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Putting Our Womanhood to Work


Apr 4 2014
Forget the stereotypes: Women get ahead by being themselves.

It seems we are endlessly discussing a woman's behavior in the workplace. Should a woman "act like a man" to ensure she exerts authority when she leads and works? Or should she use her softer, more feminine side to get what she wants? Or what about a combination of both—a sort of strength and femininity holding hands? No matter what she does the stereotypes abound: Assertive? Too bossy. Feminine? Too weak.

I remember a co-worker recounting advice upon being hired to a marketing company full of men. Her mentor, a successful woman herself, saw her gender as an advantage in her field. "Never stop acting like a woman," she told her. And it stuck with her. Many years after this initial conversation, she led with tenacity and femininity in meetings, client sessions, and decision-making.

In a Washington Post article earlier this year, law professor Joan C. Williams addressed the dichotomy of expectations for working women and brought up a similar suggestion. After interviewing 127 successful women, she found that while they now fill jobs that require "masculine tendencies", women are still expected to be feminine. Enter the concept of gender judo:

Powerful women often take feminine stereotypes that can hold women back — the selfless mother and the dutiful daughter, for example — and use those stereotypes to propel themselves forward. I call it gender judo. The martial art of judo, which means "gentle way" in Japanese, focuses on using your opponent's momentum to overpower him.

Williams calls it gender judo. I'm tempted to just call it manipulation (which we all know is not a new tool in a woman's toolbox). I'm glad to see women use their femininity to their advantage, but I'd rather see a healthier, more straightforward approach, where women can act like themselves and still work to productively, effectively influence the people they work with.

The Bible presents us a clearer way, reminding us that every part of the Body is needed in order for the church to function (1 Cor. 12:27). Under this model, there is no need for any of us to hold back who we are as male or female. Because we bear the image of God, our femininity matters. So does our strength.

We are learning that the female presence in work, home, and church is a benefit to all of us, and women and men find themselves working together for the Kingdom in new ways.

As a complementarian, I hold to the teaching that God has a good design for us as women by providing us with unique roles to use our gifting in the home and church. We are immensely useful in a variety of ministry settings, and many times those settings place us directly in a position where we have to use our influence in decision-making.

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