Feminism

learning the words: godly woman

woman

Today’s guest post is from Artemis. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

Growing up in a conservative homeschool family that religiously used the ATI/Bill Gothard curriculum and were heavily involved in our conservative home church, I came in contact with this term “a godly woman,” on a constant basis.  Whether it was sermon on Sunday, a book that my mom found at the local homeschool book fair and assigned as part of my school curriculum, or a side comment from a peer, I acquired a huge foundation for this term.  And I became very familiar with fear that accompanies this mindset.

What was a godly woman anyway?  The numerous scriptures, pamphlets, and books I soaked up on this topic all followed one basic pattern. A specific set of criteria to attain to be a godly woman and of course a KVJ scripture to accompany each set of criteria.

A Godly Woman:

  1. Seeks God first – Matthew 6:33-34
  2. Shows true beauty – Proverbs 31:30, 1 Timothy 2:9-10
  3. Always speaks love and truth –Proverbs 31:26
  4. Stays humble – Isaiah 66:2, Phillippians 2:3-5
  5. Serves the Lord – John 12:25-26, Colossians 3:23

As a young girl who desperately wanted to mysteriously attract the Mr. Right, I bought into all of these lies.  So what did being a godly girl look like for me?

Dress codes

Dress codes were enforced by my church, my homeschool group, and my parents, because godly girls always dress modestly.  My mom, sister, and I made our own clothing, and we followed the dress law down to the last rules.  We shopped around until we found fabric that was a small, appropriate print made up of a fabric content that would not cling to our skin.  These dresses had necklines that covered my collarbone, sleeves that came to my elbow, very full skirts that came to my ankles, and a double layered bodice (to ensure none of my curves were visible in any way). My wardrobe consisted of two to three church dresses, a few casual dresses, and a handful of play dresses.  They were accompanied by a simple pair of sandals in the summer or a pair of plain, black closed toe shoes in the winter.

Behavior

As a godly woman in the making, I was not allowed to talk with guys for more than a short conversation within ear shot of my peers.  In fact, if a girl initiated conversation with a guy at church for more than one or two weeks in a row, she was automatically put on the radar and the words slut and ungodly were thrown around when speaking about her.  It was best if I waited and let the guys initiate the conversations so that way I would be off the hook and allow them to rise to their calling by being godly leaders (whatever that means).  Because of these behavior expectations, it also meant I used a very soft voice whenever I was speaking, that I constantly dropped my eyes whenever a guy looked at me or attempted to engage me in conversation, and that I stifled my laugh.

Relationships

Relationships with a girl’s parents and siblings were of utmost importance.  Why? Because a godly girl grew up to be a godly, stay at home mother and wife. End of story.  A few relationships with female peers were acceptable, but not required.  I clearly remember how I was willing to do anything and everything to ensure all five of my younger brothers were ready on time for church on Sunday.  At the time I didn’t understand why I was always on cloud nine when getting ready for church or so upset when we were late.  I now understand; it was my one and only social interaction with those outside of my family each week.  Relationships are necessary and having limited social events each week set me up for a lot of unhealthy expectations and poor social skills.

The summer I was 15, my world came crashing down. My parents discontinued our membership at that church.  We left the church that constructed my entire belief system, my entire social circle, my entire religion, my entire life.  I say left, but that fails to adequately describe the deep shame, ostracization, and rejection that composed this leaving.  The following years were very confusing as I found myself personifying the woman that I had been warned about throughout my entire childhood and teen years. I graduated from high school on time and began thinking about future plans for my life. I spent time volunteering with an after school program in the inner city, fundraising and going on an international mission trip, working at a private preschool and a bookstore, and finally I began my undergrad degree.  I worked outside the home, I traveled, I made my own income, I made friendships with those whose beliefs did not match mine, I began developing friendships with guys for the heck of it, I began pursuing higher education and I loved all of it.

What does a godly woman look like to me now?

I believe the godly woman is a myth, a myth created to manipulate girls and women into pursuing something they can never attain.  I believe we are all at different stages of life, we all have different experiences, and we are all in different places with our beliefs about God, but none of this dictates whether we are a godly woman.  I no longer believe in the existence of the godly woman. I believe in the existence of true women, because a true woman will listen to her heart and follow it.  I believe a true woman will open her heart and share what is taking place whether it is happiness, sadness, frustration, or anger.  I believe that true woman celebrate life with each other, instead of engaging in shaming when we fail to meet each other’s preconceived expectations.  I believe a true woman will be willing to take risks and pursue what she wants.  I believe a true woman will follow her heart, even if it goes against what her parents taught her, even if it is very different from what she was raised with, even if it doesn’t seem to be the safest answer.  I believe that a true woman will continually further her knowledge through higher education, travel, and relationships.

And I believe all true women are beautiful, because we are all in this process of listening to our heart, sharing our heart, and learning believing our heart.  Essentially this means we are opening up and shinning the beautiful women we were always meant to be.

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  • I think you described a godly woman in your final paragraph… and that the definitions offered at the beginning aren’t wrong, but the interpretations of them that you lived with were absolutely so far off-base as to be frightening.

    A godly woman is one who embraces the person God intended her to be- and who spends her life figuring out who that person is, laughing loudly, seeking out friendships and relationships, and going into the world and meeting (and respecting and loving!) people of all belief systems… After all, what did Jesus do? Did he hide out in a temple, checking the length of robes as ladies came in?

    Umm hi.
    Mary Magdalene, one of his close followers, was thought to be a prostitute before she came into the circle. His own mother was preggo before she was married. (yeah, that was a holy spirit thing, but still, looking at it from a social standpoint)…

    My point isn’t to make some deep theological connections- I know there’re huge holes in those statements, but to point out that the people he hung out with were real, fallible human beings, and that no where in the Bible does it mention skirt length, hiding curves, not having friendships with men (honestly, where did THAT one come from??), or any of the other misinterpretations that have become cultural norms in some churches.

    It sounds as if leaving that church was the wisest move your parents could’ve made. I’m sorry it was such a traumatic experience, but glad you’ve been able to learn and grow.
    (hugs)

  • Such a huge disconnect between what they said being a godly woman was about (seeking God, etc) and what it was actually about (how you dressed, who you talked to, how you spoke). Wow.

  • Love it! Thank you.

  • At the end of this post, when the author describes what a true “godly” woman really is, I couldn’t help but insert “person” into where “woman/women” is. After all, the characteristics described at the close are those we want both men and women to have, aren’t they?

  • Love this post, I had a similar upbringing though not quite as intense.

  • S.D. Kelly

    For years I have considered many of the women in my life (Mother-in-law, sister, sister’s mother-in-law, the list goes on…) to be suffering from acute cases of “Godly Woman Syndrome”, as I like to call it (often and insistently, hoping to coin the term). The real personalities of those suffering from Godly Woman Syndrome are suppressed to the point of self-abnegation — all in the hope of attaining Godly Woman Status all the way into eternity, where it’s rumored that God Himself will welcome them with open arms and compliment them on their lowered voices and sewing skills. No, not really. I have no idea what the payoff is supposed to be, other than the generalized fruits of obedience, but Godly Woman Syndrome sure has a hold on some of the ladies I know. And it’s been painful to watch these women deteriorate into shadowy echoes of themselves, all while observing that their children and husbands baby them along so that “mother” isn’t upset by reality. And since reality encompasses sex, birth, love, hate, death and everything in between, avoiding it doesn’t usually work out too well.

    Thanks for this post; I discovered your blog through your (Not) Open Letter to the Pearls post (posted elsewhere), and enjoyed your rage vicariously.