Updated on April 1, 2015
The Infantilization of Women and a Theology of Aging (Getting Age Wrong Part 2)
THE INFANTILIZATION OF WOMEN
If you’ve never heard of the “infantilization” of women, allow me to introduce you; it is an incredible phenomenon by which our society systemically equates femininity with things like vulnerability, submission, uncertainty, and childhood. To be womanly today is to be, in many senses, infantile (cf Codes of Gender).
We see the effects of this social game played out in our efforts to mask age all the time; dyeing hair, liposuction, face-lifts, plastic surgery, anti-aging cream, hormonal injections, lying at a birthday party. We want to appear younger, and our desire to do so is hardly “vain” or “shallow;” it makes all too perfect sense in a culture that vilifies old age.
But infantilization goes beyond a desire for youth. It creates an ideal womanhood that profoundly affects our perceptions of women and how they perceive themselves.
Don’t understand or believe what I’m talking about? Let me take you to the best place for a highly “concentrated, exaggerated, and distilled” picture of infantilization in our culture; advertisement.
Feminine beauty is getting younger all the time. Just as we are sexualizing girlhood, we are infantilizing feminine sexuality itself.
Seen especially in contrast with men, women are postured in childish ways; bent knees, blank stares, holding themselves, putting their hands in their mouths, in what you might call “submissive” stances to their surroundings, while men are often depicted standing straight up, in control, and adult-like (for more examples of this, open a magazine).
If advertising is any indication, we are making women out of children and children out of women… but what scares me most is the degree with which this fits much of Christianity.
A THEOLOGY OF AGING
Here are a couple thoughts to throw into the conversation, one we’ll hopefully see more of.
Children should be protected from adultification.
Jesus spoke seriously about the consequences of messing with children. Their health and safety should matter more to us than reaching a new demographic of customers. The fact that girls are encouraged by our society to even think along the lines of attracting sexual attention should be named and shamed.
We must define womanhood in healthier ways.
The picture of womanhood in Scripture is complicated, but it doesn’t need to get lost in cultural trappings. Women are praised for their strength, intelligence, and savvy, entrusted with ministry, and elevated in status. Femininity is celebrated as an equal part of God’s “image.” We should encourage girls to gradually grow into this sort of womanhood and decry our culture’s tendency to glorify female childishness.
Let us honor age.
The church has always been called to live out its mission counter-culturally, and there is certainly no more counter-cultural thing we can do than appreciate age. Gray hairs, weaker bodies, increased wisdom, decreased capacities. We are surrounded by such aversion for the process of aging, that it has begun to affect the way we view the aged. Instead of side lining the elderly, we should be giving them prominence. Instead of fearing old age and death, we should understand that all things have their time, and excitedly celebrate life at every stage.