biblical egalitarianism, biblical equality, Body of Christ, Christ, community, diversity, equality, faith, feminism, gender, God, hope, incarnation, objectification, peace, racism/classism/sexism, redemption, relationships, sacrament, Victoria's Secret
Please see my post The Crime of Virtuous Objectification: Part 1
Proverbs 31 is a beautiful poetic letter from a mother to a son, but the standards of a virtuous wife are impossible to live up to. It is impossible even to approximate.
Instead of focusing on impossibly flawless skin, flat abdomens, and giant breasts hanging out of skimpy pieces of lace, the focus is on impossibly flawless housekeeping, impeccable promotion of her husband’s interests, selfless parenting, immense productivity, and absolutely no sleep. Instead of defining a woman by how she lives up or down to our expectations of her appearance, we define her by how she lives up or down to our expectations of her performance.
For men, this is an insidious switch. We think we are so much better than worldly men because we are not worried about what our women look like; we are only worried about whether or not they perform up to expectations. We agree beauty is vain (but it would be nice if they looked good in an apron while doing housework, and not too tired when we get home from sitting in the city gates, purple is a great color…).
But we still place the women beneath us. We still control them. We still deny their full and equal humanity. We tell them what it is that defines their essence, their being, their worth, their identity. We bind them with ropes made out of our “pure and lofty” ideals, and feel good about ourselves in the process.
For women, these chains are placed by men, but also by the church which encourages women to bind themselves. Women then enforce this bondage on themselves, each other and their daughters. Because the church continues to teach its ideals for women from isolated passages, while it ignores the vast and progressive sweep of scripture, women are told if they want to be in line with God’s will, they must adhere to these rules. They must be perfect in ways defined for them by men (or a possessive mother-in-law…). To violate the standards men have set is to incur the wrath of God.
All of this defining of women as either Victoria’s Secret models or Proverbs 31 women falls back into the classic dichotomy of the virgin or the whore. When we deny people full humanity there is no middle ground. You are either a virgin or a whore; you can’t simply be a human. You can’t be someone who hurts, loves, chooses, is frightened, hopes, or dreams. You can’t be a person who needs love and redemption like everyone else.
The real question is what do we do instead? What is the solution to the dichotomization and dehumanification?
This problem is nothing new, we see even from the earliest humans – Adam and Eve – the roots of this divide. And it is in the new Adam that we find the answer.
Christ assumed humanity. The early church mothers and fathers taught that what Christ did not assume, he could not redeem (see my earlier post for a bit more discussion on this topic).
While I recognize what I am going to say next may sound almost like heresy, here it goes. If Christ assumed all of humanity, that means he assumed everything that is essentially female along with everything that is essentially male. His incarnation eliminated the barriers between men and women. His life, death, and resurrection brought us into unity with himself and with each other, male and female.
Instead of placing burdens on those who are joined to us in Christ, we can joyfully serve together in the freedom of Christ. Instead of treating women as only having worth if they meet some objectifying standard, whether it is physical beauty or virtuous industry, we must recognize that all people have intrinsic worth in their humanity and through the redeeming work of Christ. Christ’s life shows us that inhabiting a gendered body is not the defining characteristic of our lives. The grand and beautiful truth is regardless of our gender Christ calls us to be disciples, he calls us into God’s family, he calls us into reconciling service, and he sends us out to participate in the re-creation of the world.
When, and only through the grace and mercy of Christ, we can look at each other with new eyes and hearts, we will see the image of Christ, the unity of the body of Christ, and the hope of Christ.