Today we have another guest post, on an area that’s come up a lot on the blog in recent times, the issue of gender, and particularly our perceptions of women. It’s by Jo Royal, an Assistant Pastor and blogger from Basingstoke. She has a lot to say on the issue, let us know what you think…
She’s a very strong woman!’
Last week, this statement cropped up in three separate conversations regarding different women. Strong women. And each time, I cringed.
I used to be a ‘strong’ woman.
I lifted weights at the gym regularly, practiced Judo weekly, and had a pretty good success rate with arm wrestling.
There’s nothing wrong with being a strong woman.
But, this wasn’t what they meant, was it?
No, the focus of their strength had nothing to do with their muscles, but their character.
What is a strong character?
Therefore, a strong character can simply be defined as someone with the ability to respond with strength in all circumstances. To remain constant and strong in a world crazed with uncertainty, inconsistency, and irrationality.
A strong character is needed if we are to effectively navigate life’s experiences.
If this is the understanding of a strong character, then why does the phrase so often get spat out with disdain and caution when specifically referring to women?
A strong woman?
The term ‘strong’ when referring to the character of a woman, often carries quite a distinct interpretation.
But only of a woman.
Very rarely does the phrase get used when describing a man. And if it does, then it is usually referred to as a positive character trait.
Is strength in a man a virtue, but strength in a woman a vice?
Is it good that a man displays strength, but a woman conceals it?
Is this what God ordained? Did he create men to have strong character and women to be weak? Can we read only of strong male characters in the Bible?
What of Ruth? A woman of ‘chayil’ - (power, strength, resources, army, effective)
What of Deborah? The prophetess and judge who had to know her own (or God’s) mind and speak it.
What of Mary? Who chose to go against the cultural norms of the day, and engage in something she (rightly) saw as more important.
And Biblical women weren’t strong?
Shouldn’t all Christians, whether male or female, aspire to have a strong character? A character that allows them to follow the will of God, speak on his behalf, and love and forgive in a culture that exemplifies the opposite?
Shouldn’t all Christians, whether male or female, demonstrate a strength of character that comes from knowing who we were created to be?
Shouldn’t all Christians, whether male or female, be encouraged to speak up, and not shut up?
Shouldn’t all Christians, whether male or female, be encouraged to stand up for what is right
Shouldn’t a strong character in all Christians be celebrated and not shunned or frowned upon?
Yes, even when that strength is embodied in a woman.
And if the idea of this makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps you ought to ask yourself why.
Jo Royal is an Assistant Pastor in Basingstoke. Her life = Friends, Tea, Converse, Starbucks, Equality + JESUS! She blogs about the little things that happen that teach us a lesson at http://www.joroyal.com