What It Means To Be a Woman

by Brianna Heldt | Women are, by any standard, unquestionably strong. We are uniquely positioned to influence, shape, and form society as well as capable of leaving a living, breathing legacy long after we are gone. (image, Pixabay – Woman)

Whatever can be said about our current cultural climate, particularly when it comes to the two sexes, one thing is for certain. The battle lines are becoming ever clearer.

What it means to be a woman, or to be a man, is at the front and center now. The things that used to be the subject of hushed conversations and were only spoken of in subtle undertones in polite society now serve as the focus of our general cultural dialogue.

During last Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, for example, female Democratic senators—clad in white—sat together with the clear intention of making a statement. Though their choice of dress was apparently intended to pay homage to women’s suffrage, that was not the primary message they sent. Instead, a strong and united support for abortion was the loudest and clearest signal coming from our nation’s most visible female leaders.

It was striking, to watch and consider that this group of women have turned their backs upon what is arguably the pinnacle of being a woman—namely, motherhood. To refuse to publicly condemn late-term abortion and infanticide, well, it doesn’t get much more anti-woman than that. To defend a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy for anyreason ought to be unthinkable, especially when you’re a woman and theoretically capable of carrying, birthing, and raising a child yourself.

This very public rejection of womanhood—by women, ironically—may ultimately be a good thing. Perhaps now that fewer people are pretending to believe that abortion ought to be a rare albeit necessary reality, the rest of us can address the fact that abortion has become a beloved sacred cow. When women are proclaiming en masse that the right to abortion—right up until the moment of birth no less—is an integral part of being a woman, perhaps we can finally suggest that the modern conceptualization of womanhood is deeply and profoundly impoverished.

To be fruitful, to bring forth life, and to infuse a culture with love are, of course, the true mission of woman. It is a difficult and largely self-sacrificing venture, to be sure; who can deny that the daily grind of chasing cranky toddlers, or parenting equally cranky teens, is exhausting and even sometimes—seemingly, anyhow—thankless? What person would claim that motherhood, which begins with the challenges and discomforts of pregnancy, passes through the pains of labor and birth, and sees love through to the end, is a glamorous and easy existence? The waking-at-night infant, the mouthy teenager, and the young adult struggling to carve out an identity for him- or herself each represents a unique opportunity for a mother to grow in character and virtue, to die to self, and place the needs of her child before her own personal comfort and autonomy.

But though it is challenging, it is also precisely what it means to be woman.

Women are, by any standard, unquestionably strong. We are uniquely positioned to influence, shape, and form society as well as capable of leaving a living, breathing legacy long after we are gone. We may spend decades with our noses to our own respective domestic grindstones, incapable of seeing much else beyond our own doorsteps, but the inevitable and lovely outcome is that we wield a great deal of influence. Yet what we witness so often today is a counterfeit of womanhood as God intended it to be—a grotesquely distorted manifestation of femininity which eschews hearth and home while rushing headlong into the cold embrace of barrenness and death.

This diminished view of womanhood can be seen all around us. It was certainly on display among the “women in white” during Tuesday night’s speech. But as it emerges into the open, revealing itself to be nothing more than an assault upon the very thing it claims to prize—namely, the feminine experience—a stunning contrast becomes equally visible and increasingly important. The embrace of true womanhood in all its natural, complicated, and beautiful glory, which is ultimately an embrace of life, stands as a testament to what women can achieve both for themselves and for the world.

So let us press forward, those of us who want a better way for ourselves and for our children. Let us take up our cross of living out our womanhood in a time and place where things like self-sacrifice and humility, the very things that characterize womanhood, are not encouraged or valued. Let us reject the notion that what we do with our bodies, and the precious beings who may temporarily inhabit our bodies, doesn’t matter.

We are women, after all. We can lead joy-filled, fulfilling lives of tremendous worth, marked by dignity and love, while simultaneously contributing in big and small ways to the culture around us. We do this, however, not through the embrace of death and the rejection of biology, but through the acceptance—and, dare I say, pursuit—of what it means to be a woman, namely, an openness to the inevitable joys and sorrows of life, a careful and deliberate cultivation of life-giving love, and the fierce protection of the most vulnerable among us.

It is at the same time so much more, and yet so much simpler, than the culture’s wholesale reinvention of what it means to be a woman.

Brianna Heldt is a writer and podcaster. She is a blogger for the National Catholic Register, exploring topics ranging from parenthood and faith to social and cultural issues. Brianna has been a featured guest on a number of radio programs, including BBC Radio. Her personal blog can be found at www.briannaheldt.com. Brianna lives with her husband and nine children in Denver, Colorado.


Leaving Patriarchy in the Past

Book Title: Our Rating: 4 Stars – Excellent
Book Title: Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism
Author: by John G. Stackhouse Jr. 
Publisher: IVP Academic
Release Date: November 2, 2015
Pages: 208
Price: $16.61
Buy Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism from Amazon
What are the proper, God-ordained roles for men and women—within the church, the family, the workplace, and broader society? In answering these questions, conservative evangelicals often identify as “complementarians” (men and women have distinct, complementary roles), while their counterparts call themselves “egalitarians” (men and women collaborate in fulfilling responsibilities given equally to both).

John G. Stackhouse Jr., the Canadian evangelical scholar and commentator, cuts across these familiar alignments in his new book. As a self-styled “conservative egalitarian,” he parts company with liberal feminists who reject Scripture for promoting a timeless patriarchy. But he also finds fault with evangelical egalitarians who reinterpret numerous passages to say something other than what the church has historically believed them to say.

In Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism (IVP Academic), Stackhouse acknowledges that various New Testament passages advance a sweepingly complementarian viewpoint. He maintains, however, that once a culture has left its patriarchal origins behind, these passages are no longer meant to be obeyed.

The book identifies a double tradition in Scripture regarding slavery and the status of women. In each case, there are passages that appear to bless the status quo, while other words and themes gesture in liberating directions. Stackhouse resolves the tension by viewing affirmations of the status quo as temporary—meant to be superseded, in time, by the larger message of liberty.

Stackhouse recognizes that most egalitarians will find his position too conservative. In mainstream Muslim cultures, for instance, he discourages Christians from trumpeting women’s rights too loudly, for the sake of preserving evangelistic opportunities. Nor will “soft complementarians” find Stackhouse a reliable ally, since he insists that “problem passages” from Paul and Peter mean what the vast majority of Christians in history understood them to mean: significant restrictions on women’s leadership roles inside and outside the church, and submission to male headship in marriage.

Stackhouse also dismisses the standard approach of biblical feminists, who point to historical, cultural, and linguistic reasons for not taking these passages as patriarchal in their original settings. Why, he asks, would God allow the church to misunderstand them so completely for so long?

Today, at least in the West, Stackhouse would have us jettison complementarian approaches because of the likelihood that they will impede the spread of the gospel. Women who are appropriately gifted and trained must step up to the plate and lead. Stackhouse has an excellent catalog of reasons why women often fail to lead, even when men want them to. Men, he concedes, are often at fault, because they insist that women conform to male leadership styles.

Stackhouse’s analysis always repays careful consideration. But disagreements are sure to arise. Strong complementarians will no doubt object that Stackhouse fails to demonstrate that the key New Testament passages should be set aside as societies embrace new gender norms. Egalitarians will probably point to times when Christians led the way in emancipation efforts. They’ll caution that if believers wait for societies to progress beyond patriarchy before supporting women’s rights, the wait will be intolerably long.

With few exceptions (he occasionally labels opposing views as “ludicrous”), Stackhouse writes with a self-effacing, respectful spirit. He does not pretend to have the final word on gender roles and male–female relationships. Partners in Christ encourages believers to adopt the position with the fewest practical problems, rather than the one that ties up all loose ends. As important as it is to analyze (and debate) the Bible’s take on gender roles, our disagreements shouldn’t prevent us from coming together to love, serve, and advance the kingdom of God.

Craig L. Blomberg teaches New Testament at Denver Seminary.