//a response to ‘An Open Letter to Rey’

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I read an article this morning titled An Open Letter to Rey, in which the author presents various arguments as to why characters such as Rey, Katniss Everdeen, Furiosa, Tauriel, River Tam, and basically every female heroine in entertainment, are improbable and even wrong.

The author states, “I know the whole world is ladling on the adoration for your brave contributions to modern womanhood. However, you are behaving, all of you, in ways that do not befit your sex or glorify God. Frankly, and I’m sorry to have to say this, I really am, many of you look ridiculous. Your friends and family and fans may not laugh at you. But the angels do and history will. What you’re doing might be good politics (of a sort), but it’s bad biology, bad theology, and bad storytelling. It lies about who you are as a woman and how God made you. And it makes for lousy movies and TV.”

Dear author – strength and ability have nothing to do with appearance. I’ve seen examples of tiny girls taking out men three times their size with martial arts. I’ve seen women do incredible things that require physical strength. Oh, and Daisy Ridley, the actress who plays Rey, might be small and skinny, but she can lift 147 pounds and in fact exercises with that weight. Are women the weaker sex? As a general rule, yes they are. For the most part, men are physically larger and inherently stronger than most women. But weaker does not equal ‘defenseless.’ The thought that a woman can plausibly fend for herself might offend you, but personally, I think it’s a fantastic idea.

The author goes on to say, “What I’m getting sick of is the men that think it’s cool and sexy to make you be the way you are. The men who refuse to tell stories that encourage and ennoble other men to protect and care for the weak ones, the vulnerable ones, the hurting ones—the women and the children, the widows and the orphans. As men, we were born with bodies and minds crafted for war. We are the warriors, the peacekeepers, the protectors—the bloodshedders, when the time is right. Every man is a father, whether of his own children, or the people that work for him, or the folks he leads at church. As such, he must be ready to uphold what is virtuous and punish what is evil.”

I’d first like to hand you the Biblical example of Deborah. God called her out, his secret weapon, when men were refusing to behave like men. Let me give you a hypothetical situation: an armed man attacks a home where a family of one man, one woman, and two children live. The man, in a stunning display of cowardice, does nothing. What should the woman do? Does she let the armed man shoot her children and herself, because fighting back wouldn’t be nurturing and motherly? No, the mother would ferociously defend her family, and it would be the right thing to do.

Secondly, you state that men are warriors. I agree. They should be. They ought to be. But you make the mistake of thinking that women are not. When God created Eve, he called her a ‘helpmeet’ for Adam. ‘Helpmeet’ tends to bring a whisper-voiced, mousy female to mind, but the word actually consists of two Hebrew words – Ezer and Kenegdo.

Ezer: a word found 21 times in the Bible, and only two of those times have to do with women. The word is used three times to describe Israel’s allies in battle, and sixteen times to describe God aiding Israel in battle. It is a military word. One could even say it’s a warrior word.

Kenegdo: a word that literally translates, “as in front of him.”

Ezer Kenegdo – a military ally who goes before you. A helpmeet is a fellow warrior, designed specifically to ride into battle alongside someone else.

Let’s not get things mixed up here.

The author repeatedly uses Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road) as a negative example, but it seems to me that he’s missing the forest for the trees. Furiosa is not trying to take a male role – she’s attempting to free other women from the control of a tyrannical man who uses said women for breeding purposes. Meanwhile, Max does not try to control Furiosa and the wives. He does not attempt to take over Furiosa’s expedition. Rather, he places himself in the role of protector, and takes it upon himself to see that they make it out safely. He is one of the best examples of Biblical masculinity I can think of – aiding, protecting, and being strong in the best and most helpful sense of the word. He’s not domineering or vicious, and he doesn’t tell Furiousa she isn’t being ‘nurturing’ and ‘motherly.’ (And I would argue that Furiosa is ‘nurturing’ in the most vibrant sense of the word – she is protecting life. What’s possibly more nurturing and motherly than that?)

The author says, “What I need is something to fight for, someone to fight for, someone to protect. If you rob me of that, you rob me of my dignity as a man.”

Sir, I urge you to look at Max. If you think he is not fighting for someone, for something – if you think he is not protecting, then you’re wrong.

I’m not going to play the role of someone weak and passive in order to make a man feel secure in his manhood. That is not what God intended. Are women different from men? Yes they are. But there is nothing strong about complaining that capable women make you feel weak. Man up and grow a spine, because your masculinity is your responsibility. It is not mine. My femininity – my softness and my strength – are my responsibilities, not yours.

In your final statement, you say, “P.S: I almost forgot, I said your brand of empowerment made for bad storytelling. Why? Because if Keira Knightley can fight off dozens of undead pirates by herself, who cares if Whatshisface makes it there in time? Where’s the suspense?”

So, in an ideal story, Keira Knightley would be dead if Whatshisface didn’t make it there on time? I’m sorry. Men are highly important. Men are strong. Do I want to be protected? Yes. But that does not mean I won’t protect myself. And if a man comes along to fight for me, then I will fight for him, and we will fight side-by-side. Because after all, I am a woman, and I am a helpmeet – and if I have to kill off dozens of undead pirates until Whatshisface shows up, then I will.

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24 thoughts on “//a response to ‘An Open Letter to Rey’

  1. So much to add. So much not to add. Chewing… I see both sides. I see the damage of over zealous feminism. I see the pride swelling in this man glowering down at feisty, spunky, capable women. And, all I can think, in hopes to create a path of peace is… To each his/her own. “Do all as unto Christ, and not to men.”

    I know how disappointing it is to be left to fend off evil by myself after others (men who should have stood up in arms and words to defend me against inappropriate man handling) watch but do nothing but think about how bad it is. I also see women degrading men for being gentlemen. It is so hard how skewed life has become.

    I love your perspective of Furiosa and Max, and I agree. She is nurturing “in the most vibrant sense of the word”, and your explanation of “helpmeet”… Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I am sorry this person is feeling so negative to exaggerated women’s roles. Again, I ” get” what he is saying, or trying to say, but… There was Deborah. There was Esther. There was Jael. There were many and others. Putting women in some cookie cutter idea of women is as dangerous as demasculinizing men, in my way of thinking.

    And.. I am done. I could think up more to say if I tried. But… I won’t.

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  2. The mind boggles. o.0

    Also: Ezer Kenegdo – a military ally who goes before you. A helpmeet is a fellow warrior, designed specifically to ride into battle alongside someone else. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I think what is irritating in this person’s point of view is he’s trapped in a world that NEVER EXISTED. From the time that Adam and Eve were chased out of paradise, women have had to be as strong as they possibly can be. Women have tended wounds (Florence Nightengale) women have been spies (Rahab) women have left everything behind and started over (Ruth) women have been important eyewitnesses (Mary Magdalene) women have survived defied governments, done what is right and suffered concentration camps (Corrie TenBoom) it’s just that the ENEMY is terrified of Yahweh’s order. He’s had women fighting men and cultures fighting cultures for as long as we’ve been out of the garden.

    Can you imagine what would happen if the strength of women (which is different than men) and the strength of men (which is different than women) were actually pointed TOGETHER at the Enemy?! With Yahweh first in each of their lives? A three fold cord not easily broken? Phsh. How about an unstoppable, unending, relentless force that drives the Enemy back through hell itself, and watches Christ set every prisoner free?

    Yeah. I can see why this man/woman thing terrifies the Enemy.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I love this comment! Especially this part: Can you imagine what would happen if the strength of women (which is different than men) and the strength of men (which is different than women) were actually pointed TOGETHER at the Enemy?! With Yahweh first in each of their lives? A three fold cord not easily broken? Phsh. How about an unstoppable, unending, relentless force that drives the Enemy back through hell itself, and watches Christ set every prisoner free? There is such truth in this!!!

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  4. Preach! “I’m not going to play the role of someone weak and passive in order to make a man feel secure in his manhood.” This is one of my favorite things you’ve ever said. Personally, I feel like it’s hard for storytellers to pull off the strong female tastefully, but when they do, I think it’s amazing.

    Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Mary, Judith… all of these women knew where they stood and all of them followed God’s Will and all of them had to be strong in order to do that. I think there’s a fine line between what the author of that article was saying (make women look strong to make men look weak) and what is actually going down (women doing what they’ve go to do regardless of how it makes men appear).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Those excerpts from whatever article that was literally were horrifying and disgusting. That author has serious problems.
    I loved your article, especially this –> “A helpmeet is a fellow warrior” YES.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As with most issues besetting our current culture, the issue of gender roles is one in which neither “side” of the debate gets it entirely right, usually. I don’t entirely disagree with anything you said, but I would like to propose a few things for thought.

    In order to “get it right” this discussion has to be framed by the realization that Gender is a cosmic concept that transcends mere male and female. Male and female are the physical expressions of the higher principles of gender. The vast majority of people tend to get this exactly opposite. They think that the higher, cosmic, principles of gender are abstractions from the physical and therefore “real” traits of male and female. Reality is exactly the reverse.

    Masculinity is not the same thing as mere maleness. Nor is femininity the same thing as mere femaleness. What’s more, the principles of Gender are not only expressed in animal life, but throughout creation. Despite what many students of language would argue, gender in language is an expression of how cultures recognized the principles of masculinity and femininity within nature. To say that something has gender traits is not remotely therefore to say that it has biological sex. A mountain can be seen as masculine without being male. Likewise God can be described as masculine without being male, and wisdom can be described as feminine without being female. There is something about masculinity that describes a fundamental feature of God’s nature and there is something about femininity that describes core aspects of what wisdom is and does.

    Cosmic masculine and feminine have been described by some common themes through history across all cultures. Masculine is hard, while Feminine is soft. Masculine is oriented outward, while Feminine is oriented inward. Masculine is like rhythm while feminine is like melody. Masculine is active and femininity is receptive (not the same thing as passive). The temptation we face, living in a materialist culture, is to see these things as abstractions from biology. They are not. Biology is the incarnation of these realities.

    Now, one of the key mistakes that ultra conservatives often make when they come to issues like this is not that they are too traditional, but rather that they aren’t traditional enough. What I mean by this is that their conceptions of gender and gender roles often only go back to a relatively short time ago in historical terms. Their conception of gender and gender roles are largely based on the post industrial revolution world. The whole model of the woman isolated at home taking care of the children by herself while the man goes out and works to earn a living, basically didn’t exist as such until the industrial revolution.

    In addition, their concepts are often not based on a solid philosophical understanding of gender, but rather on a very surface level cultural understanding. They are just going with what was culturally accepted a century ago. In most cases this has very little to do with sound biblical teaching or sound philosophical understanding.

    Another mistake that both sides make is that they define their concepts based on cultural misconceptions rather than reality. For example, one of the key points of this debate always ends up being whether men are stronger than women. The argument from the ultra-conservative goes that war is men’s business because men are stronger. Many women find this rather insulting, quite rightly, and respond back that women can be just as strong as men etc.

    In this argument strength is being defined based on our cultural perception of strength, rather than what strength really is. Our culture has largely defined strength as a masculine trait. Even when women talk about women being strong, they often seem to mean strong in a masculine sense. Strength usually means a combination of physical strength and the strength of will to conquer and over-rule other people. This isn’t even a good understanding of what a strong man should actually be, let alone what a strong woman should be.
    In trying to make women strong according to this false paradigm, what often occurs is that they are instead made masculine, and masculine done badly at that.

    What strength really is, is the ability to choose to do right in the face of difficulty. This can mean to take action in the face of danger, but it can also mean to refuse to do what is easy but wrong. A man who indulges his desire to dominate others for his own gain is not strong, but weak. Self-indulgent men are by definition, weak. The same is true of a woman.

    However, there is this difference. Masculinity is by nature oriented outwards toward the world. It goes out into the world. Thus a man who conquers for his own gain is being masculine but in a wrong, self-indulgent, way. He is weak. A woman who does the same has the added aberration that she is pursuing masculinity (and doing it wrongly).

    This is what C.S. Lewis was getting at in the Chronicles of Narnia when he has Fr. Christmas tell Susan and Lucy that battles are ugly when women fight.

    Like the modern woman, Lucy is initially offended because she thinks her bravery (and strength) are being impugned. This, however, is not the point at all. It has nothing to do with strength or bravery (which are very nearly synonyms). The point is that, though war is terrible for all, there can be a certain nobility when a man goes to war to defend what is right, because he is fulfilling his masculine nature. When women go to battle it makes the battle itself worse and more ugly because it is destroying or corrupting something more than when men war.

    This is also not to say that it is always inherently wrong for women to fight. There are circumstances under which women should fight, but that is not the norm.

    When you approach the question of whether women should be ‘warriors’ I would have to say it depends entirely what you mean by ‘warrior’. Just as with strength, men fight according to the principles of masculinity and women fight according to the principles of femininity. The same when it comes to the role of protector or provider. Masculine and Feminine both protect and provide in their own ways.

    The issue is not simply, whether one should be able to use weapons and the other shouldn’t. The question is more how do they engage with the world, how do they engage with enemies etc. How do they seek to employ their strength?

    It is also important to note that both masculine and feminine derive ultimately from God. Both principles are reflections of the image of God. Humanity as physical beings have gender. I as a man embody masculine gender and I tend to exhibit those aspects of God’s image which are reflected in masculinity, and a woman would embody femininity and tend to exhibit the aspects of God’s nature which are reflected in the feminine gender. Masculine and Feminine, male and female, are meant to compliment each other in relationship. This also is an expression of the image of God, because God is love (relationship). His image can’t be truly expressed by a solitary being. However, it is also true that this division between principles is not absolute. For example, I have said that masculine is oriented outward and feminine inward. This doesn’t men that men are incapable of, or that they shouldn’t practice inward self-reflection, or that they should not approach God and the world with receptivity. Likewise the fact that femininity is inward oriented doesn’t mean that women must only ever be receptive and can’t engage actively with the world etc.

    Likewise I would say that I consider war, by it’s nature to be more masculine, or suited to the domain of the masculine. However, that doesn’t mean that women should never fight.

    These things are norms, or emphases, not absolutes in the sense that they must always and only ever be one way. I would say the reason for this is though the image of God is, in a sense, filtered through the principles of masculine and feminine, each human being still does have the complete image, thus while the feminine aspects may be emphasized in women, it doesn’t mean that they are totally without any of the masculine aspects, and visa versa.

    I hope this made some sense :)

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  7. God bless this post! Seriously, you hit on everything I had a problem with in his letter. (Throwing Biblical stuff at us but failing to see the other stories within the Bible and failing to go back to the original text and language used. So thank you. and just his examples in general of the female characters. It really made me mad that he didn’t even bother to look up Tauriel’s name. It just came across super arrogant to me.)

    Basically, this is a really good rebuttal of his letter. Thank you for writing it and making me–and I’m sure plenty of others–feel there is hope left in the world.

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  8. I think you hit the nail on the head M. While I can see that our increasingly feminist, anti man culture would make this guy and other guys upset, his argument is faulty. I totally believe that God has put men in a position of leadership, and they are generally physically stronger and bigger, etc, etc. But I don’t think for a second that it’s wrong for a woman to be strong, to lead, to jump into things with both feet because she knows she can. Does she submit to her husband? Yes. That doesn’t mean she is weak. That doesn’t mean she just cowers and quietly says yes to everything. My mom and me are doing Debbie Pearl’s book Created to be a Helpmeet, since I’ll be getting married in July, and she basically says what you say, different wording. That women are to be their mans biggest ally. They go out with their man to take on the world. They’re right by his side to help him. They are actively part of pushing the world forward. Can people take the women can do everything idea too far? For sure. Women are still women and men are still men, and being one or the other doesn’t make you better or worse, and each gender does have God given roles. But Satan is clever and he likes to put awful stereotypes in people’s minds that make people think God wants them to be miserable boring deprived people, and they buck what they think is God’s plan for them, when really, that model of a man or woman isn’t what God had in mind at all.

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  9. Thank you for writing this. I read through it with much noddingness, and then immediately handed it off to my boyfriend, who also nodded muchly. We then managed to read the original article. Ouch. xD

    The nods have it. This is fantastic.

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  10. […] A Response to ‘An Open Letter to Rey’ (Mirriam Neal) – I enjoyed this one for several reasons, but I especially loved the explanation of the term “helpmeet” and what it breaks down to in Hebrew: “Ezer Kenegdo – a military ally who goes before you. A helpmeet is a fellow warrior, designed specifically to ride into battle alongside someone else.” […]

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  11. I had to get an account just so I could write a comment on this post. Thank you so much for writing this! I just about exploded from excitement that you put this into words!! I like the research that you (and others) have put into the words “ezer kenegdo” and finding out the true meaning and purpose of the words/role. I feel like just from this post, we could totally be friends! My cousin massively enjoyed it as well and pinned the link on Pinterest. ;)

    P.S. Furiosa is my new fave and she and Max are #relationshipgoals. Seriously. They were both so perfectly protective, well-matched and skilled. Neither was trying to one-up the other, they were just a perfect team with no pride or ego getting in the way of letting the other shine in the moment they’d be most efficient.

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  12. I’m a guy, and I approve this message.

    Seriously though, this really blessed me. There is so much wrong with both extremes, but in the more conservative sides of each, the male side of the argument generally seems to be seen as having the moral high ground, so I loved seeing this from a female perspective. I found your response to the comment, “If you rob me of that, you rob me of my dignity as a man,” especially interesting. I hadn’t thought of it in that way before, but you put it quite well; indeed women do not exist for our dignity and pleasure, and any man who finds fulfilment only in the utter helplesness of a woman is no man at all.

    Thank you for this; I learned a great deal. God bless you.

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