There is a certain genre of writing/approach within the American Christian world that is semi-obsessed with marriage/relationships/purity/etc. Blogs abound and advice poureth over toward single folks, particularly single women, concerning how to remedy their unfortunate, single state. Most often, the content comes from blissfully married (finally un-single?) men and women. I do believe those who write these blogs and books are often well-intentioned and want others to experience what, for them, is a cherished gift (as it should be). However, the common threads found through much of their exhortation include thinly-veiled shame, a blind resignation to the mysterious will of God, and an often not-so-subtle patriarchy-infused logic.
An article of the same name as this one has recently been circulating that does much of this same work. It stirred up so much in me reading it, and many others, I discovered. I quickly realized it was not, in fact, satire as I saw my dear sisters be hurt, yet again. They were subjected to an argument that goes something like this: dress nicer and guys will notice you. While this article, like many others, have the obligatory, yet passing, references to things like “inner beauty” and being the “real you,” the core message rings clear in the minds of so many readers: I am not enough and my “enough-ness” is connected to whether or not a guy notices me and /acknowledges my beauty.
My dear female friends: you do not need men to notice you or tell you that you are beautiful, nor do we get to define what that even means.
There is so much to go into here, but I want to address the other side. Many have commented that such articles rarely address men. The burden is placed on women to doll-up so that guys’ hearts will start to beat faster and get all hot and bothered. This is not ok.
But, there is a strange truth in all this. Women, us men don’t notice you. And, my dear sisters, it is not because you need a teen movie-style make over or more rouge: it has way more to do with us. I dare not point a finger at you for what is, at a basic level, a problem that we have at noticing what is good and wonderful.
We don’t notice you because we are often caught up in our own worlds of fear, brokenness, anxiety, competition, and loneliness. Though we won’t admit it, or don’t know how to.
We have been breathing the air of a male-dominated society for so long, that we can’t name it. We have been conditioned not to notice you unless you offer something to us: pleasure, advancement, codependence, money, status, or power.
We have been conditioned by the “male gaze” to commodify you before we even meet you. We have fallen victim to similar lies that tell us we are not men unless we conquer you sexually, which manifests both in rape culture and in purity culture. We have come to believe that your bodies are ours to uncover as “earned” or to demand to be covered for “modesty” so we don’t “stumble”. In both cases, you are subjected to bear the weight of our own rampant sexuality and lack of self-control.
We are deeply insecure about our worth. We are afraid of failing because so much around us has told us we are not made for failure, but rather for greatness. We are threatened by your aptitude, your successes, and your accomplishments. We are so threatened because we think that these very things (success, accomplishments) are what make us and our lack of them unmake us. So we often don’t notice you, because to do so would mean to come face to face with our own lack, our own fears, our own issues.
This goes far beyond romantic interest. This is a core Sin at work from the beginning that takes the gift of blessed partnership, mutual submission, and community and twists into blaming, shaming, and disconnection.
According to the origin stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, the First Man in the Garden of Eden could look at the newly crafted Woman and burst into song and poetry, naming his deep kinship to her (bone of my bones) and calling her his mighty Helper (ezer: a term used of God, who helps the helpless!). Today, rather than looking to this an an example and original intention for our relatedness, we choose to live under what follows. After the entrance of sin, the response is one of shame and hiding, blaming women for our misdeeds and even blaming God for putting us together in the first place. God have mercy.We do not notice you because we are still hiding, attempting awkwardly to cover our shame.
We don’t notice how amazing you are, and it is a deep tragedy, because we are missing out on the very work of God around us. We are missing out on the ways in which we can learn to depend upon one another by being vulnerable, by celebrating all that God is doing in you, by admitting that, in fact, we need help (and Helpers) in all areas of our lives, not simply in a wife. And this is, again, to say that women need our “noticing”. Many of you are quite happy, thank you very much, in not being married or paired up. You have thriving careers, passions, and relationships. And the problem of not being noticed is, yet again, a loss for us men…a failure to see the work of God in you and your key part in it because of our own issues or our limited framework.
So, to my male friends, I invite you to hear the words and heed the example of your amazing, fierce, and powerful sisters. So many of them are killin’ it as they work way harder than any of us have had to because, well, they have to in order to get ahead. Celebrate the hell out of them. NOTICE them for who they are, not who you think they should be, because who they are is way better than you could imagine.
And to my female friends, know this: I am for you and I need your help. And I will never let other men get away with telling you how you need to be in order to be “noticed”.