I saw something on Twitter this week that made me want to throw up. Or at least throw something. I’ll show it to you first. Then my words of frustration and repulsion will ensue.
#1. The picture communicates that getting married is the best “goal” to have in life (and a goal in the first place). You can choose to make marriage part of your life. Some people do, some people don’t. Either way, we are called to love and serve the world in an imitation of Christ. That is our purpose, our aim. You may want to or decide to get married along the way. That choice may help continue your calling, and it may inhibit you living out your calling. Regardless, if you expect to find your fulfillment and purpose in marriage, you are going to be disappointed.
#2. The picture communicates that academic pursuits are a fall-back option (especially for women). As a woman, an educated person, and a teacher, it makes my blood boil to hear the idea that furthering one’s learning is just “something to do” since you don’t have a pretty ring on your finger. (I am hitting the keys of my keyboard with particular vigor as I type this). Earning a degree is an accomplishment. Your diploma shows the depth and extent of your work and pronounces your dedication to your chosen field. Your academic accomplishments deserve commendation and true “congratulations.”
Besides, getting engaged and earning a degree are not mutually exclusive. Some people do both at the same time. Some people do one at one time, one at another. Some people decide to do one or the other. But it’s not an automatic either-or decision. Engagement and academic accomplishment are not comparable in terms of one being better than another, they are just different choices.
#3. The picture communicates that getting engaged/married is an accomplishment. It’s not. It’s a choice, a decision hopefully made with time, careful consideration, and guidance from experienced people you trust. Your spouse is not a reward for your efforts; your spouse is another human being who has chosen to partner with you. Treating your spouse or your marital status like an accomplishment devalues them both.
#4. The picture continues the stereotype that all women at Christian colleges are there to find a husband. Take a closer look at the diploma. Recognize the college? Wheaton College. As someone on Twitter pointed out, it’s a “notoriously Jesus-y” school. I replied, “As a graduate of another notoriously Jesus-y school, I would like to remind the world that Jesus is single.” I get so frustrated when Christian colleges promote and encourage the marriage of young people as though it is a fundamental part of Christian life.
I also get frustrated when I–and my college–get lumped into that marriage-is-all category. I chose my college because of the integrity of the program for my chosen field (education). My professors were there to teach me and rigorously prepare me for a life of service in my field, not babysit me while I was in a holding pattern waiting for a husband.
#5. The picture encourages the idea that college is the time and place to find your spouse. The further I get from my college experience, the more I realize how very young my peers and I were when we graduated. I am so thankful to know there are people in positions of influence at colleges who caution young people against jumping into a lifelong commitment so quickly.
Besides, college is a time when you have incredible resources available to you to explore different options for career and calling. As expensive as college is, if you’re not there to learn, why in the world would you pay that much money and go into life-altering debt to attend?
Yes, I have strong opinions on this topic. I doubt that is news to most of you. But there are reasons for the fervor of my opinions and the depth of my anger. I have witnessed and felt an obscene amount of pain and personal destruction because of ideas like those communicated by the “paper doesn’t always beat rock” picture.
I’m sure the young women who took the picture thought they were being cute and funny. I took all kind of pictures with my friends when I graduated from college, and these women probably didn’t think much about what they were doing. But that’s exactly the problem. Very few people in Christian culture are thinking about the terrible messages we communicate about marriage. These ideas are not cute. They’re not funny. These ideas are offensive, sexist, and dangerous.
Let’s start thinking about what we communicate. If you have trouble thinking critically and taking others’ perspectives… look into taking some college courses, maybe earning a(nother) degree. I bet that could help you start thinking more deeply.
For more explanation of my thoughts above, see: Our Idolatry of Marriage, An Open Letter About Marriage (and Marital Status), Unhelpful Things Said to Single People, and Topics for Conversations with Single People