When I was a kid, the school playground was the most gender-segregated place in my world. The girls would make use of the swings, or gather near the building to chat, while the boys would run to the grassy field for a game of kickball or baseball.
Except for the “tomboys”. These girls ran alongside the boys to join in on the kickball and baseball. They would not be caught dead in a dress. They would be picked first in gym class. They would not care about chats on the playground. Nonetheless, no one mistook them for boys. No one suggested that maybe they were in the wrong body.
I wonder about tomboys today. While I was never a tomboy in activity, I am a bit of an “emotional tomboy”, preferring logic to feelings. I’m sure there are still girls (and boys) who, like me, fall outside the circle of gender stereotype. I wonder where they fit in our current climate of gender questioning.
In some ways, our culture has gotten better about recognizing and rejecting gender stereotypes. We’re finally owning the shameful way we’ve idolized female beauty and docility. And the myth of the rugged American cowboy has yielded to an awareness that not every man wants to fit this mold.
But the way our culture has chosen to deal with gender is to promote androgyny, as if sweeping gender under the rug will take care of it. This reminds me of the scene from the old movie “The Wizard of Oz,” where the characters discover that there really is no “Oz” behind the curtain even as a loud voice tells them there is. I believe a person’s gender is based on the reality of biology. Because we know deep down that there is such a thing as gender, we are rattled when we’re told there’s not. Our culture doesn’t attempt to define anything Biblically, so it’s a poor choice as an agent of truth.
So what is the church, the supposed agent of truth, doing? Unfortunately, much of what passes for “Biblical” teaching on gender is long-held narrow cultural definition in disguise. We still see promotion of female meekness and male strength and adherence to strict gender roles, and we don’t see that our thinking is shaped by our traditional American worldview instead of a ruthless commitment to Biblical truth.
Culture is repressing gender, and the church is not ruthlessly pursuing truth. In this vacuum, humans do what we usually do: we fall back into comfortable ways of thinking, i.e. gender stereotypes. I believe that an unintended consequence of the gender debate within both culture and church is a narrowing of the definition of what it means to be a woman or a man. We have unknowingly promoted stereotypes, and we have strewn doubt where before doubt did not exist.
In other words, we’ve caused tomboys to doubt their worth as girls. And we’ve made the boys on the edge of the kickball field wonder about their value as males.
Culture and the church have it all wrong. What we need is not a narrower definition of gender, but a broader one. A beautiful one that embraces gender while embracing all the tomboys, the sensitive males, the questioners and seekers, and affirms they are still fully female, or fully male, with their own expression of their gender. One that is based on the truth of Scripture with a conscious effort to remove cultural bias from our interpretation.
After all, Christ does not bestow the blessings of Himself based on gender (Gal. 3:28). The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) is gender-neutral: men as well as women are called to be meek; women as well as men are called to be self-controlled.
While I have not had the wretched disorientation of feeling as if I lived in the wrong body, I haven’t always fit my gender mold. I once asked my counselor to help me navigate our world in which I’m expected to care about emotions, mine and everyone else’s. A world in which it’s easier to talk to men because I don’t worry about hurting their feelings or being “too much”. A world in which I routinely dial myself down.
I’m no longer willing to live this way. I am a woman with a strong mind and a strong heart, who does “female” things like knitting, yet also loves rousing discussions of theology, philosophy and science. I love to dig deep and learn things, then turn around and share them with whoever will listen. Put me in front of a classroom – of men and women – and I will have something to say because teaching is my gifting and passion.
As a woman.