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November 20, 2007

What Our Femininity Means

Femininity has gone through the ringer.

I asked a group of Christian college students from the University of Boulder to explain femininity. They used words like catty, submissive, quiet, modest, emotional, weaker and lesser. With such a definition would you rush to claim your feminine identity? Even women like my grandmother who can out-tailor, knit, embroider, cook, clean, hostess, decorate, and shop most women don't like being called "feminine." When I asked her why, she said, "That word reminds me of feminine products." Oh dear.

I remember learning to act feminine. Like when my first grade P.E. teacher told me stop hanging upside down on the monkey bars: "If you are not wearing shorts under your skirt, everyone can see your underwear."

"I don't mind," I told her.

"You need to act feminine, Jonalyn."

The benefits of modesty aside, femininity became a new way to behave, a role I played, a corset I wrapped around my soul and tightened down to get approval. Femininity quickly became something I did to get what I needed or wanted in life. It was something to use, not something I owned.

I don't think this is what God intended when he created Woman. In Genesis 1 God wanted to splash more of the Trinity onto Earth. So God made Man and Woman to mirror his image (Gen 1:27). Femininity in its truest, original sense was one way God's image appeared, and this image was not weak, catty, emotionally crazy, or inferior because God is none of these things. Femininity wasn't a role Eve played to get what she needed; femininity was part of who she was. Even after Eden, as broken image bearers, we reflect God. If a child is humble, she mirrors her God. If a man is gentle, he mirrors his God. If women are feminine in the original sense, we reflect our God.

I've been writing about femininity for five years. I've been studying and watching women because I want to see how deep femininity goes. Hearing from readers I've been surprised by two things. The first is that few women know what it means to be, not just act, feminine. The second, few women feel free to go to God with a blank journal page asking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to inform their womanhood. We are too easily pleased, too quick to assign ourselves someone else's checklist of so-called Biblical Womanhood and congratulate ourselves when we can check a majority of the categories. We grasp at words like "captivating" and "beauty," forgetting to pause and ask if these are true of all women or unique from all men. Or, we might try to be "as good as a man" as if fallen men are the standard for woman. Many women doubt the value of their femininity, fearful that it isn't a badge of honor, or a mark of the Creator on their soul.

The greatest compliment I've received was from one reader who, upon finishing my book, immediately wrote out two pages of questions wrestling with what it meant for her to be feminine.

What makes you feminine? Is it what you wear, your curves, your uterus, your make-up, your hair color, your beauty? Is it tied into how other people make you feel? Is it linked to being captivating or romanced? Is femininity what you do? What if all the roles you play, from daughter to sister to aunt to wife to mother to grandmother were stripped away? What if you lost your right breast to cancer? What if you discovered you were infertile? Are you still feminine?

If femininity is a unique badge of honor from our God, a way we mirror our God on earth, we don't need to remain ignorant or afraid of what femininity might mean for us.

God called Woman a very good thing. It's time to discover why.


Being feminine for me has nothing to do with being "captivating" or "romanced." I just enjoy being female, and it's not wrapped up in wearing makeup which I wear little to none of, preferring to let the natural beauty God created me with to shine through. I usually dress up for church and other events calling for something other than my preferred blue jeans. My awesome husband of over 27 years has said that we both wear the pants in the family--they just look/fit better on me. I also dress up in my female clergy clothing when engaging in my vocation of pastor/chaplain. But these outer coverings do not make me feel any more feminine. I have worked on cars, done construction type work, mowed lawns, owned 2 businesses, and done other things like pastoring 2 churches that certain branches of the church consider male things, but none of these has ever made me feel any less of a woman--I was just exercising God given talents and His calling. I am also a mother of 2 grown children, but don't consider those who don't or can't have children any less of a woman or feminine. I guess I enjoy being a woman just because I was born one and am comfortable in my own skin.

First I agree with Rev. Carlene. I can't have children, and I do not feel any less like a woman because of it. My response was too long for a comment, so I wrote a here.

Very interesting article. Thinking about it, I guess my femininity is just one of many, many things that make up me. I really don't think about or grapple with being feminine; I just work on being myself, being the person God made me to be.

I'm so curious about why Christian women (usually those associated with influence or leadership) disparage the wonderful book, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge. All the quotes around the terms captivating, romance, etc. are telltale giveaways of the disdain running through the female Christian community for the concepts and thoughts espoused by that book. Why are those concepts threatening? Or viewed as somehow demeaning? Before we can really tackle femininity, maybe we should first deal with issues like security, wholeness and comfort with who we are.

I also have to say that I'm beginning to notice a common pattern in the blogs by women on this leadership site. There's an undercurrent that puts down certain types of women, or those who hold certain views. I'm concerned about that because I thought the idea of this site was to build up and encourage women, not make judgements about women who enjoy crafts, raising children, home parties, being romanced, or romancing.

Be careful, ladies.


I don’t believe those who dislike “Captivating” are judging women “who enjoy crafts, raising children, home parties, being romanced, or romancing.” The problem is that “Captivating” assumes that their explanation of “what women want” is normative. It presents a one-dimensional view of what a “Christian woman” is “supposed” to be.

While some women follow God’s call by throwing home parties, other women follow God’s call by forsaking their homes to minister in refugee camps. While some women express their God-given creativity in home crafts, other women may express their God-given creativity by crafting public policy. And while some women would be thrilled to be romanced, others more deeply desire to be influential in our culture.

To point out that “Captivating” is one-dimensional and incomplete is not putting down certain types of women. “Captivating” judges and puts down women because it doesn’t recognize the full spectrum of what God has called women to do and be.

((There's an undercurrent that puts down certain types of women, or those who hold certain views. ))

Chandra is entitled to her opinion and I am sorry that she feels "put down" or otherwise offended by this blog.

I think this site does indeed build up and encourage women by striving to engage as many women as possible on several different levels while attempting to transcend some of the more common stereotypes and assumptions on the topic. IMHO, this site provides a welcome balance to what has too often been a one-sided, lop-sided, or myopic view of women's ministries.

For those of us who are tired of the "one size fits all" approach to women's ministries and related discussions or issues, candid, constructive dissent and differences of opinion can be healthy, productive, challenging and invigorating. In other words, a "breath of fresh air."

BTW, I take issue with categorizing the Eldredge's fine book, "Captivating," as "one-dimensional." As a former aerospace professional-turned SAH mom, I found "Captivating" to be as "full spectrum" as you can get.

Hi, I've read your wonderful words and they do make me feel better. I'm at my wits end - its unbeleavable but I'm 48 and I'm still struggling with this issue of "feminine". I'm a mother of two grown up kids, I've been a model and I'm not ugly, not fat. Unfortunately my spouse keeps telling me that I don't have what other women have. He cannot say what that is!!!! Its endless, I'm so desperate, I've just had my breasts redone. I try so hard, but I feel that I'll never get there. Please help Just even a kind word will do.

A rose and a male perspective; I am a man.I want to fix,create,go faster and cook. I love growing roses. They need most of the same things that humans need;water,air food,care etc but once the rose forms it's bloom it is beautifully feminine. It can be wild or cultured,exquisite or quaint.It can be hardy or impossible to keep happy.They blush,faint,have thorns,smell wonderful and speak words to others that men could never express themselves.In the fall they grow hips and in winter they hope for spring.They inspire poets and encourage broken hearts.Hopefully you can see yourself in a rose.You'll see God too.

ladyjane remember the verse being foolish they compared themselves among themselves. The standard is God and God made each human individual, unique, awesome, fearfully and wonderfully created period

On the topic of femininity I think that we have lost what was once assumed. None of the councils of the church that articulated the faith delivered once for all touched on any theology of sexuality.

The best Christian anthropologies were written by Gregory and Basil the Capadocians.

As in everything to understand the truth about anything we need to start with the person and nature of the Godhead. When we become closely connected to God, "partakers of the divine nature" or "filled with all the fullness of God" which is an eternal process then we will image God in the unique way each of us is made to.

Men and Women image God differently. They are equal but unique. The passage about Christ is the head of man is the head of woman, with head understood better as source I believe casts a light on this deep mystery.

In the great dance of life men and women in their interaction show the creator creation relationship for our own edification and it definitely has a pedagogical aspect and when this relationship is clearly portrayed in our interactions it is salvific for those around us as it allows them to see God.

Roles attitudes and all these things should flow from a God filled life. So seek God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, find your place in His Holy body, pray without ceasing and you will know what femininity is and in particular what your unique form of femininity is.

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