It is a total honour for me today to share with you this interview that I had the pleasure of doing with Sarah from Emerging Mummy. She is a strong woman and a provocative writer with an almost poetic style that just flows, rich with wisdom and depth. Her heart is beautiful and kindred, and I am blessed to call her a friend.
Her recent piece “In Which I Write a Letter to Women’s Ministry” is well-deserving of your time, and has garnered quite a reaction from a varied audience. Other favourites of mine include pretty well every post in her Practices of Mothering series, and also this one “In Which I Can Feel Like Sisyphus“, and oh, so many more!
1. How long have you been a housewife? How many kids do you have?
I’ve been married for a little over 10 years now. My three tinies are 5 year old Anne, 3 year old Joe and 6 month old Evelynn.
2. When was the first time you really reflected on your womanhood, and what it means?
I was brought up in a family of strong women – my mother, my Aunties, my Grannys, my cousins. My mother walked in tremendous freedom and confidence; her voice was valued in our home. She and my father modelled a healthy and loving egalitarian marriage. They are both strong personalities and I learned a tremendous amount from both of them about womanhood. They both had high expectations on us in every way. I don’t think I realised what a gift this was until I was confronted with what many in our society (and to be truthful, a lot of churches) believe about womanhood.
Then when I was in my late teens and 20s, I came into a new understanding of womanhood, particularly the power of sisterhood. And then once I gave birth to my tinies, I’ve become more passionate about the voice of women in our world for redemption, reconciliation with God, wholeness and justice. I wasn’t intent on becoming so passionate about womanhood, not on my radar at all really, but when I experienced and saw the change that women can bring about in their homes, their families, the broader world, it seemed to me that if women were released from whatever is holding them back (and there is a lot) then a lot of the issues would be tackled. My carpenter-theologian of a husband has been a big part of my freedom to write and speak boldly about what interests me – in the world, in politics, in the church, in theology, in mothering, in love – he encourages my voice and gives me tremendous honour, challenges me. And we love to wrestle through our thoughts together. He has been deeply influential in my growth and perceptions on womanhood. His passion for our tinies – not just our girls but also our son – to also experience a redeemed God-view of personhood is as deep as my own.
Also, I work for Mercy Ministries of Canada which is a free-of-charge, residential home for young women that struggle with many life-controlling issues (drug and alcohol abuse, physical and sexual abuse, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and so on). And to hear their stories, to witness Jesus transform their lives as they begin to live life with hope, intention and love is incredible. These women are my heroes. I often say that if I could have most people sit down to talk with these women, most of us would become more passionate about womanhood!
3. What do you think is lacking in society’s understanding of women?
In the broader society, one that springs to mind is that I think that we reduce a woman down to her appearance. We define ourselves by our appearance, we define each other by our appearance. The world will tell you that you are only worthy of love if you look or act a certain way. And that is a tremendous lie to overcome, to see beyond our cultural definitions of beauty to God’s definition of beauty and loveliness. We also tend to value a woman by her relationships to others – is she a wife? a mother? is she doing those things “the right way”?
I also struggle with society’s views on a womans’ sexuality – the growth and normalisation of pornography, human slavery/sex trafficking, even hyper-sexuality among young people – all of it is connected to the lack of value on womanhood, on personhood, on being made in the image of God. Our culture is quite messed up on womanhood.
And then beyond that, within the church, we have benched half the church with flawed theology around womanhood. So there is that as well. But I won’t stir that pot for you here.
4. Do you think that any of the ‘women stereotypes’ are true?
Well, not really. I don’t think that stereotypes are particularly helpful for true understanding. And almost every stereotype I have heard about women – they are catty, they don’t like sex, they are jealous, they like chocolate, they all want to be wives and mothers – isn’t true for some women (just as there are many men that actually do like emotional intimacy or don’t like to shoot things and so on). Womanhood is diverse in every way – as it should be. When we direct all of our energies towards meeting the needs of the stereotypes or even guarding ourselves against the stereotypes of women, we don’t leave room for God to move, for the universal truths about women and men to emerge, for true relationship, vulnerability and authenticity. I think it’s more helpful to look at a woman as her own person, at a man as his own person, and leave the assumptions at the door. I admit to kicking against stereotypes rather joyfully. I have found women to be just as diverse as men in their likes, their dislikes, their opinions, their sexuality, their personalities. It’s reductionist and childish to lump us together simply by gender.
5. How does having a global perspective change your view of women?
Immensely. Once I realised that God’s view of womanhood is much broader than “stay at home mum” vs. “work at home mum” for instance – that there is a broad, beautiful quilt of womanhood in every season of life and calling, that many choices we have in the West are, by their very nature, choices of privilege, it changed everything. I became ashamed of some of my more myopic views, not only of womanhood but of Christianity, war, birth, mothering, peace, justice, community, money, success, all of it. Part of my journey has been a move towards peacemaking or what I call “an uneasy pacifism” – much of that was motivated by my understanding of womanhood from a global perspective, from the realisation that women in Afghanistan, Iraq and the world over are my sisters and we are in this together. I am tremendously inspired and challenged by the voices of women around the world – our sisters from all parts of the globe in Iran, Ireland and the Ivory Coast. It’s a beautiful song we’re singing.
6. How do you relate to other women? Do you find it easy to do?
I love women. I love to listen to women, I love to hear our stories, to worship together, to pray together, to work together, to laugh. I value my friendships and try to stay in touch despite our frequent moves or the dailyness of life. Now forgive the generalisation ahead — I find that most women are walking wounded in their relationships with other women. But – and there’s the but – they are hungry for women. They know in their soul we are meant to be on the same side, we are meant to be together, that there is something beautiful in sisterhood. So I try to give what I’ve heard called the gift of being second. I take the first step – make the first phone call, make the first overture of friendship, make the first confession, get vulnerable and authentic and truthful first and then they only have to step out in the safe space I’ve created for us.
7. If you could have coffee with any woman in history, who would it be?
Oh, gracious! that’s a great question. I’d love to sit down with Mother Theresa, with Luci Shaw, Madeline L’Engle, Maya Angelou, Tina Fey, Marilyn Skinner. I could go on for days! But there are also a lot of women in my life that I love to sit down with that aren’t famous in the least, just quietly leading lives of dignity and love and hope – those are usually the true heroes, let’s be honest.
Now it’s your turn! Pick your favourite question (or two!) and tell me your answers. This is the stuff I love to chat about with friends over a good cup of tea (and if you also live here in Tiny Town then let’s have a Tea House date to do that!), so please do share… I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions and on womanhood in general.