When I'm Bad at Being a Woman
October 24, 2012
The Jeskes have lived lots of amazing days in Nicaragua, China, South Africa, and the U.S. The latest book is This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. @ChristineJeske is getting a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, and @AdamJeske leads social media for InterVarsity and the Urbana Student Missions Conference. Connect at Into the Mud and Executing Ideas.
I was fortunate to grow up with a mom who isn’t ashamed of the unique gifts God has given to her, even when they don’t fit a feminine mold. I saw her smash snakes in our yard with a shovel, start campfires from scratch and scoop mucky leaves out of our gutters.
She worked full-time, part-time and sometimes not at all through my youth, and never seemed to hang her identity on how much she accomplished. Through it all, she said in actions and words to her husband, “I love you and respect you and trust you to lead our family.”
That, I have discovered, doesn’t come so easily to me.
I’ll have to admit that I have an ugly alter-ego who occasionally hatches out inside me and goes on a rampage. We call her The Female Terminator, or The Feminator.
The Feminator especially likes to show up in situations when I’m feeling unrecognized and undervalued. And she loves to blame it all on being a woman.
If you read the first couple chapters of This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling (go read them here now), you’ll get the sense that I was not having a very good year when I wrote it. How right you are.
I was lying in bed crying mid-morning, measuring myself up against everyone else to see how I could be cool enough, hating my un-amazing life and whacking a dishwasher with a butcher knife.
It was exactly the kind of year when The Feminator did a lot of sulking and shouting.
We were freshly returned from some of the best years of my life working some of my favorite jobs ever—then suddenly I was unemployed. While my husband was heading off every day to the best job of his life, I was working on a major writing project that quickly fell apart.
In the midst of all this, I had the stupid idea to write about the “Amazing Days” approach Adam and I tried to take in life. But had I been asked how “Amazing” I felt on a scale of 1 to 10, I would have been at a negative 17.
For the first months of the project, I was sitting around at home all day deciding what topics the book should cover, agonizing over hard lessons God was teaching me that went into the book, and writing the book proposal followed by the bulk of the book itself. Oh, and I was also not getting paid at that point.
Yes, to give credit where credit is absolutely due, my husband did also write a lot of the book. We traded every chapter back and forth numerous times, writing pieces of each other’s chapters and providing feedback every step of the way. But he got to go off to work every day and feel good at something. And he got paid for something.
The Feminator stayed home all day, with no pay, simmering beneath the surface, waiting for opportunities to whine. She started connecting dots and saying life’s not fair and never will be when you’re a woman.
Why am I the one spending more time with our kids (even though I like my life that way)? Why am I the one getting paid less (even though at times I’ve been paid more)? Surely there must be some kind of systemic injustice here, even though Rational Me says otherwise.
We submitted the book manuscript with my name first on the cover because I wrote a couple more chapters of it. And when it came back with Adam’s name first, my head started shooting off roman candles. Adam graciously wrote back to the publisher and said, “Chrissy wrote most of it, so please put her name first.”
Then a few weeks later, when the book went through another round of edits, it showed up again with his name first. Maybe it was somebody being alphabetical, or liking the sound of his name first, or a subconscious slip that had nothing to do with being a boy or a girl.
And anyway, as my 9-year-old Phoebe wisely reminded me, “Mom, it doesn’t matter whose name is first.”
But The Feminator was busy going berserk. “What’s the deal? Are they misogynists? Am I not enough?” The Feminator contemplated throwing tables across the room. “What do I need to do to get credit for my hard work? Do I need to get a $50 hair cut? Or to friend another hundreds of people on Facebook? Or morph into a man?”
The Feminator is not a very nice person to be around.
When The Feminator shows up, the best thing to do is shut the door and open a Bible. Fast.
So I did that.
I got down to the business of asking, “What does make me valuable, if not proving to the world what a woman can do?” What can I tell The Feminator to hold her in her seat instead of using a shouting match or throwing grenades to convince the world that she matters?
So I read stuff like this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
And this: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
There’s this great word “grace” that tells me two things that might seem contradictory. First, I learned that The Feminator can shut up because all her accomplishments are not all that impressive in the grand scheme of things anyway. And, second, grace teaches me that my life is totally worthwhile and full of gifts to offer the world.
Put those two pieces together.
In some divine alchemy, you get wonderful freedom.
Grace says you don’t have to wave an angry fist at the world screaming, “Why don’t you see how awesome I am!” Grace says you are plenty awesome just because God made you. Grace says, “Look around, these people are awesome, too, and that doesn’t threaten you.” And most importantly, grace says God is the awesomest, and any awesomeness we have pales in comparison. But the awesomest God made us able to do some awesome things with our lives just because he loves us.
Adam tells me that Feminator flare-ups aren’t unique to women. Maybe you’ve got your own armed, rebel, robot alter-ego who bursts out now and then when you’re tempted to believe people are undervaluing your awesomeness.
How do you deal with those moments? How have you dealt with times when the world seems to be saying you’re worth less or simply worthless?