Not That Kind of Nice Girl
At this point, we know that sexual assault can occur, well, anywhere. There are the faraway cases, such as the highly publicized gang rape on a New Delhi bus. There are cases that happen at "venerable" institutions such as West Point. There are so many others occur each day without ever reaching the light of a newsroom, in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and hometowns.
This sort of behavior often starts small—maybe with a look, a remark, a social media reply, or the ever-dreaded shout from a stranger on the street. As women, we are programmed to respond to these advances either with silence or fear, or some combination of both. Basically, we can either walk away quietly or we can run away.
Particularly in instances where our immediate safety isn't jeopardized, we may not want to bow down so nicely. Our instincts tell us to snap back at sexual comments or degrading language. It seems wrong to control this anger, to command kindness in the face of sexualization, oppression, or degradation.
It can be so frustratingly difficult, this sometimes overwhelming task of being nice. Sure, all of us—men and women—face certain social expectations, but it's the "fairer sex" that seems to deal with a double burden. We're meant to be kind though we bear more harassment, more unwanted advances, and more situations that make it far more difficult to stay sweet and polite.
As women, we must walk the line between being nice and being bold, that line between biting your tongue and being taken advantage of, the line between being submissive and being wholly passive.
Our culture would have us think womanhood is a giant paradox, held at constant tension. We're supposed to be beautiful — but not too beautiful. We're supposed to stand up for ourselves — but not be rude. We have callings and expectations that pull us in multiple directions that we must, of course, do with a smile on our face.
As Christian women, we may be tempted to feel the same way about God's view of women and godliness. After all, those commonly cited verses in Proverbs describe a woman who's strong, active, and virtuous (Prov. 31:10-31), while then the New Testament calls for our submission and unwavering obedience (Eph. 5: 21-24). How do we strike a balance? How can we make ourselves heard while preserving our godly womanhood? How are we supposed to be submissive and godly in the face of oppression? How can we be nice when it seems the only response is to be scathingly mean? When we're so sick of being nice?
The only way I even know how to think of these questions is to look at examples of women in Scripture. The examples aren't as widespread as men, but there are fiercely audacious women throughout the Bible who are courageous in the face of danger and subjugation. They kill with their kindness and rule with their obedience.
I think of Ruth and Naomi who both endured horrible heartache with a sense of fearlessness (Ruth 1). Or Queen Vashti in the book of Esther, who refused to go before the king to have her beauty paraded at his request (Esther 1: 9-12). These women aren't wholly different — in fact, they share a common thread. Their kindness is not meek; it is brave, perhaps because these women recognize that they only truly have to answer to one person, and that's God.
Other women in Scripture showcase the power of silence, the strength that sometimes comes with not saying anything. Take Moses' sister, Miriam, who silently hid him by the river at the request of her mother and stood by waiting to see what might happen (Ex. 2). Instead of publicly defying Pharaoh and cursing his name, she fiercely and calmly chose another option. Biting one's tongue and walking away can be valiant and daring. It can be as loud and bold as shouting to be heard.
In certain times and places, we as women must speak courageously in our own defense, in the defense of others or for the justice of those around us. When society confuses being unflinching with being mean, with lacking kindness and lacking tact, we can remember like Ruth and Queen Vashti that our world isn't the world we have to appease. Our responses won't always live up to the world's standards.
Because, at the end of the day, we live to God's standard. If someone makes an offensive sexual comment on the sidewalk, it's just as easy to shout profane responses and society would accept that. God's standards for dealing with these sorts of things are different though, and we have to trust that the wisdom he has bestowed upon us can be both useful and safe.
It's not easy being nice, but at least God's definition of nice is different than the world's.
Liz is a writer in Nashville, Tenn. She eats stories like grapes and has a very serious appreciation for macaroni and cheese. Follow her on Twitter at your own risk, @riggser, or read more of her ramblings at lizriggs.com.