Field Notes from a Strong Daughter with Sarabeth Weszley
I don’t really think of myself as a strong woman.
I just think of myself as a woman.
The “strong” is implied. Referring to myself as a strong woman feels like calling myself a “breathing woman.” I think it strange that I could be anything but.
I don’t say this to dismantle the impetus of the blog you are currently reading (how to raise strong women), but to give my mom some credit.
I don’t actually know what she did to raise me as an empowered woman, other than become one herself. I watched (in somewhat of an adolescent haze) my mom as she wrestled with the expectations placed on her as a mom in ministry, and I watched her slowly feel less and less of those expectations coming from God. What Christianity no longer seemed to expect of her, she no longer expected of herself, and I knew that whatever she no longer expected of herself as a woman, she didn’t expect of me. It was a rather free-spirited girlhood.
I experienced pretty dramatic culture shock when I moved three hours West of the Chicago bubble I grew up in, to Iowa. Both of my parents held a view of God that made them feel equal as partners. My dad did the laundry; my mom led a non-profit. I led worship for my home church congregation, composed of grown men and women. None of these ways of life felt political to me; they felt common sense, and they felt spiritual! I didn’t believe God left me out of any part of his kingdom because I was a woman.
I landed in an Iowa church that didn’t let women lead worship, preached on Christian gender roles, and didn’t leave much room for me to question any of that (although I was still quite vocal about my concerns). When I did express disagreement, I was told my defiance was unbiblical womanhood. My role, I was repeatedly told, was to come under men and silently make their ministry unto the Lord look better. This so contradicted my egalitarian upbringing, which also claimed to be rooted in and defended by the Bible. I was confused. I started to study scripture, theology , and church history, attempting to understand how the God who so respected me all my life was also the God of this church.
At the same time, I was old enough that I started to notice the mistreatment of women all around me—not only in my church but also in my classes, and even in the stoner-artist “progressive people” parties I attended. Sexual violence and verbal abuse were commonplace for women in my town, both in and out of the church. I wasn’t quite sure of my theology yet (and to be honest, I’m still not) but I knew this was evil to God.
My mom and dad both let me throw my fists and tell them the world was ending as I discovered gender inequality, as if it hadn’t existed in Chicago. They didn’t tell me to calm down. There were enough people labeling female anger “hysteria” and “moral decay.” They knew I just needed to be listened to, even though not everything I said was entirely sound.
Eventually, through all the unrestrained anger, I began to hear God asking me to forgive my church, and ultimately, to forgive what I now came to know as sexism. I even felt called to acknowledge my own near-sightedness and sin in how I dealt with the leadership there. The funny thing is, when people had told me to do the same (submit, forgive, apologize to people who should be apologizing to me) it felt like sexism. When God told me, it was absolutely liberating.
That’s what I’m most grateful to my parents for. They trusted the Holy Spirit enough to let me discover righteous anger and forgiveness on my own. This was their parenting style as a whole, actually! I’m sure they were slightly terrified at the time, letting me screw up and swing between extremes in my worldview, but that freedom empowered me as a woman, and taught me how to empower others.
Now, although I dismiss many of the expectations my society places on me as a woman, I actually have some new expectations of myself, as a human.
I expect myself to forgive oppressors, as I hope others forgive me for my own inadvertent role as an oppressor in society (my nationality, race, wealth). I expect myself to be kind to the man who comes into the restaurant I waitress in, who asks me to compare my body to his fiancé’s and humor him with some flirtation—not because he deserves it, but because I’ve deserved nothing I’ve received. I expect myself to stand against sexism with strength and humility.
I must repeat, though, had anyone tried to convince me of this besides the Lord himself, I would not have listened; I am too spiteful and stubborn, and all too familiar with human attempts to silence women in the name of “morality.” So thank you, parents, for letting me stumble my way into self-sustained empowerment.
Sarabeth Weszely is a twenty-one year old writer, musician, and waitress who recently graduated from University of Iowa with a degree in English and Social Innovation. She recently released her first full-length, live album, I Talk to God out loud and we call each other Babe. This project along with many others serves as an unconventional prayer for those who do not pray and who are tired of praying alike, also addressing issues such as racial injustice from the angle of personal confession and apology. Sarabeth has a passion for human equality, playful art, and free-spirited Christianity. Her poems and essays have been published in the Iowa Chapbook Prize, Earthwords literary magazine, and Mockingbird.
Angie Weszely is CEO and co-founder of the Christian nonprofit ProGrace. She has spent the past 12 years equipping Christians to create a third response to the abortion debate and meet the needs of both woman and child, first as President of a Chicago-based Christian pregnancy organization, and now in her work with ProGrace. As an accomplished speaker and coach, Angie leads ProGrace workshops and training sessions, while directing the mission, vision and direction of the ministry. In her free time, she likes to hike in her Colorado mountain neighborhood, watch any BBC drama she can get her hands on, and hang out at home with her husband, two kids and three dogs. Connect with her on Twitter @angieweszely.