that the above quote might imply your salvation depends on submitting, not only to God, but also to your father and/or husband?
Well how clueless ARE you?!?! You must be a feminist…