So I went camping this weekend, and in the space of three days, was twice stopped by men helpfully telling me that I was entering the women’s bathroom. Imagine that! Me, a woman, going into the women’s bathroom. I’d like to say that I graciously turned to each man and said, in a calm, yoga-instructor voice, “Why, thank you. I do appreciate that you’re here to help me navigate these complicated restroom choices.” But alas, that’s not what happened. I should mention that I hate camping and was already angry in both situations. To the first man, I turned, stared, and said, “Yep.” The second one, who caught me at 2:30 PM on the final day of the trip when I hadn’t yet had lunch, just got a really long glare. Neither man apologized.
As a woman, I’m deeply hurt when people assume I’m a man. It doesn’t matter that there might be valid reasons for their assumptions: I’m 5’11” with broad shoulders and have short hair. However, my features are not masculine, and I have breasts. And it’s not like it happens to me every day, or really, very often at all. But every time it happens, I question myself. Am I not feminine enough? What does that even mean? Should I grow my hair out just so the people rude enough to question my gender won’t say anything?
The obvious answer to all these questions is no. (Except the “what does feminine mean?” one. That’s a more complicated answer.) I like my hair short. I feel like it suits me better than long hair. I am a woman, and therefore by definition am feminine. My version of femininity has always been against the grain of your garden-variety Disney princess femininity, though. As a four-year-old, I refused to wear anything but a navy-blue turtleneck, jeans, and navy-blue Keds. As an adult, I’ve moved on from turtlenecks but still really like blue. I wouldn’t wear pink until college. All my stuffed animals were boys and had masculine names. I’ve thought a lot about why that might’ve been the case and came to the conclusion that I perceived “feminine” as weak. At least, what the culture was telling me “feminine” meant. It meant doing a lot of things I had no interest in doing and wearing things I didn’t want to wear. It meant waiting to be saved by the hero instead of being the hero myself.
I say this in no way to disparage those women and girls who really like wearing dresses, or baking, or having tea parties, or doing the millions of other things a lot of girls like to do. My point is simply that this stereotypical American image of femininity is just one small way women can be women. And the women who bake, wear dresses, throw parties? They do other things too. They’re scientists, scholars, athletes, and yes, sometimes mothers too.
But everything a woman is, does, and says is feminine. It’s far past time to expand our minds as to the meaning of this word, because feminine doesn’t mean weak. It doesn’t mean less. It doesn’t mean pretty. And it doesn’t mean “attracted to men.”
As much as it bothers me that people try to stuff me into a box (which my size 12 feet obviously don’t fit in anyway), I’ve never had to face questions about my sexual orientation. If women as a whole are stereotyped to death, lesbians have it even worse. The lacy pink frills of 1950s American femininity don’t have room for women attracted to other women. Those women must be masculine in some way, right? Because part of masculinity means being attracted to women? Simply stated, not at all. Gay women, like all women, are individuals. And they are feminine.
As humans, we’re very bad at accepting people different from us: whether it’s skin color, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, or any other differentiation you can think of. We create boxes and categories so that it’s easy to sort and see who belongs and who doesn’t.
The kingdom of God is different. Everyone belongs.
Jesus came and showed us how different: he ate with those who’d been cast out because they didn’t fit in acceptable boxes. He spent his life with people rejected by others. Isolation from mainstream society creates instability and vulnerability. It’s a sin of the majority to leave out those who don’t easily fit. It’s a sin of cultures to force people to conform.
It’s a sin of Christians to create a church of people who look, think, and act just alike. We are made in the image of God. All of us, with our myriad of faces, personalities, talents, genders, dreams, sexual orientations, ages… on and on and on.
We are the same, as children of God, as humans made in the image of God.
We’re not the same, as women, as men, as people.
So that little girl who likes pink dresses and playing with makeup? She’s feminine. That teenager who wears baggy basketball shorts, big t-shirts, and no makeup? She’s feminine too. That person I see, and I can’t classify upon first glance if he or she is male or female? He or she is the image of God.
Post by Rebecca Farlow