Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ladies in Waiting, an addendum

When my friend Julie read "Ladies in Waiting", she told me she didn't like it. "Well, I like what you're saying," she explained, "but it doesn't sound like you in the YOU sense."

Julie and I have been close friends since we were fifteen years old.  "Close friends" doesn't begin to capture the adventures of sleeping in a tree house and checking on lambing ewes, afternoons spent drawing and telling stories in preparation for teaching Summer Bible School together, and long walks through the woods, taking deep breaths and just reveling in sheer beauty. "Close friends" doesn't begin to describe what it is to have someone in my life who knows the narrative of my life, either having witnessed it or learning it from long talks. Julie knows me, and when she calls my bluff on something, I listen. Because she's usually right. And she isn't afraid to push me to be the best "me".

So, for over a year, an addendum to "Ladies in Waiting" has been brewing. Simmering and bubbling in the back of my head while God uses life to teach me a lot of things. Here are a few of them, and you might find it helpful to see them through "what I wasn't saying" and "what I was saying" in "Ladies in Waiting".

What I wasn't saying:

I wasn't promoting feminism. While it IS my opinion that the feminist movement sprung from a very real need for change, I don't think it is the change we were all looking for.

My biggest reason for this conclusion is the hard edges that form around my heart when I start to live as though I am self-sufficient. Just because you CAN do (almost) everything for yourself doesn't mean you should. I'm guessing this isn't gender-specific, but I only know the female side... and how I lose some of my softness with people and lose touch of the magic I find daily when I start to think and act as though I am enough for myself. You don't need to be helpless to need help. Helplessness is, of course, the polar opposite of tough self-sufficiency, and neither are healthy or honest ways to live.

It is true that strength does not equal toughness. I'm afraid that I react a little to the whole environment fostered by Christian women's ministries and books. You can get the feeling that, to be a REAL godly woman, you need exude some sort of sweet, golden aura and have only one facet to your personality. That most likely isn't what the authors and speakers are trying to create (she adds, hurriedly). I love decorating my house, and I find that the spaces in which I feel most "me" are the ones that combine unexpected textures. Vintage lace on the rough wooden apple crate I upended for an end table. Dried grass heads in an embossed green-glass jar on my kitchen windowsill. I wonder if beauty in a woman should not be of the same sort, contrasting-but-complementing textures of unexpected softness and grit.

This is something I continually learn. One of "my" teen girls used to have seemingly no appreciation for other people's feelings. Obviously, her own had been trampled to the point where she couldn't see past them, but she would get up in the morning and respond to my "good morning, sunshine!" with "don't start with me!" For the longest time, I faked immunity to her negativity. To some extent, that was necessary.... But yesterday she cussed me out the minute I woke her up. Maybe it was my sore throat and a head that felt uncomfortably inflated, or maybe it was the fact that her and my relationship has come miles and miles, but her words stung. Instead of ignoring it, I just stood and looked at her for a few seconds. I wasn't intending to guilt-trip her, but I'm sure my hurt leaped to my face. "I'm sorry I upset you," I finally said, "but it would be a lot easier for me to hear you if you found a nicer way to say it." An hour later, she sidled up to me. "I'm sorry for flipping out on you." I had to blink rapidly before I replied, because I have never heard her apologize to anyone before. I wonder, would she have thought to apologize if I hadn't let her see that she hurt me? I doubt it. And I think this might be one of the gifts women offer. If we are honest about what hurts us, we bring a softness and awareness to our world. Hopefully it goes without saying that I don't mean we should wallow in our feelings all the time and never let anything roll off. I actually will advocate a "Christian woman" book on this topic: Strong Women; Soft Hearts, by Paula Rinehart.

What I was saying:

Learn. Think. Adventure.

I don't know what that means for you. I don't know the aching and the exuberance that fuels your dreams. But don't be afraid to try things that might not be culturally expected of you. Have courage in following the great adventure God has laid before your feet, in all the twisty, learning paths He lets you choose. I don't know the ways He will chip away and add to the sculpture of your person along the way, but one of my biggest changes has been my confidence. Today, I found a two-year-old list of "things about me". One of the idiosyncrasies I had listed was "I love people once I know them. Until then, they scare me." I laughed aloud because, while I sometimes have to remind myself to initiate conversation with someone I want to get to know, I would never think to describe my current self that way. Forging some new and at-first-daunting territory by myself with my job and school has really changed me. I am much more confident, and I love the change God has made in me.

Maybe it's not so much WHAT we do as HOW we do it. A lot of people view feminism as wrong in putting women "in a man's world". Maybe that's not the problem. Maybe the problem is women thinking we need to act less feminine in order to gain equality. Don't be afraid to be a woman.

I remember a lot about the years I helped my dad in the barn, but the cow I remember most distinctly was #257. Oddly, I never named her. The number became as endearing as any name, I guess. She was a stunning heifer. Tall, long- and deep-bodied, good leg and foot angle, straight top line... even her face was the dairy cow ideal: long and narrow. (Sorry, I'm a geek. My dad is an excellent, self-taught cattle judge. He was always trying to breed the perfect Holstein, and he got pretty close.) We got #257 right before she calved the first time, and she was wild as a deer. For her first milking after she calved, Dad waited until the general confusion of all the other bovines finding their stalls had passed to let her in the barn and gave her the length of the entire milking to adjust to being tied in a stall before we attempted to milk her. When Dad squatted beside her to put on her milker, she shot straight up into the air. Levitated. Kicked with all four feet at once. I've never seen the like before or since. We tried the usual restraints for "kicker cows", but nothing worked. Finally even Dad's patience frayed and broke. So I asked if I could try. He agreed. I went on with milking the last few cows to give #257 time to calm down. When her eyes had resumed their natural place inside her head, I stood across the gutter from her, as far as I could get to her right, out of hoof range. I put my hand lightly on her flank and kept it there while she lunged and kicked. Finally, she was still... except for her hide, which was moving up and down and from side to side all around my hand... the way cows can to shoo flies. Talking to her in a low voice, I waited until her flank stopped shivering. I looked  her in her one rolled eye as I slowly slid my hand along her side, stepping into her stall with slow movements. With each progression, I stopped and waited for her to calm if she started to shake or kick. After I worked my hand down under her belly, she let me wash her udder. With extreme care to not let any sharp vacuum sounds escape the milker, I pressed my head into the web of skin between her leg and belly... to make kicking harder, just in case she changed her mind and decided to rearrange my face with her hoof... and put the milker on! I crouched beside her for a while, stroking her belly and telling her how wonderful she was. She never took her eye off me. Dad came to see if I was alive, and he just shook his head and grinned. After that, #257 was the calmest milker we had. She never even got into bad moods and whapped you across the face with her tail when you exited her stall. So maybe I was doing a "man's job". But I did it the way my girl instincts told me to. And it worked.

One of my friends, whom I consider one of my "unbiological brothers", gave me some wise advice. "Don't try to prove anything." So learn and talk about things that interest you. In "Ladies in Waiting", I already talked about why I think this is important. But we need to engage on an intellectual level because we enjoy it, not because we have to prove that girls can think. That is one attitude that is edifying to no one. Really.

My friend also told me not to be afraid to give of myself in traditionally female ways. He agreed that women need to be given a bigger voice in our cultural setting, but he said that maybe the change won't be as threatening to the cultural equilibrium if we females celebrate being female in the expected ways. "Kierkegaard doesn't sit well on an empty stomach," he said. I laughed, but I got his point. So cook meals when you get the chance. Make your living space your definition of "beautiful". Invite as many people as possible to share both. Love on kids. If you're anything like me, these things make your soul leap to life just as much as a theological debate. Celebrate it.

But please don't, as my dad says, "view marriage as the only thing that will bring you satisfaction and piddle around, waiting until a guy rescues you from your boring life". You have many talents. Develop them, and God will use them for His glory. Single or married. I promise.


Anita said...

"You don't need to be helpless to need help." yes, yes. I hope you know how much I agree with this piece.
I, too, aspire to bring softness and awareness to my world. I like being in this together!

Brittany said...

I must say how much I love this post. It is beautiful. I have been doing a lot of the thinking about the whole feminist mindset lately and have been trying to figure out the balance between the feminist movement (which I believe turned women into something rather unattractive) and the 'doormat' women (which I also believe turns women into something rather unattractive). I love the balance you have here. It's so beautiful and incredibly thought provoking.

Becca said...

Thanks so much for your input, Anita! I value it as much as I value being "in this together". I hope you know that I consider you one of my role models... you DO bring softness to your world... even while you value education and personal development. You know, I'm glad we're friends. (How's that for the understatement of the day?) ;)

Becca said...

Brittany, thanks for taking the time to comment! I love feedback. :) And YES. I totally agree. Neither extreme is attractive or wholesome. I hope you were as blessed by the post as I am by your comment! :)

Rosina Fisher said...

You really must read Dorothy Sayers book- Are Women Human? Buy it OR come over to my house for tea and read it in an hour.

Carolyn said...

I do read your blog sometimes and love it, but this post especially. It just makes me shout 'Amen' in my heart. Thank you!

Lilian said...

It's such a joy to read another single Anabaptist woman's thoughts on what it truly means to be feminine! Wonderful!

By the way, I'm the owner of maps.and.violins blog. I follow Matt G, and was looking at the blogs he follows. That's how I came upon yours. :)

Rosanna said...

THANK YOU! for your words on not being afraid to pursue dreams outside of what is culturally expected and at the same time celebrating being a woman in the very ways we are culturally expected to do so. Just yesterday I delighted in cuddling a little toddler while reading a story to his sister when they couldn't find their mother in the house. Not having children of my own I relish chances to "love on" other people's children. Nothing can quite describe the trust that a child gives by allowing you to hold/comfort him or her.