by Emma Pitman
My job involves researching how gender and power influence our lives. It should come as no surprise that it is quite a lot! What has become clear to me is that while women have not always had power, they have always had strength. To me, it is a strength that reflects both the fierceness and the tenderness of Jesus – Jesus, who is both lion and lamb, saviour and servant, God and human.
Beyond this, to talk of the goodness of being a woman is tricky. What is a good woman? Who decides? Why do they get to decide? Is there goodness in being a woman that is different from the goodness of being a human? When I hear declarations about what makes a ‘good woman’, internally I scream, ‘reveal your sources!’
What I have learned is that women are praised for being selfless, for their empathy, for the capacity to nurture and care, for being beautiful, and a host of other things that revolve around how we make others feel. Do we make the people around us feel safe? Do we make others feel comfortable, with our demeanour, with our words, or our appearance? Women are valued for how they impact—or don’t impact— the comfort of those around them. None of these are bad things, but a woman’s goodness is present before any of this; indeed, it is present whether she reflects any of these things, or not.
Discovering the goodness of being a woman involves disentangling it from our accomplishments, from our performance of a role. Women are good, not because of what we do, but because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Before we do anything, we are loved by God. This same God who spoke to his Son in a river, declaring that he was proud, even before he had begun any public ministry, before he had done anything. Matthew describes it this way (3:17): “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
So, every day when I wake up, before I move or even sit up in bed, I dwell on our good God’s unconditional love for me: a love not scaled to my achievements or how hard I fight and strive on any given day.
This is something we all need to hear, because what it means in practice is this:
A woman asleep is good. A woman turning left at the lights is good. A woman losing her temper is good. A woman comforting a friend is good. A woman who made a choice you disagreed with is good. A woman healing from trauma is good. A woman without makeup is good, as is a woman wearing makeup. A woman in a relationship is good, so is a woman who is single. A woman who has children is good, and so is a woman who doesn’t.
In other words, our goodness and our value does not hinge on what we do or what we have. Granted, this is contrary to most cultural narratives, particularly those that equate personal worth with productivity (I’m looking at you, capitalism).
Still, it’s hard to speak about the goodness of women in broad brush strokes, because women are diverse, multifaceted, and unique. This complexity is part of our goodness. Women are not one thing; they are not universally governed by the same motives, experiences, or nature, and just as a group of women is diverse, an individual woman is expansive and varied too. There is no limit to the combination of talents and desires that can exist within one woman. Even when some of these might seem to be in conflict with themselves (I can be generous and selfish sometimes), they don’t cancel each other out. A woman—in all her glorious complexity—simply is because she is made in God’s image. She is created with good gifts from a good God, and as James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
This beautiful complexity and bountiful capacity is what I love most about being a woman. When I think of words that have shaped me, that people have spoken over my life, I hear things that may seem to be contradictions and yet I feel grateful that I am able to be so many things at once. I am strong and vulnerable, and both are valuable. I feel fire within me and can express it with grace sometimes or through tears at other times. Sometimes I don’t feel anything, and that is okay too. I am resilient, and connected to others, and I can metabolise pain into empathy. None of these qualities are exclusive to being a woman, but women do have wider social permissions when it comes to emotional intelligence and connection.
It feels strange to say it, but I am good. I am good, even when I’m not, because the Lord is good and I am his. And I know that truth because Jesus loved my non-goodness enough to go to the cross.
Yes, women are good, because we are His people, and He is very good.
Emma Pitman is a 2019 Creative Fellow at Anglican Deaconess Ministries in Sydney, Australia. When she’s not building furniture, she’s working on her creative project for the year: Tension: Collected Essays on Gender, Power and Hope.