This is our first submitted article from the wonderful Yasmina. Written content is her own.
Can we agree that self-conceptualisation nowadays is becoming more and more mystifying? I think this is partly because we as individuals occupy multiple states, enact multiple roles and negotiate several identities. In W.E.B du Bois’ originally undervalued work, we find a term called double consciousness (W.E.B, 1994 ). Implicit in this term is the rationale that individuals see themselves through both their own eyes and that of the society which oppresses them. For Du Bois, this double consciousness becomes most problematic when disparate views of oneself prevent one from forming a holistic sense of self resulting in a false sense of identity and therefore, a compromised freedom. Du Bois was inevitably referring to the African American identity, or lack thereof, when he developed this analysis, but the theory of double consciousness is applicable to the experience of many of us. Particularly those who to this day feel secondary.
In 2017, I find myself, a young female Christian, living under a terrible triple consciousness that seems to be affecting the core of my identity. Not only am I aware of the identities and insecurities I experience through the lens of the secular world, which has greatly influenced and shaped my choices, but concurrently I am aware that within my Christian world, the very same exists. I find myself navigating through my perceived identity guided by visions that emancipate me yet leave me feeling shackled to their pressures and expectations. I’m, at once, ignited by their truths yet dispirited by certain reasoning and ideologies. While searching for my self, I find, I’m actually losing myself - a severe anxiety-inducing endeavour. It must be noted that the secular world is referred here not as something negative or to be avoided, but as defining life outside of a Christian space.
To move away from an abstract explanation to a more concrete one, let me share a practical example of this internal anxiety. At age 28 with a Master’s degree, a decent teaching career and some degree of financial freedom, I and the secular world would refer to me as a successful independent woman. At age 28 with a career and no husband, I and the religious world would refer to me as a “work in progress”. An incomplete individual in need of her better half. As much as I do not reject marriage and the church, my tormented self is angered by both the secondary role the bible assigns to the woman and the way men have monopolised the church and the private space. Women are to submit or be marginalised. Aside from feeling secondary, my distrust of such subordinate roles arises not solely from historical accounts of tyrannical and selfish male behaviours but also through first-hand experiences. Feeling insignificant at the hand of poor male leadership is at best suppressive and at worst, destructive. Amid such dilemma of conflicting worlds, I find myself lost. Lost in worlds that both reflect and misrepresent me. At times when the anxiety mounts to its peak, I catch myself echoing Soren Kierkegaard’s sentiments: “marry, you will regret it…do not marry, you will also regret it” and deeply wonder if my fate is to resemble his (Soren, 1992).
How does one unite conflicting identities? How does one reconcile disparate self-concepts? A big part of trying to resolve such a conundrum took me to the root of my identities. How did these worlds become my world views? When I first came across Simone de Beauvoir’s quote “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman” a quote that has helped clarify and shape my identity, I remember thinking the very same about my Christian self. One is not born, but rather becomes a Christian (Beauvoir, 1953). For activist bell hooks, “being oppressed means the absence of choices” (hooks, 1984). Had I ever really chosen Christianity, I deeply wondered? Or had I simply been taught, from birth, how to best become Christian? So, the accouchement of my personal Christian journey began, an endeavour to personally choose or reject Christianity.
I will not bore you with my personal findings. What I will share, however, is my surprise at the discovery that my life had been lived under an illusion! Throughout my 28 years, I had in fact been following Christendom and not Christ. Notions of identity, love, forgiveness and grace took up new meanings once I read and made sense of the bible for myself. All my life I carried so much pride at the idea that I was a born and bred Christian without truly acknowledging the great danger that lies therein. One can know about the truth without truly knowing the truth.
As I read the bible to better make sense of my role as a female Christian, I came across many passages emphasizing my inferiority (I Cor. 14:34-36, I Timothy 2:8-15, I Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18-19). These verses have and are still granting many men justifications for much sexual, mental and physical abuse simply to perpetuate their supremacy. At this I am outraged, enraged and simply made deranged. The bible also has many passages about equality, the equality of man and woman before God (Ephesians 5:21, Genesis 1:27, Hebrews 12:14, Mark 12:24-17, Proverbs 22:2). To quote my dearest brother, “the bible can be used to justify almost any behaviour, good or bad”. As much as I choose to believe in the latter biblical view of women, the truth is that as I live out my life, particularly within the Christian world, I will inevitably occupy spaces, be exposed to literature and encounter people who view me as secondary. And as du Bois reminds us, our identities are reinforced and rejected through validation.
Social Psychology proposes a strategy called ‘blending’ when dealing with conflicting identities (TURNER, 2002). The idea behind blending is that one redefines and recreates an identity that transcends and merges both conflicting self-views. So, here goes my version of blending:
She is one who believes in her equality and that of all others. Equally, she is one who forgives, loves and extends grace to all others (especially to those who oppress her) just as Christ extends his love, forgiveness and grace to all. Finally, she is one who hopes and has faith in humanity, just as Christ hopes and has faith in us. Faith that there are people out there who see her as Christ sees her. And while many can love, forgive and hope, only a female Christian can navigate through gender discrimination with a love, grace and hope that only she can extend to others. As G.K. Chesterton reminds us; “hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless… exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful” (Chesterton, 2009).
Blending occurs over time, across many interactions, negotiations and validations. For this very reason, I believe the female Christian must often surround herself with like-minded Christians who will validate her identity. Only then can she be strongly rooted in Christ and herself. I write this to remind myself, not only, of the beauty of freedom found in Christianity but also of the fact that, being a follower of Christ is to aspire to live a courageous life of truth, humility and love. To do this, one must seek the truth, assimilate it and be responsible for living it out.
Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you. – Jean Paul Sartre
Beauvoir, S. d. (1953). The Second Sex. Great Britain: Jonathan Cape Ltd.
Chesterton, G. K. (2009). Heretics. Rockville: MD: Serenity Publishers.
hooks, b. ( 1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center. United States: South : End Press.
Soren, K. (1992). Either/ Or: A Fragment of Life. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
TURNER, G. F. (2002). The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the. Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.
W.E.B, D. B. (1994 ). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Avenel, NJ: Gramercy Books.
Yasmina is a teacher, linguist and writer. She holds a BA in Humanities from the UK and earned a Master’s degree at The Catholic University of Paris in Text Analysis and Translation. She currently resides in China where she teaches and studies Mandarin—another tongue to add to her expansive list of spoken languages. She has special interest in cultural anthropology, religion, and gender politics. Connect with her through firstname.lastname@example.org or yazzyfizz (IG)