Growing up in what I realize now was a rather conservative culture, windows into female sexuality were pretty limited. I never saw a woman lead worship though I heard plenty of soprano solos, which I assumed was what a woman should sound like. My chocolate contralto felt odd and out of place. I didn't know any women with male friends without brow-furrowed conversations about boundaries and inevitable temptations. I wondered if I should question the profoundly nourishing relationships I had built over the years with members of the opposite sex. I have distinct memories of quilted Bible covers, Proverbs 31 plaques, and row upon row of books about praying women, strong women, bad women, beautiful women?you get the picture. All of these things fit neatly into Category A.
Then there was my mother: confident, beautiful, sensual, and ambitious. Mom knew which rules to break and which rules to bend if you wanted to get ahead. I often felt like a sloth in light of her clear-cut goals and pragmatism. The first woman to attain an executive management position at a luxury hotel in our city, she was a leader in a man's world. She was not afraid to use her beauty or her brains to move ahead. As a young girl, I remember watching the tender parts of her become calloused as she maintained what people called a "man's perspective" in business. It was here that I established Category B.
I went through a few years of trying to squeeze all the parts of me alternately into the two different categories and, in both scenarios, felt like a cheap copy of myself. My journals were filled with dark-inked entries wondering why God would create women to be fiercely intelligent if we couldn't lead outside of our seemingly innocuous circles. Why create women to be beautiful if we either must become resigned to being dis-integrated visual objects or be afraid of our bodies because of the "natural" temptation of the female form? Why create women to be the completers of his greatest creation if relationships with men were dangerous and tainted by our nature? I was angry. And I felt fiercely alone.
And then my (male) friend and high-school-buddy-turned-Catholic-priest encapsulated my frustration. "You've had the differences between male and female drawn out for you with the two distinctions existing in black and white. You can't live with yourself by the world's standard of femininity, yet you are convinced you must be distinctly female by the church's definition and you must worship a God who is distinctly male by the same code."