Real Womanhood?

The Rebelution strikes me as a good idea. It’s a Christian movement aimed at teenagers, designed to motivate complacent adolescents to “Do Hard Things,” with a tagline suggesting “A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.”As someone whose kids are only a few years from entering their teens, I like the challenge to rise above expectations, cultural or otherwise.

Started several years ago by Alex and Brett Harris—brothers of I Kissed Dating Goodbye’s Joshua Harris—the Do Hard Things movement has broadened to include tours, conferences, a couple of books, press appearances by the Harris boys and, it seems, the propagation of a troubling list of qualities that makes for a “Real Woman.”

I found the list, attributed to the Harris’ Rebelution, on a number of websites, which praised the Do Hard Things movement for coming up with what one blogger called the “encouragement” for our young women to “rebel against the low expectations of our ungodly culture and strive to ‘Do Hard Things’ for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.”

The original list, which can be accessed here, was actually written not by the Harris brothers, or their famous bro, but by three other teenagers: a boy (16), and two girls (17 and 19). Setting aside the troubling notion that a teenage boy or girl might be able to define a “real woman,” the list establishes criteria that, like so much else in evangelical Christian culture, puts limits on to who and to what a young woman might aspire, and rehashes tired notions of what it means to be Christian and female.

I suppose there are some characteristics on the list to which I still aspire: I want to be trustworthy and encouraging, as well as someone who “values the cultivation of her mind and diligently seeks after wisdom and knowledge.” But these also seem like qualities all people, women and men, should strive to attain; there’s nothing about being trustworthy or encouraging others that is inherently female, although the list makes this seem so.

Other items on the list are much more problematic, especially because they are set forth as traits that define “real womanhood.” Some examples? According to the list, a real woman

·appreciates her father’s protection, and respects and submits to his authority. In so doing, she is preparing herself to exercise the Biblical role in her relationship with a possible future husband.

·is not offended by respect shown her through gentlemanly courtesies (opening doors, etc.) but cultivates the differences between the sexes that make her worthy of this deference.

·does not compete for equality with men or chafe at God’s design for male and female, but delights in and understands the importance of her calling to complement man’s role.

·is glad she’s a woman and rejoices in her femininity, expressing it through her attitude, appearance and bearing.

Each item on the list is supported with reference to biblical passages, but without any explanation of how the writers extracted these specific qualities from scripture, nor how the interpretation of stated scripture demands these particular characteristics in a “real woman.”

Equally troubling, I suppose, is how much traction this list has gained on the web, and also how many of the comments about the original list—300 and counting—gush at its beauty, its transformative nature, its ability to guide young girls into real womanhood. A few of the comments are critical, making me want to pump my fists in a surely unfeminine attitude, but these are summarily dismissed as being the work of “feminists” and “atheists” who have no longing for a real relationship with God. (One wise commenter also pointed out that all the images accompanying the list were of white women, suggesting that a real woman will be Caucasian. Right on.)

Above all, the notion that real women fit all these qualities once again creates an unattainable standard that forces women into a monolithic image of who they should be as Christians. Such a list also creates shame for those teenage girls who cannot manifest all these qualities, who cannot be the real Christian women defined by someone else, whose understanding of what it means to be real and a Christian and a woman is, at best, misguided.