A Woman’s Place: Where Is the Niche for Single Christian Women in Fiction?
Posted by HistoryGypsy
I read an interesting quote from Edna Ferber a few years ago that really struck a chord:
“Being an old maid is like death by drowning, a really delightful sensation once you cease to struggle.”
Owing to the stigma that many churches continue to place on single women, and owing also to the influence of so many well-meaning people who think a woman cannot serve God without being married, and, most infuriatingly, the portrayal of women in Christian fiction, I used to live in terror of remaining single. Somehow my entire self-worth depended upon a ring decorating the third finger of my left hand. Then one day I started to question why I would willingly subject myself to such an archaic way of thinking. Why fight against (and exhaust myself over) what was clearly God’s will? I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing with my life; clearly, singleness was not a punishment. Why not glory in my singleness and accept it as a gift from God? Why did the lack of single heroines (who remain single) in Christian novels affect me so much? Part of the frustration, I realized, came from the difficulty in knowing my place.
In today’s world, young Christian women have a harder time than ever knowing their place. We have the non-Christian world telling us just to live as we please and not to worry about rules, morals, or other people, which we know is the wrong way, but which can also entice us in a weak moment. They present to us an entire vastly-skewed value system over and over and over, and we have to fight a daily battle to keep ourselves from submitting to it. Then we have eighty different versions of how we should live coming at us from the Christian world. Some pastors say we shouldn’t even be allowed to teach Sunday school because of our gender, whereas others tell us even the pulpit isn’t off limits. Some people tell us we aren’t fulfilling our destiny unless we marry and bear a “quiver-full” of home-schooled children. Some say we should go to college, others that we shouldn’t. Some say we should only live either at home with our parents (and under their authority) or with a husband (and under his authority). Some ways of thinking seek to liberate us, others, seemingly, to enslave us. Few people seem to agree about a single Christian woman’s place in the world. As though the matter were not complicated enough, Christian fiction further skews the issue. In books, particularly in Christian fiction, a female character’s reward/ultimate goal/ultimate achievement/etc. is finding the perfect man. Very seldom do you find a successful, moral, and likable woman in Christian fiction who remains single (in fact, I’m drawing a blank trying to come up with just one example). According to the majority of authors, falling in love is an essential element of a happy ending.
This lack of clear direction for women and misunderstanding of our place in society embittered and frustrated me for years. Why is it so clear what a Christian man’s place in the world is, but so murky for a Christian woman? Why is singleness so heavily fought against and so stigmatizing? My best guess is, it’s yet another plot of the enemy’s. By causing confusion, he can snatch young women away from the embrace of a loving God, and thrust them into an abyss for the rest of their lives. By leaving them unsure of which way to follow and what their identity is, he can mislead them into the wrong way, or even no way at all. It’s a pretty clever idea (Yes, I called Satan clever. Do not underestimate our enemy.) Sadly, a great many Christian authors are unintentionally helping this tactic gain strength.
Sometimes, I just want to sit and read a book about a person I can identify with. I am, in short, a lively single female Christian schoolteacher. Sure there’s plenty more to me, like passion, intellect, and my many eccentricities, but those are the rough basics. And here is where Christian fiction has consistently failed me. Not just me, of course — single Christian women are a growing demographic, thanks largely to the way the world has wrecked havoc on men (don’t even get me started). Janette Oke’s perfect women who marry unbelievers, get saved together, and then produce seven children just don’t resonate with me, or with the majority of the women like me.* Francine Rivers’ flawlessly beautiful Christian women who fall head over heals in love with men who positively worship them also don’t resonate with us.* The unending sea of nearly identical books with cover art of shyly smiling Amish girls just make me (and the women like me) gag and dry heave. Where is our niche in fiction? Why have we been left out?
The struggle was at one point so painful that I used to cry myself to sleep at night. I would read a book, a Christian book that ought to uplift me, and close it feeling that there must be something horribly wrong with me. I am certain that this was never the author’s intention. Then, a short while after moving to Korea, I found myself realizing just how wonderful life can be when you cease to struggle against singleness. When I finally gave up on the notion that Christian girls need to be married, I learned to enjoy the benefits of being single (this doesn’t mean that the pain completely went away, just that I learned to live with it and move beyond it to greater things). As I have since continued to learn, I don’t need a man to “give me the world” – God already did! I don’t need a man to “complete me” – again, God already did! If He wants me married, than He can send the guy at the right time, and I will be happy to oblige. In the meantime, I am serving God and loving my life, without the burden of obsessing over that naked third finger. I’m living right, AND being single, just as many other young women are. When will Christian fiction catch up?
* I use Oke and Rivers as examples of authors who are accidentally stigmatizing many of the women in the single Christian demographic. I do not believe for one minute that either author intends this consequence of their work — in fact, from what I know about both of them, I believe them to be kind and loving people in real life. Please do not read into this post a criticism of either woman’s character — I would never do that.
About HistoryGypsyI'm a high school history teacher and author of upcoming novel Sidhe Eyes. I live in gorgeous Qingdao, China, where I spend much of my free time studying the fascinating and frustrating Chinese language, eating odd things, or taking long walks along the Yellow Sea. At "While We're Paused" I have the pleasure of blogging about things that catch my interest: good books, language, history, poetry, writing tips, grammar rants, random humor . . . I don't like to get in a rut! Some of my favorite writers include (and this is by no means an exhaustive list): Dorothy Sayers, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Baroness Orczy, Geoffrey Wawro, John Lynn, Bill Bryson, the Bronte sisters, John Christopher, J.M. Barrie, O. Henry, Roald Dahl, and Robert Graves. I usually find myself reading no less than three books at a time!
Posted on August 7, 2011, in Authors, Books, Characters, Christianity, Stephanie Thompson and tagged a woman's place, Christian fiction, Christian romance, Christian single women, Francine Rivers, godly single women, Janette Oke, old maid, portrayal of Christian women in fiction, shortcomings in Christian fiction, single women, singleness, Stephanie Thompson. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.