Why do your women look plainer than your men?
by Edwin Shank
Good morning fine folks!
One of our long-time customers near Wellsville, PA, wrote to express her appreciation to My Plain Dilemma, but she also asked an astute question.
Hello, Edwin and Dawn,
Thank you so much for your very informative emails. I truly enjoy receiving them.
We live where there are many different plain people groups. In some groups, it's very easy to distinguish both men and women as being plain. In other groups, such as yours, only the women are distinguishable. The men dress normally. Why is this?
Thanks for all the great food you provide our family.
This is an understandable question and I hope I can shed some light.
I would like to split the question into two because it's a bit of a difficult question. Today I'll address why in our group, as she says, the women seem more noticeably different than the men. Another day I'll address why, in some plain groups, the men stand out more.
First, let me explain something that's often misunderstood about plain people.
Most of us plain folks do not set out to be different or even separate as an end goal in itself.
(I say most, because there are exceptions, which is why accurately answering a question like this is tricky. Oh well, I guess I asked for this. 😊 So, that disclaimer aside, let me continue.)
We do not set out to be different as an end goal. Rather, we set out to be scripturally obedient to God's Word. That commitment, among others, requires a lifestyle of simplicity, modesty, avoidance of fashion and stylishness and unnecessary adornments.
Of course, these differences end up making us what folks call 'plain'... meaning: without adornment, not fancy. And I guess that's a fair way to describe us.
Some folks assume that we look, dress, and live differently than "the-rest-of-the-world" because we want to be different. They assume that we want to stand out... like wearing a costume to be noticed. They might even think that we intentionally hold ourselves apart because we think we are better than others.
But that's not the case.
As I have stated, we are simply different because we march to the tune of a different drummer. We are different because our total faith in God means we are serious about obedience to all the teachings of God and Jesus Christ throughout all The Word.
We are unashamedly non-conformist. Rather than conformed to this world, we are transformed for another. - Romans 12:1-2
This Biblical obedience is a core value of plain people. It cannot be overstated. Some call it radical obedience—we simply call it true obedience. We believe all of the Bible is God's Word but that especially the New Testament is given for Christian living instruction since the coming of Jesus.
We quite simply believe that since we say that Jesus is our Lord, Master and King, that to be people of integrity, our actions of obedience must line up with our words.
By the words of Jesus in Luke 6:46 and Matthew 7:21, it seems that Jesus feels this way too!
I'm guessing you may be protesting, "But, aren't you beating around the issue, Edwin? The question is why do the women in your group stand out more than the men?"
I'm not avoiding the issue... I'm just getting there. 😊
As our people collectively and sincerely follow the commands of the scripture, the degree to which any of us, men or women, stand out from the "cultural norm" is directly proportional to how far the cultural norm deviates from what God's Word commands.
To say it more to the point: Since the demands that our modern ungodly culture exerts on its women is further removed from the commands of God's Word than what that same culture places on its men, then a scripturally obedient women will stand out more than a scripturally obedient man. (We can agree that our culture is largely an ungodly culture, right?)
On the flip side, if the men of a given culture would happen to be further from what God asks of a Biblical man than what the women of that culture are, then the scripturally obedient man would stand out more.
So, the degree to which a plain man or a woman stands out as different from the culture is subjective to the ebb and flow of the fads and fashion and styles and peer pressure of that culture.
I know the above paragraphs are a little ponderous so I really should give some practical examples. But to be perfectly transparent feels vulnerable. Because I know that as I give examples I risk being misunderstood. Please know that I mean no offence, but I do want to be true to my commitment to answer the questions that come and to speak the truth and nothing but the truth.
So please be forbearing. I trust you will. I will use outward visible illustrations because the 'appearance' of plain people was the nature of the question.
I think you all can agree that if a group of our plain mothers and girls of 2024 were to walk into a historic 1880's Laura Ingles Wilder prairie town, they likely would go almost unnoticed.
The cultural norms of The Little House on the Prairie time period, at least in dress, more closely matched with biblical principles. So therefore, our plain women would not stand out nearly as much then as the same plain ladies would stand out today walking the streets of, let's say, Pittsburgh.
Now let's imagine that a group of our plain men and boys were to step into some remote, still head-hunting jungle village of Papua New Guinea. Our plain men would stand out from their men, right?
What changed? Not the way our plain men appear. Rather, it is the way the rest of the men of the head-hunter culture dressed.
And it not just Papua New Guinea...
The same could be observed if you'd drop our plain men into an American beach scene, pool party or even a casual back-yard picnic. Their long, non-designer trousers, button up shirts, short haircuts, lack of tattoos and body piercings would likely make them stand out remarkably.
In short, any time a societal culture, be it foreign or domestic, demands of its people a conformity that runs counter to the Bible commands of modesty, simplicity and avoidance of vain show and more, our plain folks, men or women will stand out.
In some situations and cultures and time periods the difference is profound; sometimes it's less. At times the difference is greater for the men than the women. Sometimes the difference is more for the women than the men.
We do not glory in being different—we simply and sincerely want to be respectfully obedient to our Lord, our God and His Word. If being obedient makes us different, we are perfectly ok with that.
Until next time...
Peace and light.
Your Plain Mennonite Christian friend, :)
- Edwin Shank
P.S. I do want to be clear that there are various ways that the clear teachings of God's word can be respectfully and consistently applied. That's why you'll notice application variations between plain groups. I want to be sure to not leave the impression that if a group of believers does not apply scripture "exactly our group's way" that they are not right with God.
But at the same time, I think we can also agree that if two groups of believers, maybe even from opposite sides of the world who never have met, but are each honestly, sincerely, humbly and prayerfully applying the same scriptures to their lives and families and communities, that even though there will be slight differences, a distinct unity of spirit, bond of faith, oneness of practice and, yes, even a certain "kinship of plainness" will connect them.
P.S. Feel free to share our emails in any way you want. Food for the Soul posts are free for all. We do not copyright any of our material nor are we possessive of its use. Freely we have received... so freely we give! More Questions about Mennonites or faith? We welcome them! We can't promise to personally answer each, but we will try to address your question in future post. And we just may get back to you personally, too.