Last week I posted an article I thought would be a stand-alone. It was a rather academic piece on Jezebel – what she/it is and isn’t, and how it is wrongly used to subjugate and control women. I packed as much as I could into it in the vain hope that I’d never have to write on it again (read that here, if you haven’t already).
But I already knew that I had to, didn’t I? You see I’ve learned something about you readers: you like the academic stuff, but you love the personal stuff. I’ve also learned something about me: I write what interests me, but any writer worth their salt draws from the deeper parts of themselves. For a long time I didn’t feel as if I owned my story. But I freaking do. So here I am, with my big girl pants on, telling you what its been like for me to gain and lose the Jezebel brand.
I’m a big sister. I’m a mum. I’m a loyal friend. So perhaps it would come as no surprise that I’m the sort of person who can take a fair bit on the chin, feel the hurt, shrug it off and then get on with life. But when people around me are in pain or somehow negatively affected by something, then ohhhh mother. It takes all my strength to say “not my circus, not my monkeys” and stay out of it sometimes.
It wasn’t whether or not I had been called a Jezebel that motivated me. It was other women’s stories – other women’s pain. It was other women trying to find their way in Christianity, or just in life, wearing this shame that comes with the inference that you are under the influence of an evil spirit; that you are responsible for the lack of spiritual progress in your church, for division, for ill health, for bad things that have happened in relationships or families. It takes a bit to recover from that and find your personality and voice again. I think, I hope, I’ve learned some things along the way. They say sharing is caring so here we are.
First a bit about “Jezebel” and me.
I have to say up front that it was never said to my face. No one ever said to me “you are a Jezebel. It was said to my husband though. It was said to my face in other words. “You shouldn’t be so strong. You need to surrender your opinion. You’re becoming too much. Surrender. Back down. Don’t ask questions. Your intellect is a problem to God. If you ever hope to get married, then you need to learn not to be such a handful.” Or the big one, “I’m not saying you are a Jezebel, but you ought to be careful not to act under the influence.”
I knew what that meant, because I’d heard or been part of conversations where other women had been talked about in the same terms. They were called Jezebels. Thus, by characterisation, I was at risk of being one of them. I knew when I was out of favour, and I knew when I was in. I knew, by virtue of the gossip I’d been part of, that certain things would be said about me. The J word, if not pronounced explicitly, would be present in every insinuation.
But you see, I wasn’t a Jezebel, and I knew it. If Jezebel was associated with sexual immorality, then how could I, a virgin on her wedding day and a faithful wife, be one? Even if I wasn’t a virgin on my wedding day, it still would have been a long, long way from Baal, the fertility cults of Canaan which Jezebel partook in and their alleged temple orgies. Gosh! If Jezebel was associated with idolatry, how could I, a monotheistic Christian constantly on guard against putting other things before God, be idolatrous? If Jezebel was associated with unsubmissiveness, then how could I, the woman who wanted to vow to “love honour and obey” on her wedding day (but took the vow out because my husband wasn’t comfortable with it) be one of them? But as comfortable as I was in my knowledge of this, I was not immune to the feelings that come with the brand.
- You start to ask God why He made you smart/inquisitive/bubbly/passionate, if that made you a problem. You feel ashamed of these aspects of your personality, so you try to mute it.
- You start to feel guilty when male attention comes your way, and feel ashamed of your sexuality or your looks (both of which are God-given parts of who you are).
- You begin to hate your desire to use your talents (for God, or for fun or vocation in my case), because you know this could come across as attention seeking and that would add fuel to the fire.
- You begin to second guess your discernment. If something feels or looks wrong, you silence your misgivings – partially because you doubt yourself, partially because you know that if you raised it you’d be “being a handful” or “dishonouring leadership.” I.e. You’d be acting under the influence of Jezebel.
All in all, this Jezebel brand can have the effect of eroding a persons confidence and discernment, muting their talent, intellect and sexuality, causing their self-esteem to plummet and their personal appearance to be the cause of great shame. Gosh, you should try dodging the ‘seductive/attention seeking/Jezebel’ brand while possessing boobs and being expected to dance at every worship service. Good golly. If that isn’t a double bind!
Can you see why I feel so strongly that this label is harmful, and that bad theology is dangerous? Too many women have had it worse than me. Too many women still struggle to find their voices, or to fully express their strength, femininity, talent, intelligence or charisma. Too many women are not living the lives God intended for them – all because of bad theology that is too often used against them.
I don’t care whether you are egalitarian or complementarian. I don’t care whether you believe women should have the right to preach/pastor or not. This type of inequality does not belong in the church. Not when all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made, and marvellous are the works of the one who made us. (Psalm 139:14)
Shaking off the big J brand
Every healing journey begins with the realisation that you have something to heal from. We see the world through rose coloured glasses sometimes, because its easier to smile and say, “Oh no thats totally fine,” than to look at your wound and say “Yeah that hurt.” Because that statement has another statement attached to it. “That hurt, and you hurt me.” It might be a person, it might be a system. Either way, the realisation that you have something to heal from often comes with the realisation that something else ain’t right. Once that bubble has popped, it’s popped. You can’t unpop it. The only thing you can do is sit with that realisation, and then eventually figure out what you will do with it.
Read lots. I know, I am a nerd. This is how I handle life. But reading *helped* me. I read the Bible. I read commentaries on the Bible. I took notes about what I agreed with and what I didn’t agree with and why. I talked with people wiser than me and let my inner nerd loose like a kid in a lolly shop. I discovered a lot of theological clashes that had made their way into my belief system. But I also discovered that the colloquial term “Jezebel” that is used to control and subjugate women bears little resemblance to the Biblical character and the warnings that accompany her.
Find people who will tell you the truth. I’ve always valued people who tune me, who don’t blindly agree. When someone confronts bad ideas and tunes you on them, that’s a valuable thing. When those same people tell you “Nope! That’s wrong. You aren’t this thing you’ve been called. Don’t accept that,” then you’ve got to listen. It was these people who helped me regain my faith in God and in myself, and who reminded me again and again that it is okay to be strong, and to be a woman of substance.
Remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and marvellous are your creators works. If I am a work of art, then how awful of me to hate myself and whine to my creator about what a rubbish job He did. If I was to honour God, then I needed to honour what He made me: smart, bubbly, loving, passionate, generous, talkative, curious, discerning, musical, a nonconformist who can’t stand injustice and needs to uncover bad theology, a compassionate person who can’t look upon the plight of wounded people and feel nothing. None of these things are bad. All of these things are God-given, and thus He would not look upon them or me with shame.
Take back your story. Take back your voice. You don’t have to do this in spite. You don’t have to do it on anyone else’s timeline. You can be kind, strong, restrained and do things in your time and on your terms. Eventually I had to stop being ashamed of my story. I haven’t told it yet. I may only ever tell snippets (because there are too many other people whose stories intersect with mine, and even though some of these people have hurt me, they are still people).
Tangent! But! I was saying – It is my story though. No one else owns it. I decide what to do with it. For now, I’m sitting comfortable in my ownership, and only sharing what I think is relevant and helpful to other people. But there is a whole lot of freedom that comes with knowing the simple fact that no one else owns your story, and no one else gets to tell you what to do with your voice.
I’ll be the first to admit, it has taken/is taking me a while to take back my voice. I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. I’ve ghostwritten books. I’ve authored novels. But to write non-fiction, and to examine doctrine was what I always wanted to do. It took me until last year to do it. I was scared people in my past would think it was a veiled dig at them, even if it had nothing to do with them. I grew the courage to blog about things that fascinated me, but didn’t have the courage to share it. I was still scared of other peoples judgements of me. But there came a tipping point where I had to think “Okay, how long am I going to let other people run my life? How long am I going to ignore God’s promptings and defer to the judgement of people who don’t love me like He does?”
Things went boom on this blog. Every time I think about quitting, I get another thank you email from someone it has helped. So I owe it to myself and others to keep on. I never write something out of spite. I never write when I am hot headed. But I owe myself, others, and my creator, better honour than to let fear dictate my limits.
I am a woman. I am loved by God. I am worthy of equality. The patriarchal systems within some churches may not agree. Some men may not agree. But I do not attend those churches and I am not married to those men. This is my space, and I intend to fully inhabit it.
Look in the mirror and try to see what God does. If you can do it, look at your kids and ask “What do I want for them?” I looked at my daughter, and I asked it about her. My husband and I want the same things for her. We want her to be free to be herself in the fullest possible way. She’s only one, but she’s smart, loving, wacky, affectionate, musical, inquisitive and just so beautiful. We will teach her to own these things and never to listen to someone who tells her they aren’t pure and wonderful. If you can’t see yourself the way God sees you, if you can’t see His heart for you when you look in the mirror, then look at your kids and ask yourself “how much more does my creator love me?”
I asked that question. I couldn’t argue with the response. So this fierce and worthy woman is shaking off the shame of a brand that once tried to attach itself to me. It is not mine. I won’t have it. You can say what you like about me. That simply doesn’t make it true.
Before I sign off – a shout out to my branded sisters, wherever you might read this from: You owe it to yourself, your partner, your kids and your creator to rise up above the voices that tried to control and minimise you. What you are is beautiful. No one else gets to dictate how much of your true self you can let shine through. Don’t become less just because someone doesn’t think you have the right to shine. You do.
You do. And I do.
Go in peace, girlfriend