I remember striding down the hallway arm-in-arm with a couple of middle-school girlfriends, belting out the words of Helen Reddy’s 1972 chart-topping song. The words of the song summed up our resolve: We were strong! We were invincible! We were women! We were going to roar in numbers too big to ignore! No man was ever going to keep us down! We were perched on the verge of womanhood. And we were confident that we would be the first generation to get the meaning of womanhood right.
"We Can Do It!" (Can't We?)
Our generation tried. We really did. We embraced education, careers, prominence. We despised all relationships and responsibilities that would hold us back. We moved marriage, mothering and homemaking from the top of our lists to the bottom—or crossed them off all together. After all, we were so much more enlightened than our fore-sisters were. The world had revolved around men, but it was our turn now. We would make it bow to our demands.
Trading June Cleaver for Carrie Bradshaw
We decided that the role of a housewife was totally passé. Charlie’s Angels seemed so much more exciting. So we redefined boundaries. We changed the rules of male-female relationships. We became loud, demanding, and aggressive. We boldly pushed back against traditional definitions of gender and sexuality. We claimed our freedoms. We traded in the “Leave it to Beaver” model of womanhood for the “Sex in the City” one. We bought into the feminist promise that woman would find happiness and fulfillment when she defined her own identity and decided for herself what life as a woman was all about. How very wrong we were. For ultimately, our identity is a matter decided not by us, but by the One who in the beginning created us male and female.
It’s obvious that the “Leave it to Beaver” model of womanhood—having a husband, a station-wagon full of kids, a house in the ‘burbs, and every possible modern appliance—didn’t bring woman the happiness she desired. As an old, archived 1972 Time magazine article lamented:
By all rights, the American woman today should be the happiest in history. She is healthier than U.S. women have ever been, better educated, more affluent, better dressed, more comfortable, wooed by advertisers, pampered by gadgets. But there is a worm in the apple. She is restless in her familiar familial role, no longer quite content with the homemaker-wife-mother part in which her society has cast her.
Last year, Time magazine devoted an entire issue to “The State of the American Woman.” Writers were confounded by the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more education, more economic independence, more power, and more freedom, they have become less and less happy. Ironically, they are unhappier now than when the Feminist movement set about to solve the problem of woman’s unhappiness. The modern ideal for womanhood is even less fulfilling than the one it replaced.
Return to Pine Street?
So should we try to rewind the tape and try to squeeze every woman back into the “Leave it to Beaver” mold? No. We can’t hope to get womanhood right until we understand the ultimate object to which it points. When God created male and female, He provided an object lesson—a parable, as it were—of His entire redemptive plan. Men are to reflect the strength, love and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women are to reflect the character, grace and beauty of the Bride He redeemed. Ultimately, womanhood exists to help display the masterpiece of God.
From Cultural Ideals to Christ
The implications are staggering. This places womanhood at the center of God’s ultimate purpose. It endows it with supernatural significance and meaning. It provides woman with a framework to understand what her life is all about, what she should value, and how to make choices that align. Time, culture, and circumstances change, but the Bible provides an enduring model for womanhood that goes far beyond a stereotyped, cookie-cutter list of behaviors.
History proves that woman’s happiness is not found in pursuing the current cultural ideal. But that doesn’t mean it’s an elusive goal. My “woman’s history”—and the history of a multitude of sisters who have loved Christ—testifies to the fact that happiness (of the deep, lasting kind) can be found in pursuing the One to whom true womanhood points.