Feminine and Strong

IMG_20130801_180755Guest Post by Robyn Beauchamp

“Have you ever thought about the fact that you come across as quite domineering at times? And that it’s sometimes rather challenging for the men around you?” This was a question a good guy friend bravely asked me a few months ago. Eep! Had I? Yes! In fact this very thought has plagued me for years! You see there is no use denying it (trust me I have tried): I am a pioneering “alpha-female” with a strong gifting to lead. And that can be intimidating. Many people may think this is absolutely wonderful, and it is, but accepting this has been one of my greatest challenges.

Let me tell you why: my problem is that before I am a leader, I am a woman. And to be honest I used to believe one couldn’t be both, at least not fully. I often felt like I was trying to fill masculine shoes with a feminine soul. And that my very strong personality cast an overbearing shadow over my deeply sensitive heart. I feared that I would forever be trapped in a world where I was leading the charge to kill the dragons so that the princesses in towers could be rescued. And while I love leading charges and killing dragons, I have days where I just want to be the princess in a silly tower! So when my fearless friend asked me that question, he got more of an answer (and tears for that matter) than he probably bargained for.

IMG_20130801_143434You see on this journey I have learned that God is excited about using women as leaders, and is proud of how he has uniquely created us to fulfil that role. One of the amazing women leaders he introduced me to was Deborah from Judges 4-5 in the bible. She is a prophet and the only female judge in her time. She also victoriously leads an army into war. But when Deborah refers to herself she does not use any of these accolades. Instead in Judges 5:7 she says: Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel. Interestingly enough, the Bible never mentions whether Deborah had children of her own. And that is also not what Deborah was referring to here. Deborah was saying that God used the unique way he created her as a woman to lead her nation. He used her fierceness and her tenderness. He used her ability to mother. I also don’t believe using a women was God’s second plan in this, rather I believe it was exactly what was needed to awaken the Israelites at that time.

I know that being strong can be daunting and that there is a lot to be said about balancing our strength with our gentleness. But I also know that God is still looking for Deborahs. Are you ready to arise and awaken the world around you? And in what ways can you be a mother to your nation, even before you have kids of your own?

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15 thoughts on “Feminine and Strong

  1. Awesome post. One of my favorite leadership studies is one that was conducted at the University of New Mexico examining the differences between male and female leaders. They came to the conclusion that female leaders tend to think that supposedly male leadership traits, like decisiveness, were the most important to develop; likewise male leaders tended to feel as though traditionally female leadership traits, like empathy, were the most important to develop. Both men and women tended to feel that the traits that were the most difficult for them to demonstrate were the very ones they needed the most – despite the fact that all of the participants chosen were highly successful leaders in their own right.
    We put a lot of pressure on female leaders in our society to conform to our preconceptions of what a leader should be, and that stereotype is overwhelmingly male. Yet the truth is that the great advantage that women bring to positions of leadership are those things that we, as a society, tend to associate with women: empathy, communication, fierceness to defend loved ones, etc. You have obviously figured that out for yourself. That’s a blessing both to you and to those you lead, for it enables you to move forward without doubting who you are or who God made you to be. That’s a win/win, I’d say. Again, great post.

    • I love the fact that you as a man just posted that. I take my hat off to you! We men need to realise that this isn’t just a women’s issue – it’s an issue that effects everyone, because society as a whole could be so much better if femininity was given true expression in leadership. The sexes can certainly learn from each other, but as you say we also need to realise our gendered strengths and maximise them. Personally, I think it comes down to being personally secure and being ok with your unique strengths and weaknesses. As a man, for some reason I find myself feeling easily threatened by female leadership … I still haven’t quite worked out all the reasons for why that is (feedback welcomed on this point!), but I think insecurity is a big one.

      • Honestly, I know what you mean and I don’t entirely understand it either. The truth is that we all have discrepancies between what we cognitively know to be true and how we emotionally respond to things. That’s just part of human nature, I guess. Sheryl Sandberg points out in her recent book that all other things being equal, both men AND women tend to judge female leaders negatively compared to their male counterparts. If it makes you feel any better, some research seems to suggest that women are actually more judgmental than men in this regard. It’s just a societal bias that we have as a Western, male-dominated culture. However, just like with racism and a host of other social ills, the first step in combating this is simply being aware of it. And in that regard, my friend, you are obviously on the right track.

      • Hi again Chris and James – really enjoying the comments from two men! Chris you’re always a Sticky Notes supporter and I appreciate your humble answer, and James you’re right – women can be even more opposed to women in leadership than men! It breaks my heart. It’s SO important that women stop competing with each other, but see each new woman leader in society as a win for ALL. Great point to think about…

    • Hi James! Thanks so much for that insightful reply. In fact exactly what you’re talking about is a big part of why I launched this blog… I really believe that we need traits like compassion and empathy in leadership, as well as leaders who are good at maintaining healthy relationships. And having more women lead in the public or private sectors is a big part of that, I believe! It’s really great to know that there are an increasing number of men out there who feel the same way – so thanks again. We really need to stop polarising genders in this debate, and address the global need for more feminine leadership as ‘people’ rather than ‘men’ or ‘women’. Actually your reply got me thinking and I’ll be writing more about this on Friday. So thanks again for stopping by!

  2. Thank you for this post Robyn. You have shared some insights that are important for women in general and especially for women with a strong gift of leadership. I have struggled with the question of whether this kind of strength is God-given thing or whether I am just a product of my circumstances – the idea that in the absence of male leadership I needed to be strong and that it why I ended up this way. Your insight into Deborah is both challenging and encouraging. Challenging in that in a culture where women are being groomed to occupy the role of a rich, smart, educated, independent woman, putting these ‘accolades’ down and choosing the role of mother is hard and uncool! But it is encouraging to know that Deborah knew that God had given her something that none of the other leaders had – the heart of a woman.

    • Yes great post right! It’s so important that strong women don’t feel like there is something wrong with them, but realise that just maybe they are “called for such a time as this”, to quote Esther in the bible. I really liked Robyn’s point that women have a special ability to lead relationally as mothers, and I think that’s the challenge for all the strong ladies out there: to lead in a life-giving, compassionate, wise way – fighting for life and health in our society. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. I am such a fan of people living out their calling and walking in it. A few books I would recommend you reading on this topic are Equal to the Task by Ruth Haley Barton (my husband is reading it now and loves it) and Paul, Women and Wives by Craig Keener. It’s been pretty life changing for me to realize God’s plan for me is to live fully in my gifts non ashamed- not to live tampered and mask who I am into a more conventional woman. It’s so good for my husband and daughter to have me living out fully who I am called to be. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, excited for you as you learn and grow on this journey.

    • Hello and thanks for your insights! One of the wisest things someone ever told me on being a wife and (future) mother was, you never want your husband or children to say “mom never lived her dream”. Now obviously life is full of compromise and balance (especially when kids arrive) but you’re right that women shouldn’t feel ashamed of stepping into God’s plan and being strong leaders, whether single, married, or mums. We need a lot of wisdom on how to do that and keep a healthy balance I think… I’m sure you have learned a lot along the way, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts?

  4. Thank you so much for this post! I know that God has given me leadership gifting and im living in it and enjoying it. The question i was asking myself literally on tuesday was; “Is the reason im still single because im intimidating and unapproachable?” So you’re post was encouraging and also made me think. Thanks again!

    • Hi Susan! Thanks for your honest reply… I think many women can relate to what you’re saying. I’m glad that Robyn’s post encouraged you, it encouraged me too. That’s the beauty of having different women’s voices here on the subject of being a woman, and I look forward to hearing more women’s perspectives here on Sisterhood Sticky Notes 🙂 As I said earlier I like the way the figure of a mother gives us a lot of direction in how to be strong as women: we have a fierce side for sure, as James pointed out in his comment, but I think we’re particularly good at building strong relationships where we work or serve. Our empathy is a strength, especially when combined with good sense and confidence! Thanks again, was great hearing from you 🙂

  5. Pingback: Standing Out | Sisterhood Sticky Notes

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