The Power and Problem of Strong Women

I grew up in a home where my father respected and loved my mother. In many of the homes of the people around us this was a little bit much. Love, sure, but to respect her? That wasn’t his job. His job was to love, her job was to respect. “That’s in the Bible.” Never mind the fact that the Bible does continue on to admonish both partners to love and respect each other, in this view, the two are somehow mutually exclusive.

When I was 23 I married the love of my life. Well kind of. She was a girl in the youth group of the church my family attended when we moved to that town in Wisconsin. She was 3 years younger than me. And to be honest, when we met she was pretty annoying. But I eventually grew up, and as Chance the Rapper says

“I found out all of the shawtys with cooties was cute, And realized what booties could do.” 

Over the years she had become one of the few friends I had that refused to judge me for making mistakes, and that, combined with the whole booty thing, made me realize I wanted to marry her. We did the whole marriage counseling thing, we talked about our roles as husband and wife, we talked about differences as men and women, and to be honest, a lot of it made sense to me at the time.

Then we actually got married.

Nothing was lining up, in arguments she would shut down and had no desire to talk while I would follow her around the house pestering her about her feelings and asking her what she was thinking. When I would get home from work I would want to have long conversations about everything that happened in my and her day and she would give one or two-word answers, ask no questions of me, and go back to whatever she was doing as early as she could.

Then we had kids!

I wanted to stay home as much as possible and do all the “mommy” things, while she wanted to work. I wanted to keep the house clean, she wanted to focus on work and school. I kissed boo-boos and hugged away tears, she… Ok she did all that too, but I didn’t want to not do it.

None of it fit.

This started all kinds of issues and problems for us. Problems I am intensely grateful for now. Problems I may talk at more length about later. We moved all over the country, and eventually moved to China. While in China my wife joined a group that is basically a union representative team for the 250 or so foreigners that live and work at our school. Within the first month on the group she had become the chair of the team, and within a month of that happening she was leading her first town-hall meeting.

My wife sat in this town hall meeting, with people angry, confused, tired, and sometimes belligerent, and she led. She led this meeting and this group of people in ways I envy. I am a leader by training, and a counselor by nature. She is a counselor by training and a leader by nature.

This meeting shifted so much for me. Things I had been struggling with for years already, but did not know what to do with. My wife is a born leader, why haven’t I let her lead in our family more? Have I already taken control in ways that have hurt her ability to lead me, lead our children? Why was I so sure that I needed to be the primary leader, dominating over her in our family?

As I turned to look for answers I was immediately met, not with the Bible, but with Christian Orthodoxy. Now I have already gone into more detail about my problems with Orthodoxy in another post so I wont belabor that point here. So for now I will simply say that the Orthodox view of Women in the Church, while improving in some circles, is woefully inadequate. At the beginning I mentioned the issues with a “Love and Respect” model of viewing men and women, and again I would assert that the problem here is not with scripture, but with how we interpret it. The Bible again and again calls for a movement towards equality. And yet when we read it we still want to find ways to use it to create power structures. Why? Jesus seemed to hate the power structures created by religion, calling their leaders; Children of Snakes, White Washed Tombs, and Sons of Hell. Always pointing to their oppressive power structures as his reason for saying these things. And yet somehow we have created a faith, using the name of Christ, that has become a fine tuned version of the things he hated, the power structures of oppression. A group called to free, spends it’s time entrapping, A movement largely held together by women in the beginning has turned the tables and demanded an exclusive subjectivity from them.

This is a huge problem for women. Especially I would argue, for strong women. What is a strong woman? Well, I am a man, so I want to tread lightly here, but I am married to a strong woman, so I will take her as my example, along with several other strong women I know and have known throughout my life.

A strong woman is willing to express her thoughts and opinions.

    But a strong woman may at times be afraid to do this, it is after all still a mans world.

A strong woman is willing to take the lead

    But a strong woman will often not do this, knowing a man will often come up against        less opposition while leading. She is often strong enough to take a back seat for the            good of the project/family/company/etc.

A strong woman is willing to stay home with the kids

       Even if she wants to work or dreams of things far from a kitchen, she is willing to                 sacrifice for her family.

A strong woman willing is willing to go to work

     Even if all she wants is to stay home with her children and help them with the                         extreme trials of growing up.

A strong woman is willing to voice her desires in either of these situations and assert that she has a right to choose her path just as much as her husband does. 

A strong woman is willing to raise the kids alone

       Even though she would rather have had a husband who stepped up, committed,                      matured and helped support the family with her.

A strong woman is willing to buck the thoughts and comments of her family and get the degree she dreamed of rather than the one “more fitting for a woman”.

A strong woman is willing to get a job as a maid, janitor, wait-staff, secretary,       construction worker, laborer, etc., and forego college so she can contribute to a family in need.

A strong woman doesn’t need a boyfriend, husband, father, or man to define her.

A strong woman wants to be loved.

A strong woman wants to be respected.

A strong woman is a strong person who for some reason, we have to add definers in order to understand them as more than a gender.

Now let me be clear. I am not saying all of these things are great, and that it is so great that women give up their hopes and dreams, or have to fight to this degree to attain them because of their circumstances, because of families, because of men, and because of societies. It is not. But that is precisely what makes these women strong is it not? Their willingness to take the most demeaning, thankless, overlooked positions of life, so that life might be better. If there is an example of the life of Christ available to us today, this is it.

No, I’m not saying these positions strong women have been forced into are good. I am simply pointing to the things I have seen (and been in awe of) strong women doing around me everyday. And I am sure I missed a great deal.

I want to say, This is a problem. That I have to define this is a problem. That women have to fight these obstacles is a problem. That we knowingly placed these obstacles there in the name of a man bent on removing such obstacles is a problem. And apparently powerful women are a problem. When we should be taking them as our example of a love filled life, we instead demand that they are the problem. This my friends is a big problem.

So, as a man I would like to say two things.

  1.  I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the times I have been and still could be the cause of these obstacles, and I am sorry in general that men tend to suck. I know that could come across disingenuous, I’m not sure how to convey my heart and tone here on screen. But I want you to know, I deeply mean those words.
  2. I want to know what I can do. I am new to much of this, while my thoughts and heart have been shifting for many years now, the time I spent in the male dominating mindset is still greater. So I need your help. Strong women of the world (or maybe just my mom and wife since you may be the only people who ever read my blog) What do I do? How do I support, affirm, uplift and empower you? How do I do this without coming off as pandering or ignorant? Tell me, tell us men, if we are willing to tip these scales back, how can we do that in a way that actually helps you?