Last week, I attended Glennon Doyle Melton’s “Broken Lives, Courageous Living” forum at Westminster Church in Minneapolis, MN. Glennon is the author of Carry On, Warrior and the recently released bestseller, Love Warrior. She writes and speaks chiefly about the inevitable intersection of love and pain, and why humans should walk bravely into that intersection.
She also writes prolifically on masculinity and femininity, specifically how men and women are socialized away from loving each other well.
The following reflection was inspired by her prophetic words on women’s bodies.
“I think little girls are born—body, mind, and spirit—whole. But we get so many confusing, aggressive, and objectifying messages about our bodies that we become ashamed of our bodies. And we cannot love or claim something that we’re ashamed of. So we just vote our bodies off the island.
We agree with the world at some point that our bodies are not divine vessels of love and wisdom, but that they are objects. That their worth comes from their shape and not their existence.
We women become people who don’t even know what we desire, because we’re too busy worrying about how to be desired. We don’t know what we want, because all we know is how to be wanted. That’s how we become the objects instead of the subjects of our lives.”
–Glennon Doyle Melton (paraphrased from the “Broken Lives, Courageous Living” forum)
Women are born whole. But the world goes after our wholeness, methodically fracturing our minds, bodies, and souls. Over time, we learn to swallow our songs because the powerful prefer quiet, tolerant canaries. They would rather not hear women sing, because our songs of desire and lament make them uncomfortable. They pinch our beaks shut and admonish us for despising our cages, for wearing our feathers wrong, for singing radical songs.
And so, brave little girls forget they have wings and warrior women forget how to sing.
In mind and soul, we pay the price. But our culture demands an additional bounty from women. We must also forfeit body ownership and physical agency to men.
The connection between our souls and our bodies is severed when we accept one or both of these toxic lies: that our bodies are commodities and that our bodies cannot be trusted.
We retreat from our physical selves, from the bodies we’ve learned to hate and fear. Some never recover that connection, so they “vote their bodies off the island.” We live divorced from the physical in a protected place in our minds, a safe room where we cannot be hurt, judged, or accused.
But we never learn how to love with our whole selves, because we see our own bodies as enemies. We live in them, certainly, but we never truly claim them as vessels of divine love, wisdom, mercy, and justice.
Glennon cites this as the chief reason she and her husband struggled with intimacy in their marriage. And many women, particularly Christian women, face this same issue because the church fails to examine healthy female sexuality and encourage body affirmation.
Pro tip: Song of Songs provides a great biblical basis for body affirmation and healthy female sexuality.
Many little girls are taught that they are made in the image of God, but time and experiences teaches us that this is a lie. We are divinely inspired, they say.
But we’re not divinely inspired, are we? We can’t be—not if men think our bodies can be bought and not if the church thinks our bodies are dangerous.
No, we must be only a shadow, a distortion, of the imago dei. A distortion that provokes, entices, and arouses.
Who could love something so destructive?
“We cannot love or claim something that we’re ashamed of,” Glennon argues.
From the church, women learn that we cannot be trusted. That our bodies are unpredictable. That our worth can be measured by our shape and not our existence. That we are objects, not subjects. That our bodies are threats to be neutralized. That shame is the natural conclusion of womanhood.
We learn to see ourselves only through the eyes of men—either as objects of desire or symbols of fear—not through our own eyes and certainly not through the lens of the divine.
We don’t ask for what we need, because we’re taught that we exist to meet needs. This extends to the emotional labor women are expected to perform in their interpersonal relationships. We struggle to process desire (and not just sexual desire), because we are taught that desire belongs to men.
This, Glennon explains, is how a woman becomes the object and not the subject of her own life. This is the virus we plant and incubate in our daughters. And the church rarely stops to ask if it was the one who made us sick in the first place.
Was it the church who told women to love their cages? Was it the church who silenced women’s radical songs of love, anger, grief, and desire? Was it the church who told us our bodies couldn’t be trusted?
In the world, little girls learn how to be desired. In the church, little girls learn they are far too desirable already. These are two sides of the same coin, two stories with the same ending. Both narratives fracture female identity and undermine women’s sacred worth.
What if we rejected both stories? What if we told a new story?
In the new story, women are valuable simply because we exist. Full stop.
In the new story, women aren’t commodities or objects to be controlled. We are chosen vessels, the subjects of our lives. Women are not shadows or distortions of the imago dei, but complete portraits of God’s strength, beauty, and goodness.
In the new story, brave little girls grow into warrior women. We don’t forget we have wings. We sing radical songs of desire and lament.
In the new story, we don’t settle for being wanted. We reject the world’s attempts to shame and control what God has designed and declared good. We claim our bodies as powerful channels of God’s love, wisdom, justice, and mercy.
Rachel Elizabeth Asproth graduated from Bethel University with a BA in English literature and reconciliation studies in 2015. She was the first to graduate from her university with a gender studies minor. She is currently the editor of the CBE Scroll and Arise at CBE International. Rachel became a feminist in college, where she also rediscovered her faith in Jesus and her identity as a leader and learner. She spends most of her time scouring thrift stores for new books and taking advantage of her student discount at the Orpheum Theatre. She is a tea-drinking, truth-speaking, perpetually-learning revolutionary-in-training. Rachel currently lives in New Brighton, MN.
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