“Virtue signaling” for those who don’t know, is a political phrase coined to describe those who care, so, so much, they are virtuous. If you’ve ever been in a political debate and someone suddenly declares, “I’m a vegan, I don’t eat animals, do you eat animals?” That is called virtue signaling. It’s an idea that suggests I’m right because I’m a good person with high moral standards, while you are just politically incorrect and want to kill puppies.
In a faith-based context it is similar to works before grace, that I am justified because of my own innate goodness and ability to care about all the right things. I am so, so good and I will prove it every day by dashing about and supporting all the right causes.
Women can be especially vulnerable to virtue signaling, in part due to our design. I like to say, we are more likely to see the beauty in ugly dogs, bad men, and sticky children. That’s partially due to biology. Add in the tremendous cultural pressure and our history that has often declared that all good women are virtuous. We are expected to be good, virtuous, simply because of gender. To not be virtuous is a very bad thing indeed, it is taboo. When a woman is perceived to be lacking virtue, we are often horrified, we tend to call them mean names. Whereas men are cut some slack culturally, boys will be boys, we all know how men are, women rarely experience that same kind of grace in the world.
Men in general are not perceived as virtuous culturally, in fact when they do the right thing, we can be somewhat surprised. For women it is just expected that we will do the right thing, and condemnation is usually heaped upon us if we don’t. So when women walk away from their children or families, we are perceived as unbelievably selfish, whereas it is quite common for men to just throw in the towel and walk away. It’s not right, but it is more accepted culturally.
So there are some double standards in the world that lead us to judge women far more harshly. I don’t wish to imply that this is somehow wrong. I like to quip that to whom much is given, much is expected. The virtuous and sacrificial nature of women and the cultural conditions that have created and nurtured us can be a beautiful thing.
However, there are some drawbacks. That harsh judgementalism that women often face culturally and sometimes internalize. The need we sometimes have to be constantly busy doing good works, trying to prove ourselves. The way we will compare ourselves to other women, often in an attempt to signal our own superior virtue. The way we sometimes feel as if we can never be good enough, thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough… virtuous enough. To make matters worse, we have a huge advertising industry that plays off of women’s fears.
Back to faith, Christianity, rather than being hard on women as it is often falsely perceived, can help to protect and heal you from all this virtue signaling. Are women more virtuous than men, are we sin free? No, no we are not, not really, that is a worldly bit of deception. We may have different roles in the world, different priorities, different weaknesses, but sin is a universal concept that impacts us all. Rather than needing to constantly signal our own virtue, to brace ourselves in a defensive stance culturally, we can just set all that down at the foot of the cross.
Imperfect, fallen women, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. There really is nothing more liberating, more freeing than that. More empowering, because we are no longer expected to go it alone.
In a political context virtue signaling can be a real problem and it is something both men and women engage in. One reason it’s not so good is because it tends to make politics all about us, the personal becomes political, so rather than focusing on how to fix problems, we focus on how to signal our own virtue. That tends to make us prescribe solutions to problems that don’t exist in a way that eventually benefits no one. Politicians have gotten very good at playing off of our own virtue signaling, often offering up band-aid solutions that make us feel good about having fixed some problem in the world. Whether or not the problem has actually been fixed, improved upon, made better, solved, all becomes secondary to the fact that we now get to feel good about our own virtue.
Scripture can be amazing, the Word can reveal itself to us precept upon precept, like a handbook for all that ails us. I like to joke, read the instructions they explain everything.
It us not as if our works don’t matter, but our works done for the purpose of signaling our own virtue can create endless problems, for ourselves individually and for ourselves collectively. Every time we try to take Jesus Christ out of the equation, we’re going to go astray.
Rejoice and again I say rejoice, because there is great truth in these words. “Imperfect, fallen women, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. There really is nothing more liberating, more freeing than that.”