An Empowered Love: Examining Brio Magazine (Series)

Of course, women so empowered are dangerous. — Audre Lorde

When I turned 13, my mother took me aside and told me that just because society expects teenagers to rebel doesn’t mean that I will be allowed to. She said that the same kind of obedience as always was still expected of me, which of course, meant first-time obedience and no room for disagreement, because what the parents said was law (and when my daughter turned 13, my mother tried to give her that same exact speech!). It is into a similar environment that Brio’s February issue is trying to land.

This issue is about love, and there are a couple of articles about ways to love different people. One is an article about romantic love, contrasting the ways of Hollywood with the ways of God, and the other is one about loving your family. There is a theme common to these articles, and that is that love means prioritizing everyone else before yourself, and denying what is inside of you to do so. In this world, there is no room for rebellion, no room for unpleasantness, and definitely no room for honest emotions.

In the article on romantic love, they say that Hollywood encourages bad romance because it emphasizes love based on good looks, personal happiness, and passionate feelings, while godly romance is biblical love. This kind of love is God’s Truth, and it, “isn’t about finding someone who will make you happy. It’s about loving and serving others.” When it comes to love, they say that people shouldn’t follow their emotions, and should instead make the choice to love by serving and blessing your partner. This article says that romantic love should look like Jesus, who sacrificed his life. “True biblical love should be focused on giving, not getting.”

Obviously, love is not always a bowl of cherries, and it involves an element of sacrifice. But there is an element of sacrifice that goes intoany kind of relationship between two human beings, romantic or otherwise. This persistent christian idea that thinks romantic love is about ignoring your emotions, views passionate feelings as wrong, and thinks it is unnecessary to find someone who will make you happy….I mean, what are they even doing in relationships then? Are girls supposed to be preparing themselves to be a robot maid or a human partner?

What is so wrong about wanting someone who will make you happy? I mean, at least in the beginning, right? And what is so dangerous about including passion and paying attention to your emotions? These things are not mutually exclusive to commitment.

Sure, paying attention to your own wants could be taken to unhealthy levels, but so can sacrifice. Sacrifice in and of itself is not inherently good or godly. Yes, Jesus allowed himself to be murdered, but there were other places where he held his ground. He did not give in on everything. He ‘sacrificed’ purposefully because he knew who he was and what he wanted. Teen girls should not be getting the message that in order to find a partner, they need to ignore their own sense of themselves.

In her essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Audre Lorde says, “As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men, but which fears this same depth too much to examine the possibilities of it within themselves.”

She describes the erotic, the sensual, as more than simply sex. She says it is, “those physical, emotional, and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us, being shared: the passions of love, in its deepest meanings.” It is feeling the fullness of ourselves in everything we do, whether it is work, creativity, relaxation, or love.

How empowering it would be for girls to know the power that lies inside them, to know the magnitude of the strength and capabilities that exist when they know who they truly are and don’t deny any part of themselves.

Brio continues this self-denial in the article on loving your family, where it says that being an unpleasant person means you can’t love your family well. And what they consider unpleasant in a teen girl is being, “a selfish, grumpy diva…known to roll her eyes, give the silent treatment, get crazy mad, think about herself too much…” (also, well done on using ableist language, there Brio). So, in other words, being a human being with not-joyful emotions means you can’t love people well, and these attitudes are wrong and should be fixed.

It makes me sad that teen girls are being told that they are unpleasant and unloving when they have these typical moments. In that same article, it says that one reason God placed them in their family is to become more like Jesus (I’m sensing a theme, here). They say that being in a family is where girls can learn obedience, patience, selflessness, humility, and genuine love, (by essentially becoming a silent people-pleaser), setting up these ‘unpleasant’ feelings as sinful and needing to be removed.

I have 5 kids, 2 of whom are teenagers, and first off, let me just say that the ‘selfish, grumpy diva’ is not consigned to teenage girls. But beyond that — there’s nothing wrong with being grumpy, or selfish even! If a person is grumpy it is for a reason. Are you tired? Hungry? Need some exercise or poetry or a good cry? Is there something wrong with your life that would make anyone in that situation grumpy? Being irritable sometimes is just a fact of life. Why do we need to spiritualize it?

And eye-rolling? Oh please. I just rolled mine. Humans roll their eyes so much we have an emoji for it. Frankly, I love it when my kids roll their eyes, because what it says to me is that they know their own opinion on something, are disagreeing with someone about it, and are unafraid to show their disapproval. I cannot even imagine how much healthier a person I would be if I had been taught as a teen that it was ok to lean into my own opinions, instead of covering them with a layer of shame and sin.

Sure, eye-rolling can be used disrespectfully, but teens are also people learning how to grow up and have respectful interactions with other people. It does not mean that they should learn to shut down their feelings and emotions, only daring to show the joyful ones. A person who is grumpy or rolls their eyes does not mean that they are unpleasant or unloving, or that something evil needs to be removed from them. It means that they are a damn human being!

And thinking about themselves too often, well — as an INFJ/Enneagram 5, I can tell you I think about myself a whole hell of a lot! And teenagers should think about themselves. They should think about what they believe, what they want, who they are becoming, and why. Sure, there needs to be a healthy balance, but that’s the case with literally every human emotion and desire.

Figuring out the dance between inward and outward concern is something that never stops, and erring on the side of yourself is not inherently bad or sinful. How can we love others well if we don’t know who we are? If we don’t know what we want, like, or don’t like? Where is the joy in freely giving of ourselves because it makes us happy to help other people and because we have learned what makes us happy?

In her essay, Lorde goes on to say, “For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

These articles imply that the way to love others is to die to our own wants and needs and feelings, always putting everyone else before ourselves. This is a consistent theme that runs through evangelical female teachings. But why do they assume that women in touch with themselves will automatically be hyper-selfish people hell-bent on the destruction of everyone around them? Why do they think that love can only happen when it involves self-denial?

It’s as if somehow she knows…”We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings.” This essay is such a great rebuttal to these articles, because she tells us that knowing ourselves so intimately and giving our emotions their proper due means that we can live out of abundance. A fully empowered woman is not something that should be feared, and we should have no qualms in teaching the teenage girls in our lives how to become one.

What if we actually were able to love better because we were operating out of fullness and strength? What if our actions towards our friends, families, and partners were more joy-filled because we knew who we were and what we wanted and were choosing to love them? What if teen girls had this as their foundation before entering relationships? What if prioritizing personal happiness led to more freedom, more joy, more honesty?

Love is not always happy. It is not always pain-free, and seeking joy and happiness doesn’t mean we will always get it, or that it won’t be hard-fought for. But if the importance of our happiness as women isn’t even considered, what kind of a life are we even pursuing?

“But when we being to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we being to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.”

What messages about love are we passing on to the kids in our lives? Hell, what messages about love were we taught, and were they healthy? How can we be unselfish if we don’t also have the freedom to be selfish? How can we love well if there isn’t also the choice to not love well? Is it actually love if you believe that thinking about yourself is selfish and therefore you must prioritize other people to keep your soul out of jeopardy? What kind of twisted message is that to form people around?

I want my teenagers, and teenagers everywhere, to know that there is nothing wrong with them as they are right now, grumpy or not. Self-absorbed or not. I want them to know that they are both loved and capable of loving, no matter what their emotions are, and that the unpleasant sides to them are just as valuable and worth listening to as the pleasant ones are.

I question the message that says a person can be truly happy by denying their own feelings and living only to serve others. I think we can have a broader imagination, one that says there are more forms of good love than the restrictive one that Brio says is godly. Love between people in all forms of relationships can be built on more than giving or getting; relationships are more than just an emotionless transaction. It makes sense that Brio would seek to restrain girls. Because they know that a free and liberated woman is dangerous to the world they want to control.

“Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama. For not only do we touch our most profoundly creative source, but we do that which is female and self-affirming in the face of a racist, patriarchal, and anti-erotic society.”

This essay originally appeared at Fundamentally Free.