Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear LadyLike: How do I quit wearing the pants when everybody told me I looked great in them?

Dear LadyLike,

What advice would you give to a woman who was raised to "wear the pants" in relationships, be nothing but independent, and was taught that any sense of femininity or acceptance of traditional women roles is equal to weakness and a lack of intelligence? What I saw modeled in childhood rears its ugly head in adulthood, despite my desperate longing to break as far away from those ideals as possible.
Thank you!

Dear Pants Lady,

I know the feeling. Even if you haven't been aggressively raised this way, it is hard to shake the world's way of thinking. It's just the air we breathe. If you realize that the answer you've been given doesn't add up, you don't know how to show your work when the teacher who gave you the answer was actually supposed to be teaching you how to add.

Here are some ideas for when you know you need to mentally remodel, but aren't sure how to start.

1. Expand your friend and mentor pool. Find people who have their heads on straight and don't be shy about learning from them. There are ladies of all ages who just GET the chick thing. Listening to these people talk and watching how they live is really helpful. It lets you see that the horror story we've been told about the oppressiveness of traditional female roles just isn't true if we're willing to give a different story a fair hearing. 

That was a hard lesson for me. I honestly believed that women who didn't actively object to traditional roles and Bad Mister Sexism were dough-brained morons. Seeing incredibly smart women living quiet lives of service to their families and churches, and LIKING it, and seeing that those who were married had husbands who were kind and attentive and sympathetic to home stuff, went a long way toward helping me realize that I hadn't been told the whole story.

2. Read different stuff. Bad company corrupts good character, and that includes what you read. In my case, I needed a lot less Jane Smiley and Toni Morrison, and a lot more George Eliot, Sigrid Undset, Henry James, and HonorĂ© de Balzac. Nonfictionally, less Slate and more Salvo; less Jill Lepore and more Anthony Esolen.

This can get tricky too. There is a lot of "Proper Christian Lady" stuff, past and present, that just does not resonate with me. I lack the scintilla of decency needed to be above rubies (although my husband has suggested that, given the exchange rate, perhaps I could be above rupees). For me, trying to do what's right will never grow from, "The way of wisdom and goodness is what my womanly heart really wants!" My heart is a jerk heart. But I am very clear on, "That other way is a load of unworkable BS." So obviously my general outlook needs work, but even the jerk heart has something to work with. If you find a book, a corner of the internet, or a playgroup that just isn't clicking for you, even though it's got the right ideas, don't sweat it. Find one that does. Everyone finds different things persuasive, encouraging, and insightful, and there's more than one way to land in the right place.

3. Pray, read Scripture, confess your sins, go to church. The practices of private and corporate worship are acts of utter humility. Believing that someone hears your prayers means whoever it is has to be a lot bigger and better than you, since you don't know of anyone praying to you. If you can admit to needing forgiveness, you are also confessing that someone has an authority to give it that you don't. 

Humility is what all this is about. All that business you mention about independence, weakness, and intelligence is nothing other than a human's angry defense of her own pride. Public recognition and piles of money are how the world rewards merit, so anyone who has those things as her goal is playing the world's game (worth noting that it's easier to quiet the perpetually disrespected with acclaim, which can be faked, than money, which can't). Humility and dying to self are the way of the cross. Prayer, devotion, and worship are disciplined acts of both. Giving our time to the Word, prayer, and the Lord's house is the best way to make a habit of the characteristics our Lord would have us live out among our neighbors.

4. Fight the symptoms. Defense of one's pride always amounts to score-keeping, hypersensitivity to perceived slights and injustices, and nurturing resentment. That's a great way to stay unhappy. But this fictional person said it better:

"'I don't see," she went on, ". . . that it matters who loves as long as somebody does. I was a stingy beast at home, and used to measure and count. I had a queer obsession about justice. As though justice mattered. As though justice can really be distinguished from vengeance. It's only love that's any good. At home I wouldn't love [my husband] unless he loved me back, exactly as much, absolute fairness. Did you ever. And as he didn't, neither did I, and the aridity of that house! The aridity . . .'" (The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim)

If we want to be happy living with other sinners, we have to return the favor of forgiveness they do us. The only reason we forgive someone is because we love them; feeding grudges feels too yucky-good to give up otherwise. If someone is willing to live and be happy with me, it can only be because he is forgiving me constantly. Or, to come at it from the other direction, love

Doth not behave itself unseemly,

seeketh not her own,

is not easily provoked,

thinketh no evil.

Yikes, that hits a little close to home. Love sounds like a much more excellent way.

Let the record show that I am literally wearing pants today,