A common problem that we all have when thinking or talking about female virtues is that of speaking in negatives as though female virtues were a sort of empty space. We think a gentle and quiet spirit is another way of saying vacant. We think modesty is simply the absence of inappropriate dressing. We think that chastity is the absence of promiscuity. We think that faithfulness at home is the absence of going out and doing other things. But scripture does not define virtues in terms of empty space; it is defined in terms of fruit.
Matthew 7:16 says quite simply “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”
Painfully straight forward I know, but do you notice how it does not say anything about knowing it is a grape vine by the absence of thistles? It’s the grapes that really tell the story. In the Fairie Queene there is a female knight named Belphoebe, who represents chastity. What a wonderful image! Chastity is a militant virtue. It requires an active defense.
Now the reason that I bring all this up is that many young ladies simply have no defense, especially when it comes to the young men. I know I usually write more to mothers, but can you believe that there was a time when I also was in high school and college? It wasn’t even so long ago that I have forgotten about it. Of course much of this is still applicable to married women, because faithfulness to your husband is not the absence of wandering – it is the presence of a defense.
Forgive the possible tackiness of this metaphor, but if you have ever watched a nature film, or seen a dog on a walk, or really paid attention to life at all, you will have noticed a certain tendency among the male of the species. They mark their territory. They make a claim. They fight over the girl water buffaloes. Men do exactly the same thing, starting somewhere around the sixth grade. They like to impose on women around them in a way that builds their territory, or their prestige, or their ego. Let me hasten to say that I am not here talking about what you should teach your sons about controlling this kind of behavior, I am talking about being the women in a world where this will happen.
One of the great skills of the female life is learning to be on the defense in these situations. It is about not letting men who are simply passing by you leave a mark. It is about not being a victim, not being vulnerable, and not being willing to be imposed upon. I need to hasten to add one other qualification – when boys or men do this, it is not necessarily springing from any deep nefarious desires. Sometimes, it is just an accident. Sometimes it is a bad habit, or a different culture. Sometimes they aren’t actually paying attention when they impose. So don’t take this post as an accusation towards the men who impose on, or attempt to impose on you. These are all excellent opportunities for you to practice virtue.
Often times in Christian circles these impositions are super subtle, and seemingly completely innocent. Sitting down next to you on a bench which provides a suddenly private conversation. Patting your back and lingering for a little moment too many. Taking a sip out of your drink without asking. Asking for a ride that you might rather not give. Telling a joke that is based on subject matter you didn’t need to share with them. Texting you in the middle of the night. Referring casually to your hormonal situation. Being just a little over the line, a little too casual, a little too friendly, a little too near, or just a little too everything.
The important thing that I wanted to communicate in this is that a response is required. It is absolutely necessary to female virtue. When some young man (or older, whatever) is imposing on you, you must not be imposed on. You do not just let these things happen. Smiling, laughing nervously, giving the ride, staying on the bench, or simply not resisting is how you let a mark be made.
It is also absolutely critical that you maintain a good sense of humor, not being self-serious, while somehow remaining entirely immoveable. Young women have a great deal of trouble with the fear of being shrill, and if that doesn’t scare them they probably are shrill. I can clearly remember the feeling of not wanting to overreact to something that I was pretty sure was not seriously intended. So the secret here is to not overreact, but to be perfectly firm and cheerful. Someone unwelcome joins you on a bench? Unjoin him. Stand up. Walk away.
I know another problem for the unmarried women is that they might think that the young man, or young men, are all interested in them seriously. They feel like these things would not be happening in Christian circles if the men involved had no intentions. They would not be getting rides with me, walking me to my car, making a show of having inside jokes with me, or otherwise giving me attention if they were not actually interested in me.
But here is the deal: there is a way to be the girl who is the fire hydrant on the corner. Nervous laughter, eager attention whenever he starts to tell you something, always being there for a conversation, lots of interested eye contact. These things do not make you a serious intention, they make you an easy target. And honestly, the whole fire hydrant situation never was about the fire hydrant. It was about how conveniently located it was to show the other dogs you have been there. When young men do this kind of thing, it is often not even about you. It is about them, and about the other guys.
And, lest my comparing young men to the neighborhood dogs inspire in you feelings of great contempt towards them, just keep it in perspective. It might be out of line for them, but it is in the same category as a girl who doesn’t pay attention when she bends over. Immodesty from women is distributed in exactly the same way. Maybe she wanted one particular guy to notice her, but she certainly didn’t have serious intentions toward every single man she walked by in that ensemble.
So if you are a young woman in this kind of situation, practice cheerful resistance. If the world of interaction between the sexes was a billiard table, be a bumper, not a pocket. Cheerfully, firmly, rudely enforce your standards. You don’t owe him an explanation. Don’t get caught up in reasons you can’t give him a ride. Just say no. If he insists, pushes, tries harder, say, “Have a nice walk!”
Do not be afraid that this kind of defense will keep anyone from ever seriously being interested in you. If it is the right kind of man, this sort of behavior will bless him deeply. Would you be blessed by a man averting his eyes from an immodest woman? Or would you prefer him to have lingered there, worried that it would be rude to walk away? Worried that she might think he was being unfriendly? Worried that she might actually want to marry him, and he was missing his chance? Return the favor now, and guard yourself.