Immodesty Rail: Anger and Women

I’ve been stewing on this one for a long time. It’s controversial. It’s probably something we don’t want to admit that we do. But I think it needs to be named and noticed.

Within the church and western culture, our assumptions about gender roles create some tensions between the personality of an individual and the ideal personality traits for their gender. Sometimes pastors will shame men who don’t fit the ideal gender stereotype, like when Mark Driscoll will call men who are nurturing stay-at-home fathers “man fails” [can’t find the original video to cite this, but he said it during a “Real Marriage” talk], or when another pastor, Stephen Altrogge, tweeted that men who wear messenger bags are effeminate and it’s actually a purse, dudes.

Feminists have long asked this question, but I think it’s time Christians did too: why should “effeminate” or “feminine” function as an insult for men?  If my husband admires stay-at-home dads or cares about matching the width of his suit lapels correctly to the width of his tie, he’s no less of a godly man. He’s just a unique person with normal human interests and traits, and he won’t always line up with your “real Christian men” checklist. These differences don’t make him less of a man or less of a Christian. It’s easy to let popular opinion or cultural assumptions make us forget these things (and sometimes these assumptions can even cause us to misinterpret Scripture to our own detriment).

I read this piece on Thought Catalog a couple days ago, “No One Will Love A Loud Girl.” I read it with some bitterness, because I’ve been that girl. I’ve been the girl who liked shooting guns because it was powerful and I was a good shot, but got told that it wasn’t feminine. I’ve been the girl with lots of loud questions and I’ve been shut down and told to listen. I’ve been the female Sunday school student who resented being talked down to in third grade and perplexed her pastor with a letter about how the teachers were being fakely nice and shouldn’t bribe us with candy to bring our Bibles or find a Bible verse, and should answer the hard questions I wanted to ask about the Bible stories instead of brushing me off. I was the girl who liked action movies and martial arts and people didn’t know what to make of the fact that I enjoyed some crude humor (this was shut down so firmly by the disapproval of authority figures that I stopped having much of a sense of humor until I was halfway through college and realized I liked Arrested Development). I was the 12 year old girl who attended church membership class with my parents and argued with the pastor about predestination, and then later asked about women attending the pastor’s college, only to be told that was for men who had been chosen for church leadership. Amusingly naive, yes. But the sobering truth in that situation was that I was a woman and I wasn’t fitting into the mold of the Keepers at Home groups where biblical femininity was taught.

In the mainstream church, we’re better at accepting an intelligent woman who asks hard questions. But we’re still not great at it (see anything on Rachel Held Evans lately for evidence of this).

But one thing I’ve recently observed, that seems to be an active prejudice within Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull circles, as well as mainstream “secular” America and the more mainstream evangelical Christian culture, is a real distaste for a woman who has any sort of anger present in her words or actions. Rightly or wrongly angry, acting on her anger or just talking about it, she’s almost universally shamed into passivity, because a passive woman is the cultural idea (subconsciously held or deliberately taught).

Don’t misunderstand, I think the result of anger can easily be sin. Violence is almost universally wrong, and is usually caused by anger or aggression. But what about a woman who has a damn good reason to be angry? What if she was a man and was angry about…oh, I dunno. Rape. A man gets raped, or was abused as a child. He speaks up about it. He’s angry. We’re not surprised and we sympathize and we say he has a right to be angry, but please don’t do anything rash. But a woman? She’s just supposed to be crushed and sad. Tender, broken, weepy. But if she gets angry, she’ll probably be thought of as shrill or bitchy or, worst of all, asking for it. That’s just terrible to assume, but it’s culturally a normal, even easy thing to think, particularly in conservative circles.

Now, on a less dramatic scale: you’re a woman in a church, and you start seeing your daughters and sisters and friends struggling with fear of sex, guilt and loathing for their bodies, eating disorders, shame, and fear, because of legalistic modesty teachings. You start talking about this, how it’s wrong, how it’s damaging. If you play your cards right, you’ll get listened to. But playing your cards right means: tearful testimonials to men in authority, navigating translation battles and hermeneutical landmines to confront the assumptions behind the teachings, and lots of long talks about law vs. grace to address the legalism aspect driving it, without offending anyone or turning them off from your vision of grace-filled teachings about women and their bodies to heal those broken by the weight of shame and the law.

If she goes mama-bear and is angry for the sake of those who are wounded (which would be natural), she will certainly be shut down, dismissed, and ignored. In some way or another, depending on the church. But her anger will instantly disqualify her from speaking about this. Why is that okay?

Likewise, if a girl grows up in an abusive home, and later realizes it, and speaks to that abuse with the normal response of grief and anger, she is told that she is slandering or being bitter, and she should not speak of her home life like that. If she is angry, she is not commended for finally recognizing right boundaries in a healthy relationship and naming the wrongs she used to endure. Instead it becomes uncomfortable to relate to her, because her pain and her anger is not acceptable in our social framework. She does not fit into our little set of boxes, so we either label her with a sin problem, or pass over her emotions in hopes that it was all just a misunderstanding. [Please note that I am not actually speaking of my own personal experience on this point. However, I have seen it done to friends and family members.]

How is that reflecting Jesus and his kind of love? I can’t reconcile this behavior to the teachings and example of Jesus. Angry women are socially uncomfortable, I get it. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong or sinful or not worthy of love and community. They are not worse at being Christians. They’re just honest.

11 thoughts on “Immodesty Rail: Anger and Women

  1. It’s not considered okay because women aren’t supposed to have a voice. If all we’re doing is echoing others, we have no voice of our own. The moment we start asking questions, the moment we say, “Hey! This is NOT okay!” we assert ourselves in a way that is deemed inappropriate. It’s ridiculous, and it most definitely is rage-inducing. Thank you for writing this. You’re giving voice to things I’ve struggled to say for years.

  2. As an aside: I’m not endorsing anger as the best possible method of communicating–it really isn’t. But it shouldn’t be so stigmatized, either.

  3. Hey Hannah, stumbled across your blog while reading around. Anyways, good points here. I think that its certainly true in many circles, especially the “T.R.” circles (“truly reformed”–i.e. the extreme of the reformed mind, those who close themselves off to all discussion or disagreement). Personally, I’ve never been much for the weepy, needy woman, and I think there are circles where strong women and loving men are appreciated. I would, however, warn us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of differing gender roles (and this is going to sound biased or something, coming from a man, but imagine for the next few sentences that you have no idea what my gender is, and take it on its own).
    I think the central problem mainstream feminism tends toward (not leads to, tends toward) is that they tend to emphasize that giving women power as the nail in the coffin for patriarchy. This is due to the regrettably true fact that in genuine patriarchal societies and communities, men abuse power to the point of persecution in some way, and end up silencing the voices and thoughts of the women around them. And that’s awful. Yes. However, simply giving an equal amount of women power and authority doesn’t actually escape the true core of patriarchal thinking. It simply brings a balance of power. It doesn’t teach men to “love their wives as Christ loved the church” (and pause to think about THAT command for a second. Damn). In the end, patriarchal thinking is based on the premise that Power and Authority over others is *the most important and valuable thing attainable*. And simply fighting for women to have equal leadership roles buys into this assumption lock, stock, and barrel. Making it seem like there should be little or no difference between gender roles (and I am not speaking toward you or anyone in particular here, just the tenancies of mainstream feminism) does not escape true patriarchy; it simply is a different manifestation of the same core principles. The answer is not as simple as equal power. It is changing how we understand authority and power as a BURDEN, not a gift.
    I am not making this point to say “oh, well men should keep the power and women should keep serving the men and shut up.” I am NOT saying that. Nor am I ignoring that the biblical prescriptions for the husband and the wife are different. I am simply noting that, in the end, to truly defeat patriarchy, boys and men must be taught that as husbands and fathers, the Bible doesn’t say, “congrats, bro, you have your own family–now tell them to do whatever you want!” The Bible says to love them as Christ. Loved. The. Church. The Bible says, take blame in their place, be tortured in their place, die in their place.
    Let’s not be so quick to condemn everything about traditional gender roles, rather, let’s first understand what they really should be and look like. And if that’s wrong or leads to sin, then condemn.

    1. This. Just this. You said everything I wanted to say, J. I agree that feminism is often a power struggle. There’s too much emphasis on victimhood, and how life isn’t fair if you have two X chromosomes.

      It’s fine for women to speak up. They should do that. What isn’t fine is to try to overthrow the entire traditional gender role system, just because it was espoused bad people. You can’t define reality by human standards, but only by God’s. And that’s all you need to know for discernment.

      1. Thanks. As you may have surmised I’m neither trying to overthrow the traditional gender role system, nor uphold all it’s connotations and premises. I’m simply asking the question: why is authority so important? What happened to love? I’m not saying gender discrimination doesn’t happen. Just don’t go to the other extreme.
        As for women speaking up, if they don’t, men generally become animals. My dad always says “Palmer, women civilize men.” How right he is…

        1. The post above isn’t about authority. If you think it’s about women in authority, you’re going to get sidetracked and miss the point. The post is about appreciating the ALL the women within our believeing community without getting bogged down by extra-biblical stereotypes. She is right that if a woman is direct about making a point, she is much less accepted than a woman who is tearful and manipulative. I spent three years as a missionary before taking a secular job and I was shocked at how differently I was treated –at how much BETTER and MORE RESPECTFULLY I was treated– in the secular world by unbelievers than in the mission world by male missionaries. I love Jesus, but I hesitate to steer my daughters toward missions for the very reasons stated above. She is spot on with her point. Do not judge SPIRITUALITY by PERSONALITY.

          1. Yep. I agree with you. I don’t think the post is about authority per se. And I agree that churches (on average, and not the Church–see Screwtape for the distinction) tend to do a much worse job at respecting women who speak their mind and exhibit even righteous anger. I grew up in a loud family myself, and the loudest and most intimidating of all of us is my Aunt on my dad’s side. I appreciate it enormously, and more than that, think it is a necessary thing.
            I was, however, pursuing the point a bit further by asking *why* respect is so important. On the one hand, it could be that every human just deserves a certain amount of respect for existing–and that respect should not shift due to gender. And I agree with that for sure. But, I wanted to warn against the other possible “hand” (if you will). That is, respect is desired because men and women are the *same* with respect, primarily, to authority; that their roles are the *same*, eventually leading (and has led) to the belief that essentially “gender” is a blank slate that can be changed on the whims of the human.
            I’m not concerned about anything Hannah said directly, and I agree with you as well. I just want to be sure we all check our reasons, so as not to go down the wrong direction (in terms of logical implications). That’s all. Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

  4. “Now, on a less dramatic scale: you’re a woman in a church, and you start seeing your daughters and sisters and friends struggling with fear of sex, guilt and loathing for their bodies, eating disorders, shame, and fear, because of legalistic modesty teachings.”

    The Christian church has failed miserably, and continues to fail, to describe how a normal and healthy sexuality for single men and women should be expressed. Legalistic modesty teaching only serves to define sexuality by what it isn’t – like a food product that is glueten free, fat free, sugar free, arficial color free, etc. – without stating what the product actually is.

    1. well said, Joe. I haven’t really thought of things in that way before, but you’re right. There is a lot of defining sexuality, modesty, womanhood/manhood, ect. by what it isn’t. There’s not a lot of explaining what those things really are.

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