On Being “Feminine”


A few years ago — after celebrating a friend’s birthday a little too hard — I found myself waiting in line for a late-night hot dog. Luckily, I was next to a man waxing eloquent about how women who got married had “settled.”

They’ve given up on life, just so they don’t have to be alone,” he patiently explained to me.

And he, “no offense,” felt sorry for the collective “us.”

Cue the Gene Wilder eye-roll meme: “Oh, you’ve never been in a long-term relationship but have lots of thoughts on married women? Tell me more.

I wish I could say I dressed him down with my fledgling feminist ideals. Instead, I boldly exclaimed to everyone in line that I was a strong, independent woman satisfied with her life, and could prove it by … buying everyone’s hot dogs.

Days and, obviously, years after I my Oprah-like awarding of free wieners on everyone in line, I wondered why this man’s comments had bothered me so much.

Coming of age in the Bible Belt, you’re routinely reminded how meek, submissive, and ladylike a young woman should be. In middle school, I attended not one, but two Bible studies in which the female leaders explained demurely that sex was made for a man’s pleasure, and that it was the woman’s responsibility to “keep his candle from going out.” Because these are apparently still important lessons we must teach young women in the 21st century.

The year I graduated high school, women in Middle America collectively raised their voices (at an appropriately ladylike level) to rejoice the recently published book, “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul.” It was a beacon of virgin-white light to young Christian girls everywhere. And, with my own dog-eared copy in tow, I launched myself into freshman year determined to find a husband who would ladle “intention” on me like holy water.

A woman is a warrior too. But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way,” the authors write. “We think you’ll find that every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty. That’s what makes a woman come alive.

If you think these are platitudes best reserved for two hours on Monday nights when Chris Harrison emerges from a dark hallway, clinks his crystal of doom, and declares this “the most dramatic season ever,” you’d be right. But these words. These opinions, garishly painted as truth and scripture, are what aided in forming my view of femininity and relationship.

What bothers me isn’t the book itself. It’s not the small group leaders. It’s not even the parade of men who prayed for my purity, my gentleness, and my servant’s heart throughout high school and college. It’s the doctrine that pushed this and other ultimatums on the men and women it raised so faithfully. These opinions plagued and poisoned me as I grew up, started dating, and struggled to develop my own ideas of self-worth, purpose, and, yes, femininity.

Telling young women they should chase divine adventures while being “uniquely feminine” is confusing, demeaning, and stunted my views on what a healthy relationship — both with myself and with men — should be for quite some time.

The idea that my soul was biologically looking for a man who could “handle it gently” created a false sense of frantic necessity. Instead of reading books that told me to explore myself, know what I wanted, and be OK alone — I got books telling me to have roommates while I was single so I wouldn’t get too used to living alone. I read pages telling me my purpose on earth was twofold: to love God, and to find my other half — a man who I would serve, and who would take care of me in return.

This blog is my truth. It’s not meant to represent anyone else’s. But as I think about how I would approach the idea of femininity with a daughter of my own, or what I would tell the 17-year-old version of myself desperately trying to be “worth pursuing,” or even what I would tell my 26-year-old, hot-dog-bestowing self — I’d like to think I’d tell her that no man gets to dictate which of her choices she’s “settled” for. That being “feminine” means owning and wielding empowerment that comes from deep within. That adventures are just as fulfilling alone as they are alongside an equal. And that she doesn’t have to wait for anyone to unveil her beauty. It’s already there. Just for her.

Oh, and I’d make that boy in the hot dog line pay for his own damn wiener.