I ran, and finished, my first full marathon a few weeks ago at age 50. Over the past year, I ran several half-marathons, but the full marathon at 26.2 miles seemed daunting. I trained. I prepared. And, like a girl, I also planned my running outfit (I love running skirts!) with great care and thought.
When race day came, I pushed through pain, kept moving forward, cried when I saw my husband cheering me on from the crowd and cried again when I crossed the finish line. I ran like a girl!
But what does it mean to “run like a girl”?
One of this year’s Super Bowl ads showed teen boys and girls being asked what it means to do something (run, throw, fight) “like a girl.” In every instance, the teens made motions imitating a prissy, “girlie-girl” manner. But when younger girls were asked what it means to do the same thing “like a girl,” they showed a decidedly more confident, though still girlish, example.
Recognizing that many girls begin losing their confidence during their adolescent years, Procter & Gamble, the ad sponsor, began their “Like a Girl” campaign last fall. Boys accuse friends of screaming like a girl, running like a girl, throwing like a girl as a derogatory put-down, and even girls use the phrase as a statement of being weak or silly, or someone not to be taken seriously. As the campaign says, “Using #LikeAGirl as an insult is a hard knock against any adolescent girl. And since the rest of puberty’s really no picnic either, it’s easy to see what a huge impact it can have on a girl’s self-confidence.”
Admittedly, there is an undercurrent of feminist ideology in the message here. But anytime a characteristic turns into a stereotype that morphs into an insult, we should take care to reinforce the truth.
Even in Christian circles, we need to be careful about painting a strict picture or developing preconceived ideas of what the practical outworking of biblical womanhood looks like in today’s culture. For example:
Scripture tells us that we are to be women who have gentle and quiet spirits, but does that discount the woman to whom God has given a gregarious personality and an infectious laugh? How does she fit in our stereotypical box?
Motherhood is the highest calling and a unique task for women. Is the woman with no children looked at with a question mark, asking, “What's wrong with her?”
Women are commanded to love their husbands, and marriage is high and lifted up in our churches. Where does that leave the middle-aged, never-married woman who is serving the Lord with all her heart? Does she have a place in our ideal picture of what biblical womanhood looks like?
And what about the woman who is gifted athletically, committed to keeping her body physically fit and striving to perform at the highest level possible? Does she not fit the mold? Is she deemed unfit to be soft and feminine and worthy of praise?
Author and speaker Mary Kassian reminds us that women were unhappy in the “Leave to Beaver, happy housewife, vacuuming in pearls” model of womanhood during the ‘50s. Feminists fought for a new model of what it meant to be woman, but even with all that is afforded them today, women are still unhappy. Women traded one model, or stereotype, for another – and neither is satisfying. But if the picture of the ‘50s housewife doesn’t work, and the feminist “anything goes” model is even less satisfying, where does that leave us?
Kassian offers a solution. “The solution – the biblical solution – is to embrace the Word of God, and ask Him to help us figure out how to live out His divine design in this culture,” she writes in True Woman 101: Divine Design.
In other words, maybe it's time to stop creating boxes or pictures that women have to fit into, but rather teach the principles of biblical womanhood and let the Lord guide the practical outworking of those principles in a woman’s life.
I do not fit in a lot of the extra-biblical stereotypes that are constructed on the shoulders of the truth of biblical womanhood.
I am a girl … who rides her own Harley-Davidson.
I am a girl … who is strong-willed, driven and focused.
I am a girl … who doesn’t necessarily like girlie parties.
I am a girl … who will fight to the bitter end.
I am a girl … who is married with no children.
I am a girl … who ran hard for 26.2 miles and might actually do it again.
But I am also a girl who loves Jesus with all her heart, daily seeks to live a life for His pleasure and embraces the truth of Scripture for women. Every day I wake up and set out to live my life like the girl God created me to be.
I clothe myself “like a girl” – “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).
I work “like a girl” – “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks” (Proverbs 31:17).
I speak “like a girl” – “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:15).
At the end of the Procter & Gamble commercial, the last little girl was asked to describe what it means to run like a girl. Her answer? “To run as fast as you can.”
When I hear “like a girl,” I want to see a picture of a woman who is running the best she can, the hardest she can, using every ounce of her being, keeping her eye on the prize and her heart focused on finishing the race well. This is the true biblical ideal!
(EDITOR’S NOTE –Terri Stovall is dean of women’s programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and co-author of the book Women Leading Women. This article first appeared at the seminary’s BiblicalWoman.com website.)