Beyond Empowered: She's Brave

By Abby Skeans
This year’s cultural agenda is focused on empowering women and girls. The United Nation’s upcoming summit, The Empowerment Bridge, highlights just how pervasive the issue is within global and domestic policy circles. And this year’s Super Bowl ads demonstrated that women are also being celebrated within pop culture through a mechanism that some have described as “empowertizing.”Dove-Samples

Many praised the Super bowl Always Ad which is part of the brand’s larger #LikeAGirl Campaign as a victory for feminism. The #LikeAGirl campaign challenges culture to “rewrite the rules” and make the commonly used phrase “mean amazing things.” Similarly, Dove’s #WeAreBeautiful Campaign has redefined female norms of beauty as beyond skin deep through their beauty sketches.However, not all of this year’s ads about women were clearly positive. The Nationwide Ad featuring the humor of Mindy Kaling left many confused about the message and questioning whether Nationwide might be calling women (as a gender) invisible, or worse yet, highlighting the imperceptible nature of Indian women as a specific ethnic demographic. The unfortunate nature of the story of the commercial is such that Kaling isn’t “seen” by the larger world until she encounters a cameo of Matt Damon and dances around the idea of snatching a kiss. Leaving some with the notion that perhaps women aren’t “seen” or beautiful until their identity is validated in the context of their sexuality.mindy_matt_damonI was not surprised that during the Super bowl many female athletes were using social media to affirm the messages of female strength that #LikeAGirl inspired. And although I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised by the affirmation that came from female authors and speakers within evangelical circles regarding the campaign. I found myself wondering if this jump onto the go girl bandwagon was tied to a trend that’s been on the rise within female Christian circles for several months -- something I’ve termed, The Brave Movement.The term “brave” has been surfacing within Christian culture. Author Annie Downs encouraged women through her book, Let’s All Be Brave, and Washington, D.C. local Eileen Wilder asked women to “stop playing nice with fear” through her e-book, Fierce. Bethel Music inspired us through their album titled off of the track sung by Amanda Cook, You Make Me Brave, and the Hillsong Church Sisterhood movement, pioneered by Pastor Bobbie Houston, even released a bible study series entitled, Brave Women Run in My Family which examined the lives of women of faith who demonstrated courage and strength in Biblical stories.likeagirl

Much of the Brave Movement is centered around a passage from Proverbs 31:25 which declares of the godly woman, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” Taking this verse quite literally, the She Is clothing company now features women’s apparel that reads “Elle est forte.”

There is an important nuance here, though, that shouldn’t be overlooked as women and girls are being celebrated by both those within and outside the context of faith. For better or worse, empowerment is a word closely associated with women’s issues. It strikes me as problematically situating women in a place of peril from which they need to be rescued or propelled out of by someone or something.

Being a woman, myself, and working with, living with, and studying women’s issues both in our own country and abroad, I understand that the placement of women in inferior positions is a reality. It cannot be ignored. I’m not suggesting that, nor would I deny the existence of this problematic issue or its often devastating consequences (sex trafficking, rape, child brides, female genital mutilation, etc.).
However, being aScreen Shot 2015-02-17 at 4.21.34 PM woman who situates herself within the context of faith, I draw tremendous courage from the way in which faith equips women and encourages them to be treated by others. Quite simply, the women I read about in the Bible are not empowered, they are brave.
Esther was Queen of the Persian Empire and single-handedly prevented the genocide of an entire minority ethnic group. Deborah was a mighty military commander who lead hosts of men in battle to victory. And Mary Magdalene arguably was one of Jesus’ most trusted confidants and advisers for his multi-territory ministry.

These women weren’t rescued or lifted out of inferiority by a doting force of charity; instead, they were clothed with strength and dignity by virtue of their female identity. Their identity, which demanded honor, allowed them to use their womanhood to act mightily on behalf of themselves and others.This year, as we focus on women’s issues, let’s take Always up on their advice and “rewrite the rules.” Women: let’s not settle for being empowered, and become brave. Because you already are.