March 6, 2015

The Humanly Impossible Standards of Christian Femininity (And Masculinity too, but mostly Femininity)

If femininity is wearing dresses, blouses, skirts, make-up, jewelry, and heels (or hijabs or saris), then a lot of women aren't feminine. If femininity is being soft spoken, demure, modest, shy, reserved, and meek, then a lot of women aren't feminine. If femininity is being a wife and mother, cleaning the house, and watching soap operas, then a lot of women aren't feminine.

One website I'm looking at says: "Femininity means having qualities or characteristics traditionally ascribed to women, (such) as sensitivity, delicacy, or prettiness" It says it's a dictionary definition, but the definitions I'm finding are less specific: "the quality or nature of the female sex" (Merriam-Webster.) One problem with trying to define something like femininity is that stereotypes tend to paint an unrealistic picture.

Think about it; 'The Princess and the Pea' is a testament to the concept of a sensitive woman. A Prince has searched the world over for a true princess, only to be disappointed every time. One day a woman happens to come to his castle to get out of the rain and stay the night. She claim to be a princess, but the Queen decides to test her by placing a pea under several mattresses. The next morning, she reports that she was unable to sleep well, she tossed and turned all night because there was something in her mattress. The overjoyed prince proposed on the spot because 'only a true princess would have had sensitivity.'

Even though the more desired trait is emotional sensitivity, our world isn't exactly an environment that fosters that. Even from youth, students in school have to figure out how to co-exist socially, to do that a high degree of emotional control is necessary; no one, boy or girl wants to be known as the crybaby or one who flies off of the handle at a moments notice because that little girl becomes the target of "Who can make her cry?" and other such games. Without a certain degree of desensitization, it would be difficult to deal with the news as of late. Not only that, but too much emotion in others is uncomfortable and tiresome, to be honest. 

Delicacy's definitions points to the definition of dainty: marked by delicate or diminutive beauty, form, or grace. You'll find many of these feminine words point back and forth to each other - one would call that circular in nature. It makes it a challenge to discern where the definition meets the description. Delicate also means 'fragile' - so 'fragile or small beauty'. Remember how beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Since beauty is: "a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight." There's really no way to make it fragile or small in nature as no matter what a woman does she will never know how others see her. 'Fragile or small form' is easier said than done - countless women have experienced eating disorders to try to maintain delicacy, risking their very health in the process. Our country is a super-sized one, big houses, big food, and subsequently, big men and women. It's something that most of us wouldn't notice unless we were put side by side next to our third-world counterparts. Americans are taller and weightier. "Fragile or small grace" that is, " a charming or attractive trait or characteristic" is also subjective - have you notice the pattern here? There must always be an outside observer to tell the woman that she is and has delicate beauty, diminutive form, and delicate grace; she really doesn't get to decide for herself if she is any of these things.

Prettiness is "pleasing by delicacy or grace, and having conventionally accepted elements of beauty, and appearing or sounding pleasant or nice but lacking strength, force, manliness, purpose, or intensity." Our secular world is constantly changing it's mind about beauty, smokey eyes are in one week and a flash of color in the next. Christianity's attitude has been more of - "if the barn needs paint, then paint it." Which means, don't wear make-up unless you need it. So that aspect of prettiness is out. Some of the fashions are also out because they're immodest. It sounds like the church is telling women to fulfill every worldly aspect of beauty but to not do it in a worldly way.

That's not even discussing the rest of the "feminine" traits of: gentleness, modesty, humility, sacrifice, supportiveness, empathy, compassion, tenderness, nurturance, intuitiveness, sensitivity, unselfishness. Some of them, by the way - are masculine too - soldiers support each other, are unselfish, and are no strangers to sacrifice, for example.
Christianity tends to call upon feminine stereotypes to tell teach Biblical Womanhood and Godly Femininity, they do that by declaring these things to be the opposite of Biblical Manhood and Biblical Masculinity. They forget that believers have common ground in christlikeness and to do that some elements of these teachings really don't fit in the light of that truth. If Christianity is not supposed to be like the world, then when it comes to femininity, it cannot rely on the world's definition. What is femininity without stereotypes? What is is truly beautiful that cannot change?

As it was explained to me, Christian femininity is embracing the roles that God designed into the world. Women are, first and foremost, wives and mothers. Except for women whose husbands cheated on them and divorced them, or women who are incapable of having children or whose husbands are incapable of fathering children. Look at the Psalms 31 woman, she is a wife and mother. Naomi was a wife and mother, Ruth married and had children, Esther was a wife who became a mother ... you'll find few examples of ladies who weren't one or both in Scripture.

Christian femininity is:

helping (which is gift of the Holy Spirit to build up the body of believers it is also given to men),
exhibiting graciousness (the verse here says 'kindness' which also is masculine),
living a pure life (true of men, too),
dressing modestly (Scripture specifically says 'not wearing expensive fashions' though it is taught as 'not wearing anything that causes a brother to stumble' - I don't see why guys shouldn't dress modestly as well),
developing a quiet and gentle spirit (How? Certain women have a lot of personality and no matter how much they try to stuff it in a jar or bury it, it tends to come back louder. The implication is that God made their femininity flawed in the first place and that they have to change, die to whatever uniqueness God created within them, to be biblically feminine),
submitting to your husband (so women who don't marry aren't feminine? I knew I'd find the core of the problem somewhere; women aren't women unless they're the wife of their husband and they submit to him),
and teaching the younger women (preferably Proverbs 31 so that they can work themselves to exhaustion from dawn until dusk trying to live up to a standard that cannot possibly exist in the modern world.)

But that's not all, there's more to it:

being virtuous,
being trustworthy,
being energetic,
being physically fit,
being economical,
being unselfish,
being prepared,
being honorable,
being prudent,
being loving
and fearing God.

What femininity is not, apparently: Embracing who you are as an individual, choosing your own fashions to your own tastes, selecting outfits that make you feel radiant, finding things to do that make you happy, searching for the one you love, taking care of yourself so that you can take care of those you love, knowing your limits, expanding your horizons, pursuing your passions, and being a whole person who is happy in your own skin.

I really do believe that it is an impossible standard to set for women, it is asking too much of them, way more than they should give. We all have freedom in Christ, freedom from expectations, freedom from being something we are not - this is true of men and women. Set your eyes on Jesus, and everything else will fade away. Trying to be the perfectly Christian feminine woman and biblical woman is a distraction from Jesus - the way, the truth, and the life.


  1. Too often we seem to focus on the supposed details and specifics of "Christian living." You put it very nicely: "Trying to be the perfectly Christian feminine woman and biblical woman is a distraction from Jesus - the way the truth, and the life." This could be said of the Christian masculine man, the Christian business owner, the Christian employee, the Christian father, mother, son, daughter, brother, etc. It's essential that we maintain focus on Jesus, keeping Him lord of our lives rather than various rules, laws, and regulations. After all, He is the source of all things and holds it all together. Let's not mistake worshiping creation for worshiping the creator.

  2. Dear Jamie, thank you for this post. Your post made me think and re-think about the essence of biblical womanhood and femininity.

    So often, I find myself being so "lazy" in thinking. Once I adhere one view or position, then, I tend to swallow them without really using my brain.

    Jamie, I have a question.

    "If Christianity is not supposed to be like the world, then when it comes to femininity, it cannot rely on the world's definition. What is femininity without stereotypes? What is is truly beautiful that cannot change?"

    How can we distinguish between "stereotypes" and "innate, God-given dispositions"?

    Oh, I have one more question, what do you think of the egalitarian view of man and woman?

    Thank you,

    1. I like the egalitarian view because it recognizes that the independent women of my family have just as much to contribute to the church. In the complementarian view, my grandparents aren't upstanding Christians because they were divorced and one of them re-married. In the complementarian view, my sister was wrong to flee her abusive husband. In the complementarian view, a single person is half of a whole and cannot contribute in any meaningful way until they are married. The egalitarians would say that men and women are equal and the leadership of the church falls on those with the gifts of the Holy Spirit regardless of their gender. So If my gift is teaching, I would be able to teach in an egalitarian church even though I am single. I would be forbidden from using my gift in a complementarian church because I am single. Either I can chose complementarianism and condemn my grandmother, step-grandmother, sister, and aunt, or I can realize that in this fallen world, complementarianism doesn't fit everyone.

      Take a moment to consider how different all of the women in the bible are - some are prophetesses, like Huldah and Anna, some are leaders like Deborah, Junia, and Phoebe. Mary and Martha were as different as night and day. There's also Lydia and Tabitha. Even Jael contributed and they didn't worry about being a woman or female in order to serve God; following God came first. Complementarianism seems to me to be the opposite, emphasizing being a married woman in order to follow Jesus. That's not what Jesus preached - he taught 'the Kingdom of God is at hand'. He said nothing about Biblical Manhood, Biblical Womanhood, Godly Masculinity or Godly Femininity.

    2. It looks like the first half of my post disappeared ... so I'll try again.

      God gave us a world with incredible variety trees, flowers, fish, birds - they don't all look the same or act the same. So too, humans are varied, in ways that we can see and in ways that we cannot see.

      Stereotypes are widely held and oversimplified, for that reason they're wrong. In my culture, the 'dumb blonde' stereotype causes people to make fun of all blondes, even the ones with degrees and high IQs. Are there any stereotypes of women in your society that do not describe you?

      A disposition is a tendency to act in a certain way. Being masculine or feminine isn't a disposition. Scientists say that by the age of three children have learned how to identify gender stereotypes - pink for girls, blue for boys. These are almost always cultural. The women of my family all have different dispositions - some to wear dresses, some to wear skirts, some to wear t-shirts and jeans, some to wear make-up, some to go without ... they're all different, but that does not mean that they are trying to be like men. There's not just one way to be a woman and there's not just one way to be a man.

      I remember watching a documentary where boys and girls of another culture were both being taught the proper way to clean their rooms. In my culture, cleaning has traditionally been the domain of women. My grandfather forbid his sons from cleaning their own rooms and often ordered his daughters to clean all the rooms, their own and their brother's. Even today, my brother is notorious about having an untidy room because it's beneath him to do woman's work. The Bible doesn't say which is the case. But because there is an emphasis on 'womanhood' the preachers tend to use our culture's concepts to fill in the blanks. My culture would emphasize that women ought to keep everything tidy and then men ought not to do so.

    3. Dear Jamie,
      Hello, how are you? I came back to your blog to say hi and to ask another question!

      I had an assumption that egalitarianism = Feminism, but after reading your writings, I started to think maybe that assumption was wrong. That's because it seems to me that though you like egalitarian view but you are not feminist, aren't you? (or,,,are you??)

      Christian feminists tend to adhere to egalitarian view but it does not mean all egalitarians are feminists, right? What do you think of it?

      Good night, Jamie. from Kinuko

    4. They do have similarities, namely in the emphasis on equality. They are not the same, Feminism is not coming from a religious perspective. It is true that not all Christian feminists are egalitarians, and not all egalitarians are feminists. In the last few decades, feminism has been painted as being opposed to Christian principles because of rights such as abortion. One thing that many complementarians don't like to admit is that their own marriages are functionally egalitarian or that they're non-hierarchical. I believe that each couple should be allowed to find whatever works for them, be it complementarianism, egalitarianism, or a mixture of the two - there's not one right way to manage a household or family. This website: is a favorite of mine, it's written from an Egalitarian perspective and has thoughts of both men and women. They have countless articles that explain their teachings far better than I can.

    5. Dear Jamie, good morning! Thank you so much for your reply. Your explanation regarding Feminism and Egalitarianism was useful. I had written something about Egalitarianism and Feminism on my Japanese blog but I must quote some of your sayings in order to make it clear to my readers that the two are not exactly the same.

      It was quite interesting to hear you say that "one thing that many complementarians don't like to admit is that their own marriages are functionally egalitarian or that they're non-hierarchical."

      To be very honest, sometimes, I observe that non-Christian Japanese couples are much more "complementarian" in essence than evangelical complementarians in the west. I think whatever the position we take, it is important to live up to it in our own lives.

      I'll go to visit the site which you mentioned. I really enjoy conversing with you, Jamie. I hope you think so, too! Kinuko

    6. Complementarianism is about as old as I am - it didn't exist in my grandfather's time. What we had before was patriarchy, which looks and sounds a lot like complementarianism. In both, men and women have specific roles. In both, a man's role is to lead his family and make decisions. Patriarchy exists even today all over the world. I'm not even sure what the difference is between the two of them.

  3. Hello, Jamie. Thank you so much for your reply. And thank you so much for sharing your family story.I am going to copy / paste your replies on my word document and read them carefully. (as you know, English is not my first language so I need more concentration in order to understand what you really want to say.)
    Have a blessed week! from Kinuko

  4. Dear Jamie. I came to your blog to say hello to you. How are you? I hope you are fine. May the Lord bless your life journey! from Kinuko

    1. Hello Kinuko, I'm doing very well. I have been looking into the part of Corinthians that many Christians believe to require women to be silent - - as it turns out, the prohibition is not in the Written Law, but part of the Oral Law referred to as Kol Isha. Generally, Christians would say that such a thing was cultural and specific to the Jewish Christians and therefore does not apply to us; however since most Christians refuse to accept cultural truths that are not written in Scripture; (the reason why Paul wrote what he wrote to the people he wrote it to) then too many believers only care about keeping women silent. I truly believe this is not what God intended of his family. He would want everyone to say whatever their hearts lead them to. That's what I've been thinking about. What about you? Where has this spiritual journey taken you to?

  5. Most of the virtues, fruit of the spirit and duties listed in that Portraying Christian Femininity article are UNISEX. Contrary to popular belief and teachings, they are not solely or primarily feminine.

    Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit (Ga 5:22). In the Bible, BOTH men and women, are instructed to practice gentleness: Tit 3:2, Eph 4:1-2, Col 3:12, Phi 4:4-5. In a couple of passages, men are specifically instructed to practice gentleness: 1 Tim 3:3, 1 Tim 6:11. Although gentleness is a UNISEX fruit of the spirit, unfortunately, you won't find nearly as much complementarian propaganda reminding Christian men to practice gentleness.

    Humility is a UNISEX virtue: 1 Pe 5:5-6, Col 3:12, Phil 2:3, Eph 4:2, Jam 4:10. Paul, a man, said that he served the Lord with great humility: Acts 20:19, 2 Cor 10:1. BOTH men and women are instructed to be humble.

    Once we become Christians, we are all soldiers in the army of the Lord. Husbands are called to make the ultimate sacrifice - love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Sacrifice is a UNISEX responsibility. In the Bible, husbands and wives are BOTH instructed to sacrifice for each other.

    Support means "to BEAR or hold up (a load, mass, structure, part, etc.); serve as a foundation for (" In the Bible, the congregation is commanded to BEAR one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). Being supportive and bearing one another's burdens is a UNISEX responsibility. BOTH men and women are instructed to do it.

    Empathy is the ability to UNDERSTAND and share the feelings of another. Husbands are commanded to live with their wives in an UNDERSTANDING way (1 Pet 3:7). Empathizing and understanding is a UNISEX responsibility. It has absolutely nothing to do with gender. Men and women are BOTH advised to seek understanding: Pr 4:5-7, Pr 1:5, Pr 11:12, Pr 14:29, Pr 15:21, Pr 17:27, Pr 20:5

    Compassion is a UNISEX virtue. In the Bible, Jesus, a man, is described as compassionate: Mat 14:14, Mar 6:34, Mar 8:2, Mat 20:34, Mat 15:32. BOTH men and women are instructed to be compassionate: Col 3:12, 1 Pe 3:8.

    Nurturing is the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone. Nurturing is a UNISEX responsibility. As Christians, we are instructed to ENCOURAGE one another and BUILD each other up (1 The 5:11).

    Being selfless is UNISEX responsibility. As Christians, we are told to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Phi 2:3-4)."

    I already addressed gentleness. Being quiet is a UNISEX responsibility. The Bible teaches that BOTH men and women should lead quiet lives and be slow to speak: Pr 11:12B, 1 Thes 4:9-11, 1 Tim 2: 1-4, Jam 1:19.

    Nearly all of the virtues and duties listed in that Portraying Christian Femininity article are UNISEX. They are not solely or primarily feminine. The problem with trying to label them as solely or primarily feminine is that it leaves women feeling overwhelmed, and it causes men to be lazy because they forget that they also have a God-given duty to walk in these virtues and fulfill these duties.

  6. The article stated that "Christian femininity is embracing the roles that God designed into the world. Women are, first and foremost, wives and mothers."

    Scripture tells us that woman was created as a Helper for man (1 Cor 11:9). However, that's only one facet of womanhood. Women are born into families and communities. Women are daughters, sisters, extended family members, neighbors and friends before they ever become wives and/or mothers. Like you referenced, some women never marry and/or become mothers.

    Theses ladies came from all walks of life: prostitution, unmarried, married, possibly divorced, some had children and some may have been childless. Regardless of their marital status and whether they had kids or not, each one of these virtuous ladies "embraced the role that God designed" for them and served their communities in incredibly significant and noteworthy ways.

    Esther risked her life in order to save the Jews. Book of Esther.

    Huldah was a prophet. King Josiah sought her help via royal messengers because he wanted her to tell him what God had to say about the discovery of the Book of the Law. 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22

    Lydia was a Christian and a merchant. She invited and urged Paul and other disciples to stay at her home. She allowed Paul and Silas to use her home for church meetings. Acts 16;12-15, 40 Phil 1:1-10

    Rahab was a prostitute. She hid the Israeli spies and refused to hand them over to her government's officials. She made a bargain with the Israeli spies thath would preserve her life and the lives of her family members. She gave the Israeli spies instructions about where and how to escape. She is part of Jesus' family tree. Her name is listed in the Hebrew hall of faith. Jos 2:1, 3, 6:17-25, Mat 1:5, He 11:31 Jam2:25

    The Midwives feared God and refused to obey the king's evil command. They refused to kill the newborn Hebrew boys. They were pro-lifers. God blessed the midwives and gave them children of their own. Ex 1:15-20

    Dorcas made garments for the widows in her community, and she helped the poor. Acts 9:36-43

    Phoebe was a deacon in the church of Cenchreae. She helped many people, including Apostle Paul. Ro 16:1-2

    Deborah was a judge and prophet in Israel. The Israelis came to her court, so she could decide their disputes. Villages in Israel were deserted, until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel. Judges chapters 4&5

    The Wise Woman of Abel was a skilled negotiator. She took initiative and negotiated a deal with the commander-in-chief of the Israeli army that saved her city from destruction. She was a woman of influence. The people in her community followed her advice concerning the negotiation. 2 Sam 20:16-22

    Women traveled with Jesus and the 12 disciples as they toured the cities and villages of Galilee. Some of those women provided financial support for Jesus and his disciples. Lu 8:1-3

    Anna was a prophet. She had been a widow for many years. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. She was a witness for Christ. Luke 2:36-38

    The Queen of Sheba traveled from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The pursuit of wisdom was very important to her. Jesus publicly acknowledged the Queen of Sheba's pursuit and appreciation for wisdom. During her lifetime, she sought the wisest person she knew - Solomon. However, when Jesus came to earth, he was greater than Solomon, but many of the people who encountered him failed to appreciate Christ as the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Ki 10:1-13, 2 Chr 9:1-12, Mt 12:42

    Sheerah built the cities of Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah. 1 Chr 7:24

    Jehosheba stole Joash away from the rest of the king's children, who were about to be killed. She hid him from the murderous Athaliah for 6 years. Jehosheba risked her life in order to help preserve “The Seed Royal,” for had Joash also perished the line of Judah would have been extinct. 2 Ki 11:2, 2 Chr 22:11

  7. Trying to use verses from Pr 31 to support a rigid gender role for women is very short-sighted because many of the core characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are UNISEX and congregational. In other words, many of the characteristics and duties listed in Pr 31 are for men too – not just women, so trying to depict them as distinctively feminine is very short-sighted and problematic.

    UNISEX Traits/Duties Listed in Pr 31:

    A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies (v.10).
    The phrase translated as “virtuous woman” or “woman of noble character” means Eshet CHAYIL in Hebrew. CHAYIL (Strong’s 2428) means strength, the strength of a warrior. The word CHAYIL is also used to describe mighty men of valor in the Bible: Josh 1:14, 6:2; Judg 6:12; 2 Kgs 15:20. Therefore, the Hebrew word (CHAYIL) translated noble and/or virtuous in Pr 31:10 is not a distinctly feminine description. Men can and be noble and virtuous (CHAYIL) too.

    Do Good

    She will do him good … (v.12). As believers, men and women are admonished to “do good” to our enemies (Lu 6:27, 35). Christian men and women are admonished to “do good” and to share with others (He 13:16).

    Do No Harm

    She brings him good, not harm … (v.12). Husbands are instructed to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Romans 13:10 tells us that “love does no harm.” Therefore, if a husband loves his wife, he will not harm her.

    Work With Your Hands

    She … works with eager hands (v.13). Christian men and women are called to live a quiet lives, mind our business and “work with our hands” … (1 Th 4:11).

    Don’t Be Idle

    She … does not eat the bread of idleness (v.27). Paul proclaimed the value of hard work and sternly warned men and women not to be idle (2 Th 3:6-12). “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” ( 1 Th 5:14).

    Speak With Wisdom

    She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue (v.26). “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just” (Ps 37:30).

    Care for the Poor

    She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20). Christian men and women are admonished to care for the poor and needy (Ma 25:34-40).

    Fear the Lord

    … a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (v. 30). “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!” (Ps 112:1)

    Many of the core virtues and duties listed in Pr 31 are UNISEX and congregational rather than purely feminine: being virtuous and noble (CHAYIL), doing their spouses good and not harm, working with their hands, not being idle, speaking wisdom, caring for the poor and fearing the Lord.

    An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels (v. ‭10). ‬Excellent, noble, virtuous wives are hard to find. Likewise, faithful, trustworthy men are also hard to find. Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?(Pr 20:6)

    1. This is a series of great comments - thank you for contributing to the conversation. It's another reason why Complementarianism fails - it's guilty of constant doublespeak. It uses one word for men, and a synonym for women as if they're two separate things. I saw an article the other day that said: "Single women are not to submit to single men, but single women are to defer to single men in mixed gender Bible Studies." I was curious about the implications of the word 'defer', so I looked it up - it's primary definition: 'to submit'. They keep on doing that and that's why they lose me.