A Travelogue of the Interior

faith questions

“Men want significance and women want security.”

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Ella, ever the gadfly in our house, is doing a book report on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.eowyn-wiki I can’t believe anyone reading my blog does not know the story, but just in case, it traces an epic quest of 9 male characters (4 hobbits, 2 men, 1 dwarf, 1 elf and 1 wizard) through Middle Earth to defeat an overpowering evil. Along the way, Tolkien incorporates a very small number of notable female characters: 2 elven queens and 1 human woman (and an embittered hobbit, but she’s beside the point).

In the movie version of LOTR, the female characters are bold, courageous and determined, but the one that captured Ella’s imagination was Eowyn, a noblewoman who disguises herself as a man so she can ride into battle against the great and growing evil, even at the risk of death.

Ella’s identification with Eowyn got me thinking about a phrase I heard routinely at church as a teenager, this little ditty that, “men want significance and women want security.” This statement was evoked as a way of instructing us girls that since we were created by God to want (and need) security primarily, we would find our deepest satisfaction in marriage and homemaking. Likewise, we were not — and ought not try to be — like men, who had a deep, God-given need and desire to participate in an epic story and struggle valiantly with their fellow brothers-in-arms — to give their lives for something significant. You can see the chalk outline then of the male/female model, where the men engage in epic battle in the public square and the women wait at home for the return of their conquering hero. This idea is illustrated quite clearly in the hugely popular (among Christians) Wild at Heart and Captivating books by John and Stasi Eldredge:

In an interview with Beliefnet, they explain,

“In fact, in “Wild at Heart,” I (John) said every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. And in “Captivating” (Stasi) -every woman wants to be romanced; every woman wants to play an irreplaceable role in a heroic adventure, not just to be useful but to be irreplaceable; and every woman longs to have a beauty that’s all her own to unveil, both an external beauty and an internal beauty as well. To be the beauty and to offer beauty.

The woman in this scenario, it should be noted, was part of the man’s spoils, his reward for having fought the good fight, so she had certain essential obligations to look the part. By extension, as I have heard many times in my short, happy life, when women refuse to be the prize, when women take up arms (metaphorically and physically), it demotivates men and deprives them of their masculine prerogative.

Some of my friends loved this narrative and Could Not Wait to fit themselves into it vis a vis marriage.

But me. Oooh no, this narrative made me crazy — C.R.A.Z.Y. Even as a young teenager, I knew deep in my soul I had very little desire for security (as it was conceptualized anyway) and even less desire to be someone’s prize. I was drawn to all the stories of epic questing and never, ever imagined myself in the role of fair maiden. My go-to childhood superpower? Flight. Way better than Spidey sense or a Lasso of Truth.  I wanted wings more than roots. If there was a mountain to be skied, I was at the top of it. If there was a boundary, I pushed it. If God was offering something, I was first in line even if I was uninvited by the powers that be. The edge has always been my comfort zone.

Even as a child I wanted to see the world, and I still do. When I get cranky and irritable my husband starts making travel plans, because he knows how essential it is for me to breathe fresh air and set my sights on something new, set myself against a task yet untested.  I am beyond fortunate that he’s that way too, and so when life throws us lemons we let the lemons mold and rot in the fridge, and we pack up the kids and hit the road.

I see the same hunger in both of my daughters, although scarcely can they identify it yet. What captivates them: challenge, risk, adventure, the open road. Julia will go on epic quests in the interior of her own imagination, and I guarantee you she is the hero in her own story, and rightly so. Of course, we all of us love to come home after our adventures, sleep in our own beds, get reacquainted with the cadences of daily life. It is not either-or for me, for my daughters.  It is both-and.

There are those who would argue (and have) that what feels to me like an innate desire to engage the big wide world and play a part there, to be significant, is a socially conditioned response fomented in the 60s by radical feminists and is (thus) not the way God made me. Who knows, maybe they are right. I guess someday I’ll find out if I became the person God imagined before the foundations of the world, or instead became some silly, deformed cultural cliche. I, for one, have more confidence in God than that, though. I have confidence that He is able to do all He sets out to do, that He is able to complete His work — even in me.

Perhaps it is security that gives us the courage to quest and seek a role in God’s epic adventure. Perhaps it is the desire to contribute in some significant way to a story larger than our own that drives us to form the securest of bonds with kindred spirits, those born of blood and those born of faith and covenant too.

The more I think about it, the less the bifurcation irritates me, and the easier it is to simply dismiss it out of hand. The truly stupid part of this idea, sold to me in those formative teenage years, is that any one of us can be cleanly located, because of our gender, into one or the other little, tiny box. As if God has boxes at all.

God made each of us in His image and called us to wage war against evil and bring heaven to earth — what role could possibly be more significant?

God made each of us for Himself and named us — brother, sister, daughter, son — what relationship could possibly bring greater security?

Let the Owen Strachan’s of the world keep on deriding women like me. I’m sticking with Eowyn.

Author: karen d

Thinker, Dreamer, Traveler. Recovering Pharisee.

8 thoughts on ““Men want significance and women want security.”

  1. I found your blog randomly today, and I really enjoy it. I too am very against the whole idea that all women are one way, and all men are the “other way”. I consider myself a strong woman who doesn’t compromise my true self. I really like finding like minded people.

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  2. Great post. I’m sticking with Eowyn too!

    I always remember this from LOTR:

    “What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
    “A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

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  3. I offer a challenge: only write what works for you and why. End your love-affair with denigrating “the other side” and write about what DOES inspire you only. This would have been stronger, in my mind, had you left out your negative comments and sterotypes about “those people.”
    Also, might this line be a bit harsh toward the women who are living differently than you? – “I guess someday I’ll find out if I became the person God imagined before the foundations of the world, or instead became some silly, deformed cultural cliche.” I say, OUCH on their behalf.

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    • hi Stessie, so i’m struggling to respond here. I don’t know why you hear me denigrating anyone or any “side.” I wasn’t talking about sides of anything but rather trying to challenge the “taking sides” mentality that produces the “males versus females” discourse that shows up in the “significance verses security.” That bifurcated discourse is ALL about sides, and I keep saying or trying to say, these sides are silly and drawing rigid lines in the sand where some are on one side and some on the other is unhelpful.

      As we’ve talked offline, while I read the Bible as fundamentally teaching equality, I accept fully that others read the Bible as fundamentally teaching female subordination and I accept that is their reading of things. I do not ever — nor ever would — say that such a person is being “unbiblical” or “doesn’t submit to to the authority of Scripture in their lives” but these are precisely the things that get said to me because I read the Bible the way I do. It is this that I was commenting on, the idea that women like me who pull toward adventure, risk, and significance rather than security and all that entails there are not being who God made us to be.

      This line, “I guess someday I’ll find out if I became the person God imagined before the foundations of the world, or instead became some silly, deformed cultural cliche” is written to THEM, not to women who sense and honor from God a call into complementarity in marriage rather than partnership. I absolutely, 100% stand behind a woman following the call of God in her life (and marriage) and if in faith her sense of the Scripture is that she needs therefore to be in a predominantly submissive posture toward her husband, then I support her 100%. I object and will continue to do so when the same courtesy and confidence is not extended to women who follow the call of God in their lives and marriages and that means equality and partnership rather than structural subordination.

      So, let me be clear: the “silly, deformed cultural cliche” is the label that gets applied TO ME by people who believe it is not possible that God made me to desire significance, since that is a “man’s” desire. To these people, I am deformed and overly influenced by the culture. It is with those that I take issue, and they are legion– or at least they are loud, and Strachan is one of the loudest.

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  4. I suspect the Eldredges have created man and woman in their own image. This makes a very tiny little world for them to live in. As for the “men are this, women are that” nonsense, every time I hear it I immediately think of about a jillion people who don’t fit whatever construct is posited at the moment. Again, the constructs are too tiny.

    Your way of living has always been a lot more real life than any of those pundits can ever imagine, Karen.

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    • Thanks Tim! I suspect that in terms of John Eldredge anyway, he identified a genuine aspect of his personhood– that need for adventure and risk and significance, that epic story to participate in. The part about rescuing a woman strikes me as culturally derived, but its not a point I care that much about.

      All i really wish is that he (and others) hadn’t made significance a “male” thing — just being a human thing would have nailed it and invited a lot of us into the discourse on what it means to pursue a life of significance in God’s kingdom, a place, incidentally, where the unnoticed things often bear the greatest significance.

      That said, there is always a danger in taking one’s own self-knowledge and then trying to make it archetypal — that is, what is true for me must be true for all my kind (however that is defined). I know I have the tendency to do this and have to often stop myself and remind myself that my perspective and experience are not normative … they are just mine!

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