Since God, literally created Eve from Adam’s bone, gender specifically womanhood, has borne for me, a bone of contention with God.
I am not sure what triggered it, but a decade ago, a seed of doubt that God had not created men and women equal began to germinate in my mind. It probably began with some of the stories of the Bible and the deep-seated disparity, patriarchy, and discrimination I was witnessing in the world around me.
I grew up in a house with more women than men, and while we experienced brushes with stereotypes about men and women, the cracks became deeper and wider as I stepped into the world. I realised I couldn’t really be everything that I imagined I could be because my existence was tied down with chains of normative behaviour for men and women. Even though our elders say that society is much better now, and things have changed, my interaction with data and research brought scenarios where I learned that patriarchy has not reduced, but only changed its forms. It still exists and women still get more easily oppressed under its weight.
One morning I woke up and I thought, “Well, maybe God did intend for patriarchy, but probably a purer version. Maybe the fall of man tampered with the design of it.” While this started as a simple harmless thought, it soon started colouring my perception of God and the Bible. I started focusing on the fact that God chose men like Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Noah, Joseph, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and then all the male Apostles. The list was endless, and I felt that the number of women in comparison to this was much fewer.
After I got married that tiny seed of doubt had begun to grow, even more, widening the cracks and filling my heart with resentment and unhappiness. While I embraced the roles of a wife, a daughter-in-law and a married woman, I grew angry deep within with the kind of expectational differences between my husband and me. While no one was forcefully demanding me to be a certain way, I was being driven by the expectations, the society and church-at-large were dropping hints of.
It was always as if voices telling me, “What people would say, what others would think of the sort of wife and homemaker I was?” After motherhood, things took a worse turn. I felt constantly burdened and judged, not just by the actual work of being a mother, but by the stereotypes I was mentally fighting. I kept thinking that God had been unfair to womankind and put men on a higher and easier pedestal. Unfortunately, the stories of most women around me did nothing much to encourage me or change my opinion. I was lured by the facets of feminism, but I knew that as a married Christian woman, it couldn’t satisfy what I desired. I knew that my marriage needed submission, sacrifice and commitment from both, my husband and me.
The irony in this struggle is that while I wanted to rebel against the cultural roles of a wife and a mother, I also deeply desired recognition for being a ‘good’ one. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband (who has partnered so well with me) and I am thankful for the gift of motherhood that has changed my life. But I began to resent the responsibilities to cook, clean, run a home and serve, while at the same time, also trying to do my best, so that I could pat my back and others could too. Somewhere down the line, God began showing me a mirror to see what I was doing and how that little seed of doubt had grown into this tall, wild bush that wasn’t allowing me to grow as a Christian woman.
I realised that the seed of mistrust made me question who I was and why God had created me. I was desperate to seek equality and sameness, without the recognition that God has created me and my husband, right from our physical form, for very different purposes. Then began my quest in books, theological debates and sermons. Each word from the Bible and every pastor I spoke to, told me the same thing. God does not discriminate between men and women, but I found it so hard to believe. I was using the lens of the world to see the heart of God.
I think I finally found theological understanding in a sermon our pastor has given on the Trinity. It made sense, that even though Christ died on the cross, for a plan that God had for the world, He is in no way lesser for submitting to God’s will. Our physical world and its hierarchical structures make it difficult for us to believe that submission and equality could go hand in hand.
While I intellectually understand this now, I have to keep preaching this sermon to myself often. The physical and mental labour in managing a home and children is not applauded by society. All associated big and small cultural practices and ideas about women, tend to make me feel second. Feeling second, of course, is a cultural idea itself, but when I feel second, I feel less.
However, I have now learned that the equality I so desperately desire isn’t something I can ever find in the broken and bent structures of the world. And because I am a product of this broken world, even I do not know what true equality looks like. Meanwhile, whenever I do struggle with that feeling of being lesser, or resentment, I find God reminding me of the truth through His Word, my husband, my children and my community. This is not a battle I have totally overcome, but I find that God is willing to meet in my struggle to remind me of who I am- His Child, created in His image.