There’s one Southern phrase that I’m quite drawn to: “Steel Magnolia.” I love the phrase, because to me it speaks to the essence of womanhood. The image melds beauty with perseverance, softness with backbone, delicacy with durability, sweetness with stamina.
It reminds me of what the first man exclaimed when he saw the first woman. When Adam laid his eyes on her, he broke into an exuberant, spontaneous poem:
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (Ishsha), because she was taken out of Man (Ish).” Genesis 2:23 (ESV)
The first man called himself “Ish” and the woman “Ishsha.” This appears to be an extremely clever and profound play on words. The sound of these two Hebrew words is nearly identical-Ishsha merely adds a feminine ending- but the two words have a complementary meaning. Ish comes from the root meaning “strength” while Ishsha comes from the root meaning “soft.”
The implication becomes clearer when we observe the biblical meaning of a man’s “strength.” Strength refers to a man’s manhood- his potency, virility, and procreative power (Ps. 105:36; Prov. 31:3; Gen. 49:3). By contrast, a woman’s “softness” has to do with her pregnability, penetrability, and vulnerability (in a very positive sense).
The Lord created male and female as an object lesson – a parable as it were – of a profound spiritual reality: The relationship between Christ the husband and the Church, His Bride. Men are to reflect the strength, love and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women are to reflect the character, responsiveness, grace and beauty of the Bride He redeemed.
In the past few years, the Hollywood portrayal of the ideal woman is one who is aggressive and tough – both physically and sexually. This is a far cry from what woman was created to be. According to Scripture, it’s woman’s softness, her ability to receive, respond, and relate – that is her greatest strength.