This post is the first in a series of posts by guest bloggers, each reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite woman.
Guest post from…Laura Lehman Amstutz works for Eastern Mennonite Seminary, gardens, cooks and snuggles with her cat. She also leads The Table Mennonite Church, runs half marathons, and supports her husband Brandon in owning and running Downtown Fine Furniture. No wonder she longs for simplicity!
My mom told me that in high school they used to put their coverings in their garter belts so they’d be handy for chapel. For some reason, the image of a white net covering stuffed in a garter belt underneath a 1960’s skirt symbolizes what it means to be a Mennonite woman.
I’ve never worn a covering. My mom stopped sometime shortly after high school. I’ve never even seen my grandmothers wear coverings. And yet, sometimes I wonder if I’m still fighting the invisible covering.
I vividly remember a conversation with my mother during seminary when we were discussing my upcoming internship year. I began to cry in a restaurant (which is probably why I remember it so well) because there were so many rules about what I “should” and “should not” wear in front of a congregation. Mostly it was “should not”.
And after finally settling on a series of suits that had appropriately conservative length skirts but were still relatively stylish, I got a searing review from a male classmate about the height of my high heels (which incidentally I only bought because the pulpit in the congregation where I was interning was built for a man who was 6’2”).
So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the first thoughts I have when I think about being a Mennonite woman have to do with clothes. We may be beyond cape dresses and coverings, but sometimes I think it’s not behind us. Or perhaps it is simply the line I dance between my generation’s emphasis on appearance and the Mennonite cultural emphasis on simplicity which used to equal certain hair and clothing styles for women. So, if I don’t define simplicity this way anymore, how do I define it?
I think as a Mennonite woman I dance on a lot of lines. I dance between the desire to stay home and live modestly and the desire to be a high-powered professional. I dance along the line of when and how to have children. I provide primary financial support so my husband can pursue his dream, and so I dance between feeling powerful and being crushed by the weight of responsibility as the breadwinner (perhaps as most men feel).
Perhaps because of this complicated dance, I long for simplicity. I read cooking blogs, crochet blogs, gardening websites and sewing blogs and sometimes I actually get to cook, crochet, garden and sew. I am glad that I can work with men who respect me and my gifts, but I value settings where there are only women. Even though I’ve never attended them, I imagine this is what those Mennonite sewing and quilting circles used to be, a feminine sub-culture.
Some of my current Mennonite feminine role models sometimes annoy me. I’m annoyed at professional Mennonite women who don’t seem to know how to dress fashionably. Please don’t wear socks with sandals or faded, frumpy ankle-length dresses, and please, please, find a good hair dresser.
So here we are back at clothes again.
I don’t know why I keep getting stuck there. A smart friend of mine pointed out that maybe it’s because in the past women’s bodies were the way The Body (as in the church) judged its simplicity. It’s what made us distinctive, and so somewhere in my psyche there is an invisible covering, fighting with my generation X (or is it Y, I’m never sure) emphasis on image and appearance.
Perhaps the real problem is that I’m still sorting out what simplicity is as a 21st century Mennonite woman. I value the simplicity of staying home, making my own food, and having a garden. But I also value the feminist movement that allows me to work full-time, support my family, lead a church and wear stylish clothes when I preach. I want it all. And so I dance on lines, with my invisible covering shoved in my garter belt, ready to be retrieved when necessary.