It’s hard being a woman. Women are expected to be and do everything with little to no reward or recognition.
Take the workplace for example. Women earn $0.79 for every dollar a man makes (some stats show $0.77, but from what I’ve read, $0.79 is more accurate on average. Also, women of color typically earn even less than that). Studies show that men are promoted based on potential while women are promoted based on their past performances. If a mom works full-time, she’s told someone else or something else – be it a relative or sitter, the school system, television, etc. – is raising her kids. If she’s a stay-at-home mom, people try to make her feel insignificant, like she doesn’t do much.
Our personalities are treated largely as secondary by society and a sad amount of individuals, yet there’s a lot of policing in this area. Passive women are walked over; assertive women are called names and are disliked. A woman is supposed to be normatively feminine enough not to be considered “butch” and stereotypically masculine enough not to be considered “girly” or she’ll be mocked. And it’s worth noting that the word “girly” and the phrase “like a girl” are still used and perceived as insults despite efforts to change that.
Society’s biggest concern about a woman is her looks. From retouching on ads and magazine covers to fat-shaming and skinny-shaming to people on the internet who photoshop women to look smaller to companies and industries that thrive off of women wanting to look a certain way, we’re led to believe that no matter what we look like, we don’t look right. Despite all of this, we’re told to love our bodies and that we’re beautiful just as we are. But when a woman puts the messages behind her, loves her looks and exudes that empowerment, she’s called “arrogant” or “conceited” and is regarded with disdain. (And I’d like to point out that this particular group of issues affects men too, not just women.)
In history, comments made by women were accredited to “Anonymous” for the most part. In literature, a woman will use her initials or a pseudonym to get more notice or a larger readership and used to have to do so to get published at all (i.e., the Bronte sisters). In an Eastern religion (Confucianism, I believe), scriptures basically tell parents to give boys toys that are both more fun and safer than those played with by girls. And Aristotle, who is regarded by many as a great scholar and philosopher, believed that it took a female fetus twice as long to develop a soul as it did a male fetus.
We’ve got a long way to go for gender equality in 2016, but we’ve already come leaps and bounds from when Jesus met the woman at the well. As a feminist, this scripture makes me smile, so I really like that I get to give you my perspective and analysis on it.
John 4:1-42 is the full scripture of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. For a better grasp of the story and this post, I recommend reading all of it because I’m simply going to summarize it here.
Jesus goes through Samaria and stops to rest at Jacob’s well. There was a woman there, all by herself, and Jesus asks her for a drink of water. She’s hesitant. Jesus offers her an everlasting water, which she’s very interested in. He tells her to go get her husband, and she tells Him that she has no husband. He says He knows she’s telling the truth because she’s been married five times before and isn’t married to the man she’s currently living with. She calls Jesus a prophet and asks a question about the difference between what the Samaritans believe and what the Jews believe, and she says she believes the Messiah is coming. Jesus then reveals that He’s the Messiah, and the woman runs to tell the townspeople.
There are a few things that are evident here about the woman, who remains nameless. The first is that she’s smart. She knew better than to trust a random Jewish man who approached her when no one else was around to witness what could happen, especially when she knew no one liked her and that people probably wouldn’t believe her if anything bad happened to her. She knew the difference between what Samaritans and Jews believed. She also knew the origin of the well, and she knew the Messiah was coming. She knew plenty.
We know the woman was pretty much alone. Having had five husbands and then living with her boyfriend, she wasn’t entirely alone, but we can tell from the fact that no one else really wants to be around her at the well that she doesn’t have much companionship.
We know that the woman was honest. She could’ve lied to Jesus about her marital status but didn’t. Had it been anyone but Jesus, the stranger probably would’ve responded better to a lie.
The woman’s intellect and honesty lead us to believe that the woman knew why she was alone. She knew her actions were sinful, and she knew that pretty much everyone tried to shame her for her actions, but we have no reason to believe that the woman was ashamed of herself. The text never says why she went to the well alone. It could’ve been because she was ashamed, but it also could’ve been because she didn’t want to put up with the people around her. All we know for sure is that she went to the well by herself and was okay with that. So okay, in fact, that she wanted the water that Jesus offered, the water that would perpetually and eternally quench her thirst.
When Jesus tells her all about her romantic experiences, the woman immediately marks Him as a religious man who can see truths of the lives of others, which in most cases would be a prophet. And since He already knows everything about her, she probably didn’t see the point in dragging it out. Since she was a smart woman who’d been rejected by religion, she asked a religious question to a religious man who wasn’t judging her.
The tone of this scripture depends on what translation you read, but I’ve never read a translation where Jesus was rude to this woman, where He judged her, or where He talked down to her. The rest of the world wanted nothing to do with her, and Jesus treated her with kindness and respect.
Do you see yourself in here yet? Because I do. An otherworldly love given without second thoughts to someone who no one else seems to want. To someone who doesn’t deserve it. To someone who is doing just fine on his or her own, thanks, and doesn’t really need any help.
I think if we all think about it, we can all feel the dirt beneath our feet as we hold our buckets and jars, our heads tilted at this oddly compelling stranger standing before us because that’s us standing there at the well.
This woman was a victim of a patriarchy far worse than ours as well as a sinner, and Jesus met her right where she was. Broken, bitter, ashamed, hurting, whatever she may truly have been, Jesus met her in the middle of her mess with love and grace.
Her reaction? Run and tell everyone, even the people who shamed her to the point of avoidance. Signs of a turn around right away.
Yes, it does my feminist heart good that the first missionary was a woman. It also makes my heart happy to see the love of Jesus have such an immediate, lasting impact because I can certainly relate to that too.
Know that wherever you are, Jesus wants to meet you there. He knows who you are and where you’ve been, and He still wants to offer you living water that’ll end all thirst and a love that never runs out. He’s standing at your well asking if you’d like a drink.
By Carrie Prevette