Ain’t I a Woman?

Last Saturday, I was at a firefighter competition in North Charleston, and I overheard an interesting conversation. A firefighter had just competed in a hand pump competition with a group of other firefighters. The goal was to pump as much water from a fire hose using only brute strength. It’s hard, vigorous labor that leaves the firefighters covered in sweat after mere seconds.

After his team competed, this man was talking to his wife. He mentioned that they’d pumped water so many feet, and were only a few feet off the lead. He remarked that they’d accomplished this with two women on the team (a team has 9-10 people).

His wife reprimanded him sharply, accusing him of being sexist with just one icy-toned “Don’t even.” He tried to explain: “No, you didn’t see. The pump was lifting her off the ground.” He remained calm and levelheaded, while his wife bitterly argued, “She was jumping. She was jumping.”

The husband aptly changed the subject, and I turned my attention elsewhere, lest I make some comment or gesture that would inadvertenly reveal my sudden anger. This woman’s attitude, like so many other women’s, is the reason feminism is perceived as a dirty word by many. Women fight losing, empty, irrelevent battles. This woman, standing in the shade in her designer sunglasses, next to her infant in a stroller, had no right to fight this battle. Had she been one of the two women in that round of the competition, her remarks would have been appropriate, even welcomed. But her husband, involved as he was in the competition, observing the women on his team, was probably right. Women are not physically as strong as men, as a general rule. There are, of course, exceptions, but I have no problem admitting that I am physically weaker than most men I know. This in no way makes me less of a woman.

Women will earn back so much of the respect we have lost if we can admit both our strengths and our weaknesses. Self-awareness is what makes us stronger, not beligerently fighting to be seen as identical to men–when we aren’t. Fighting for equal pay for women who do the same job as men? Fighting for value and self-worth, so that women are no longer seen as property? I can get behind those issues. Fighting to prove that our muscles can be as big as a man’s? Ridiculous.

I admire the women who are trained and passionate enough to participate in such a physically exhausting competition. My strength is not there, and I know that. I’m fine watching from a distance, or letting a man carry a heavy box for me. As long as I am concentrating on doing the very best with areas where I’m talented, I can admit my imperfections and weaknesses. And is that not the way God designed us to be?

Another incident, previous to this one, had me thinking along those same lines even earlier that morning. On the way to Charleston that morning, that irritatingly poppy Katy Perry song “Hot N Cold” came on the radio. (And I won’t even discuss the bad image she’s given women.) While listening, I realized one of the reasons I used to be so against so much music by female artists. The music I was generally exposed to–girl power music on Top 40 stations–is crap. It’s complaining about bad boyfriends or men who left or lamenting boys who’ll never notice the girl. Katy Perry is accusing men of being indecisive and uncommitted? Is that not the very thing men often accuse us of being?

I am emotional and indecisive. I’m sure I send crazy mixed signals when I’m confused and unsure. But I think the reason men are confused by us, or are uncommitted, is because we expect too little of them. Where feminism has gone wrong is in teaching women to think they’re better than men instead of teaching women to be fully who they were intended to be–distinctly different, but not inferior.

We lament that men are lazy, that they don’t pursue us. We expect them to let us down. They’re human; they will, just as we will disappoint them on occasion. As long as we continue to be desperately searching for romance in any and eery man who enters our lives, whil simultaneously acting superior and degrading them, I think we’ll continue to be bitter and discouraged. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy–expect things to go horribly awry, and they will. But perhaps if we stop expecting men to let us down, and we start expecting them to be strong leaders, we won’t be disappointed as often.

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