Idealizing Women — For Better or Worse: An Introductory Post

Dear Reader,

A few things have gotten me thinking lately about how women are idealized. By this I don’t necessarily mean that women are held up as ideals, though that is half the equation, but also how women are held up s paragons of temptation as well.

One of the things that got me thinking about this is Grant Horner’s book Meaning at the Movies (see my review here). In his discussion of film noir Horner talks about the classic femme fatale figure — the beautiful female who, while she seems innocent and helpless at first, leads the male character to his destruction. The man in this case is usually portrayed as weak but basically helpless in her clutches. His downfall is usually laid at her feet as if he had little or no responsibility for it himself, or at least no ability to resist her charms.  As Horner himself points out, this figure is taken right from the book of Proverbs in which a wicked women easily leads the young, foolish man astray with her wiles (p. 172).

On the flip side, there is the good female character. She too is beautiful, though perhaps with a more innocent, less sexual kind of beauty. She is truly innocent, good and pure, as well as helpless — unlike her evil counterpart who only appears innocent and helpless to lure men in. She too can be found in the book of Proverbs in the person of Wisdom who is there personified. Proverbs clearly puts these two before a young man as two choices: will he turn towards the one or the other? Will he follow the straight and narrow path or go astray after the temptress?

[A variation on the good female character would be the prostitute with a heart of gold figure. Mary Magdalene and Sofia in Crime and Punishment come to mind. It is interesting that “Sophia” means wisdom, isn’t it?]

My daughters and I had also noticed these two kinds of figures in popular country songs. And been very irritated by them. In our completely biased, unscientific opinions, it seems like male singers are always idealizing the women they sing about one way or the other. Either she is so incredibly unique and wonderful — she’s beautiful but doesn’t know it; she sings in church on Sunday but parties with him Saturday night; she wears blue jeans with her pearls; she loves him despite all the rotten things he does . . . you get the idea — or else she is the temptress — she lures him in; he can’t resist her; he fell for her but she dumps him unceremoniously. Honestly, we just don’t se that the songs by women about men go to these extremes. Yes, there are the he done me wrong songs and the he’s no good songs, but I don’t think there are so many of the he’s perfect songs. There are also I can’t live without him songs (and . . . without her songs by men) but I would count these in a slightly different category.

Anyway, my point is that from the book of Proverbs to today’s country music, men seem to have the tendency to hold women up as ideals of either goodness or evil in a way that women don’t do in equal measure to men. So then we must ask why? and is it biblical? Because clearly these two extreme characterizations do occur in Proverbs so on one level, yes, it is biblical; it occurs in the Bible. But how should we as Christians here and now be viewing women? Are they refining influences on the men in their lives? Are they, as perhaps has more often been said, the source of sin and temptation? Eve did eat the fruit first after all. Maybe women really are trouble.

Before I get to answering those questions, I want to bring in one more thread that has played into my thoughts lately. We have a lot of African immigrant families in our church. These are people who were Christians before they came to this country but are not at all American in their outlook. As I have been informed, they, both men and women, were surprised to learn that both sexes are equal in status before God. Historically, of course, women have been held to lower status and in many societies they still are. But it was a bit of an eye-opener to see they that might be considered so also by non-western Christians. The fact is it was quite a society-changing idea in the western world that men and women were both equally valuable as persons. This idea came from Christianity and it have pervaded Christian (or post-Christian) societies, but even among Christians, it has apparently not taken hold in non-Christian societies. In other words, we take it for granted here in America today but most people throughout history and a pretty good chunk of them living today as well have not assumed that men and women are equal in value.

So, on the one hand, I am saying that Christianity has introduced and spread the idea that women are of equal value with men, but, on the other, there are indications even in the Bible that women are the source of temptation for men. How are we to reconcile these ideas?

This post is getting long, so I am going to stop here with having posed the questions. Look for some attempt at answers next time.

Nebby

 

 

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brittney McGann on February 11, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    I totally see that these two extremes are in pop-culture. I see the temptress for sure, but I fail to see the weak, meek female as an ideal in the Bible. I don’t see Wisdom as helpless. I think of the woman in Proverbs 31, who is the ideal woman, far from helpless, fully capable of everything life throws at her and a partner to her husband. I also do not see the “prostitute with the heart of gold” in the Bible as an ideal, but rather a woman trying to do what is right despite her circumstances, showing that our sin does not make us worthless to God. I think of Rahab in Jerico. We are all, after all, sinners, does it matter how we sin? I think some of these ideas of women in our culture do take the responsibility off of men for their actions, but it is not biblical. Matthew 5:27-29. The women idealized in current country songs are fantasies of men, and perversions of what a woman should be. I am certain that none of these singers would want their daughters to be like either type of woman. I grew up on George Strait, Alabama, Keith Whitley (not to say that they have perfectly biblical songs), I love country music, but I haven’t listened to anything recent for several years. The type of songs you have mentioned sicken me and I can’t stand it.

    Reply

    • Thank you, Brittney. That’s a very well stated comment. I do have a follow up post; I think it is scheduled to be published within the week. It looks more closely at the biblical evidence though it focuses more on the negative stereotype than the positive one. I also just wrote a post today which will be published on the 26th which revisits the issue of how women are portrayed in the Bible; I think you will like that one 🙂 They are very proactive women.

      Reply

  2. Posted by NaptimeSeamstresss on February 11, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Such an interesting post! I’m looking forward to reading the next posts.

    I’ve always been intrigued with the question of whether culture influences the people or the people influence the culture — does life follow Seinfeld? Or does Seinfeld follow life? (Now you know during which era I went to college!)

    This is a bit unrelated, but I just read a Grisham novel in which the female protagonist was willing to be “intimately known” by the male protagonist —- and the feeling was mutual. Neither one wanted the emotional connection that comes in a normal (okay, what I call normal) relationship. They were both just after the purely physical whatever.
    I couldn’t believe it at first….and then I started wondering if women are truly feeling that way in real life? Or is it a lie of the devil that one can have those relations with no damage to your emotional and spiritual well-being? Perhaps women DON’T feel that way at all, in real life…….if so, why did Grisham portray this woman as not minding the fact that she wasn’t emotionally invested in this relationship?

    So, I’m not sure if there are movies with female characters such as the one in Grisham’s novel; or if there are songs with female characters like that. But I almost wonder if you need a third category of women/characters. 1- the temptress, 2 – the girl-next-door, and 3 – the emotionless one (I’m not sure what words to use to describe this one.)

    Reply

    • Naptime Seamstress — You make some good points. I have a couple of thoughts. The two types I was looking at are, I think, two sides of a coin, like the angel and devil on a man’s shoulders. There is a book called the Deadliest Monster (I can’t remember if I reviewed it here) that talks about how we all view evil as either Frankenstein’s monster — he turns evil only when others are mean to him– of as Mr. Hyde — the evil is inherent in himself. Most people take the Frankenstein view; we don’t want to be believe the evil is in us. These depictions of the two idealized women are just one outplaying of that. I get into this in my next post but men just don’t want to accept the blame for their own sin (of course neither do women).

      I have heard, like you, that young people today have casual hook-ups and are able to be intimate without strings attached. I too find this hard to believe. I think for women especially though also for men there are ven biological mechanisms (hormones) which cause us to get attached if we are intimate. I woudl believe that they believe it can be temporary and meaningless but I think they are in deep denial and fooling themselves. Interestingly my negative female temptress I discussed is also quite emotionless but she always has a slefish agenda and is not interested in intimacy for its own sake or even for her own pure pleasure.

      Reply

  3. […] wanted to follow up a little on my recent posts on women in the Bible (see here and here). In those earlier posts, I discussed how women in our culture are often portrayed as […]

    Reply

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