Seeking a better reflection: shattering the image of false femininity in reality TV

After getting cable for the first time in years, I discovered Bravo TV’s “Real Housewives” franchise. It only took one episode to suck me into the over-dramatized world of professionally-applied makeup, hair extensions, lavish parties, and posh apartments. With cameras crammed in their faces, the claims of these so-called housewives are as robust as their shoe collections – wives and mothers who simultaneously want it all, have it all, and control it all.

In the Season 4 title sequence to the Real Housewives of New York City, the cast offered up pithy life philosophies despite the ugly realities often surrounding their daily lives. In her intro spot, cast member LuAnn de Lesseps touted: “I thought I had it good before, but I’m just getting started” referring to her recent transition from Duchess to divorcee. Cast member Sonja Morgan croons in her intro spot: “I have a taste for luxury, and luxury has a taste for me,” omitting news she recently filed for bankruptcy.

Honestly, watching the Real Housewives franchise is like watching a train wreck. Only you can’t tear away your eyes because the cars are drunk off rose wine and in imminent danger of careening off the track in four-inch Louboutin heels.

Despite being educated, beautiful, and cultured, it will come as no surprise that the image of femininity showcased by this reality program runs counter to the portrait of noble women painted on the pages of Scripture. And after watching just a few minutes of the Real Housewives of New York City, I glibly concluded that I wasn’t anything like them.

Those women are pernicious, I said to myself.

They are self-absorbed and shallow.

They treat their children and husbands poorly.

They are territorial and condescending.

They don’t take responsibility for their actions or words. They play the blame game.

They don’t view reality in the proper light. Life is all about them.  

As a Christian, work-at-home mother of two, the thick line I drew between us came with great ease. But by the episode’s end, I was faced with a rather disarming realization. Could I be more like these “lucky” ladies of reality television than I realized?

And although there are very real and glaring lifestyle differences between us (I don’t have live-in help, nannies, or personal assistants, and …oh yeah…I spend most my day in pajama pants and converse), I couldn’t help but wonder if my life as a woman of God unwittingly reflected the culture around me more than Christ.

And if my own journey as a woman of God is in danger of poorly reflecting the purposes of my Savior, then perhaps other Christian women are guilty of conforming their minds to the wrong likeness as well. I can’t help but wonder: could the portrait of the modern housewife as depicted by Bravo TV be an ugly, yet very realistic reflection of the vast majority of Christian women today?

Here’s why I believe it is easier for a modern “church” gal like myself to look more like the housewives of reality television than she realizes.

First, very often Christian women have bought into the lie that we can have it all.

As modern women, we often believe we can have it all – wealth, health, family, career, and the fulfillment of all our personal dreams. And not only has our culture told us that it is possible to have it all, but we’ve also been led to believe that we are entitled to it all.

Pursuing dreams is not a bad thing. Neither is it bad for a woman to seek to balance career and family in a God-honoring way. But the power of the lie of entitlement resides not simply in the lie itself, but in the doubt such a lie generates in our minds.

In fact, this lie is one of the oldest in the book. Literally. You see it first appear in the life of the world’s very first woman. Even though the good Creator freely gave Eve every good gift for abundant living, she easily bought into the lie that there was something she lacked.

Gen. 3:6 tells us: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

Eve discerned that the forbidden fruit was good to eat, “purty” to look at it, and had some great side effects. But it is not the goodness of the fruit that is in dispute. Today, the forbidden fruit might even be classified as a superfood! Yet, Eve’s disobedient actions revealed an ugly doubt in her heart – if God is withholding good gifts from me, then perhaps He is not such a good God.

As a testimony to His good character, God had a good plan for Eve’s life. While being created equal in value and personage to her husband, Eve was assigned a different role than that of her husband. Scripture tells us Eve was created to be her husband’s ‘helper’ – a term elsewhere in Scripture to denote the helping quality of God himself (Ex. 18:4). Today, God’s good plan for the genders remains the same.

[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]False femininity assumes women can and should have all life’s good gifts without restriction. True femininity trusts in the good character of God as the sole giver of good gifts.[/pullquote] Despite being convinced of the veracity of Scripture, I am often tempted to doubt the goodness or importance of my role as my husband’s helper. At issue is the question of God’s goodness in withholding the equally “good” role of leader from me. Alternative approaches to the marriage relationship as presented by our culture and reality TV often appear as that plump and juicy fruit hanging from the forbidden tree. They may appear attractive. They may appear to work really well. The alternatives may even appear to yield good results. But in choosing to operate outside God’s expressed will or Word for femininity, we become guilty of more than simple disobedience. We become guilty of doubting God’s good character.

At its core, then, true femininity is an issue of the heart. False femininity assumes women can and should have all life’s good gifts without restriction. True femininity trusts in the good character of God as the sole giver of good gifts.

Second, very often Christian women have bought into the lie that we know best.

Like it or not, modern women are products of three different waves of feminist theory a political ideology re-positioning the woman as the ultimate authority over her life (contra any other social, relational, or political structure).[i] With the woman as the ultimate authority in her own life, she then becomes the executive determiner of what’s best for her.

Like Eve in the garden, Christian women today have been deceived to doubt not only the good character of God, but the good directives of God as well. Still today, we often operate under the deception that we can enjoy the goodness of life apart from the Good Creator Himself.  As New York Housewife Cindy Barshop says in her Season 4 intro spot: “I have all I ever wanted, and it’s all on my own terms.”

[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]False femininity assumes a woman alone knows what is best. True femininity trusts that a good God gives good gifts in accordance with His good knowledge.[/pullquote] While we might not resort to the wild shenanigans of reality TV stars, hijacking the train can be accomplished in subtle ways in the life of Christian women. If married, we can easily disregard God’s good Word in the Scriptures regarding the roles of husband and wife. If single, we can easily disregard God’s good Word concerning the joy of sex within the parameters of the marriage relationship. If leaders in the church, we can easily disregard God’s good Word for women in ministry. All are good gifts – marriage, sex, ministry – but their goodness is to be enjoyed in the way our good God designed.

Not every good gift is good for every woman. False femininity assumes a woman alone knows what is best for herself. True femininity trusts that a good God gives good gifts in accordance with His good knowledge.

 Third, very often Christian women have bought into the lie that we can find fulfillment outside of Jesus Christ.

The lie that anything other than a relationship with Jesus Christ will fulfill us is the most devastating lie of all.  Scripture tells us the self-made path reaps desperation and destruction. Prov. 14:12 says: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

Before Eve reached among the leaves to grab hold of the forbidden fruit, life in the garden was pretty good. Actually, it was perfect – perfect because God’s designs are always perfect. God’s plan for our lives, while not always pretty or easy, will always bring about our greatest fulfillment and His greatest glory (Rom. 8:26-30).

Eve’s desire to find fulfillment outside God’s plan for her life resulted in cosmic consequences. Rather than experiencing ultimate joy and fulfillment, the path she carved out for herself was characterized by desperation and disunity (Gen. 3:15-21).

[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]False femininity assumes a woman is capable of obtaining personal fulfillment on her own terms. True femininity trusts that a good God gives good gifts in accordance with his good knowledge for the woman’s good purpose.[/pullquote] The lives of the Real Housewives warn us that buying to the lies of false femininity results in, at best, bad marriages, divorce, bankruptcy, or participating in a really bad music video at the age of 45. But at its worst, the lies of false femininity jettison us on a track of desperation and destruction.

False femininity assumes a woman is capable of obtaining personal fulfillment on her own terms. True femininity trusts that a good God gives good gifts in accordance with his good knowledge for the woman’s good purpose.

A BETTER REFLECTION

Self-evaluation is like trying on swim suits in February; it’s an ugly affair. After all, one of the main reasons we as women avoid mirrors is to ignore or evade the magnification of our flaws. But thankfully, we serve a good God who personally speaks good Words to our hearts so we can enjoy His good plan for our lives. The recovery of God’s divine design is half the battle in shattering the mirror of worldly perspectives often reflected in Christian women today.

And while the world characterizes biblical femininity as outdated, old-fashioned, and even oppressive, Scripture’s claims are quite the contrary. Biblical femininity is not mindless maid-service such as fetching your husband’s toast or keeping women out of the Oval Office, according to Real Housewife of Orange County Alexis Bellino. Nor is it about wearing the color pink, pearls, or pleated skirts and penny loafers.

True femininity is about keeping Christ central in our heart’s affections. When Christ is seated squarely on the throne of our heart, we will trust in His provision and His purpose for our life. One of Scripture’s implicit examples of true femininity is revealed in the life of Ruth, whose story promises women centuries later that biblical womanhood in modernity is both possible and rewarding. Consider the following:

  • Ruth trusted God’s good character.

When her life circumstances took a turn for the worse, Ruth willingly trusted in the good character of the God of Israel. The choice to trust Yahweh was not an easy one. As a childless widow in the Ancient Near East, Ruth had no means of self-preservation. It would have been easier for Ruth to remain in her home country (Moab) and return to her Moabite family. Yet she chose to remain with her mother-in-law and identify with the God of Israel.

The iconic words uttered between the women on the road to Bethlehem speak of Ruth’s relationship with Naomi and with the Israelite God who once only belonged to her husband. Ruth 1:16 says: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” In choosing to return to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Ruth trusted in God’s good character to protect and provide for her despite the ugly circumstances surrounding her.

  • Ruth trusted God’s good Word to her.

We are all familiar with the infamous scene on the threshing floor between Ruth and the man who stole her heart, Boaz (Ruth 3). Commentators make much of Naomi’s pre-event plotting and Ruth’s pre-event grooming, insinuating both had poor intentions for the evening. (Ruth 3:1-5). But with respect to biblical femininity, Ruth trusted in God’s Word concerning His provision for widows. Before Ruth found herself in need of a redeemer, God had already spoken a Word of provision and protector for her in the Levirate Law (Deut. 25:5-10).

But despite this law, would it have been easier for Ruth to search for a husband among her Moabite kinsman or even among the single Hebrew men of her own age? Undoubtedly so. Ruth’s choice to trust God’s good Word to provide a husband from among her late husband’s family was both difficult and dangerous. More importantly, Ruth’s choice to trust God’s good Word for her life yielded her not only personal fulfillment (a loving union with Boaz) but an eternal legacy in the lineage of Christ (Ruth 4:18-21).

  • Ruth trusted God’s good plan for her.

The cry of Ruth’s heart was quite distinct from the boisterous claims made by women of the Real Housewives franchise. The author of Ruth reveals to us that this heroine’s femininity was not based solely on her biological makeup. Rather, in the life of Ruth, true femininity included a demeanor or disposition that God deems as good (1 Pet. 3:3-4). The spirit in which Ruth approached Boaz to seek His favor (first to seek permission to glean from his fields and later to seek provision for marriage) speaks of true femininity.  She did not presume upon her right to glean in the fields even though the Law allowed widows to do so (Lev. 19:9-10). Nor did Ruth presume upon Boaz when broaching the subject of marriage on the threshing floor. Instead of a spirit of entitlement, we see a woman seeking favor with great gentleness.

In trusting God’s good plan for her, Ruth demonstrates a powerful trust in both God’s good character and God’s Word to her. Her example shows us that true femininity is a clearly an issue of trust.

Her life story inevitably spurs us to self-evaluation. Will we, as women facing mounting culture pressure to reflect a false femininity, choose to trust God? Like Ruth, will we choose to trust the Scripture’s claim that a good God gives women good gifts in accordance with His good knowledge for His good purpose? Or will we align our heart’s affections with the image of false femininity presented in reality programming?

 

[i] For a historical look at feminist theory and its impact on U.S. public policy and the Western Church, see Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture, Crossway Books (2005).

 

Comments

  1. Becky Link says

    Great article Lissy. Man you can write! These shows are designed to make you feel better about yourself so you can so “at least I’m not like them….”. Rather than “whoa is me, that could be me”. I personally like to watch hoarders to make me feel better about my house and Super Nanny to feel better about my parenting style! How silly we are. Thanks for sharing. Love you!
    Becks

  2. Britt says

    Three things: awesome, right on time for me at this point in my life,& it was on point. Thank you for allowing God to use you. I’m a wife & mother of 3. Sometimes I compare myself to other women, who I think are successful, have it all, have it together, & don’t measure up. I think to myself,I’m not doing what they are doing/don’t have what they have. After reading this, it was a wake up call! I need to look to His Word & trust that my life is in His hands. Again, thank you!

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