Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Your expectations, my cage
With a simple cartoon and a few lines of text, David Hayward again shares some of his wisdom through his Naked Pastor blog at Patheos. He says that others have not actually built the cages we so often find ourselves in. Instead, they simply furnish the building materials, and we build our own cages out of the expectations other people have for us. It’s so easy to yield to those expectations and build our lives boxed in by what others (whether individuals, church, or society) want from us or think we should do.
Related thoughts: Hayward’s cartoon and commentary reminded me of a scene in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, Scenes from a Marriage, where a woman, looking back on her life and her failed marriage, remembers her younger years when her parents wanted her to pursue the career they wanted for her rather than what she wanted to do. “I don’t know who I am,” she realizes as an adult. “I have always done what people told me. As far back as I can remember I’ve been obedient, adaptable, almost meek.” She speaks of continuing those patterns into adulthood, always wanting to please everybody, including in relationships with men and then in marriage. She says, “I have never thought: What do I want? But always: What does he want me to want? It’s not unselfishness as I used to think, but sheer cowardice, and what’s worse—utter ignorance of who I am.” (From Scenes from a Marriage, Scene 4, “The Vale of Tears.”) In some conservative Christian circles, with their extreme emphasis on a wife’s submission to her husband, it is not surprising that a wife may at some point realize that she has never felt it was permissible to ask herself “what do I want.” It is either “what does he want,” or the totally self-effacing, “what does he want me to want.” That is the finishing touch in cage-building, with the bars and lock supplied by expectations of others, expectations that deny one’s own personhood and agency as a full human being. A woman needs courage and a support system if she is going to resist in such a situation. The pressure from pastors and church people especially will be intense.