Saturday, November 2, 2013

Strong Women And Strong Men

My husband and I are watching Alias right now, which is a spy show starring Jennifer Garner. Can we talk about strong female leads? This chick makes me want to learn karate (and makes me wish I could memorize complex codes at first glance-- that would come in handy with biblical languages!) In short, she's a power-female saving the world, and we like it. We get excited when these women's stories are told, when their irreplaceable contributions in beating the bad guys are celebrated (think Eowyn defeating the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings), when they get some prime screen time doing their part to save the world. 

We like feisty female characters. This is one of the reasons I was intrigued to see the Disney movie Brave, which was about a Scottish princess who preferred shooting a bow and arrow to lacing up corsets. I wanted to see how a "tomboy" (for lack of a better word) princess would be depicted and what "finding her place" in her royal family would look like. But Brave disappointed me, not because they were unfair in their depiction of wild-haired tomboys (if there's one thing Disney always gets right, it's memorable hair), but because I felt they were unfair in their depiction of regular boys. The main male character in the movie, her dad, was basically a big buffoon who kept messing things up. One subliminal message I felt they were communicating was, "Good thing the women are around to make sure the men don't mess everything up."

It reminded me that there is a sad polarity at work in our world: either women are sidelined, forced into a tiny box (or corset), treated as insignificant and unable to help "save the world" (enter Jennifer Garner), or they prove themselves as people to be taken seriously, and suddenly men get shoved into the box. Somehow the realization that there are strong princesses results in the depiction of doofus Kings. It seems that often the subliminal message is someone has to be on top; so in order to get there, men and women step on each other. 

I've wrestled with this polarity in various ways as a young woman, whose hair-- though not quite wild enough for Disney, is a little unkempt-- and who wants to help save the world. Growing up, I ingested certain messages about a woman's intelligence, competence, and value, and they deeply rattled my confidence. Then when I began to realize some of those messages weren't true, when I began to get a sense of my own strength and courage, I wondered if that would scare off a man. Though subconsciously, I bought the lie that Disney sold: strong women means weak men. I thought I needed to "tone down" my own strength-- that I had to take the "power" out of power-female-- in order not to threaten the strong man I wanted. Mercifully, I met a man who impressed and inspired me with his own greatness, but who didn't ask me to stuff mine in a box. I met a King who was attracted, not threatened, by my feistiness, and who actually helped me feel secure enough to live into all that God created me to be. Unkempt hair and all.   

The Bible helps me to make sense of this. It's the story of our humanity, and it starts in a Kingdom where royal men and women stand side by side in their glorious calling to steward the world on God's behalf. And when sin got involved, guess what was one of the first things to go? It's actually spelled out, right there in Genesis, that a broken creation means one in which men and women will try to step on each other. Sin wreaked havoc on our relationship with God and therefore also with each other; the result is a tension between the genders that is still felt from Saudi Arabia to North America. 

But the story goes on to introduce Jesus Christ, who came to set things right. He took the brokenness of creation onto Himself on the Cross, and battled the sin that disfigured the people He loved. And He won. He rose to new life-- a life victorious over the dark forces that turned a loving partnership between men and women into a nasty competition to get ahead. He now lives beyond the brokenness of gender wars, and invites all to share in that life through trusting in Him. 

The story of the Bible has helped me to realized that because of sin, the tension I felt and still feel as a woman-- the polarity depicted in movies, in stories from friends, and on the news-- is real. And yet, the Bible also helps me to realize that because of Jesus, it doesn't have to be that way. Through my study of God's Word in the Bible and through my experience of God's word in the love of my husband, I've slowly began to realize is that it doesn't have to be a competition. There can be strong women and strong men, and nobody need get stepped on. 

That is good news for Scottish princesses and their dads, and it's good news for me.

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