In a world that challenges femininity, we must know how God defines it so we have answers. Modesty. Femininity. Decent and indecent apparel. Men’s and women’s roles. Submission. Honestly, growing up in different churches, I heard so much mention of these words, and there was so much focus on these ideas that I admit I still cringe when the topic comes up. What does the word femininity bring to mind? Hannah, your asking us to write on this topic is a challenge for me(!), but the issue is one much needed to be addressed. Though a difficult topic, and a difficult task for me to write my thoughts exactly, (what this word brings to my mind and other’s minds would vary greatly, I think), these are some of the things that have been on my heart lately. I hope I do OK trying to express them.What a confusing world of crazy extremes we live in! On one extreme we have our increasingly immoral culture, running headlong towards destruction as fast as we can go. Families are falling apart, everyone lives by their own rules, and the new generation of children would tell you that a word like “indecency” can no longer be defined. On the other extreme, there have been movements in the church that speak of modesty more than other issues, that try to return to the “old-fashioned” way of doing things, and often – I believe – get so caught up in the detail that they miss the heart of the issue. Being old-fashioned is not the answer in itself. I believe that hearing something taught wrong repeatedly, is one of the reasons people tend to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” When hearing the word “feminine” brings to mind only mental pictures of a Little House on the Prairie-type scene (no offense intended; I still enjoy watching the show!) and the words “women’s role” dredges up memories of false teaching on women confined to scullery duty under a miserable task master (though this task is not to be minimized in its importance); we find it hard to relate, and discard the whole idea, sadly leaving behind the important with the misunderstood. Beyond that, I have actually sometimes brought these wrong definitions to the Bible and missed the complete picture God is trying to show me!
We need to guard against the tendency to throw the complete package away because it has been perverted. Instead, we need to go back to God’s Word and see not only what He has to say on these issues, but how He defines the words that are so commonly used and misused. Though submission is difficult, and the idea naturally unappealing to our human nature; when we read something like Proverbs 31, we see a world of possibilities open out before us. In Godly submission, the leader is lovingly and selflessly laying down his life for those under his care, and helping them to thrive and grow (Eph. 6:4; 5:24). If we read the entire Bible, we finally come to realize that God never viewed women of lesser importance than man (In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a woman), but rather we all have different tasks to carry out to make the family unit work together as a whole. We must come to see our “roles” and the purpose of them in a whole new light! (Gen. 1:27, 31; 2:18, 21-24; 3:20) God’s Word is timeless! So before we throw something out, we must consider that perhaps it is not the Biblical idea we despise; but the wrong way the words have been defined and the distorted picture as it has been presented to us.
Our family was just watching the documentary “The Return of the Daughters” (something I would highly recommend for everyone to watch. God used it as an extreme encouragement and inspiration for me), and I was so pleased that they made it a point to bring out the fact that we are not to try to return to old-fashioned ways; but rather to simply obey what is written in God’s Word. God’s Word is just as alive and real today as it ever was! And it’s for us! I know people who have, in trying to do right, made modesty so much their focus that they didn’t have enough time to spend on serving others and things that really matter most to God. I know others who seemingly one day threw most everything they knew to be right and good away, and ran as fast as they could in the opposite direction. Maybe they never really did know how they should live in the first place. I was shocked and sometimes a little hurt to see this response, but can understand it, and Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun”.
We can look back on both good and bad time periods of history. Going backwards is not a permanent solution in and of itself. However, running to embrace everything our modern culture promotes is not the answer either. With almost any belief we hold to, there are pitfalls to either extreme. (The man who fears God will avoid all extremes – Ecc. 7:18) Trusting God to keep us balanced is extremely important, and can only be done by continually re-focusing on Him. (Ps. 37:4) We must base our ideas on God’s Word, instead of our thoughts and what we’ve heard (Prov. 2:6.) If you don’t know why you believe what you believe, or why it matters that you believe it; you have nothing to fall back on. If you are doing something because someone suggested it to you; then you will likely not be able to hold on to it forever; it has no foundation. You will be blown about by every new idea that you hear. (James 1:5-8; Acts 17:21)
I don’t want to get sidetracked or too carried away talking about the downhill slide of American culture that I have witnessed in my short lifetime already. Femininity is so lost to America and American women, that it is difficult to know how, or where, to begin. It makes me very sad to see the changes around me that have taken place just since I was a child – sometimes it seems like a different place altogether. It scares me to realize the direction we are going towards, and how quickly we are getting there. Even when I was a little girl, families still stayed together for the most part, little children still looked and behaved like children, homosexuality was not an accepted lifestyle and would never be incorporated into TV shows, violence was not so common, and so very many things were so different. Today families are falling apart, our society is increasingly immoral, and the world is starting to be a very crazy place to live in. I remember a time when the cell phone did not exist and the rare family had a computer at home. Kids were active and did most of their playing outside; they didn’t sit in the house for hours at a time staring at a computer or TV screen, checking myspace or playing video games. I watched the not-so-gradual change from no cell phones, to cell phones for some people, to cell phones for everyone, to the i-can’t-put-my-cell-phone-down-even-when-i’m-checking-out-at-the-store-syndrome. I look at young kids today flipping their cell phones open every few seconds and am concerned that they may not realize things weren’t this way even a few very short years ago. I remember when the cell phone first came out and I thought it was so neat that people could be able to reach you if you weren’t home, or to have a conversation if you weren’t talking to someone else already, but that changed to the point where many people feel they cannot be without their phone. Please don’t get me wrong: I am not on an anti-technology campaign. I do not believe that the advancement of technology is to blame; but rather man’s tendency to put their trust in that technology. It is possible to live surrounded by these things and still live lives that are pleasing to God. America has made a conscious choice to throw out God and His Word and trust in our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). We can use things for good or evil. We can choose to view them as tools we use to accomplish a purpose, or we can make the choice to be consumed by them. If we spend our days sidetracked, absorbed, and carried away by the distractions of our culture, that is not good. Among young people, there seems to be very little, if any, focus on the things that really matter. We are promised by God that, over time, our world will become a darker and darker place. We must be shining lights, or stars ? (Matt. 5;14-16)
You may ask, how does all this tie in with femininity? It is, to me, just an extension of these thoughts. I remember the first time I saw a baby Gap outfit that was just adorable; the first of “miniature adult” outfits I had ever seen . I was excited to think there were now actually “baby” clothes that really didn’t look exactly like baby clothes! How fun! Sadly, it wasn’t long before the line between child and adult was crossed with provocative clothing as well. My heart was truly saddened when I started seeing something new; young girls under 10 walking through the store, with big attitudes, clothes meant to attract, playing at being grown up without knowing how, talking on their phones about nothing important and already giggling about boys… That is now the norm; but seeing young girls and little people with their minds already so obviously consumed with trying to attract (apparent by their clothes, walk, and general attitude), still breaks my heart. Girls try to imitate what our culture holds up in an adult woman without really being old enough to know what they are doing. Little people today are so preoccupied with trying to be little adults that they miss the opportunity to be children. What would be called “modest” clothing for young girls today, would have just been normal not very many years ago. It actually was hard to find indecent children’s clothing. When my older sister and I were growing up, all stores that sold clothing sold both children’s clothes and adult clothes. Little girls had a chance to be little girls. Provocative clothing, purposely indecent, was only made for those “old enough” to make the choice to wear it.
Think of the conflicting things we hear and messages we send out daily. We want to be our own “unique” person who God has made us to be; and yet often, as women, we make efforts to be more like men instead, and throw out and sacrifice every God-given thing that makes us uniquely different as women from men! In many aspects, it sometimes seems as if we have forgotten to be “ladies” altogether. I hear so many girls say that men “have one thing in mind”, when that “one thing” is the “one thing” that most girls are bringing to the front of men’s minds by the way they present themselves. How ironic that American women are supposedly “proving” to men that they are worth much more and can do much more than just be objects to look at, while they make every effort to dress (or not to) in a way that is hard for men to ignore? How can we expect men to appreciate what is inside of us and be focused on that, when what we put in front of them portrays exactly the opposite message? Most of the time they are accused of looking at something that would be impossible not to notice. What do girls today expect? If we want to be respected, we must live respectively. When I read in the Bible about having a quiet spirit, the first thing that comes to mind for me, is not the contrast of louder voice in volume than a softer one; but rather a loud-spirited woman, the woman our culture promotes – whose purpose is based around trying to attract. When I think about what our culture has recently degraded into, it is, in a word, sexual. Though I wish I could use another word, that is the only one that captures it adequately, which is so sad. In America, almost any excuse for indecency will do. Ads, clothing, and visual media are all focused around it, though a short time ago this was not the case. There would be no excitement in following celebrity’s lives, if it wasn’t centered around “who is with (or no longer with) who”. When there is no scandal, one is invented. I know I’ve already used this verse in a previous article; but it really made sense of beauty vs. its misuse to me: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” – (Prov. 11:22) God created beauty, therefore it is not the beauty He despises, but the misuse and perversion of it being used for wickedness! God really used this verse in my life to answer some of the questions in my heart on this issue.
My younger sisters and I were recently discussing with our friend the issue of dress in a very general sense. She made the statement that dressing to truly please God, just as living to please Him, must come from your heart and overflow; or it will be a failure and not a success. That is so true, and I think it applies to all of life. In our discussion, the point came up that we had seen some Amish girls and also women in appropriate church dress clothes (at different times) who we all considered to be decent, but yet somehow indecent. True femininity, in the right sense, involves the way we enter a room, our manner of speech, body language, and most importantly our heart and spirit; as it definitely shines through. There is a way to be friendly without being flirty, and I think we all know what that means for ourselves in our personal lives. How we use dress, or our purpose in dressing, ties in as well. I remember a part from the book “Boy Meets Girl” (sequel to I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris) that stayed with me. The statement was made that dressing attractively is different from dressing to attract. A lot of the difference is in our hearts. We must constantly make sure our hearts are right before the Lord.
Femininity hardly ends at dress, however. While we live in a world where all of our individual attempts at decency are mocked; trying to live out a feminine lifestyle is cruelly ridiculed with much more vehemence because it flies in the face of what Satan is trying to do and succeeding: tearing the family apart. One of the very most important ways of being feminine is fulfilling the tasks of a woman of God. There are so many opportunities for creative outlet right in the home, where God has put us! This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever leave our homes to go anywhere, but that the home is the base out of which the things we are doing stem. All our activities involve, and revolve around, the home. It is a large and important task to make our homes into sheltering, welcoming places of hospitality and to keep them running well; at the same time trying to continually serve others and accomplish as much of Proverbs 31 as we possibly can.
The only way, and the only time, these tasks and the words “in the home” will sound demeaning or less than what we “could” have, is when we accept our culture’s viewpoint and adopt it as our own. I know from my own experience it is hard not to feel ashamed when faced with the onslaught of normal questions: “You never went to college?! Why? What do you do all day? You still live at home? Isn’t it about time you took responsibility for yourself? Wow! That’s great for you girls; but what about your parents?” These questions can make you feel irresponsible, immature, and inadequate but we need not accept man’s opinion. It takes strength that only God can give to stand tall for what you believe in today’s world, where anything different from what is accepted is unacceptable. It helps me to speak with conviction and not falter when I remember that our society, the families of America falling apart, is not an accident; but is rather the goal of humanism which has been taught and handed down for several generations now. What should make us feel more confident, man’s approval or God’s? (Ecc. 12:13-14) Living life as the woman God created you to be, instead of the man he has not created you to be, is an extremely important task that can make a huge difference not only for your family, but all those who are affected by it.