Friday, August 28, 2015

Something's missing

A few weeks back I read an article from Brain, Child Magazine that mirrors my feelings about having three daughters. I'm often asked at church, in the grocery check out line, or in the pediatrician's waiting room if we will be "trying for a boy" next, as I still (gratefully) look young enough to bear more children. I often wonder how my girls feel when well-meaning people ask that question in front of them. Is having a boy somehow valued more than having three intelligent, beautiful, empathetic girls? Is my parenting experience incomplete until I've raised a son? Is something is missing--are my girls are not enough?

The truth is that I'm happy to have three daughters, and I don't feel like I'm missing out by not raising a son. We put a lot of effort into breaking down gender stereotypes, nurturing our girls' natural talents, and encouraging them to try not-as-natural activities. If we had sons, I'd like to think we'd parent the same way. I can't speak for my husband, but I think we've both accepted that raising our daughters into strong women is our life's work and highest calling.

But don't get me wrong: I'm not without worry. Three daughters means three times the emotion, hormones, and hair ties. Sometimes it feels like we're drowning over here. #SOMUCHGLITTER. 

But the whole not-being-enough thing scares me. The idea that girls are worth less than boys is ingrained in our social and, unfortunately, religious institutions. This inequality has played out through the news of Josh Duggar's molestation of underage girls and most recently his marital infidelity.

When I heard the news of the molestation accusations, I was troubled to hear how focused people were on Josh. We heard very little about his victims (and I'm sure there's a reason for that--I'm not judging how the survivors handled the situation, just making an observation). As someone who has experienced the confusion and shame from such an experience, I can tell you it will always lurk in the back of your mind, reminding you you're not good or pure enough, ever. And if your religious foundation already limits your acceptable roles to homemaking and child-bearing, I suppose you might feel like you don't have much left to contribute. Like you're trapped. I was wrecked for the survivors, who were likely compelled to show their abuser total forgiveness, even if they weren't quite ready to do so, in the name of family and Christian unity.

And then when I heard the reports about infidelity, I was even more troubled. Anna Duggar, Josh Duggar's wife, was raised to do one thing and one thing only--be a wife and mother. It is the hardest job on the planet, and even more so if you're told that you're commanded by scripture to be a perfect Proverbs 31 woman. Anna Duggar did nothing wrong. As far as we can tell, she did her part and excelled in her role. But it still wasn't enough. She is likely sitting in her broken home right now nursing her newest baby, born just over a month ago, wondering what the hell happened. My heart breaks for her and for her children. Her life has been shattered, and very publicly. She may even be being pressured to stand by him by her family and pastor, regardless of what she thinks and feels.

Her husband failed her. You might even argue that her parents failed her. Josh will pay the consequences of his actions, I'm sure. There are reports that he's in rehab right now. But he won't come out of this as "ruined" as she will. Why is that? Am I missing something?

Because if all you're ever expected to be is a housewife (a noble profession) and your marriage fails, or your husband dies, or he loses his job, you're going to need something to fall back on. Anna Duggar has skills, no doubt. But she lacks a degree and work experience outside the home. She joins millions of women just like herself who are unprepared for the work force. If she didn't have a family support system, what would she do?  How would she support her family?  It's an unsettling thought how close any of us could be to the edge of disaster.

What's missing here?

It's time we start valuing women, starting when they're girls. Raise them up to be self-sufficient, capable, and confident not in spite of their sex but because of it. Educate them. Foster their curiosity. Buy them Barbies and building blocks. Take them to dance class and karate. Do this for your sons, too. Do not let a narrow reading of the Bible lead you to adopt rigid gender roles, because we do not live in the same society that the writers of those verses lived in long ago.

It's not an issue of either/or. Let's embrace the both/and. We can raise strong boys AND girls. We can serve one another through marriage AND still be equal. We can BOTH work AND care for children. Every situation will be different, and every family will have to find what works best for them. But let's stop with the biblical directives that women are only good for making and raising babies. Is it possible that the patriarchal systems we've lived by for so long aren't working? And even more than that, are doing harm?

What's missing? Maybe mutual respect? Equality? I think it's even simpler than that: gratitude.

God has gifted us all differently. We're a mixed soup of colors, genders, and talents. Why must we try to fit ourselves into tiny boxes? I'm not saying it's always easy to be who you are in society: our race and gender are subject to conscious and unconscious bias before we're even old enough to speak. But if we could just claim our identity as a beloved child of God and recognize it in one another, regardless of our differences, maybe we'd stop comparing and losing our joy. We'd see our value.

Maybe that's what's missing.

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