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Steel Magnolia

April 30, 2009

Mary Kassian is the founder of Girls Gone Wise, where this post originally appeared, April 7th, 2009. She is an award-winning author, internationally renowned speaker, and distinguished professor of Women's Studies at Southern Baptist Seminary. We are also glad to say she serves on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I'm a northern woman, so I don't know all the nuances of southern talk. I wouldn't know when to drawl "Well bless yo'r heart!" if my life depended on it. (Though I'm sure I could beat Southerners hands down in the "How's it goin', eh?" department.) I'm just not the pink, frilly, flufey kind.

But there's one Southern phrase that I'm quite drawn to:  "Steel Magnolia." I love the phrase, because to me it speaks to the essence of womanhood.  The image melds beauty with perseverance, softness with backbone, delicacy with durability, sweetness with stamina.

It reminds me of what the first man exclaimed when he saw the first woman. When Adam laid his eyes on her, he broke into an exuberant, spontaneous poem:

"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (Ishsha), because she was taken out of Man (Ish)." Genesis 2:23 (ESV)

The first man called himself "Ish" and the woman "Ishsha." This appears to be an extremely clever and profound play on words. The sound of these two Hebrew words is nearly identical-Ishsha merely adds a feminine ending- but the two words have a complementary meaning. Ish comes from the root meaning "strength" while Ishsha comes from the root meaning "soft."

The implication becomes clearer when we observe the biblical meaning of a man's "strength." Strength refers to a man's manhood- his potency, virility, and procreative power (Psalm 105:36; Proverbs 31:3; Genesis 49:3). By contrast, a woman's "softness" has to do with her pregnability, penetrability, and vulnerability (in a very positive sense). One commentator has suggested  English equivalents of "Piercer" and "Pierced One."

The bodies of male and female reflect this idea. A man's body is built to move toward the woman.  A woman's body is built to receive the man. But the pattern goes beyond the mere physical difference between men and women to encompass the totality of their essence:  The man was created to joyfully and actively initiate and give. The woman was created to joyfully and actively respond and receive. The woman is the "soft" one – the receiver, responder, and relater.  The man is the "strong" one with greater capacity to initiate, protect and provide.  Each is a perfect counterpart to the other.

The Lord created male and female as an object lesson – a parable as it were – of a profound spiritual reality:  The relationship between Christ the husband and the Church, His Bride. Men are to reflect the strength, love and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women are to reflect the character, responsiveness, grace and beauty of the Bride He redeemed.

In the past few years, the Hollywood portrayal of the ideal woman is one who is aggressive and tough – both physically and sexually. This is a far cry from what woman was created to be. According to Scripture, it's  woman's softness, her ability to receive, respond, and relate – that is her greatest strength.

copyright 2009, Mary A. Kassian

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