Think

Womanhood: A balancing act?

Feb 2014    

… But many find themselves now having to balance a “double shift” of work and home duties. On one hand, they are expected to fulfil their traditional roles. On the other, at least in Singapore, they are to be part of the workforce and contribute to nation-building.

Women in our modern society have to balance differing cultural expectations. This can have an impact on their Christian discipleship.

Traditionally, as encapsulated in the Chinese saying “男主外,女主内” (nán zhǔ wài, nǘ zhǔ nèi), men are responsible for bread-winning, and women, to look after household matters. This is a social norm that is not exclusive to Asian culture, but is found in the West as well. Tied up with this perspective are gender-specific roles laid out for both men and women.

With greater globalisation and educational opportunities, women have made great leaps outside the home, both socially and financially. But many find themselves now having to balance a “double shift” of work and home duties. On one hand, they are expected to fulfil their traditional roles. On the other, at least in Singapore, they are to be part of the workforce and contribute to nation-building.

So how can Christian women take their Christian discipleship seriously in the face of these differing cultural expectations? There are no hard and fast answers, but we would like to suggest the following two points for deeper reflection.

The first is to avoid taking two extreme positions. Both these positions take their cue from the traditional and more recent notions of womanhood.

One extreme is where womanhood is defined chiefly in terms of women’s roles and relationships within the home. Christian women should not perceive themselves as domestic angels whose proper place is in the home and whose chief aim is to make everybody in the family comfortable, well-fed, and happy.

The other extreme is fuelled by the modern concept of being a “woman”. While making sense of womanhood goes beyond the home, the role of a homemaker should not be diminished or demeaned in any way. It is definitely not any less dignified than if a woman was a working professional.

The second point to be considered is our calling from God. For the Christian woman, womanhood is best understood not in relation to what has been laid down culturally, but as a divine calling. It is the person God has called us to be that defines our identity decisively and shapes our understanding of womanhood.

There is a long history of theological reflection within the Protestant tradition on the doctrine of vocation or calling that still shapes the views of Christian thinkers today. Following traditional teaching on the subject, Os Guiness, for instance, distinguishes between primary and secondary callings in his book,

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life.

Primary calling refers to the summons of Christ to be his followers and to live for him. In the words of Peter, it is a call to be “a people belonging to God.” (1 Pet. 2:9) All Christians are called in this first sense.

Secondary calling refers to the God-appointed stations in life through which our primary calling is expressed. Being a queen such as Esther, or teacher, student, nurse, homemaker, wife, mother or daughter, are examples of secondary callings.

Christian women are first and foremost called to be Christ’s disciples. This fundamental identity is to permeate a woman’s life, including her secondary callings. Understanding womanhood from the standpoint of God’s calling means that the Christian woman is free to serve Christ wherever he leads her, whether in the home, the church, or society.

It also means that the lowliest and loftiest of work, when done for the sake of Christ, are all sacred acts of Christian service.

Picture by Martinan/Bigstock.com

Dr Edwin Tay is a Lecturer in Theology at Trinity Theological College, and worships at Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church (TACMC). Together with his wife Angela, a homemaker and a writer with the United Bible Societies (China Partnership), they gave a talk at TACMC entitled “Womanhood: Virtue and Vocation” on which this article is based. Edwin and Angela have two children, aged thirteen and eight.

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