Women In Combat: We Need More Strong Female Characters – Part 2

This post is a collaboration of thoughts from the KP Team, building off of part 1.

How should the Christian writer handle the prospect of female characters in combat? 

Strong Female Characters Part 2

Strength comes down to how well someone or something fulfills the purpose it was created for. Men and women were created to fulfill different roles, each reflecting one-half of God’s character. A woman doesn’t need to pick up the sword, or express military prowess to be strong.

Does this mean we can’t depict women in combat? Not at all!

As writers, we need to draw a careful distinction between aspects of the story that are there just because it reflects reality, and aspects that we’re trying to glorify.  In the context of whether not we should write stories with women in combat, this distinction can become pretty crucial.  There is nothing wrong with writing about “gung-ho, beat-’em-up female characters taking part in combat” necessarily. To the extent that our culture is moving in that direction, those sorts of people do exist in real life to some extent.  The real question then, is whether or not we present it in a positive light in our stories. Gender roles and gender callings are a tricky subject to wade through, especially in light of a culture that’s very hostile to drawing any distinction between men and women.  It therefore becomes imperative to focus on biblical commands to guide us through these discussions, and not on cultural standards.

The real question then becomes, “should we be glorifying women in combat?”

The obvious answer is “no”, because warfare should not be glorified. Therefore, we shouldn’t glorify men or women in combat. That being said, when we read the Bible, we find there is a distinction between men and women when confronting the violence of evil.

How do we as Christians know that exalting women in combat in a story is truly wrong? Well let’s start at the beginning. When God created man and woman, He gave them both attributes that would define them in their sexes. The man was given the attributes of being a leader, a protector, and a provider over all that he dominated, which (in the beginning) was the woman, the garden of Eden, and the lower order of creatures.

Expanding on the attribute the man has of being a protector, this of course means that it is his duty to protect those that he loves; even going so far as to shed his own blood to save them from harm. God gave the woman a set of attributes as well, but they are vastly different from that of the man’s. The woman’s attributes are that of being a helper to the man, the child-bearer, and the glory of man.

The attribute of child-bearing in this argument against women in combat is key here, for though it is somewhat obscure, woman, like man, also sheds blood for those of whom she loves. However, she does so through child-bearing, and not through the wounds of battle. This is the great separation that God placed between the two sexes, and as Children of the Most High, we ought to honor the order of creation that was established from the beginning of time.

But, there are exceptions, aren’t there?

 

Deborah:

 

Deborah is frequently pointed to as proof that the Bible supports women in combat, and yet, Deborah did not actually take part in the fighting herself. Instead, she had to continually insist that Barak man-up and do what God had called him to do. This is not because she feared combat herself, but because she was seeking to fulfill the will of God not just for herself and Barak, but His will for men and women as well.

Barak refused do what God had commanded him to do, unless Deborah came with him. Deborah agreed to accompany him to the battle, and Barak begrudgingly led the army.  Then, when the enemy was amassed at the foot of Mount Tabor, Barak still hesitated. Deborah had to tell him, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” (Judges 4:14).

In this case, Deborah is clearly the stronger person here between the two. Barak was weak, not because he was afraid of combat, but because He didn’t trust God. Deborah was strong, even though she didn’t physically fight, because she DID trust God. As a result of Barak’s cowardice, Deborah proclaimed, “The honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

Sure enough, Jael, a woman, had to be the one to put an end to Sisera. The story of Deborah is not detailing an ideal situation, but rather, a time when, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” (Judges 4:1). Men were not fulfilling their God-designed purpose, and so women had to take their place.

Similarly, in Isaiah, the reality of women forced into the role Deborah was, is not seen as a sign that everything is peachy. “Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done. Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.” – Isaiah 3: 10-11

It is this situation, and the one in Judges, that we can model in our stories if the plot dictates, since it can be a reality. If it is a reality that women must step-up and fill the void vacated by men, then show the negative consequences of this reality in the society and the lives of the characters. Show that women stepping into this masculine role is not ideal.

 

So we can’t have strong women and have them be in combat?

 

But what if we want to put a female character in our stories, yet also have her take part in combat? Well, we can, but if she is going to fight in battles, perhaps we put her on the villainous side, and point out that a woman who fights is not to be accepted in the realm of righteousness. If this doesn’t satisfy, and the story calls for us to write about a female character who is neither squeamish nor fearful of hardship, without her being a warrior, then place her under the headship of a male character, thus enabling her to act as the helper she is supposed to be.

As in the example mentioned above, Deborah was a very strong female character, but do we see her fighting after Barak asked her to accompany him? No. She is there for the moral support Barak needs (i.e. being a helper). Certainly, she could have led the army into battle. True, women are generally not as physically strong as men, but all things are possible through God. God certainly could have given Deborah the strength, and she probably would have been the better option to go with, considering how pathetic Barak was being. Rather than having this rather awkward story in Judges 4, we would have a victorious tale of how God can do the impossible, and use those whom man thinks little of…but God didn’t go that route. God wanted the man, Barak, to step up and be the physical defender of His people, despite how incompetent a leader Barak was .

In the end then, we can clearly see from scripture that one can put a strong female character in combat, and have it be honoring to God, but only so long as the writer follows the guidelines, does not paint the situation as ideal, and makes the woman follow the attributes God has so justly given to all womenkind.

 

More importantly, how is she relating to God and men?

 

The more important question to ask ourselves is not “should our female characters do ____ or ____”, but how are the women in our stories, relating to God and men? We see God’s design for woman in creating her out of Adam to be a “helper fit for him”(Gen. 2:18,22-23). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “The head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God”. If the woman is unmarried, she is still to remain in submission to her father or the male authorities God has placed over her.

Let’s say your female character is placed in a world and time that makes physical combat necessary. How does she take on this responsibility? Does she act completely independent of male authority, proving that she is capable of everything a man is capable of? Or does she seek to help and aid the male characters, walking alongside them, allowing them to lead and protect as Christ leads and protects the church? (Eph. 5:25-27)

This doesn’t mean she is to be weak. The Bible encourages women to develop both physical and spiritual strength. The Proverbs 31 woman “dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (Prov 31:17). But it is vital that our heroines not lose their sense of authority and submission, and gracefully accept honor from the man, knowing they are the “weaker vessel”(1 Pt 3:7).

Too often today female characters who have a chip on their shoulder, and feel the need to show-up and out-do their male counter-parts (which they often do). In such a situation, the motive of the female protagonist is self-glorification, and she is stepping outside of what God has created her to be. She is not acting in strength, but weakness. I would really like to see some female characters who don’t feel like they have anything to prove, and are okay with who they are as women.

It is still possible for the Christian writer to positively display female characters in un-ideal situations like combat. Be creative. Display your character’s inability to back away from what is right. Show her sacrificing for others. Have her bring glory to others, rather than seeking it for herself. This is true strength, strength of spirit, and it applies to male characters too.

Men and women alike who are under Christ are commanded to be strong in the Lord, put on the armor of God and wage war “against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12). If that doesn’t sound like a subject for a gripping adventure novel, I don’t know what does!

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Comments

  1. I was nearly squealing over this one! This is exactly what I needed! Thank you, thank you, thank you! The point that Deborah didn’t actually fight is a very good one. Now I almost can’t wait for the next time someone tells me that it’s alright for women to fight, or that person who is glorifying a woman in battle!

    • So happy this post was helpful!

      And don’t take my word on it, or my interpretation. You can go and read Judges 4 and see for yourself if what I said is true. Deborah actually did not fight or lead the army into battle, yet so many Christians seem to think she did for some reason.

      And even if she did lead the army into battle, the very beginning of the chapter states that these were dark times in Israel’s history. Therefore, we have to keep this context in mind, and realize that the role Deborah was forced to take on, was not God’s best.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      Reagan

  2. Hi guys, thanks for attempting to discuss what is a very tricky and controversial topic. I appreciate the stance you guys have taken, even though I don’t agree with everything you’ve said.
    I would like to query though, which Bible verses you are referencing when you refer to the man dominating women, the earth, and the animals of the earth. I’m guessing you’re thinking of a particular passage in Genesis? I’m familiar with the idea of him having dominion over the earth (and all the animals), but not too sure about him having dominion over the woman in that same sense.

    • Hello Beth,

      Thanks for leaving your query! There is not really a verse in Genesis which states specifically that “man is the domineering head over woman”. Nevertheless, if you think about Genesis 2:18-25, you will notice that the Lord did make Adam first, and that He called the woman the man’s “helper [comparable to him]”. Just think over that verse a moment: a helper is not someone who leads, and has a domineering role, but in fact a helper is someone who submits to the headship of the leader, coming alongside to aid in whatever work the leader needs to get done. This was Eve’s role, and through it, she is able to complete Adam.

      And think about this: Adam was the very first man to be created, thus making him the leader and dominion taker over the earth. He does not have the same dominion over Eve as he does the plants and animals, because she was created in the image of God, thus elevating her place above that of the plants and animals. However she is still under Adam’s headship because she was created to help him. All women, then, who believe in the Word of God, ought to weigh these things–these statutes the Lord has decreed to be–heavily. We do not need a commandment set in stone to tell us, because God’s very order of creation shows us man’s headship over woman.

      I hope this helps you! Thank you for commenting!
      Jessica

      • An observation I would like to add: what happens after Adam and Eve sin? They hide from the presence of God. When God is looking for them and calls out, who is it He calls for? It is Adam. It’s interesting that God holds Adam accountable first, rather than Eve, who was deceived.

        – Reagan

      • Thanks Jessica and Reagan =)

      • It is important to note though that in Genesis 1:26-28, God clearly states ‘(26)”Let Us make man in Our image…let THEM have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creepign thing that creeps on the earth.” (27) So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (28) Then God blessed THEM, and God said to THEM, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the ar, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”‘ [emphasis added]
        From this passage, I believe God did not distinguish between male and female when He gave mankind dominion over the earth and everything in it. Therefore, (like you said Jessica), the relationship between man and woman is very different to that between mankind and the earth.

        • Exactly! Men and women both were given dominion over the Earth. The relationship between man and woman is certainly much different than the relationship between mankind and Earth!

          Perhaps a better word to describe the relationship between the man and woman in Genesis is “responsibility.” The fact that God went to Adam first to take accountability for their sin (along with the order of creation) indicates that Adam is the one who bears the responsibility. So perhaps responsibility is a better word to use in this case rather than “dominion” which is referring to the command given to both men and women over all other creation.

          Thanks for you comment!

          Reagan

  3. Excellent explanation of the commonly-cited Deborah example. Again, this said everything I was going to and more.

  4. Thanks for writing this article.

    People often rip Deborah’s story out of context, and I love how you kept it in. It’s such an encouragement to me to see this woman (in a less-than-perfect situation) still fulfilling the role God has given to us: to remind others of God’s law and their duty, and to stand behind and with our men. I love how she identifies herself (4:7) as “a mother in Israel” and not as what so many make her out to be.

    Another point: Deborah’s entire “song” revolves around God and “praise the Lord.” So often, when women are out of their proper contexts, their life-“song” will revolve around themselves rather than the Lord.

    A thought: it is very possible to put women into “combat situations” without putting them into army boots and a man’s position. Often, the type of combat looks different. (I’m thinking about Sophie Scholl and Jael and Emma Sansom…and there are many others.)

    The article said, “I would really like to see some female characters who don’t feel like they have anything to prove, and are okay with who they are as women.” Girls — we have the opportunity to show the world the beauty of what God says about and to women, not only through the words that we write and characters we create, but the way we live everyday. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

  5. What are your thoughts on a woman being a combat nurse? I am writing a book that takes place during WW2 and I was planing on having the main character as a nurse close to the war front. Would that portray something wrong? Any thoughts or comments would be wonderful! I want my story to be glorifying to the Lord!

    • Hello Britta!

      First of all, even if being a combat nurse is something you wouldn’t want to promote, it is not wrong to have a character be a combat nurse. That is because there were nurses during WW2. That is historically accurate. The Bible mentions plenty of immoral activity too, since much of the Bible is recounting actual historical events. There is a difference between depicting and promoting. We can portray wrong things (too a certain extent obviously; there is a line) but we don’t want to promote the wrong things.

      That said, I don’t believe there is anything morally wrong with promoting a woman being a nurse. I think that certainly can be a righteous activity for a woman. Of course, it also depends on how she performs her tasks. As with any activity, it can be done well with the correct attitude, or done poorly with the wrong attitude. But in and of itself, I don’t think anything is wrong with being a combat nurse. That is my opinion at least.

      Hopefully that helps clarify!
      Reagan

  6. Sarah Caroline says:

    This post is good but it also raises concerns for me. I confess, there are certain things about “the man being over the woman” that bother me, because I’m a woman in this culture, and I try to steer myself away from those thoughts because I know they aren’t in accordance with God. So my concerns are over something else –
    Writing a humble woman who doesn’t fight is great, and there should be more books like that. But writers are putting out books featuring the heroine who fights and these books are very popular. Unfortunately, these books also tend to send bad messages, unrelated to the “woman as soldier” message. I want to be able to send a Godly message to my readers through a book with a fighting heroine, not only because my story is set up for that, but because in this day and age the physically strong heroine is something girls connect to. Girls can connect to the humble, esther-like heroine is well, but it’s unrealistic for all heroine’s to be this way. One of the main arcs in my book is my heroine, over the course of the story, learns that she needs to accept help from her male friend, a positive message I want to get across in the middle of a wave of feminist books.

    • What problems do you have with “the man being over the woman”? It is a Biblical concept that the husband is the head of his wife, just as God is the head of the husband, and is very much in accordance with God.

      I’m not saying you can’t write stories where the female protagonist fights and also have the message be positive. That said, much the stories depicting women in combat roles just aren’t realistic. In a lot of these stories, women cease to be women, and more resemble men. When we look at history where women have been involved in the military, it wasn’t on the front-lines, from Deborah to Joan of Arc. Most recently, the women signing up for the military today, almost none can meet the physical requirements. One of the first women in America to sign up for a combat role has recently gone AWOL.

      So I think we shouldn’t be perpetuating the myth that anything men can do, women can do also, and vice versa. You can write strong female characters, even characters that may be forced to engage in combat, but don’t do so at the expense of their femininity, unless your goal is to show how femininity is being lost.

  7. Thank you for writing this article. It says what I’ve tried to say myself. This is what I want my female characters to be like, and myself as well.

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