Saturday, March 13, 2010
Male and Female...He Created Them
Somehow, somewhere the message has been clearly transmitted: beauty does not equal smart…and most certainly there is no relationship between theological soundness, the ability to articulate theological arguments and femininity.
And that message has been received…loud and clear, and it is a stumbling block of major import.
For example, my seminary does not have a dress code per se, but you will not find many of the women wearing bright colors, clothing that is accessorized, jewelry or makeup. I can only think of a few of us who do. To do so makes one a target of suspicion. And so, many female students dress down significantly. Interestingly, this is an unspoken expectation that seems to be promulgated by the female student body. Women who dress otherwise stick out like a sore thumb.
And so, I was presented with a dilemma and subsequently experienced a pervasive free-floating anxiety when I attended classes wearing anything pink, sparkly, or remotely stylish. I would jokingly tell my non-seminary friends that I was the seminary equivalent to Elle Woods from the movie: Legally Blonde. Despite my light-hearted, laissez faire attitude, I felt self-conscious, and feared I would not be taken seriously. (And, of course, I did want to be taken seriously…Going to seminary was the most serious decision I made in my life.) Not to mention, I deserved a little respect, with a GPA of something around 3.9…
Before I go any further, I want to stress- this is not a modesty issue (remember, I am a middle-aged medical professional)--this is a *preference* issue regarding person style and likes/dislikes. I feel the need here to explain myself with more clarity, so that the reader clearly understands my observations and where they are coming from. I am in my final year of seminary, which I entered in my forties after 20 very successful years in the rapidly-becoming-female-dominated world of medicine (for specifics, see this). After working successfully at an Ivy League medical school doing cancer research, and being accepted on my own merits, it never occurred to me that another academic institution (i.e. a seminary) would be different. I got up every morning, dressed smartly, stylishly and professionally and caught a train into the city. Where I came from, dressing well and doing one’s job well and with great skill and thought were not considered to be mutually exclusive.
So, obviously for me, changing the way I looked to fit this new ‘social norm’ was not an option. For me, it felt too "Yentyl-ish"...too much like trying to be "like them" and it felt like I was denying who God made me to be—a WOMAN who is both gifted and called. I also felt that it would be disingenuous to present myself to my colleagues at seminary differently from how I would present myself in general public. And so, I decide it would be wrong (yup- morally wrong- like lying) for me to wear a different ‘costume’ to class.
And so, I made peace with my inner “Elle” and went to seminary classes…dressed like myself.
This was a spiritually-formative move. It forced me to be humble, believe it or not…Forcing myself to wear my own wardrobe was intimidating. I felt naked, exposed, and vulnerable. I taught myself to disregard the looks of distain and the demeaning comments. I had to decide that I didn’t care what others thought of me, and that I was less concerned about whether my colleagues took me seriously and more concerned about whether I was doing the work I was at seminary to do. What the experience taught me was that part of what I was at seminary to learn was how humility produces God-reliance, over-and against self-reliance; and that a byproduct of humility is God-confidence, which sits in opposition to self-confidence. God-confidence, or ‘holy-confidence’ is more about God-given authority, than humanly-achieved acceptance. As its name suggests, it is sourced from God and to have it, one must deny oneself.
Now, I will admit that wearing pink, sparkly clothes seems like a downright ridiculous way to promote spiritual formation. But, for me, it was the resistance to the pull of the cultural mores that was the formative exercise. Had I simply conformed, I would have been relying on myself and my own actions, and I would most assuredly lost the opportunity to be transformed by the Holy Spirit by setting aside my pride and becoming more Christ-like through humility.
Sadly, this is not the norm and many women make the decision to de-feminize for the reasons I stated above. They trade in their favorite shoes for unisex "Birkies" and hope to go unnoticed. By doing this, I feel that they are unwittingly giving credence to the unspoken misconception that anything feminine cannot be smart. This false impression is too close to the fallacy: “Females cannot be smart,” and for this reason, must be considered a seditious thought, one that is counter-Gospel, and counter-Kingdom and counter-productive to God’s mission. Any such seditious thoughts must not be allowed to run roughshod through our institutions…they must be taken captive.
So, who is to” blame” in all this?
The seminary I attend is I fabulously egalitarian and supportive in every way, shape and form, as their policies successfully create a structure that promotes a milieu that is designed to enhance the calling and giftedness of all God's people. That said, I find that it is still *personal opinion/perceptions/preconceived notions of colleagues* (not public or institutional policy) that create an atmosphere of acceptance or rejection. It is the individual seditious thoughts, many of which are scripted to us through our larger cultural powers and principalities that are most dangerous.
(So now you’ve heard me sing the praises of all that is pink and sparkly and 'deride' those who wear Birkenstocks as ones who are following the cultural norms too closely. Now there's a bit of a switch, huh? Are you starting to feel like you’ve been smoking something? ...But, all kidding aside, I do hope that I make my point quite clear:
Only when our paradigms are challenged will they be shifted. As it is with God’s kingdom- that He enters through a people-group, yet still deals with the individual- so it will be that we see our opportunity for change. It will be in a ‘one-person-at-a-time’ way that this misconception is challenged and overcome- one feminine theologian at a time…