Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An article from Radiant Magazine

I struggle daily about my role as a Godly woman. Distractions from the world tempt my feelings towards things that in the end, really don't matter. What I should wear, how i should act, how high my wall needs to be for guaranteed protection. Gary has really encouraged me to ask God to show me what brings those weaknesses, get the strength to stay away from them, and start seeing the results. Reading Radiant has really helped this healing. It is a magazine just for women, by women. This article really spoke to me, especially as I continue my journey throught the old testiment and read more about the women of the Bible. I'm reading The Red Tent and it's blowing me away. But anyways, enjoy. It's good. I promise!
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Diamonds: Facets of Femininity
By Rebecca Mayer

Femininity is like a diamond. The light reflects the angles and corners of the cut, brilliantly showing off many facets. For me, the light has been culture. As I have hopped from one region to another and then across the ocean, I have come to appreciate the facets I hadn’t noticed before.

My Midwestern upbringing taught me how to be June Cleaver someday. I really don’t mean to demean in any way those people who choose to be homemakers. In fact, I hope that I make a pretty kickin’ home for my family someday. I think the funny part about me battling the June plan is that truthfully, I probably am fairly good at housewife-y things. I enjoy home decorating, baking chocolate-chip cookies and doing common household chores. But I find them so very peripheral. Something in that lifestyle is—for me at least—lacking. June is not the woman I’d like to become.

I moved to Portland, Ore., two and half years ago, and suddenly I met women older than me who were single, career-oriented and satisfied. And for the first time I didn’t feel so out of place for wanting to do something with the education I received other than homeschool my children. Many of my Midwestern peers’ lives amounted to marriage and babies—college degree or no college degree.

For the first year of my life in Oregon, I was on some kind of feminine high. I absolutely loved being a single, attractive, successful young woman. That year, I learned how to swing dance, spin a potter’s wheel, bought new clothes when I wanted to and got chunky red highlights in my hair. At work, I received a raise and a promotion. My idol was probably more like Anne Lamott—for her honesty and her strength.

Last summer, I traveled to Uganda still somewhat on my female empowerment high. I traveled with one other girl friend, and we had no particular plan other than to connect with some friends and volunteer where needed.

But daily interactions with the people really shook all of my feminist ideals. The women, who I’m sure some would call oppressed, seemed happy. In Uganda, a woman is expected to cook, clean, wash and care for her children, and she is to obey her husband. It is not rude or condescending for a man to boss his wife around. The women are always busy with housework, and the men have time to sit and talk (mostly due to the economic situation).

Thus, we’d find ourselves sipping Ugandan black tea with the men at the orphanage where we stayed and talking about a variety of things from politics to marriage. They’d argue with us that American women are not submitting to their husbands like the Bible says. (Apparently, we’re viewed as being too independent and feisty.)

In this world where gender roles are so much more distinctly defined, suddenly being June Cleaver seemed like a good idea. I think Anne Lamott would stand out a whole lot more in Africa, her dreadlocked hair and irreverent candor.

So, I tried to be June. I wanted to have an authentic cultural experience, and that meant trying to be June. She was the only example I had in my American framework. It made sense at the time. Since I was American, I tried to be a more acceptable type of American for these wonderful Africans. At least I could try to keep Anne in her cage. I played with the children, attempted to do my laundry by hand (only to have the women shriek with laughter), washed dishes and just watched the women.

Their days start early pumping water from the well inside the orphanage compound into 10-gallon, yellow jerry cans. Then, they boil the water so it is safe for drinking and set out tea for breakfast.

Then, they sweep the house and begin laundry, a daily task. Hours of bending over, hand-scrubbing each article and rinsing it three times before hanging it to dry in the midday sun. Between loads, there is lunch that needs to be started—greens, rice and beans, sometimes posho and sometimes chicken. Then there are dishes to do, possibly more laundry or cleaning followed by dinner preparation. After dinner it is more dishes and then storytime for the children.

Wow. June made it all look like a hobby. For these women, it is a way of life. I discovered that in many ways they are more educated than I am with all my lofty philosophies about how things should be. Do I know how to cook over coals in the back yard? Could I prepare a meal every day of my life without a pre-made taco seasoning mix or pack of 10 tortilla shells? Do I know the special hand movement for getting my clothes clean without a Maytag? (No matter how hard I scrubbed, an African woman could always do better.) I couldn’t even figure out how to light a kerosene lantern.

Being June is hard! And realistically, June had no idea what it is like to be Hope Onen, my Acholi role model. It was as if femininity was a diamond, and I was seeing a totally different facet. And, surprisingly, I found it to be just as beautiful as the facet I so admired Anne to be.

Through it all, I shed some ideas of what it really means to be a woman and do it well. I tried so very hard to look like June’s facet when I was in Uganda, but I’m sure I failed more often than I realized.

In the end, I think we really did femininity justice. One day when we began clearing the table after a meal—not a duty for guests—Benson tried to tell us that the women would take care of it. But then Charles smiled at us proudly and said, “No, they can help. They are Acholi women now.”

And from then on we were complimented on being modest and hardworking. And while I still am not too thrilled about receiving praise for doing housework and covering my shoulders and knees, I somewhat understand more about what it means to be feminine.

Surely, it isn’t defined by culture. Possibly some cultures flash a different facet of the beautiful thing called femininity. What I decided is that maybe the feminist movement isn’t so much about the right of women to be CEOs of large corporations who earn as much money as their male counterparts. Maybe it’s about having the freedom to decide which side of the diamond you’d like to be.

Maybe for me, I just need to admit that the diligence of a June is admirable and even desirable. I’ve always so desperately wanted to be appreciated for being intelligent and passionate like an Anne, but who said I can’t do some housework and start a business at the same time? Maybe my facet is smack dab in between June Cleaver and Anne Lamott on the collective diamond of femininity.

Or maybe a woman is many facets, and that is part of her mystery. My femininity is not one-dimensional and shapeless; therefore, it can shift for the illumination of a different culture. In Africa, my femaleness is just as solid and mesmerizing. My personality and character are the same there as they are here. But Africa captures a different facet of me. And maybe that is the key to appreciating femininity.


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