Shattered Identity

Oh, I am too excited to share today’s post with you! I know Pam through our publisher, Civitas. I’ve never met her, but based on what she writes here, I know we will be good friends. Her heart sings the same song of feminine justice that resonates in me. Enjoy and be challenged. Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments. Pam will be replying.

I have been in a wrestling match over my identity as a woman since the moment I was born. I do not know what challenges the other sex  face with their assigned chromosomes, but for me, being a member of the female half of humanity has had its ups and downs. I know I’m not the only one. Just last night at work, as the shift wound down and my co-workers and I prepared to call it a night, one of the gals suddenly lamented out loud, “I hate being a girl. I don’t like my girl parts and wish I had been born a man.”  Other women in the room echoed her sentiment “I don’t like being hassled every month by my body and I wish I could fix things like men do,” continued the young woman. I stayed quiet, not wanting to disrupt the spontaneous confession of dissatisfied women.

“I love being a man,” said the lone male in the room when the conversation about the curse of womanhood subsided.  There it was, hovering in the air around me in the stuffy, windowless office, the significance of being born male or female and how we are affected our entire life by our gender. I have wrestled it out with my feminine identity from the cradle to the present. There is much to be said about this, how culture and society expects men and women To Be.  I heard a man preach many years ago about the value of being born male or female. He confronted the chronic discontent that plagues so many of their maleness or femaleness, or rather, he confronted the lies that challenge us on every side of whether we are manly enough or womanly enough. He said, “Look, if you are a woman then you have enough femininity; if you are a man, then you are masculine enough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. God made you who you are so embrace it.” I loved hearing this, having been the tree-climbing-spit-on-the-sidewalk kind of tomboy during my childhood and early adolescence.

There are a thousand messages that challenge a girl everyday if she is girly enough, but for the Christian female, there is the added weight if she is a proper Christian woman. And to be a Proper Christian Woman means for many women to be subservient to the status-quo of traditionalism that men lead and women submit. This presents a dilemma for those women who have felt called to the pulpit only to come up against a stained-glass ceiling of Christianized sexism. “Women can’t be pastors,” they’ve been told, “for that’s not biblical.” The Christian woman who is eager to please God has a hard time reconciling the tension.  I’m not called to be a pastor, but I have felt the sting of that ceiling, of the limitations put on me and my kind because we were born female. But along my path of womanhood have come different mileposts of liberation, pivotal moments that untethered my identity a bit more from the web of lies that I was born into.

Every spring at a rustic resort on the outskirts of Portland, dozens of Christian women come together for a unique gathering known simply as Convergence. Each year is filled with conversation and guided group activities to help us unfurl the longings within that tend to remain unspoken. Last spring we did something powerful that was like a ritual of freedom. Shards of stained glass were stacked on a table. A hammer was provided and also plastic kitchen storage bags. Each woman placed a piece of stained-glass in a bag and smashed it with the hammer, the shard fragmenting into dozens of colorful pieces as tiny as pocket change. We then took our slivered shards and glued them together onto a large window that had been erected for the activity. The little broken pieces created a beautiful mosaic swirling with reds, blues, yellows and other colors. When it came my turn, I spontaneously grabbed a sharpie and wrote the word IDENTITY on my piece of glass. As I placed it in the bag and raised the hammer to it, I pictured myself in all of my womanly glory floating up to the church rafters, my fingers reaching out to caress the stained-glass ceiling. That’s what I did for so many years, I touched it, I polished it, I kept it looking saintly and sacred and presentable. I tamed the feminine image of God within me to stay in the shadows, to stay quiet and diplomatic. I pressed for the masculine image of God to flourish, for that is how God is best revealed, I thought. I hovered beneath that ceiling for years, but those days were behind me. I raised the hammer and smashed the glass, the word IDENTITY breaking into dozens of scattered bits. The letters became undecipherable, just like my former polite, ladylike self. I carefully removed the pieces, adding them to the collective mosaic of Convergence women.  A new society of women birthed before my eyes, a sisterhood of shattered stained-glass, of broken cages and identities.  I felt a ripple in the spirit realm, as if the powers of darkness shuddered for this is the kind of freedom the devil fears.

We did this quietly, reverently. For me, it was a prophetic act of declaring my break with the past of a hierarchic-informed identity as a woman of God. Placing my broken pieces together with the other women was a resurrection from the dead, an Easter victory from the grave of Pam the Diplomat who had unwittingly preserved her own oppression for so many years. I reveled within, elbow to elbow with women like me who wanted to embrace the whole image of God in our Christian spirituality.  It was a collective rebellion against the lie that Women are less.



Pam Hogeweide is a writer and blogger in Portland, Oregon. This is an excerpt from her book,Unladylike: a call for resistance to the injustice of inequality which is being released by Civitas Press on 11-11-11.You can find Pam on Facebook and Twitter or the neighborhood tattoo shop.