Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am neither quiet nor gentle. In our household, my husband is very much the more natural nurturer, as well as being the more quiet and gentle of the two of us. I admit that I went into my reading of chapter 1 of A Year of Biblical Womanhood with some trepidation. I think I expected that Rachel really would discover that it really is better to have a personality more like Caroline Ingalls than like Roseanne Connor.
I was pleased to note that Rachel comes right out of the gate with the words,
My first mistake was to start the experiment in the middle of football season.
While I don’t relate to football fandom, I was at least glad to know that I’m not the only one who struggles to remain ladylike when emotions are high. It also made me smirk to learn that Rachel’s football sensibilities come at least in part from her mother; reading that made me like them both immediately, and I’ve never met either Rachel or her mother.
I also enjoyed Rachel’s descriptions of her family’s advice on her project. I can relate to that. I should get paid for every time someone says to me, “You should blog about that” or “So, I had this idea for a story you could write…” I think I should be grateful they’re not also giving me religious advice. I can only imagine what would happen if someone suggested I write an Amish romance. I’m pretty sure the fact that Rachel never told them where to get off qualifies just by itself as cultivating a “quiet and gentle spirit.”
This, too, was something I could relate to:
…a lot of us church girls had the “gentle and quiet spirit” thing rubbed in our faces at early ages.
For many years, I remained convinced that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Whatever thing it is in church women that makes them feminine, demure, and gentle seems to be broken in me. I do not have that gene. Perhaps there was some chromosomal mutation; perhaps it was growing up surrounded by women who didn’t do the whole “quiet and gentle” thing. Whatever the reason, I always felt like I was lacking.
I suspect a whole lot of us feel this way. We wonder if we’re somehow not good enough because we have opinions (strong ones, even!). Church can certainly stamp that out of us. I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about a similar subject. She had mentioned feeling as though women who work outside the home are often put down, and that she (like I) is married to a man who fits the “quiet and gentle” manner much better. As we talked, I mentioned that I think that gets taken too far sometimes and that people’s personality styles or family needs are not taken into account. Her reply to me was very telling: “But it’s biblical.”
I’m not convinced that it’s personality traits that are biblical. There are women in the Bible with a wide range of personalities and behaviors. Sadly, what often ends up being reinforced is the idea that all women should aspire to be Mary the mother of Jesus—not merely in her faithfulness, but in her perceived overall manner.
And therein lies the problem. It’s not that the women of the Bible are all these mild, sweet ladies; it’s that we’re taught that they are. In reality, we have no idea what Mary was like. We know she was faithful; we know she sang a beautiful song; we know what God did through her and we know what sorts of things she herself did. But we do not know what her personality was. We have absolutely no idea whether she was sweet and gentle or full of life and fire. What we’ve ascribed to her is the personality we think befitting of the Mother of God.
Fortunately for the rebelliously non-quiet among us, God doesn’t usually work through the people we see as perfect. I’m sure we’ve all seen the lists of flawed heroes in the Bible. While it’s kind of an annoying meme, and troublesome in that it reduces those people to their sins (not to mention extraordinarily judgmental), it does make some sense. God is full of knocking down our assessments of who is or isn’t worthy. We don’t get to decide that Mary was worthy because she fits our perception of the woman who bore God.
Women, I am going to tell you something you can rely on: Your personality is not “biblical” or “unbiblical.” You are who you are. Being a person who likes to yell at the tv when watching football is no less “biblical” than being a person who likes to knit by the fireplace. Neither the force of your personality nor your hobbies make you better or worse than any other woman. Anyone who tries to define a “quiet and gentle spirit” by those measures needs to go back and read the Bible a little better.