Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Standing on Promises

I just read a blurb for Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lade, Think Like a Man, his dating advice to women. If you know me, you’re probably thinking, “Shanna, why would you ever do such a thing?” I know, but the title and author combination piqued my curiosity. The publisher’s blurb indicates that this book explains to women what men think while in a relationship; according to it, Harvey claims that men will always start lining up other women if his woman won’t have sex with him enough, and apparently discusses “independent--and lonely--women.” Finally, the blurb admits, “feminists and the easily offended” are not likely to appreciate the book. And, furthermore, a customer review indicates that Harvey explains that women should keep the house clean and take care of the kids, women should give up hobbies their husbands don’t want to participate in, etc. I bet he likes to have dinner on the table when he gets home from work and a wife in peals and heals attending his every need. You can probably see by now why this is offensive (if not, save yourself from my wrath by commenting to the contrary). Of course, if you want more explanation of why I am offended by this, I’m happy to oblige.

I feel like this books is offensive because of the roles it expects women to play and because of the way it essentializes male behaviors (the “it’s just the way men are” mentality), but more than offensive, this book is damaging for both of those reasons. It says to women, “If you really want to make a relationship work, you have to ignore your own needs and desires and think and act the way your man wants you to.” Women have done that for centuries, but for the first time ever (that I’m aware of), generations of girls are growing up hearing that they can be anything they want to be. That they have options for their life that don’t necessarily end in marriage, motherhood, and household duties. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for women choosing to stay home and raise their families, but the key word is choosing. Don’t you want your daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, friends to grow up knowing that they have options? That their talents and gifts and minds are worth sharing with the whole world, just as much as boys’ are? That their ideas and opinions are just as valuable? Maybe most importantly, that their hopes and desires and dreams are worth fighting for? And for your sons, brothers, friends, nephews, don’t you hope that they’ll grow up valuing everyone and seeing women as their equals? That if they do get married some day, they’ll find wives who will challenge them to be better men? Wives who are filled with passion and possibility instead of quiet resignation? I do.

I am grateful to have been raised knowing that I am valuable, and that what I want out of life is important, but I think that many women are afraid that being independent will mean, as Harvey says, a life of loneliness and they fear loneliness more than they want their dreams. But independence and loneliness are not synonymous for a person who seeks fulfillment in Christ. Where I am independent in worldly terms, I am dependent on God, and I claim for myself the promises He makes in the Bible, that He loves me and values me and desires for me to serve Him with the talents He's given me. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” says the writer of Psalm 34:17, “and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When you allow yourself to be made whole in Christ, you find that the deepest desires of your heart, the ones that your head often misinterprets, are met in abundance. So don’t mistake my independence or aloneness for loneliness. And don't take dating advice from someone who is seeking fulfillment in all the wrong places.

667 words, no apology (it's MUCH shorter than it is in my head)


  1. Forgive me if my comments sound condescending. I hope you know that isn't how I feel. I think you probably even already know the things I'm about to write, but I'll say them anyway because I feel it's important.

    Your final paragraph implies that if a person loves God enough they will never be lonely, because our value comes from God. There is a difference between worthlessness and loneliness – although these feelings often arrive hand-in-hand. Ultimately, our value comes from the Imago Dei and from God’s love for us. This irremovable, inner value is what makes human relationships possible, but it does not mean that human relationships are dispensable or redundant. That is, being dependent on God is the starting place for human affection, not a replacement. I’ve heard women say, “I’m married to Jesus.” But this cheapens and misunderstands both our relationship with God and marriage. Needing other people isn’t a weakness or an affliction to be cured through God’s grace; it was his intention from the beginning. When we need food, we are hungry. We need water, we are thirsty. When we need love, we are lonely. You say you aren’t lonely because you are made whole in Jesus, but you have strong family ties and deep roots in this community. When you ask, your friends and your family will come spend time with you, and people invite you to spend time with them – because we want you around. Even your work puts you alongside other people all day. You are known, loved and liked by many! I respect you deeply for the strength of your relationship with God, but it isn’t the only reason you aren't lonely. Implying that other people are only lonely because they don’t love God enough belittles their struggle and pain. Although, I know you certainly would never do so intentionally!

    I'm sorry for being so long-winded.

    I hope you finish grading and all that jazz and get to ride your horses soon! blessings.

  2. Drew, I have been a single woman for a long time. Do not imagine that I have not experienced mild depression, intense loneliness, and self-dislike; I have. This blog is a forum for me to work out ideas and share what I have learned. And this is probably one of the most important things that I've learned. I have two responses.

    First, you have misunderstood my meaning. I did not say that people who love God enough will never be lonely. I said that people who allow God to fulfill them will be content. I did not say that people do not need human relationship. I am talking strictly about romantic relationships, which should be apparent by the context of this post.

    Second, I am thinking and writing from a woman's perspective with a female audience in mind (that isn't to say that this blog is inappropriate for men, but that they should keep in mind that they are not the imagined audience). Little girls grow up learning to be mostly dependent. Typically, girls get significantly more restrictions than boys do and are treated differently. As an example, when Bryan turned 16, he got a pager so our parents could get a hold of him; when I turned 16, I got a cell phone so that I could call help if I needed it. While some different treatment may be necessary or beneficial, the point is that girls learn dependency while boys are typically encouraged toward independence. Please, by the way, don't argue with me on this point because you won't change my mind. Movies, books, etc. are all saturated with evidence of women who dependent on the men around them. This is the reason that I think so many women end up in bad marriages; they think they need a husband to take care of them. A little independence is healthy for women. A little self-reliance can mean a woman's happiness. What I'm suggesting here is that if a woman feels a deep void in her life, she should look the God to fill it rather than a man. I'm suggesting that a woman should make her peace with the possibility of living a single life and know that she will survive, that she can be happy if she chooses, and, perhaps more importantly, she can find a deep sense of contentment with herself and her life that transcends gender roles and expectations. I believe strongly that a woman will be a better person, friend, wife, mother, sister, etc. when she stops expecting another person to fulfill her. That's all I meant.

  3. I'm sorry I misunderstood you. I thought I probably was, but I was concerned that others might misunderstand as well, in light of opinions which have been expressed to me in the past - opinions which I believe are unhealthy and destructive. (Hence my first paragraph.)

    I wouldn't argue with you, because I agree that young women tend to be encouraged towards dependency and that "independence is healthy for women." Men *are* encouraged to independence - to the same unhealthy degree that women are pushed toward dependency. That is, men are told that they aren't allowed to need anyone nor allowed to share their emotions with anyone. It's no wonder so many men end up like Steve Harvey's image: lining women up. Where else are they allowed to find intimacy?

    In retrospect, it's clearly from this perspective that I read. I didn't know you were writing only to women, but perhaps it should have been obvious to me. I'm sorry if I trespassed, and I'm sorry for reading into your words what I have heard from other lips.

  4. I particularly appreciate that you mention both sides (even though I know that your purpose is to argue the feminine side) because you are right, it is indeed damaging to both genders. Benjamin always keeps me in check about making biased generalist statements about males, and I am glad for it! Because I sure wouldn't want to be treated that way as a woman. So, thanks for mentioning that the damage goes both ways. It's easy to forget that. And after all, the more damage is done the more dysfunctional the relationships, so we should really strive to empower all the people we can, regardless of gender! (This is in no way an attack on your feminist focus of this post, just an amen to your first sentence in paragraph two) :) This obviously struck a chord with me, and got me on my own rant. And while I'm at it, I'll further support the overlooked and disregarded male as illustrated in my beloved John's song "Daughters"
    "fathers be good to your daughters 'cause daughters will love like you do. And girls become lovers that turn into mothers so mothers be good to your daughters too"
    It appears sweet and sentimental (I am not here to argue whether it is degrading, but mention it so that there is contrast for the next part of the song...)
    "boys you can break. find out how much they can take. boys will be strong and boys soldier on but boys would be gone without warmth from a woman's good good heart"

    Okay, I realize in putting these down here that I am opening myself up to all sorts of criticism, and I do not want to get into a debate, and I LOVE John, AND This song, BUT I have always taken issue with the part about the boys, even in context. Because they are only that way because we have made them to be! And it sucks! It's not fair to them, an it's not fair to the women who interact with them, and it creates all sorts of problems in communication, relationships, and socialization. SO. I guess I'm just here to provide a "hear hear" for the guys, because society has them pretty screwed up too.

    Anyway, this ended up being long and poorly structured, and perhaps not very helpful, but I appreciate what you said a lot Shanna, and in attempting to echo your sentiments actually took up for the other gender. But as I said, we all have to interact with each other, so we should really take more care in properly socializing everyone!

    In closing, I am terribly aware of my feelings of inadequacy in entering this conversation, which is probably why I babbled on like a doofus. Funny how that happens, even though we've talked tough things for years. You're just not a brain I want to go up against in a debate, that's for sure! You are brilliant, and I love you :)

  5. I agree with what y'all are both saying about men. I think that people way to often think about sexism is always from men against women, but that's a load of baloney. I think that Harvey's books is just as sexist against men as women, and in my initial draft for this post, I exploded in a long paragraph about how terrible that was. But I hit 500 words without even approaching the point I really wanted to get at, so I edited down and a lot of what I was angry about got tossed.

    Also, I'm not writing only for women, just mostly. I'm sorry about the lack of clarity there. When teaching writing, we spend time talking to our students about their ideal audience: who they are writing for and what expectations, beliefs and knowledge they might bring with them to your text. This audience is not even always articulated--I certainly never sat down and said, "Okay, I'm writing for women!"--but I was. I don't know that I'll always be writing for women. I think that this is the only post so far in which I was very specifically thinking about a female audience when writing. But although my ideal audience may often be female, I don't think that necessarily means that men can't read it. I have more than once benefited from texts whose ideal audience was clearly male. But I guess that it would just be best for men to not take my posts personally. For that matter, I hope that women don't take my posts personally. It's just me sharing my thoughts and experiences. It's personal to me, but perhaps shouldn't be to others.

    Also, I'll share my thoughts more clearly formed thoughts on loneliness another time. This was really just a response to a specific statement from the publisher's blurb for that book.