“You need to go back to college, Pastor, that is where real women find husbands.” The word “Pastor” flew out dripping with passive aggressive hostility; making it clear – if there was any doubt – that insecurity was the force behind the discomfort that settled over an otherwise pleasant evening among friends. I suppose the angry young man did have valid grounds for directing his fire my way. I had, after all, had the chuzpah to go to a college world-renowned for its excellent MRS. degree, and graduated with nothing more than a BS and admittance to a top graduate school.
Life was tough for him these days, and he was angry. He felt the need to take it out on someone. He further felt the need to make it clear that he was a man who had proposed to his wife in college. Thus, he was a goal. Thus, he was what every woman longed to have. Thus, he should not need to feel threatened by a woman who had chosen to live her life differently. “You better hurry up,” he continued, “you’ve only got a few years left until you are a high risk pregnancy.” The world breeds all kinds of bullies – some of them more socially acceptable than others.
He seemed to feel the need to assert that he was not less than me; that he was in a completely different category from me and always would be regardless of whatever I might ever offer the world. He was a man. He was not in competition with me; he was in fact – in his own eyes – the prize I ought to seek.
His line of attack brought to mind Beyonce’s new CD; in particular her sampling from the highly favored words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
We teach girls to shrink themselves To make themselves smaller We say to girls “You can have ambition But not too much You should aim to be successful But not too successful Otherwise you will threaten the man.” Because I am female I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices Always keeping in mind that Marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of Joy and love and mutual support But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage And we don’t teach boys the same. We raise girls to view each other as competitors Not for jobs or for accomplishments Which I think can be a good thing But for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings In the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the Social political and economic equality of the sexes.
I’ve always figured that the good Lord made me small enough to begin with, I was not about to volunteer to become smaller for anyone but that good Lord. Neither was I willing to be weaker, less gifted, less independent, less of a leader.
We say we don’t want people to hold themselves back. Yet, when we perpetuate the kind of culture that Adichie speaks about, we do exactly that – we ask people to be less. To want less, to achieve less, to earn less, to desire less, to enjoy less, to be less so that someone else is not threatened by the wholeness of all that you can be. Yet, in making any individual less, the wholeness of us all is diminished.
When I was a teenager, I made the commitment to God that our relationship was primary. I was the strange kind of youth who would read Oswald Chambers and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and ponder how to offer my utmost for his highest and how to endure the cost of discipleship while wandering in the woods. The way that that played out in my life was that it made me incredibly resistant to diminishing, to lessening, to weakening, to shrinking; because to do so I would not only be letting myself down, I would be hurting my relationship with God.
I serve a big God, and I know that when I am small, God, God’s love, and God’s calling remain unchanged. I would rather entrust my life and future to God’s hands than anyone else’s. I would rather be the person God is making me into than what anyone else would tell me I need to be, should be, have to be, or will wish I had been.
Do not assume that everyone wants what you want, and do not impose a problem where one does not exist. Few gifts are so noxious as the offering of unsolicited and undeserved pity.
Maybe God has someone who will make me feel bigger instead of smaller, who will expand me rather than compress me. Maybe God has someone who is brave enough to step up and find out that my walls are really doors if you know how to open them.
Maybe I can be content either way, because that is not what is most important to me. Maybe I refuse to submit to a culture that tells women that one thing is more important than anything else. In its gentlest forms, we call it good natured ribbing; in its crueler forms, it can be used by men like the one I described to remind a strong and self-possessed woman of her place.
Fortunately, I’ve never looked to others to tell me where my place ought to be. I honestly believe the only place for me is where God wants me to be. I know that God has strengthened my feet through a difficult journey, so that they might be able to grow roots, gripping deep into the earth, whenever the world tries to knock me off my square.
Never shrink sisters. The world needs all you have to offer.