Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Truly Strong Women

I have often lamented our culture's discomforted with strong women. By "strong women" I mean truly strong women.

The difference is that those that are touted as "strong" by our culture actually are not. They develop a hard exterior, a tight jaw, slitted eyes and an insincere smile. Their "strength" comes not from confidence, but of desperation not to be burned again like they have been in the past. They are perpetually recovering from something. Be it an abusive father figure, boyfriend or husband, these women are internally sworn never to be victimized in that manner again. As a result femininity, grace, gentleness and quiet confidence have to be discarded, or at least subdued as possible weaknesses. This is tragic to watch. This type of "strength" is nothing more than perpetual compensation for previous pain. It's not the strength that produces leadership; it's recovery. For this reason my wife and I have often quipped that "strong women aren't" (strong). You've seen this type of "strong women" whenever you encounter one who views most men (if not all) as a threat, has seemingly suppressed maternal instincts and verbally discards traditional views of feminine fulfillment. Naomi and I have met many of these on the past, and have lamented the tragedy of it every time.

By contrast, there exists that blessed brand of truly strong women that are not seemingly recovering from some past pain. They have the quiet confidence that comes from wisdom and conviction. They embrace femininity as a laudable expression of womanhood. Poise and grace are not weakness, but virtues that reveal a solid core. They are not threatened by strong men either, but instead celebrate appropriate expressions of masculinity too. They do not bristle at having a door opened for them, but rejoice that chivalry is alive and well. These strong women know how the world works, and wisely apply themselves to the principles that God has woven into creation.

Truly strong women are both celebrated by men (real men), and are a blessing to fellow women. You've met them before when you observed a woman juggling diverse responsibilities without complaint, balancing feminine grace and convicted toughness, or passionately advancing a cause that's born of fundamental beliefs. Come to think of it, these traits are indicative of strong people of either sex, but are expressed in ways specific to healthy femininity or masculinity.

I've met them before too. I was raised by one in my mother, Carlene Ott. I also grew up with one in my sister, Gaylene R. Tupen. Coincidentally, Gaylene is the same age as the current Republican Vice-presidential candidate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. I can easily support Sarah Palin's run for public office for similar reasons that I would support Gaylene to perform the same function. Though I don't know if Gaylene would ever want to serve in public office (nor do I know her politics enough to suggest that she too supports Sarah Palin), I do see similar qualities in Governor Palin (as much as I've learned of her from the news) that I celebrate in my sister. Gaylene is a truly strong women as I've defined it above. She is a mother of two awesome kids. She is a wildlife biologist. She contributes her time to her local public school, and she celebrates the success of her husband Jeff. Her brand of strength could easily be a conundrum to weaker people (male or female).

For the past fifteen years I've observed this type of strength up close at home in my wife Naomi. She posesses the traits I've outlined above, plus truckloads more. Her confidence is born of deeply held faith in Jesus Christ, wisdom regarding the world's workings and grace about her own life experiences. She is not perpetually recovering, but is poised and determined regarding what lies ahead. She is not threatened by my attempts to grow in strength and capability as a leader in our home, but rejoices over God's development of my character. Far from suppressing feminine instincts to appear stronger, she strives for a stereophonic beauty that emanates from inside and is expresses outside as well. She's an excellent role model for my daughter to follow. If Jessica grows up to be anything like her, I'll be a proud father indeed.

As for becoming a truly strong woman, my daughter has the advantage of many images to guide her. Her grandmother, her aunt, her mother and even an Alaska Governor can serve as her models. Truly strong women are such a blessing to encounter, their grace in action is a pleasure to watch and (*sexist comment alert) that poised beauty typically finds expression in their appearance also. Such women are found in the pages of Scripture, are celebrated in church history and will likely play a pivotal role in God's preservation of our culture. Would that more women exude such true strength, not merely the GOP Vice-presidential candidate.

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