On Being a Woman: When Who You're "Supposed to Be" Isn't Who You Are

My name, Erin, comes from a Greek word that means peace (eirene). When I was dedicated as a baby, the pastor joked “Erin means ‘peaceful and quiet.’ And after Drew (my older brother), we all know her parents need some of that.” My parents have often admitted that my name was a happy misnomer. Find the Greek word for stubborn, easily excitable, loud, and talkative and you’ve got a better name for me.

A few months ago I was having a discussion with some friends about the characteristics of a supposedly typical Christian woman. It was many of those things that I am not: the quiet and calm nature, the sweet spirit, the polite and proper demeanor, the inclination to be nurturing. We began to talk about how the church taught these traits to women and a friend asked if these were the kind of qualities I was told that I was told I was supposed to have growing up in my conservative evangelical context.

The answer, on the one hand, is an absolute yes. These and a host of other qualities made up the box that I was told I was supposed to fit into as a woman. But this wasn’t a “supposed to” as in “if you try really hard you can attain these things.” It was a “supposed to” as in “This is who you already are. This is who you were created to be.” The difference is important. If I had been taught that I should try, then when the trying inevitably failed, I was just doing something wrong or not trying hard enough.

But I was told that I already was these things. When I inevitably proved not to be that kind of woman over and over again, it wasn’t something wrong with what I was doing; it was something fundamentally wrong with me as a person. I always felt like the black sheep, I was passed over a lot because there was something about me that wasn’t quite right. It sometimes felt as though calling me a “Christian woman” was as ironic as calling me a name that means “peaceful and quiet.”

As I’ve talked to other women who grew up in this context, I’ve found that many feel the same way -- like they fit into maybe 50% of the box that they’ve been told is who they are, and 50% of the box is completely foreign to them. And so at times, we have wondered (and perhaps still wonder) What is wrong with me? How can I be a woman or wife or mother when I am so obviously flawed to the core?  

A male friend in college told me once that I didn’t need to get married because of all the ways that my personality did not jibe with being a wife and mother. Granted, he was an immature college student, but an immature college student who was influenced by a culture that actually believed that kind of crap.

The process of getting married and seeing the ways that I did not fit into this box of womanhood caused me to start working through what I believed and weeding out the lies from the truth. I’ve thrown out many of the religious answers that I grew up with, but as a believer, I am still seeking out answers in God’s word and His character, among a believing community.

Sometimes the believing community gets nervous when you start to ask these questions and hastily responds to “just look in the Bible.” I do this, of course, and while Scripture contains essential narratives, descriptions, and poetry about women, its main purpose is not to provide a blueprint or to-do list for how to live as your gender. And because of this, I think there is a lot of freedom to live as the woman God has created you to be. There are a lot of different expressions of womanhood that are blessed by God.

This post is the first of a series. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring these themes further — feeling like a black sheep among other women, why that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us, dealing with the angst that often comes with the church’s teachings on womanhood and most importantly, how to navigate these issues in a loving and gracious way.

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash