Steel Magnolia

I’m a northern woman, so I don’t know all the nuances of southern talk. I wouldn’t know when to drawl “Well bless yo’r heart!” if my life depended on it. (Though I’m sure I could beat Southerners hands down in the “How’s it goin’, eh?” department.) I’m just not the pink, frilly, flufey kind. (There’s a new word for you... flufey!)

But 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). One commentator has suggested English equivalents of “Piercer” and “Pierced One.”

The bodies of male and female reflect this idea. A man’s body is built to move toward the woman. A woman’s body is built to receive the man. But the pattern goes beyond the mere physical difference between men and women to encompass the totality of their essence: The man was created to joyfully and actively initiate and give. The woman was created to joyfully and actively respond and receive. The woman is the “soft” one–the receiver, responder, and relater. The man is the “strong” one with greater capacity to initiate, protect, and provide. Each is a perfect counterpart to the other.

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.

As I’ve been meditating on this truth the past couple of weeks (did I tell you that I’m working on a True Woman curriculum with Nancy?) I’ve been thinking about how I can reflect the beauty of the Bride in my marriage. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be “soft” and “receptive” towards my husband. And I’ve asked the Lord to show me areas where my heart has grown “crusty.” I’ve tried to respond in joyful adoration and delight to my husband, to display how the Church Bride should respond to Jesus, the Lover and Redeemer of her soul. It’s been fun. Rejuvenating, in fact. Women, when we listen to the world, we forget that our softness is our greatest strength and greatest beauty.

So here’s my challenge to you. Take an honest look at yourself and see if you’ve shut down the very thing that makes you beautiful as a woman. Have you lost your Steel Magnolia softness? Have you become hard and crusty? Ask the Lord to help you rediscover your womanhood. Try it for a few days . . . and then come back and tell me how it went.

Did you discover God’s Truth today?

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About the Author

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian is an award-winning author, internationally renowned speaker, and a distinguished professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. She has published several books, Bible studies, and videos. At home in Alberta, Canada, Mary watches lots of sports! Her sons play ice hockey and her husband, Brent, is chaplain for the local professional football team. The Kassians enjoy biking, hiking, snorkeling, music, board games, mountains, campfires, and their family’s black lab, General Beau.

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