The weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (MSG)
Tenderness and Strength – The Stay Soft Series – Part 2
I want to take today's post to discuss the long and ridiculous history of gender stereotyping softness and hardness. Women have been told not be hard, and men have been told not to be soft. Can those two attributes please stick to their gender defined roles, thank you very much!!
How much damage has this caused?!
First of all, let's not confuse soft with fluffy, flaky, giggly faintheartedness. Or hard with strong, robust, tenacity. For generations we have categorized soft and hard into feminine and masculine roles, not allowing the two to intersect, and shaming one for displaying the other. If you’re a woman, and you come across as hard, you’re called bossy and a try hard and prideful and unattractive. If you’re a man and you come across as soft, you’re called weak and pitiful and too emotional.
Both sexes feel the pressure of hiding the attributes they are told do not belong to their gender. Men hide their tenderness, women hide their strength. And we miss out on the beauty of the expression of it all in our lives.
I have a son. He is as deep as the ocean. His eyes hold the lives of those who breathed a thousand years ago. Wise beyond his years, freakishly in touch with the layer behind the material world, he is a boy that I fear will be tempted to hide his depth in the caves and the shadows and the spare rooms of his life.
I have a daughter. She is as high as the sky. Her eyes hold enough joy and curiosity to keep the world going for the next thousand years. Loud and strong, confident and bold, she is a girl that I fear will be tempted to keep her strength a secret, swept under the rug of mediocrity, locked away in the closet of “that’s not how your gender is to behave.”
You see, softness is not a diminishing quality, and strength is not a dominating force. More about that in tomorrow’s piece. Today, I want to challenge how we divvy up softness and strength into boxes according to sex. We divide and hand out attributes based purely on chromosomes.
Perhaps it started when we forgot that God isn’t a man. When God made us, she initially made us just like him: male and female. You can read that in Genesis 1. The psalmist wrote about the mothering nature of the wings of the divine. The spirit unveiled in the new testament is a whispering guide, a flow of life-giving energy, constant, aware, at our side. Feminine.
We have forgotten that God is female, too. That the attributes of God are not limited to the attributes of the male gender. God is both strong and tender, powerful and vulnerable, leader and comforter. And who’s to say which attribute belongs to which gender? Men don’t have to be hard, and women don’t have to be soft. We can all be the unique, glorious mix of the two that we are.
Men: If you are tough, and hard, and strong, you can be those things with a tender grace.
Women: If you are soft and tender and feeling and intuitive, you can be those things with backbone and strength.
In fact, one might say that they perpetuate the other. Paul said: “the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” (2 Cor 12:10 MSG)
They are not gender specific qualities, so let’s lay to rest our boxes and stereotypes. You are not soft and weak because of your femininity, and you are not hard and tough because of your masculinity. Tenderness and strength work hand in hand. Together, they are an unstoppable grace for every human on earth.
Written by Lizzy Milani