The cages we build from the expectations of others

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.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


  1. Your posts are always excellent, Letha, but this one is particularly compelling for me–both the cartoon and your comments on Scenes from a Marriage. Thank you! [it was so good to talk to you the other night :)) ]


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