I want to start out by saying that this is not meant to be an attack on women. It’s also not an attack on the Mid-West – but it absolutely is an attack on a mentality that is prevalent amongst women in the Mid-West and is perpetrated by the majority of the population.
I was born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, with grandparents in Ohio and Missouri. I’m as Mid-West as they come.
I was raised in a Christian home. My grandpa was the minister at our church. We faithfully attended every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night.
But I was also raised by parents who genuinely believed I could do and be whatever I wanted to be – and they made me believe it too.
I had strong women in my life who worked, who ran businesses, who traveled, who were educated, who were engineers, who never settled for being what anyone told them to be.
I was fortunate.
A few days ago, I was driving through one of the small towns in our county and while sitting at a stop light, I noticed a woman sitting in her front yard in a lawn chair, watching her two toddlers playing in a blow up pool. Her husband was working in the garage.
She wasn’t staring at her phone. She was watching the kids. But there was absolutely no happiness in her eyes. In fact, she looked miserable.
I fully believe this is a direct result of women, specifically in the Mid-West, being raised to believe they are meant to focus on matrimonial and matriarchal pursuits, and that is it.
Don’t have aspirations.
Don’t dream beyond having babies.
Marry someone who can take care of you.
I also believe that the mentality that I mentioned earlier, the one that is prevalent amongst the majority of people who live in this region, that women should fulfill the “biblical role” of submission to their husbands and that this is their main role in life – is not only erroneous, but damaging to the precious children we’ve been given to raise.
This idea of sitting around and watching your children play or feeling pressured to always be playing alongside them is a decidedly modern notion.
I can’t imagine either of my grandmothers sitting idly while their children played. They had stuff to do.
I believe this is the creation of a post-World War II society, wherein we are raised to want the nuclear family. Husband, wife, two kids, two cars – wife stays home and takes care of the house and kids – this is the ideal.
But, is it?
It certainly isn’t mine.
I was once told a story from a local elderly man, about the time his wife went to school to be a nurse.
She went to her first day of work, and when she came home he had “done something stupid.”
(I don’t know what, he didn’t say, and I, surprisingly, didn’t ask.)
Whatever it was he had done was so drastic that she never went back. She gave up her dream on the spot because he couldn’t be left alone for a day.
And he thought it was amusing.
Women in the Mid-West are raised to believe that this is normal.
This is how it is, and if you don’t want it, you are wrong.
Or if you head down that path, realizing that maybe you DO want to be those things AND do something else that is amazing, you are even more wrong.
When did the role of being a woman become the person who cleans, cooks and only raises children?
If you revisit the Bible, the very book that is used to make us believe that quiet submission is the goal, you will find that there are many women who never fit into that mold.
If you’ve never heard of the The Daughters of Zelophehad, you are not alone. These obscure young ladies are mentioned in the Old Testament book of Numbers.
If there is one book that’s harder to read than Deuteronomy (that’s all the laws for the Israelites), it’s Numbers.
The whole book is about, well, numbers. But there are a few valuable bits for us in there too.
First of all that name. Zelophehad. Pronounced zuh-loh-fe-had, in case such things interest you.
So, we learn about the Daughters whilst a census is being taken. God had instructed Moses to figure out exactly how many men there were amongst the twelve tribes because they were about to take the promised land and it was time to start planning who was getting what.
In those days, a census involved men only. But Zelophohad was dead, and all that remained of his ancestral line was his five daughters.
They would marry, and become part of their husband’s line – but their father’s line would vanish from the face of the earth.
The girls did not like this. So they decided to confront the leaders about it.
That sounds like an intimidating thing to do in our modern times – but you have no idea how big of a deal this actually was.
There was no precedent. They weren’t challenging the laws of men, but the actual laws of God. They believed that God’s laws were just – but this omission left them in a lurch, so by pointing it out, they hoped that He would realize it and fix it.
They marched themselves to the center of the Jewish encampment. Where the tabernacle was set up, the stone tablets from Mount Sinai which bore the ten commandments were contained within the Ark of the Covenant (YES – the Indiana Jones Ark of the Covenant); where the entirely male leaders of the nation of Israel held council – basically, a place women had no place.
Yet they walked right up and explained their predicament.
Moses and the other leaders did not know what to do. What the Daughters said made sense, but the law was the law.
Moses took it before God and God said the Daughters were right…and He changed the law.
These five sisters had the cojones to not only go to a place they were not welcome, and speak to a bunch of men who didn’t really care about their plight AND question the God of creation on His rules…
AND THEY WON. They changed the law for all women from then until now.
This is remarkable for a few reasons.
It shows us that nothing is set in stone. That God changes His mind. That we can affect change with bold moves.
And, from MyJewishLearning.com: “Perhaps the most important legacy of Zelophehad’s daughters is their call to us to take hold of life with our own hands, to move from the place that the others have given us–or that we have decided to keep because we feel immobile–and to walk, even to the most holy center, to where nobody seems to be able to go.”
You MUST take your life by the horns and lead it to where you want it to go. That is the lesson here.
The book of Judges is one of my favorite books. I love the stories of Israel dancing back and forth. First realizing how much they need God because of some giant mess they’ve gotten themselves into…and then forsaking Him to try to do it on their own. Rinse. Repeat.
It makes me feel better about myself. Because that’s exactly how I do it too.
Since it was an entire nation of people, who lacked a cohesive leader like a king (this was by design – God was supposed to be their leader, but that proved a little too abstract for them) – God sent them “judges” whenever they cried out for help.
One of my favorites is Deborah.
She only gets two tiny chapters, and one of them is a victory song, so we really don’t know all that much about her.
She was a woman. She was married. She liked to chill under a palm tree. The Israelites came to her to make decisions for them (thus the title of judge). She was a seer and a prophetess.
Oh, and she wasn’t afraid to go into battle.
So, the Israelites had once again been defeated by someone (Canaanites prob) and after TWENTY YEARS of suffering they cried out to God.
Man, talk about thick-headed and stubborn…
God gave them Deborah and after a bit she called for this dude Barak. He was a military leader, war guy. Big guy.
Deborah told him that God said he was supposed to gather up a couple tribes worth of men (2 out of 12, but still 10,000 guys, so not a small force) and go fight this guy Sisera – the General of the opposition.
Barak says to Deborah (clearly a woman…) “If you go with me, I will go.”
This was not a time when women fought wars. I mean, you know, in a pinch – but traditionally no.
What Barak was really saying was, if YOU believe God is going to let me win, then you better just come along with me, because I’m not 100% sure on this.
Deborah agrees, but tells him that the glory will not be his – it will go to a woman. He doesn’t argue.
Barak’s forces overwhelm the enemy, killing every man – except the general who runs away. Sisera hides in the tent of an ally’s wife (because no one would ever look for him in a woman’s tent) and while he’s sleeping, the wife drives a tent peg through his temple.
So, we get a two-fer, two strong amazing women doing what needs to get done, because… That’s. What. We. Do.
They sing a song about how awesome it was and there was peace for forty years.
Deborah was the one and only recorded female leader of the Israelites. She was chosen by God to do this work.
It doesn’t tell us how she felt about it, but my bible does make this note:
“She didn’t deny or resist her position in the culture as a woman and wife, but she never allowed herself to be hindered by it either. Her story shows that God can accomplish great things through people who are willing to be led by Him.”
That is the key to the whole story. She did what she needed to do and allowed God to do the work through her. I can’t imagine that she did it without a little bit of resistance – why me and whatnot, but in the end she followed where He led her.
And the ultimate Example:
Unlike the other women I’ve highlighted – there isn’t much evidence that the woman talked about in Proverbs 31 is an actual person. She is an ideal. Which sounds super intimidating, and unattainable, but it’s not.
She’s not a doormat. She’s not just there for her husband’s pleasure. She’s not just there to raise kids. She’s a beast, that’s what she is.
Here’s the actual text:
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Okay, you are right – that is all pretty overwhelming.
But do you know what I realize after I read that? That our society has it all wrong about what women are “supposed” to be doing. I mean, currently thoughts on women’s issues are shifting – but I can’t be the only one who was raised to think that a woman’s place was in the home.
We all were, right? Because that’s the idea we are all fighting against. It’s so embedded in us that we have to convince ourselves it’s okay to want more than just being a mom.
I don’t know about you, but when my kids were little, I felt a great deal of guilt any time I was doing something other than just spending time with them.
But the ideal was never sitting at home and playing with your kids. Nowhere in those verses does it say she was idle. Or that she spent her days watching her kids be kids.
She was working, from before the sun came up til long after it had gone down.
She didn’t ignore the needs of her family – but she did her own thing too.
She’s buying wool, spinning it, making clothes and selling them. She buys land and plants a vineyard. She volunteers to help in her community.
She’s too busy getting her own stuff done to worry about what anyone else is doing, or what they think.
She gets up every morning and gets after it.
That is the goal. Get up, get your stuff done, take care of your family & your community and your home and do it all with all you’ve got.
Since what I perceive as being toxic about the feminine ideal for women in the Mid-West is based on scripture, the only logical way I can see to combat it is by presenting scripture that explains why it is wrong.
You were never meant to sit around and watch your children play. You absolutely can if you want to, and of course, their safety is paramount – but that is not the only calling on your life.
You do not have to feel bad about having your own interests, and I argue that not only should you not feel bad about them – you absolutely should pursue them with your whole heart.
As a woman, whether you are a mother or not, you are impacting the lives around you. Younger women are learning from you. Older women are being supported by you.
If you are a mother, you are directly responsible, not only for keeping your children safe, but for inspiring them, teaching them to dream, teaching them to be brave, teaching them how to fail, and most importantly, teaching them to never ever give up and give in.
You can’t do that from the sidelines. You have to be an active participant in your life.
I will warn you that you will get push back. People in the Mid-West are stubborn. They are set in their ways, and they always believe they are correct.
Push back anyway.
Live the big, amazing life that God created you to live.
You were meant for more than sitting next to a kiddie pool with a blank stare on your face, wondering what happened to the dreamer you used to be.