I made a glass-ceiling dessert. It was a lemon bar with the filling dyed ocean blue. On top I added a thin layer of sugar glaze so it would look cracked when you tapped it. I baked it the night before the election so when the highest glass ceiling broke I could celebrate this historic event with my friends and family—and daughter— and literally taste the sweetness.
We were disappointed. But with generations of women—both now and before us—we continue the resistance for equality.
Growing up, I heard a cacophony of voices prescribing the life I was to live as a woman. I bore the expectations of a daughter in a patriarchal society—to smile often to look pretty and put others at ease. Christian community typecast my future as a godly wife and mother, faithfully supporting my husband and building a warm home for my family. The Christian women who spoke to the girls in Bible studies didn’t encourage ambition in our future careers but trained us in supporting our future husbands’ ministries.
Society called out to me through television, movies, and magazines to lose weight, to take up less space, to become desirable by being small. I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not on a diet, measuring my body shape against the underweight images of women in the media. The surface of my mirror reflecting the image of God was scuffed with expectations of what everyone else wanted me to be, and the image I projected was warped, blurry, barely a fraction of my God-given self.
The problem is, when you project a fraction of yourself long enough, you begin to believe that’s all you are. I gave so much mental space to preparing myself to be a supportive, godly wife that I didn’t exert creative energy into discovering my gifts and calling. I could not imagine a world in which I could be fully myself and that self could have an impact outside of my partnership with my husband. Collectively, when women project only a blurry image of God, we miss the beautiful layers, nuances, and depths of how God wants to love the world even more than what we can see on the surface.
Christians speak of Jesus giving life to the full and living whole. But those words don’t adequately carry the burden of cost and resistance. The fight to reveal the clear image of God, to polish away all the misogynistic expectations placed on women so they can project a crisp reflection of the way their true selves image God, is a bloody revolution. The systems of power stacked against them do not let go of power without a fight.
It begins by lamenting losses. It means grieving that my glass-ceiling dessert became a painful reminder of betrayal—that a man who said such openly crass words about women and sexual assault on our bodies would be ushered into the presidency by an overwhelming majority of the voting evangelical community I had called home. It means not burying my head in the sand and opening my eyes to the ways I am objectified, commoditized, and minimized. A problem cannot be solved if we don’t believe there is a problem to be solved.
And then begins the grueling process of actually cultivating our true selves as women. Whenever there is a power imbalance in society, those in power will want to keep that power. So for women to exert themselves by insisting on equal time at the microphone, equal pay for work, and equal authority with which to influence others is to be radically rebellious.
Just being my true self is an act of rebellion.
When I began writing publicly, people in my community asked me,
“Why do you want attention?
Why do you want to be famous?
Why speak in an already noisy world?”
I had never considered those questions; I simply wanted to write—to make art with my words. I believed it was my true self to write, but as soon as I tried, I was met with a barrage of criticism. It was revealing to me how the simple act of being myself was going to require me to push against the status quo for women.
Of course, the struggle to strive for meaning and identity isn’t unique to women; resistance and obstacles are met whenever anyone reaches for their human potential. But while men are encouraged to engage resistance by becoming louder, to overwhelm the resistance by exerting more of themselves, women are expected to sit down, listen, and reevaluate when challenges come our way. We aren’t given the same opportunities and tools to overcome our barriers. We aren’t given second and third chances to try, make our mistakes, and try again.
It may seem counterintuitive, but to move forward our society must make equal room for men and women to make mistakes. In the Academy Award–winning musical, La La Land, the young struggling actress played by Emma Stone tells her story at an audition. Her dreams are fueled by the example of her aunt who tried to become an actress and failed.
“She lived in her liquor/And died with a flicker,” she sang, but her song began to build to a powerful chorus,
“Here’s to the ones who dream,
Foolish as they may seem,
Here’s to the hearts that ache,
Here’s to the mess we make.”
The battle for gender equality may indeed be won in part by just policies in the government, in the boardroom, and in purging toxic patriarchy from church communities. But it will also be won by grandmothers, mothers, and aunts who dare to dream, empowering each generation of girls to make their messes—to have permission to discover their particular gifts and callings. In so doing, we will defy the scuff marks— those expectations placed on us by church and society—and allow the image of God within us to shine brilliantly to bless, provoke, and spark more of God’s goodness and love.
The Chinese proverb says women hold up half the sky, but as we do the hard work of polishing ourselves and letting our unique image of God shine through, we’ll do more than fill half an equation. We’ll break right through the glass ceiling and light the whole sky.