Shame and the Cool Christian Girl

It’s been quiet on the blog lately. This fall brought two speaking engagements (a new thing for me), my fifth year of teaching, a new job for my husband, and life with a toddler.

But I’m back to share a few thoughts. And I’m trying hard not to apologize for being away. I love writing here, and I love that there are people who want to read what I write. But you guys know that I love my three-dimensional life more. So I won’t apologize.

Which is hard for me; not apologizing. And I know I’m not the only one who struggles with using that little five-letter word to account for a multitude of shame.

The Shame Olympics

A few weeks ago, I shared with a friend that I had been reading a lot about shame and owning its impact on my life. He furrowed his brow and asked what on earth I had to be ashamed about.

Um… everything.

Brene Brown said:

“For women shame is, do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat. Shame, for women, is this web of unattainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight jacket.”

It’s suffocating. It impacts us at all different points of life.

As mothers, as wives, as women in general, we’re often ashamed because we’ve spent so much time looking at the other women around us and wondering how on earth they have their families, jobs, relationships, spiritual lives, or {fill in the blank} together when we’re floundering. Meanwhile, they’re looking at us and wondering the same thing.

I don’t have an athletic bone in my body, but if there were an Olympic competition based on the isolating cocktail of guilt, humiliation, and inadequacy that is shame, I’d win.

The Cool Girl And Shame

At the risk of heaping more shame on myself, I’ll admit to you that I have a soft spot for Gillian Flynn novels.

Not only is she the master of the psychological thriller; she also hit on one of the biggest shame cesspools in my life: being the cool girl. In her novel Gone Girl, she famously wrote:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means that I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes… and jams hot dogs and hamburgers in her mouth… while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner, and let their men do whatever they want…. I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl!”

Now, obviously, Flynn’s Cool Girl exists in a bit of a different worldview than my little slice of Christian subculture (notice my edits), but, substitute some of the wording, and I could have been her.

Which is ironic, because a lot of believers would read that paragraph and say, “See how empty the world’s idea of womanhood is? And see how rich God’s idea is?”

I do agree that God’s ideals of womanhood are far richer than being a woman who’s simultaneously a nubile ingenue and one of the boys. But when we’re thinking of “biblical womanhood,” we aren’t always thinking of  God’s idea.

Conservative Christian Cool Girl

There’s a conservative Christian culture Cool Girl.

She’s hot, but she understands that modest is hottest, and that modesty is principally for men.

She’s brilliant, but only in a non-threatening way that lets men know that she won’t be hard to lead.

She’s funny, but, again, it’s a non-threatening humor; nothing too clever.

She adores whatever the men in her life adore, but not as a participant; more like the facilitator who is cooking the snacks and getting the beer ready in the other room.

Sexual? Never. She only thinks about sex if she’s married, and the intimacy she shares with her husband is about creating an outlet for him, not for herself because she never struggles with lust.

Her man comes home after a hard day of work to find his problem-free wife managing her pristine home, slippers in hand. She doesn’t need Jesus. Not really. Jesus is man stuff. She’s inherently virtuous -she’s good.

The Gospel And The Cool Girl

Here’s the thing: I’m tired of the Christian Cool Girl. Like, I want to find her and tie her down to the nearest railroad tracks.

It’s not really as violent an idea as it sounds, because, guys… she doesn’t exist.

Some of us spend our entire adults lives masquerading as her or attempting to become her, or judging women who are not her because that’s the best way to hide that we aren’t her either.

She paralyzes me.

The other day, I walked into my cluttered living room and almost started crying, and my husband had to calm me down: “Babe. You’re raising a child. You’re working. You just got back in town from speaking at a conference. It’s just the living room.”

You guys. Why don’t I know that already? I’ve been hearing the Gospel my entire life and I was raised by a flesh and blood mother, not some perfect Disney princess. And yet I forget. Constantly. It slips my mind that there is no condemnation for me in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). It slips my mind that I am a flesh and blood human being, not a caricature or a perfectly-performing windup doll.

Praise God that my husband was there to remind me. And I’m more than happy to remind you: your identity is not in fitting a certain stereotype or mold of biblical womanhood. And Christian womanhood is not about perfection at all. It’s about constant reliance on Christ, who is shaping us to fit his calling on our lives… not a cultural mold.

Kill the cool girl. She never did us any favors. The name of her game is shame, and she’s not welcome here anymore.

Further Reading

The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe about Ourselves 

Changes That Heal

How I Learned to Stop Being a “Chill Girl” and Started Being Me

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