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Patriarchy, Policing Myself, and Queen Bey

Today I read an article from the Center for Biblical Equality about how patriarchy has taught women to police themselves and their rhetoric. Lord. Do you ever read something that just grips you… you identify with it so much that you wonder if someone is watching you. Your heart speeds up as you feel it in your gut – it’s pulling at you. This was not the most researched or strongly written article I’ve ever read, yet it made me cry at my desk in my office in the middle of the morning. I felt a little ridiculous, but I knew that what I was reading was something that was both completely true for me and completely wrong.

The highlights:

“Assertive, headstrong, and strong-willed are the “dirty” words used to undermine female strength and independence. … Strong women often regard their very natures as sinful and gospel-contrary because of patriarchal conditioning. … Patriarchal conditioning makes women enemies of themselves. Studies show that women qualify and apologize for their opinions where men assert and argue. … The self-questioning speaking patterns of women are not an accident and neither are they the product of a more passive, agreeable female nature. They exist because patriarchy cultivates uncertainty, other-appeasement, and self-doubt in women. … Nobody wants to be the headstrong woman these days. …

Even when I’m confident, I verbally undermine my ideas, opinions, and testimony. In the name of not appearing too aggressive, I tread softly and sit small. I surrender, capitulate, and backtrack. But often, no one tells me to defer to men. I undermine myself… I often pair my words with concessions and qualifications to counter any perceived aggression. I soothe egos and preemptively critique myself so I don’t appear bossy or controlling.”

I’m wondering if an unconscious version of myself wrote that second paragraph and then had it published under a pseudonym. Seriously. I do this to myself and I hate it. I hate that I’m more concerned with approval than I am with saying/doing what I feel is right. I hate that I’m more concerned with being likeable than I am with being known for who I am. I hate that I hide parts of myself to be more acceptable to those around me.

Depending on your exposure to media and the type of media you consume, you may or may not have heard about Beyonce’s new album, Lemonade. You don’t have to like Beyonce and I don’t need to  know the reasons you don’t. There may be plenty of valid reasons to disapprove of her. But this is a woman who has stopped policing herself. And for that single reason, I admire her. Not only is she a woman but she is a minority. She is not the voice that society wants to hear. The voices of those like her have been minimized and ignored. And yet she speaks. She tells her story and then she lets the world do with it as they choose. They speculate about her marriage and her religion. They analyze and criticize her narrative. But she just lets it be. She is who she is. She said what she said. And that’s enough.

I don’t blame anyone for the way that I edit myself. I think my personality made me extra susceptible to the conditioning referred to in the article. But I have to be responsible for myself. I decide to be who I want to be. I’m a grown ass woman. So it’s time to be accountable to myself. Why can’t I get over this? It’s hard work, people. Being courageous enough to trust yourself, to not care when your critics disapprove of you, to not be the most likeable person in the room… That’s a courage I have not yet fully grasped. But I want to fight for it.



  1. Sarah Sarah

    Well said! I apparently read a similar article yesterday. It was about how women are taught–directly and indirectly–to suppress their anger, also in the name of being likable and lady-like. I’m glad these ideas are getting more media attention–thanks for being part of the conversation and helping more and more people be exposed to these problems.

    I’ve never been a Beyonce fan, but I’m also in a total state of awe regarding her new album and her current work. Her commitment to call attention to social issues and promote social change (for women and minorities) is really admirable.

    Also, I’ve consistently been impressed by your confidence and assertive nature. (I know you’re not fishing for compliments here, but I couldn’t in good conscience respond to this post without mentioning this observation.) We could all stand to be even more conscious of this phenomenon, but I think you do a great job already of fighting this social pressure!

    • Sarah Sarah

      Also, I was always a bossy child, and, until a few years ago, I was still embarrassed about this trait. I knew it was perceived as annoying by some of my classmates, and I hated being disliked in this way. Recently, however, I saw the video that made its way around the internet regarding the word “bossy” and how it relates to gender. (Interestingly, it featured Beyonce (among other women)! There she goes again. That woman is unstoppable!) Anyway, despite being a lifelong feminist, I never thought about how the word “bossy” is pretty much exclusively applied to girls, and it serves to curb the tendency to take a leadership role. If I remember the video correctly, Beyonce declares proudly, “I’m not bossy; I’m the boss.” After watching the video for the first time, I immediately had this revelation: I was “bossy” because I like leadership roles. I craved that as an elementary student. Sadly, however, I lost that trait to some extent (because I wanted to be more likable), probably until college. I’m so glad I saw that video and have a different conception of that word now!

      • Rebecca Emlund Rebecca Emlund

        YES! Men are applauded for taking charge. They’re not referred to as bossy. It’s definitely a label that I’ve always tried to avoid. I’ve even found myself avoiding making plans with friends because I didn’t want to be too bossy. Seriously? It’s just ridiculous. I’m going to search out this video. It sounds awesome. Thanks for both of your comments!

  2. Sarah Sarah

    You should definitely check it out. Thanks for your post–it’s an important idea that needs to be shared!

  3. The idea that women shouldn’t be assertive and strong is so programmed into our current society – that it seems like it will take a lot of reprogramming to make it right. I’m glad I can be a part of changing that idea with you as we raise Amelia.

    • Rebecca Emlund Rebecca Emlund


  4. Kara Jo Kara Jo

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I feel this way more so in the church than out of it, which is the exact opposite of how the church should function!

  5. Rebecca Rebecca

    Well said, Rebecca. I’m appreciating your words, as well as the comments made by other young (or old) women. Women must speak out and take leadership roles in the workplace for our institutions to be richer and stronger. Like Kara Jo, I have particular concerns about churches and even the doctrine that is being taught regarding men in leadership positions in the home and the church, whereas women should be in more supportive roles. I believe this is a distortion of scripture and even prevents our spiritual growth as families and individuals. Jesus lifted women up as he did all people and made way for each of us to be priests (the priesthood of believers) with direct connection to God. I grew up in the 60s and 70s having known many women ministers (in evangelical churches), and I have been troubled by hearing that women are not in leadership positions nor able to teach adult classes in some churches. We are only using half of our talent and Spiritual leadership! I just cannot accept that men have superior spiritual insights nor ability to lead. Sorry for the sermon but it is Sunday morning, after all!

    • Rebecca Emlund Rebecca Emlund

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! I say, “Yes, and AMEN!” to your sermon. 🙂 It was only after being involved in some very conservative/complementarian/restrictive churches that I really began to understand how damaging these beliefs can be – to men as well as women! I’ve seen men put in roles that they were not equipped to fill when women who were more capable were available, all because the men were considered qualified on gender alone. There were disastrous consequences. While I think there’s a limit to how much we can affect certain religious belief systems, it’s still worth doing all we can to empower the men and women affected by them.

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