Girls Tradin’ Up
Femininity goes out with the trash
by Michael Spencer
It must have been three years ago that I noticed most of the girls in my classes were anti-feminine. They didn’t just act like boys at their worst; they actually seemed to have contempt for what I associated with being feminine. So I asked them about it.
I started with the boys. “Guys….how many of you want to be masculine?” All the boys raised their hands. Quickly and confidently. No surprise.
“OK, ladies. How many of you want to be feminine?” There was a long pause, born of obvious confusion. Out of ten girls, two tentatively raised their hands. The rest looked unsure, or very sure they disagreed.
Their questions were out before I could say anything. “What do you mean by feminine? Wearing a dress every day? That’s stupid.” “Do you mean girly? I don’t want to be girly.” “I don’t care what ‘feminine’ means anymore. I’m going to say what I want and do what I want. Nobody can tell me how I ought to dress.”
The boys found this humorous. None were distressed that the girls were disavowing femininity. They seemed to believe it was good news, or at least funny. I found it sad and disturbing, but given the generational differences, I am not surprised.
The abandonment of femininity is some of the worst news in the decline our culture, and I am very surprised so little is being said about it. While books on the feminization of men and boys are common, discussions of the demise of femininity among girls seem, at least from the conservative Christian viewpoint, rare. Yet, I wonder if we have calculated what is being lost in throwing femininity out with the trash.
Culture and Feminism
It is important to begin by defining femininity, and discussing it in the context of culture, Christianity and feminism. Let’s start with simply saying that femininity is not the same as feminism, just in case anyone is confused at the outset. I’ll define feminism as a social movement to liberate women from injustices perpetuated simply because of gender. I realize that feminism has diverged into several different cultural and intellectual streams, some openly hostile to femininity as a concept or a value, and others taking little, if any, interest in femininity at all.
I believe there is a question of how much modern feminism is responsible for the current demise of femininity. At one time, that question would have seemed extremely pertinent. But today, I believe my young ladies are hardly feminists by any classic definition. If they are influenced by feminism, the influence is far upstream. They are very apolitical, and they are extremely traditional in many ways, such as being overwhelmingly pro-life. They would horrify most feminists in their disinterest in career or breaking through those deaded “glass ceilings.” While the rejection of femininity may be happening on a foundation begun by bra burning, make-up rejecting, Hillary Clinton clones reading “The Feminine Mystique” thirty years ago, that isn’t the direction of the the anti-feminines of my experience. No, something else entirely is at work.
What is femininity? Etymology is of no use at all. Femininity is elusive, and can easily be seen as entirely a social and cultural construct. For example, let’s look at an example of a culture where there are highly developed roles of masculine and feminine.
Here in our community we have traditional Mennonites. These very good people run a number of businesses that are distinguished by every kind of excellence- especially in the creation of donuts. They have a traditional dress code for men and women. Women wear 19th century style dresses and bonnets. They are plain in appearance, without make-up or jewelry. They are extremely modest and defer to their men when men are present. There are clearly defined roles for men and women. Femininity, within this culture, is tied to a variety of obvious traits and matters of style and appearance.
Yet, as a Christian, I believe there is more to femininity than culturally assigned dress codes and manners. Saying there is “real,” objective femininity is a simple recognition of the two-sexedness at the core of human biological existence, and the interplay of those sexes in human experience. There are male characteristics that are strongly associated with biology, and there are female characteristics of the same. In nature, we see the social development of masculine and feminine characteristics and behavior to facilitate the continuance of the species. But, is biology- even God-directed biology- all there is to femininity?
As a Christian, I believe human beings reflect masculinity and femininity for another reason: we are made in the image of God. Maleness and femaleness are part of the essence of human nature because we are built that way from the creator. I want to be very clear in saying that femininity as a part of God’s image is not a matter or dress code or mores or vocational custom. It is a matter of human nature on the deepest levels of how we encounter one another, how we communicate and how we love. Without both masculine and feminine, we are impoverished as human beings, and deeply affected in our understanding of God.
For this reason, Christians should not overly attach themselves to particular cultural understandings of the roles of the sexes. We should be the first to progressively support the rights of women to contribute to life as they choose, without religious or traditional restrictions. Historically, Christianity has been on the side of women’s rights in most cases, and the few exceptions are to our shame. Jesus elevated and liberated women, even as he affirmed femininity as a real component of human life.
Not long ago, I read several posts on an email list from a father who was distraught that his daughter wanted to become an emergency medical technician, rather than a stay-at-home wife and mother as dad wished. He saw this as spiritual rebellion and embracing worldliness. Above all, it was a betrayal- in his mind- of the Biblical pattern of “femininity,” i.e. stay at home and care for children and not pursue a “worldly” vocation. I could not disagree more. There is a Biblical femininity, but it can’t be equaled to everyone’s cultural idea of what women ought to do and be. American suburban evangelicalism has its own odd view of this, and it isn’t particularly Biblical or realistic. Femininity isn’t a matter of vocation or cultural comfort zones, as anyone with a moderate amount of real world experience knows. That daughter can be a tough EMT, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be feminine as well.
Femininity, Weakness and Aggression
The young ladies in my class saw the word feminine as a suspect term, a term of weakness. They did not associate it with strength and intelligence, beauty or mystique. They associate femininity with being losers in their world. This isn’t because they don’t have examples of femininity around them. They do, but they are unsure of buying into those models, and they are surrounded and influenced by a very different and assertive model of femaleness, a model that plays to win in the contemporary game of the sexes.
Seeing women as weak and inferior is a common human trait, and Christianity is frequently cited as a major cause of such thinking. Today’s young women want to be sure that any claim to be feminine does not assume that they are…..girly in a negative way. If anything, today’s “strong” young woman wants to be the equal of her male counterpart in as many ways as possible. Good and bad. “Girliness” is out. Way out.
Girls are dressing like boys. This isn’t new, but it has become extremely common. In a school of 400 students, we have one high school girl who regularly wears a dress to school, and on any day, you would see no more than 3 or 4 dresses altogether. While girl’s fashions are everywhere, an increasing number of girls wear the same clothes as boys: the same boxers, pants, t-shirts, caps, jerseys and sneakers. The idea of dressing feminine is ambiguously embraced at certain times, but deserted soon thereafter.
Girls use language every bit as bad as boys. They talk about sex and body functions. They belch and pass gas. They are loud and unmannered. They fight one another far more frequently than boys. One hasn’t seen an adolescent fight if he/she hasn’t seen two girls match up with a trash-talking, intimidation ritual. It would make a great video.
Girls act macho. Belligerent. They strut with male pride. They react with the male ego. They ridicule and insult like boys. They spit. They use male terminology. They threaten and intimidate with male verbal and physical actions. Girls have always been mean, and even cruel, but this isn’t feminine behavior. It’s male behavior, imitated and even amplified.
What is particularly interesting is to watch the transformation of feminine behavior into not just a kind of faux maleness, but into a new form of female sexual aggression. Just to show you I’m not about to pick on hip-hop- which would be easy- listen to country music artist Gretchen Wilson (Yes, I listen to a bit of CMT) in “Here for the Party.”:
Well I’m an eight ball shooting double fisted drinking son of a gun
I wear My jeans a little tight
Just to watch the little boys come undone
Im here for the beer and the ball busting band
Gonna get a little crazy just because I can
You know im here for the party
And i aint leavin til they throw me out
Gonna have a little fun gonna get me some
You know im here, im here for the party
I may not be a ten but the boys say i clean up good
And if i gave em half a chance for some rowdy romance you know they would
Ive been waiting all week just to have a good time
So bring on them cowboys and their pick up lines
Dont want no purple hooter shooter just some jack on the rocks
Dont mind me if i start that trashy talk
Femininity is in there somewhere, right next to the announcement that Gretchen is just as big a rowdy as the men she taunts with her sexuality. She’s a double fisted, hard drinking son of a gun. And the men want her. Or so she says. Here’s “Redneck Woman” by the same artist:
Well, I ain’t never been the Barbie doll type
No, I can’t swig that sweet Champagne, I’d rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky tonk or on a four-wheel drive tailgate
I’ve got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait
Some people look down on me, but I don’t give a rip
I’ll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip
‘Cause I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raising
I say, ‘hey ya’ll’ and ‘yee-haw’
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big ‘hell yeah’ from the redneck girls like me, hell yeah
Who are the millions of girls relating to this song? They are the heirs of the southern, Christian, rural, traditional idea of femininity! Scarlett O’Hara’s southern sisters! What happened? How did white trash win out over southern charm?
On Friday evenings in the fall, I often find myself at high school football games. I’ve been watching these rituals of American youth culture my entire life, and there are certain things I have always taken for granted: guys pursue girls. But I can now safely report that this is changing. Girls are now the aggressors, and young men are the pursued. What most of us males would have once considered an insane impossibility is now commonplace: Girls, dressed in scanty clothing that exposes their bodies in provocative ways, with a clear agenda to hook-up, are now going after boys, talking to them in language that advertises immediate sexual adventure and volunteering for casual sexual encounters- and more- if the young man will play along. Life just got a lot easier for the adolescent male. Or so he thinks.
Success in sexual aggression is now a mark of femininity. Look at the college and singles “dating” programs on cable. In various dating shows a good-looking dofus has to do practically nothing but stare while woman after woman competes for the opportunity to show him just how trashy and whorish they can be in a dance club or a hot tub. The expectation of sexual intimacy as the end of a first date is almost a given. A woman who doesn’t play this game will be ridiculed as frigid and snooty. The “good time” girl isn’t just a good dancer and a good conversationalist. She is a sexual adventurer and aggressor, showing that she can look the part, dress the part, talk the part and do the deed without remorse.
Many girls won’t go this far, but most girls will feel the pressure to adopt this mode of feminity as their own.
I lost my skills
Of course, this all sounds bizarre and extreme to most of us. Why would women throw out femininity? Wasn’t it in their best interests to be the pursued? Wasn’t it in their best interests to postpone sex until it came with a promise of security? Wasn’t it in women’s best interest to step off as much distance as possible between themselves and stereotypical male fantasy behavior, and then tell the men to make up the distance?
Apparently not. I now have girls in class who argue strongly that their best interests are served in giving men exactly what they want. It is not at all unusual for me to hear “We dress the way we do (or act the way we do, or talk the way we do) because boys like it. That’s what boys want, so that’s what we do. Don’t blame us.” Teachers have come to me saying girls in their classes have openly stated they want to be strippers or porn starlets. Even with the shock-the-teacher factor thrown in, this is an amazing degradation of what it means to be female. It is the triumph of sexual aggression over beauty, intelligence and every other feminine quality.
Holy Bella Abzug, Batman! Is this really what it sounds like? It’s now feminine to give it away, and dispense with the pursuit completely? (Yes, millions of men are sighing, wondering why they were born at the wrong time 🙂 Just joking. Really.)
It’s as if Olivia Newton-John in “Grease” actually signaled the way for an entire cultural shift just by putting on those tight pants and the black leather jacket, though I doubt this is what she had in mind.
I’m not so silly as to think that women haven’t always used sex to manipulate men or achieve power, and that this isn’t yet another chapter of the same game that’s gone on for millenia. But now the question is, what will happen when men no longer have to woo, to pursue, to go on the romantic quest, but are rewarded with sex immediately, in some sort of mad race to see who can display the most sexual aggression?
The results are predictable. Men will become worse. Women will suffer more. Marriage will be delayed and undertaken in seriously flawed circumstances. Unloved and unwanted children will be born to the people least qualified to be parents. Women will be poorer. Boys and girls will not grow up in normal, stable families. Multiple partners will flourish. Male stereotypical behavior will continue, and worsen. Crime will increase, public education will get more difficult and society will pay the bill.
The gift of noble masculinity and femininity will be a vanishing reality. Joy, that rare commodity in this world, will be rarer still, because we have trashed one of the best fountains of that joy: the wonder of the dance that is masculinity and femininity. Don’t lecture me that we don’t want to go back to the world of “Little Women” because girls will miserable, mistreated and practically property. I admit your premises, and I will also admit that when femininity was a treasure to be nurtured, protected and pursued, we were very often at our best in life, love, art, emotion and humanity. But we have taken all the remnants of this world, and thrown them away.
The Battle Lines
I realize that a gloom and doom essay like this begs the question, “What can we do about this?” We’ve raised a daughter who has navigated the waters of growing into a young woman with real maturity. Her mother is the best possible example of femininity, and she has many other examples as well. (She loves “Little Women: 🙂
She also hasn’t had a date in months. While I don’t expect that trend to continue, I know that her Christian faith and personal values are placing her increasingly against the grain of thousands of young women who are choosing to win a short-term game of sexual self-creation. She will have to be patient, because these cultural developments are going to affect how young men see themselves and the entire business of relationships. Will it mean earlier marriage or later marriage? Less dating or more courtship type relationships? I can’t say. The trend in some quarters of the evangelical world to treat adult women like children until they are married is a fearful and wrong answer, even with proof texts from the Old Testament.
What we have to do is talk about this frequently. We have to identify the remaining models of real, beautiful and attractive femininity, and affirm them. Our children need to see masculinity and femininity lived out at home in a Christ-redeemed way. Not is strange stereotypes, but in real lives. We are not bound by culture, but God did create us to ENJOY each other, male and female. So many of our Christian children are wounded, or even steered toward homosexuality or other kinds of immorality, because much is wrong between mom and dad, and much is wrong with mom and dad that isn’t ever brought into the light.
Parents, you have my prayers. It is difficult coming to terms with what our sons and daughters are facing. One word of advice: Don’t lose track of your children’s hearts. We must pick our battles, but we must remember that the ultimate seat of femininity is the heart. We can’t smother it in fear or control, but we must speak to it with the honesty and love we find in Jesus, who spoke to the so many women with love that was truthful, respectful and ultimately healing.
Pastors and teachers need to take on this topic. I do not like to preach in such a way that I sound like a finger-wagging, wandering campus evangelist calling godless sorority girls “whores” to draw a crowd. That’s despicable. But we have to be able to teach and preach, with perception and integrity, truthfully talking about how the pressure of culture can come into the church. It is compassionate and loving to preach on such things. It is hopeful to speak of Christ who so often took the wounded masculinity of men and the wounded femininity of women and reclaimed it in his compassionate love, creative dignity, and restoring power.
We must be communities where our neighbors and their children can see real marriages, sense normal sexuality and hear the beauty of God’s plan and design.
Christ is our great gift in this dark world. But we also have the potential to be gifts to one another. Our sexuality, and our personalities, are wondrous common grace gifts from the creator to the world. Let’s not join the rush to throw out what is precious and beautiful. Let’s find a way to live hopefully in the grace of God, and find the beauty of a femininity that shows forth the beauty God always had in mind.