In our office breaks, we play a game where you guard the stress ball for as long as you can and then you suddenly hurl it at someone. The aim is a direct bodily hit. My role in this game (as the only girl who is even remotely willing to play) has earned me the right to become lad with them. This is not a game I’d play in church on Sundays. Lad is not what I would expect members of the congregation I worship with to describe me as.
I am sitting in my room, frustrated and restless on a Friday night, wondering why we haven’t gone out dancing. And we have been thinking: why it is that we feel it so deeply ingrained in us not to share certain parts of ourselves on Sundays, why it is that I carry some parts of my femininity proudly to work with me but pack them away in church, hiding them under the pew or in the well-thumbed pages of a journal. I like Cath Kidston and recently I grilled 254 pork steaks in the rain on a camping holiday. I can take (some of) my male friends down in a tennis match and I like my room to smell of lavender.
Of course, I would like to say this is just me. Just my issues. Just me who thinks that femininity is fluid and complicated and difficult and messy – just because I was a gender studies student, way back when.
I recently read Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood and discovered I was not alone in grappling with this. I, like her, am loathe to label anything “biblical” because I simply cannot pin down a singular “biblical womanhood”.
As far as I’ve read, none of the women in the Bible particularly liked flowery things or slightly aggressive ball games. A lot of the women in the Bible live completely upside down in a world that I imagine constantly told them not to. Worse, that threatened to stone them to death. What strikes me is that Jesus lived amidst these women; that God uses women from the very beginning, weaving their bravery and boldness through the threads of history. Rahab, the prostitute, with her red ribbons; Esther, turned queen, born for a time such as this; Mary, travelling with Jesus, present at the crucifixion and resurrection – and not one of them is demure or quiet or afraid to do what God calls them to do.
Centuries of submission and stereotypes in a culture are not easily erased but we have to break the cycle of shame because Jesus breaks the cycle of shame.
Sisters, comrades, women – can today be the day we give each other permission to be who we truly are in Christ? You know who you are and you know what you are hiding. Core-shakers, fire-crackers, drum-beaters – come out. I know you are listening, I know you are hearing him call to follow him, unashamed. I want to throw my head back and howl with laughter with you; I want to be part of a family in which there is room for everyone, whether or not they enjoy baking; I want to sing a new song to him with you today, with dancing and tambourines.
Granted, I understand that my experience is significantly easier than the experiences of many women across the world today. With that, I throw my whole, heaving body weight behind a quote I discovered during my studies: “No more than clean air can women’s equality be successfully achieved in one country. No woman will be free until all women are equal.” (MacKinnon, 2006)