by Marilyn Harrell Hardage
Long before we become conscious of what it means we learn that we are “girls.” After a while we come to understand that we are “women,” a unique part of the human race.
A generation or so ago most women never questioned their roles as women or their relationship to men; today most,in industrialized countries, do. The questioning does not surprise me. In view of the choices offered, the toleration by society of alternate life styles, and the emphasis on the “me” philosophy, it would be strange if values and customs and attitudes were not openly challenged. What does surprise me is that so little of the questioning seems directed toward a woman understanding herself in the most crucial and practical way.
Is there an “ought” in being a woman? What does it mean to be a woman? Many young and some older women go through an identity crisis as they seek to find a meaning in their often confused lives. Should we not in the midst of the hurried, everyday decisions ask ourselves: “Who am I? What am I doing with my life? What ought l to do?”
Through long centuries of toil, strife, tragedy, and triumph women have lived and worked, loved and wept alongside men. In our generation, women are Russian peasants, English duchesses, Nigerian tribeswomen, Chinese students. In this country, they are migrant field hands, Hollywood starlets, teachers, homemakers, factory workers, Park Avenue sophisticates, nurses, waitresses, social workers, There are those who know the harsh, unrelenting labor of poverty. There are those who have lost their way in alcoholism, prostitution, drug addiction. There are young and old, well and sick, black and white, mistresses and servants, hopeful and despondent. Woman cannot and must not be defined as a simple middle-class concept.
A cultures definition of “woman” has always been stated not only in words but in what it offers her and takes from her. These expectations are ever changing; often they change both radically and rapidly.
What is expected and accepted in one generation and society is despised in another. Today’s women come in a wide variety. I read of a super-woman who is expected to be all things to all people; of an aggressive, tough-minded woman who is eager to pursue her own career and sees her own needs as primary; of a fluffy, mindless, sugar-coated woman who sees herself only in relationship to a man; of a dissatisfied, dull woman who shuffles from the TV to the dirty dishes and unmade beds; of a rich, hedonistic woman who is completely concerned with her own pleasure. All of these are shrill caricatures, but they underline the diverse possibilities in modern women’s lives. Have I anything of meaning to say to the women of the world, my sisters in the flesh? I am a woman.
Long ago, for many of us, but not before we became conscious of what it meant, we chose to become Christians, We understood, some more clearly than others, that our choice was free, for life, and of real consequence. Through the word of God we came to know the Savior. Jesus was presented to us in the story of the Gospels as He walked on this earth doing good. Our hearts were stirred and broken as we heard of His strength and sweetness and the intense, pure love He bore for us.
In His time, men and women spoke in the same harsh, greedy, calculating, indifferent ways they have always spoken. Jesus’ words were different. They were so shockingly different that it was necessary to either honor or despise Him. For with His words and works He pierced the superficiality of life and the arrogant, yet pitiful, barriers that all erect in self-defense. For those who were willing to be pierced He brought life and light and peace.
Women were exalted by Him and humbled. He called them from narrow selfishness, foolish pride, and worldly care. He told us to stop being so concerned with ourselves. He told us to look around and see the needs and rights of others and to set ourselves to serve as He served. Of course, herein lies the difficulty, the crux of the challenge to women. Do I want to serve? Am I willing to humble myself, to submit?
The life He lived has been almost universally admired from a distance and disdained when the reality of the cross is recognized as other than an ornament or an abstract idea. However, He does offer an alternative to an existence of loneliness, vanity, and emptiness.
To women He holds out a definition of themselves in a relationship to Himself. He says that whatever our circumstances He will accept us, love us, forgive us, change us, and use us. He will teach us to be a part of an eternal kingdom of right where the questions of identity, meaning, purpose, fulfillment are answered in faith and obedience. I have something to say to women, to all my sisters in the flesh. Come and see. I am a Christian.
CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE JANUARY, 1984