Why Women Scare Me
I'm not scared of all women, just some of them. And I know I'm not alone in this fear, because I've had the "Why We Don't Trust Women" conversation with some of my best female friends.
"Women are too..." we say, then we throw out possibilities trying to identify exactly what it is we mean. "Competitive. Shallow. Catty."
The gender divide isn't that cut and dry, and we know it. Generalizations are unfair, and we know that, too. But still, we stumble around trying to name whatever this rub is, and we always seem to fail, because it's just too hard to nail down.
This morning, however, I had some time to pray and work back through old conflict, and I think I realized what's at the root of this fear for me. Women frighten me because they can look inside me and see me. They frighten me because I can look inside them and see, too. It's all just so raw. So vulnerable.
Women tend to be perceptive, which means we can identify one another's worst faults quickly. (At least we think we can.) And sometimes when we let a woman inside us to take a look at who we are, she can turn on us. Sometimes we aren't given grace for the messes that are found, and that hurts, and it makes us feel ashamed.
This weekend I let some friends crash at my house while I was out of town. Our place was an absolute wreck, but I didn't want them having to pay for a hotel, so I just let them in with the attitude of, "Here's the key. Please don't look at anything. Just shut your eyes and go directly to bed."
They were safe enough friends that I could do this. But imagine if they had taken pictures of my rooms in disarray and posted them online. Imagine if I had let them into my space and they had mocked it, then mocked me for being so irresponsible.
I've felt that way with some women. I've let them into my trust, and they've been cruel about the parts of me that are all messed up.
You've probably had that happen, too. Or maybe you've looked in someone and been rude about their messes. (I have.) This dynamic has made me nervous about seeing. It's made me nervous about being seen.
Maybe it's scientific at the core... you know that whole thing about female brains transferring information faster between hemispheres. I'm not sure. I do know that many women I know seem to read nuance, inflection, and innuendo faster than many men. We connect the dots like lightning, and we can read body language beneath words.
Some people call it women's intuition. I think it's more about processing, a synthetic way of taking in the world.
I remember being a chaperone for a field trip once, four little 5th grade girls in my van. One child was sitting behind me, and I noticed she was constantly looking at her reflection in the window glass.
She was by far the prettiest girl in the group, perfect bone structure and huge blue eyes. Still her flagrant vanity surprised me. "That man back there said I was the cutest girl he had ever seen," she said eventually. "Am I cute?"
She knew the answer; she was just reveling in it. The other girls squirmed, knowing she was prettiest, but letting it soak in what power that beauty had.
They had seen loveliness for years in the Beauty, but now that they were growing into pre-teens, the disparity between them was widening. The pang of being less glorious was sharper.
Finally a few of the other students broke the silence and affirmed the Beauty, and while everyone was trying to be polite, the posture of every little girl inside the van shifted. Beauty was now the queen, a stranger had confirmed it, and all the rest were bumped down a bit below her. She tossed her head when she got out of the van. She couldn't help it. The other girls didn't say much, but they made a space from her for the rest of the trip like blue collar workers move to one side of the sidewalk for a man in a business suit.
The regular girls (as if any heart were regular) had looked inside Beauty's heart and they had seen her vanity. Beauty had looked inside those regular girls' hearts and had seen intimidation.
I had worked with young girls long enough to know what would come next. This sort of thing lodges inside a community of women. The quiet murmurings about Beauty would begin. The resentment. The accusations born of jealousy. The divide. The harshness. Eventually, "She is THAT type," would be assumed, and cliques would solidify.
It's easy to criticize children for this kind of thing, but I have seen grown women run on a similar psychology. A 37-year-old beauty posts pictures of herself, asking that same question, and when it is clear that she is lovely, other women squirm.
They don't tell her she is vain. They compliment and praise her. But over the next few weeks they they find ways to work out their aggression. They post links to "Ten Things Nobody Wants to See on Facebook," knowing Beauty does seven of them and hoping others will notice the similarities and mistrust or shun her.
They write status updates like, "Cleavage in a selfie is never accidental." They make little digs privately to one another, "She knows exactly what she is doing wearing those short, tight knit dresses around my husband." We see insecurity turned to greed in the other woman, and we let our claws fly.
Shame on her. Shame on her for being like that.
And before we more mature, academic women get all high and mighty about ourselves, we tend to do the same thing -- even if we read books, or go light on makeup, or forget to brush our hair. In fact, from what I've seen, the problem can be even uglier among the intellectual types.
After years of building our identity on rebellion against the fickle, surface, sexualized womanhood of our culture, when we encounter other strong females who have made similar life choices, the competition can be brutal.
When the superficials are stripped away, we don't just criticize matchy outfits and decorating tastes-- we work out feminine hostility over principles. We mock philosophical beliefs. Artistic beliefs. Academic pursuits. Worship. Work. Favorite writers. Politicians.
Shame on her. Shame on her for being like that.
The most brutal, personal attacks I have ever received (or given) have been from (or aimed at) sober, academic women. It hasn't happened very many times in my life, but when it has happened, beneath those attacks the same issue was present, "I see how you work. I don't like it."
Why are we so hostile when we see one another's faults? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because we are lonely and we want a safe place so badly, then we are just so disappointed when someone ends up not being what we want her to be.
Or maybe when we look into one another and see what makes someone else tick, we see reflections of what we hate most about our own selves. Maybe in not having patience or grace for our own flaws, we are quicker to damn others for having them, too.
You know the old cliche Spiderman quote, "With great power comes great responsibility." I think it should apply here. Many women do tend to have an ability to super see, so what now? What is the responsibility that goes with that gift?
I wonder what would happen if women started looking into one another, noticing flaws because we can't help but notice them, but then we stopped feeding off the hostility that surfaces so easily?
What would happen if we saw pride, greed, manipulation, vanity, and instead of letting mistrust, hate, and dismissal bubble up, we applied the love of Jesus to those needs?
What if instead of "Shame on her," we started saying, "What a burden she is carrying, wrestling with all that fear and need so that it leaks out in such ugly ways."
Because seeing another person's flaws is a tremendous opportunity. How we act in the presence of another person's vulnerability says as much about who we really are as anything I know.
Seeing flaws forces us to make a choice between hopelessness or hope. It forces us to choose between grace and law.
A year or two ago, I received a long, condemning email from another woman. It was clear that she had been observing me from a distance for a while, deciding what sort of person I was. I don't know how many pages she spent outlining my sins, but by the time she was finished, I could barely breathe.
I spent at least a day writing a long message in return. I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to explain. I wanted to show her that she was also doing some of the exact same things she was accusing me of.
Then I decided not to go there. She wasn't asking for my thoughts, she was telling me hers. There was no suppleness to her, only judgment. I just took her critique, prayed over it, asked God to show me what was true in it, and wrote her a brief, polite response back. "Thanks for letting me know. I'm sorry to have disappointed you. I wish you the best." What else can you say in a situation like that?
But what I learned most from the whole ordeal is how dark, how condemning, how hell-like and hopeless women can act in disposing of one another. It's not how I want to be treated. It's not how I want to treat other people, either.
Jesus loved us before we were lovable, while we were yet sinners. He saw our most embarrassing traits, and He decided to chase us anyway. He walked into our messy homes and instead of turning his nose up and picking dried noodles off the counter, He was safe and gentle with our vulnerability. He saw us in our pride, deception, manipulation, impatience, vanity and then offered His welcome instead of His condemnation. His love made us lovable. How beautiful that is. How beautiful it is when we love one another with His brand of love.