What Is Womanhood?

Posted By on March 20, 2010

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” ~ Proverbs 29:18

What is womanhood? What does it mean to be feminine? Is there an unchanging standard for the woman’s role in the world? These questions puzzle us more in our modern culture than perhaps ever before. We run to the bookstores every time a “groundbreaking” new book or study comes out, hoping that we’ll find enlightenment at last. We vacillate wildly between enjoying chivalry to taking offense at it. One group of women finds it thoroughly delightful to have a man open the car door for them, while another feels insulted by such behavior. Our culture tells us that it is a “waste” of talents and brains to stay home and raise children, but something deep in our souls tells us it is meaningful, beautiful, and intellectually challenging. And the countless millions of successful mothers who have gone before us cry out from history’s pages. Our foremothers in centuries past did not seem to have quite the same identity crisis that we do today — or at least not to the same degree. Our supposed “liberation” in the 21st century doesn’t seem to have freed us; rather, it seems to have bound us into a straight jacket of tormented doubts about what we are doing as women. Is there an answer?

Much blame has been pinned upon the 20th-century feminist movement for the degrading, dishonoring treatment women often receive today and for the high divorce rate in our culture. While the modern feminist movement may have aided these ills, it certainly was not the sole cause of them. We must look back further into our history — all the way back to the Garden of Eden, in fact* — if we wish to understand the consequences of unwomanly behavior. Eve was tempted by Satan’s offer to make her as wise as God, “knowing good from evil.” Satan tricked Eve by asking her, “Hath God said…?” and making the first woman question God’s authority and His divine right to order things according to His own will. God had made woman the perfect complement to man — everything that Adam lacked was found in Eve. She was his helpmate–the only one who was created specifically to assist him in his calling. It was within Eve’s nature to follow Adam, and it was part of Adam’s disposition to lead and protect his wife. Ever since the Fall, women have struggled with their dual natures–one which was created to follow and to enjoy the protection of man, and the other which rebels against the notion of headship and desires to have the “knowledge of good and evil” for herself–to possess headship even over God, were that possible.

As women in the 21st century, we struggle in the same way that all the women in the world have struggled before us. It is nothing new, and, therefore, the answer to our problem is not the latest psycho-fad on the market or the newest ear-tickling feminist notion. The answer is and always has been the Word of God, coupled with the grace of God. What are we here for? What were we made to do as women? Is there a higher purpose in life beyond the daily routine of living? Can we find satisfaction, delight, and even abounding joy by staying at home, keeping house, and bringing up children? What about unmarried women? How about young daughters? Empty-nest grandmothers? Is there a place for all of us in the greater scheme of things? The answer from Scripture is a resounding “Yes!” And a study of womanhood as defined by the Bible reveals an incredibly rich, full, invigorating, and inspiring vision for life that goes beyond the hot-button issues of submission and obedience.

What exactly is Biblical womanhood? First of all, it is full-orbed. We are not striving toward a half-baked definition of womanhood that does not include every part of Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments–the whole counsel of God–hold instructions, examples, and meaning for us as women. Every book of the Bible has something to say to us about womanhood, whether directly or indirectly. Every page speaks to us about our womanly roles as worshipers of God, daughters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, members of the body of Christ, saints, sinners, nurturers, caregivers, lovers, friends, peacemakers, workers, teachers, artists, and more. Our starting place must be in the infallible Word of God** — or we are just launching another movement doomed to failure because it is based upon human “wisdom.” King David wrote in Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” We need to spend time in the Word, for it is the source of our “marching orders.” Then we can say with David, “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts” (vs. 100).

Secondly, as we seek a vision for womanhood, the first obstacle we need to overcome is our notion that we are here on earth solely to find fulfillment, to be applauded, or to achieve something “important” or “significant” according to the world’s definition of those words. In our celebrity-soaked culture, it is hard to escape the belief that success equals fame and that what is truly important is only what is seen on television or printed on the front of USA Today. Women who stay at home are made to feel that they cannot ever hope to accomplish anything newsworthy or even praiseworthy by “wasting” their talents on a “mindless” routine of housework, cooking, diaper changing, and child training. But who gets to define what is important or significant in life? For too long, we have let the feminists define the terms, and we have surrendered much in the face of their overbearing and condescending rhetoric. Why is folding laundry any more “mindless” than filing a pile of paperwork stacked in an office in-box? Why is the artful arrangement of furniture less creative than drawing up a spreadsheet? Why do we believe that it takes no brains to raise intelligent, honorable children while it requires tactical brilliance to manage employees in the corporate world? We have foolishly capitulated over the past century by saying, “Oh, I’m just a housewife.” Or we overcompensate by trying to make a list of reasons that being a housewife is like holding a “real” job: “I’m a chef, taxi driver, plumber, personal shopper, appliance repairman, financial counselor, time management expert, etc., etc., ad nauseum.” I think the inimitable Tasha Tudor put it best: “Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it? You aren’t stupid because you’re a housewife. When you’re stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.” [1]

Thirdly, our vision for womanhood cannot be confined solely to marriage and child rearing. While these are certainly important and do tend to be central to our lives, there is so much more that we are called to do as women. The task of ministering to the poor or serving as peacemakers in the family and among friends most often falls upon women. We are exhorted to work with our hands, to speak with “the law of kindness,” to minister to others outside of our homes and to set an example of godly creativity that inspires and encourages. Even a cursory look at the women of Scripture reveals the breadth and depth of the definition of womanhood. We have Abigail, who pacified an angry King David with her artful, welcoming diplomacy (I Samuel 25). There is Miriam, who composed a song of triumph and danced after the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 15:20-21). Esther used her God-given beauty and her wits to win the king’s favor, trap a conspirator and deliver her people from destruction (Esther 5:1ff). There were women who supported Christ in His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3) and women who used their skills to benefit others (Acts 9:36-39). And, on the other hand, there are myriad examples of what women should not be: simpleminded (Proverbs 9:13), foolish and destructive (Proverbs 14:1), complaining (Proverbs 21:9 & 19), lacking discretion (Proverbs 11:22), deceitful (Gen. 31:34; Acts 5:1-11), self-deceived (Proverbs 30:20), hateful (Proverbs 30:23).

Whether you find your life as a woman stifling or freeing is your choice. The paradox of Scripture is that submission gives the greatest freedom and that death brings life. We can die to ourselves, to our dreams, and to our own desires, yet find that we are vibrantly alive and free to pursue the high calling of womanhood with intelligence, wit, joy, and zest. This is our vision. This is our calling. It is one that will take a lifetime to develop and pursue. It is far from narrowing or confining, yet it is bounded closely by the Word of God. How can something bind us yet free us at the same time? The lofty masts of a great ship reach toward the skies, and her unfurled sails harness the wind to drive her forward. She can travel the world over, but she would sink in an instant if she weren’t watertight. She isn’t “free” to let in the waters or to keel over on her side. The very principles of engineering that make it possible for her to float bind her to a certain shape and to the rules of the sea. Yet without those principles and rules, she would go nowhere, moored forever in dry-dock. If we will allow the Word of God to define us as women, we will find the greatest freedom we can ever know. The changing dictates of fashion no longer need pull us to and fro in the endless round of what is “new” and “fun” and “fulfilling.” We have a greater purpose that calls us beyond the everyday-ness of life and reminds us of eternity.

The call of womanhood is deep, challenging, and broad. We at Ladies Against Feminism desire to raise high the Standard of godly womanhood and proclaim it beautiful — not just with our words, but with our very lives. From comforting the dying to nurturing the weak to praising the strong, we glory in our role as women and find it rich beyond measure. We invite you to explore this marvelous calling with us, whatever your background or beliefs. Feminism has had its time on history’s stage. We now call for it to step down and face the ruin and despair it has wrought and repent of its wrongs. One lifetime is given us to make things beautiful, wholesome, nourishing, glad-hearted, and noble. May we use our time wisely!

Coram Deo,
Jennie Chancey

* Now, if you don’t believe that God created the world or that there ever was a Garden of Eden, we invite you to study origins on some of the many hundreds of sites dedicated to that topic. A good place to start is AnswersinGenesis.org. If you believe man evolved from a chaotic mass of primordial ooze and that there is no Divine order in the universe, you really have no basis for making any complaint about how women are treated at all. For, without a Divine Creator (and, more specifically, the sovereign God of the Bible), there can be no concept whatever of “right” or “wrong.” Without Someone stating, “Thou shalt not kill,” you have no right to condemn or even dislike one who chooses to murder. After all, it’s “survival of the fittest,” right? But with the omnipotent God and Creator of us all, there are distinctions — between right and wrong, truth and error, male and female.

** This is another sticking point for many, I realize. If you do not believe that God’s Word is infallible–completely free of error–then you will not agree with most of what is written on this site. You will also find it difficult to have any security in your womanhood, since your definition must needs change with the times. Further study on the infallibility of God’s Word can be done elsewhere. Two websites that might help you get started are Stand To Reason and Reformed.org.

Endnote:
[1] Tudor, Tasha and Richard Brown. The Private World of Tasha Tudor. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1992. Page 104.

Recommended Resources
She Shall Be Called Woman: Victoria Botkin’s Study of Practical Wisdom From Scripture for the 21st Century Woman
Let Me Be a Woman
The Excellent Wife: A Biblical Perspective
So Much More

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About The Author

Jennie is the wife of Matthew and mother of eleven children, all of whom keep the household bubbling with life, learning, and levity. Jennie co-founded LAF in 2002 with Lydia Sherman and has been delighted to hear from women all over the world who enjoy their femininity and love to cultivate womanly virtues.

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