The dilemmas of womanhood

Navigating the world of womanhood is hard. As a 20 year old, I haven’t been doing it for very long, but so far it hasn’t been particularly straightforward.

Wherever I turn, I am confronted with contradiction. Every day is a walk along a very fine line between opposing worldviews. Society- or at least the minority that work in media and claim to represent society- endeavours to tell me what, as a woman, I’m supposed to be.

Let’s start with appearance. Fashion mags airbrush celebrities until they’re unrecognisable, suggesting that looking like a plastic mannequin is definitely the way to go. They advertise beauty products that you absolutely need because God forbid you’re pretty enough without them, and they instruct you to wear orange this season, because if you don’t, you’re obviously a social reject. You should also be thin, but not too thin because then you must have an eating disorder. Yet articles about eating disorders often appear in the very magazines that contribute to a woman’s insecurity in the first place.

Films and TV tell you exactly what kind of life to live- this job, these friends, that boyfriend. If you’re not having some kind of dramatic relational crisis, your life is just too boring.

Wanting to study and have a fulfilling career is all well and good, but what happens if and when you decide its time to start a family? Or what if you don’t want a family? Or, what if you don’t want a job? It seems no matter what you do, people will judge your choices.

The music industry suggests that if you ever want to become a singer, removing most of your clothing is a guarantee to success. Doesn’t matter if you’re tone deaf- auto-tune will take care of that.

Here’s something that grabbed my attention. A concert in aid of women’s rights was aired on the BBC last week. Florence did an enjoyable turn of belting out power tunes and prancing about in an ethereal dress, and then JLo took the stage. In the midst of a concert for women’s rights, her fishnets and thigh high boots seemed a little contradictory.

Now some would argue that women’s rights are about choice- doing what you want, instead of being dictated to or hindered by misogynistic expectations and objectification. I don’t completely disagree. But JLo isn’t the only one who performs in skimpy clothing. It seems the majority of female pop stars do it; even Beyonce, the world’s poster child for wealth, status and female empowerment. Beyonce is beautiful, confident and talented. She doesn’t need to dress provocatively to gain applause (if she does, she’s singing to the wrong crowd). But my point is, shouldn’t B’s success rest on her talent alone? Are you really empowered if you’re feeding into societal pressures in order to be valid?

A year ago on my old blog, I wrote about modesty. I think it’s important and my views remain largely unchanged. Yet unfortunately, there’ll still be men who whistle, honk and yell out of car windows, stare unashamedly and feel entitled to comment as women walk past. It seems there’s no way to escape being made to feel that your worth as a human is being undermined. This problem, it turns out, also exists within the Church. A blogger I read wrote this Painfully honest and shockingly sad, she describes her experiences of being made to feel ashamed of her body and clothing when a man’s lust and lack of self control have been to blame. Please read it if you have time. Thankfully, I’ve been in wonderful churches where this has never been a problem, but to know that these things do happen is so disappointing.

Still with reference to the Church, who can forget the classic women in leadership question? I’ve heard several different viewpoints on the issue from one extreme to the other. It’s not that the issue hinders my experience of church in any way. However, it’s confusing when people with opposing stances on the matter all seem convinced that they are right.

I’ve yet to form a definitive opinion on women in leadership, but I do know that several women who are influential in the Christian media have had a huge impact on my faith. I know that God gives us qualities that He can use to honour and serve Him, and that obeying Him will always be right, no matter what everyone around you is saying. It can be hard to drown out the other voices though; hard to figure out who exactly God is calling you to be, instead of modelling yourself on others.

I’m not quite a raging feminist; I advocate equal pay and that sort of thing, but although I find the world of feminist academia interesting, I don’t agree with it all. In the Western world, women have a lot of rights now. But I think we women can get caught up in demanding our rights, even when it comes to issues within the Church. It’s what Western culture has trained us to do; to gratify our own wishes. This selfish mentality has infiltrated every aspect of our culture; even to serious subjects like abortion, where some believe it’s their right to abort. That’s obviously another issue, but I guess with rights comes responsibility. With the freedom to choose, we must accept the consequences.

Life is full of grey areas, and these are just my observations; I’m still far too young and naive to try and come to any sort of conclusion on these issues. I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are!

Note: To any guys who were brave enough to read this- please know that you are wonderful, and the examples I used were (probably) in no way geared towards you.

OK. I’m done now. Thanks for getting through this ridiculously long post.

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