Fascinating Womanhood Review: feminine role vs. working wife


First of all, I want to address a comment that I keep getting on posts like this one: that Helen Andelin (or someone like her) doesn’t speak for modern, mainstream evangelicalism. That all of these women and men hold to rather extreme positions and the bulk of evangelicals today disagree with them. And, in one way, that is absolutely correct. They are extreme. They made their money and got to where they are today by being extreme.

However, and I’ve said this before and I will say it until I am blue in the face: For every single concept Helen has promoted in this book, there is a modern evangelical person making the same exact argument.

I’d like everyone, before we get into today’s post, to read “When a Woman Makes a lot of Money,” by Mary Kassian, published in June last year. Mary Kassian also published a book with Nancy Leigh DeMoss last year called True Woman 101: Divine Design, and you can find two posts I wrote critiquing an online interview they had with Focus on the Family here and here. Read through everything that they said, and tell me that what they say aren’t the same exact arguments Helen’s been making. They talk about how being “strong and independent” can only lead to “dysfunction” and ultimately depression and suicide. They say that not adhering to old-fashioned gender roles will make your children gay. They tell women in abusive marriages to “lay down their rights.” How is any of that substantively different from what Helen’s been saying?

And, they even say this:

Don’t make decisions based on practicality. You may have a job where you earn more money than your husband, and it may be practical for you to go out and earn the money and for him to stay home. But there’s something in terms of identity that you’re going against when you do that . . . Women have a unique and specific responsibility for the home in a way that men do not have.

Helen says this, almost word-for-word. And Kassian, in the article I linked to, said this:

Because when you boil it right down, you’re not going to be satisfied with a man who’s a beta boy. Deep down, every woman wants her man to be a man. And you’ll only inspire him to be a man when you act like a woman . . . when you choose to stand against culture and embrace, delight, and live according to God’s created design.

And you’ll only inspire him to be a man when you act like a woman.

That’s the only message in Helen’s book, really. She harps on it every single chapter:

When a man is in the presence of a tender, trustful, dependent woman, he immediately feels a sublime expansion of his power to protect and shelter this frail and delicate creature. In the presence of such weakness, he feels stronger, more competent, bigger, manlier than ever.

Yes, the language Helen is using is right out of the 60s. But it’s the same idea. And who are the people making this argument today? Focus on the Family. Moody Publishers. John Piper. Mark Driscoll. Some of the biggest, most influential people and organizations in evangelical culture are simply presenting the same argument in 2010 language. And if I sound frustrated, it’s because I’m terrified.


Anyway, on to the actual chapter for this week. It’s about everything you could have expected: she lays out all the reasons a woman that could possibly justify a woman working outside the home, and it’s when your family is destitute and starving, you are putting your husband through college, or if you have no children at home (although she warns that you must be available to your children and grandchildren at all times).

Then we get the reasons for why you should never work, and one of them is “to do something important.” If a woman wants to make noble contributions, to use her gifts, talents, abilities, skills, or intelligence to try to make the world a better place: nope. You have a “false notion.” As amazing as curing cancer might be, you must be in the “simple routine of your home,” because, if you aren’t, your children are going to hell. No, really. That’s what she says. Then she goes on to give a few pages of quotes from “career women” who regretted having careers.

She also, fascinatingly, brings up something some of you have mentioned: someone apparently pointed out the hypocritical contradiction of telling other women that they’re not allowed to be career women when she herself is a career woman. Her response is hysterical:

Call me what you like, business executive, career woman, or working wife, but I never looked at it this way. To me it has been a mission of charity . . . the personal sacrifice has been well worth it.

I never wanted to be a career woman, see? I wanted to be a stay-at-home wife! That’s what makes it ok! I didn’t want to do this. It was a sacrifice, a necessary evil!

Uh-huh. Keep telling yourself that.

Then she moves on to the age-old question: should daughters be allowed to go to college? Answer: no. Because it could make her independent (“by doing so she loses her need for manly care”), she could escape her marriage (“the ability to make money can be a dangerous thing for a woman”), and she’d lose out on the opportunity to read lots and lots of literature! (apparently, it “makes you more interesting” to men).

Also, if women go out to work, it could “rob your husband of his right” to be needed and masculine, and you could even lose your “womanliness” and your “charm.” (charm = attractiveness to men, as defined by Helen). Also, you’re destroying society when you work and wrecking untold damage on our national economy (something she says with absolutely nothing to support her).

So, there you have it, all you women who work: you’re hurting men, making yourself unattractive, and you’re also ruining the United States economy. Go you.

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  • I’ve been one of those making those comments… because honestly… It confuses me to see you comparing this woman to what I’ve read and understand of modern writers.

    My best advice is- if this is an extreme and outdated example, and you think modern writers are making the same arguments, consider doing this breakdown with a writer that most of us recognize. Pointing out extremism is good…. but it makes it really easy to say “Yes, but, this writer *I* enjoy is not an extremist…” and dismiss what we’re reading.

    • That’s what I attempted to do today, pointing out how Nancy Leigh DeMoss (“Lies Women Believe,” she’s sold more than a million books) and Mary Kassian (“The Feminist Mistake”) have both said, almost word-for-word, what Helen has said the entire book.

      And I will be doing another book next– next time, one published by a significant publishing house, written in the last 10 years, and written by a best-selling, popular evangelical author.

      I have a month to decide, and I’m having a hard time choosing because there are so many.

      • Really, who’d have thought being a female human was so hard that we’d need sixty bazillion manuals for doing it?

        My big breakthrough when I studied Zen Buddhism was realizing I didn’t need to buy another book about it, one day in the Phoenix & Dragon Bookstore in Atlanta. I was looking at the shelves and suddenly realized I knew everything I needed to know already about this path. I just needed to meditate more and learn about the things I already knew. Saved me a fortune on books, I’ll tell you what. I don’t know if I indeed proceeded more quickly spirituality-wise, but I certainly don’t think I went any slower. I think women already know most of what they need to know, but if they realized it, if they began trusting themselves and their own inner voices, booksellers and publishers would go out of business. Can’t have that.

      • Colinde

        Honestly I’m happy with you doing both – the 1960’s Helen-esque and the new/modern authors. Originally I had the same “Oh she’s outdated/extreme” reaction – but you’re right. Just because I haven’t seen people adhereing to this type of bullplop, doesn’t mean large groups of people aren’t doing it. (a good reminder that just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist)

        Curious to see the next author you use. I’m really questioning the teachings/motives of alot of the women authors I read as a teen, now. It feels good, really – to realize they don’t hold the #1 authoritative view on being a godly woman. (I think after reading that phrase so much I’m going to puke if I see it again)

  • kategladstone

    Would Mrs. Andelin be willing to excise from her life (and from the lives of any children who are dependent upon her) everything that was achieved by any woman who didn’t sacrifice her competence to achieve it? If Mrs. Andelin gets cancer, will she refuse radiation therapy because we wouldn’t have it without the “ungodly” non-housewife career endeavors of Marie Curie? I would be entirely willing to see withheld from Ms. ANdelin, forever, access to any good if service that was created or distributed by a woman whom she damns for its creation or its distribution. If a woman should not drive a truck, according to Mrs. Andelin, then no supermarket or restaurant has any moral obligation to allow Mrs. Andelin to be a customer and thereby eat food which was possibly trucked into her city by (among other people) a woman acting in an “ungodly” manner to bring food to Mrs. Andelin’s mouth which speaks against such an “ungodly” career.

  • Who is this painting by, do you know? I love it!

  • Samantha, I’ve listened to the gender roles of the fundagelicals for 40 years. Like you wrote, the words are new, but the message is essentially the same. It’s complementatianism on steroids. And, it’s alive and well today. I appreciated you sharing this. I know that not all relationships between women and men are influenced by this. But, a pretty large bloc of conservatives are. Just about 4 years ago I was in seminary with a very bright, gifted young woman. I asked if she was planning on pursuing a pastorate. She said that she couldn’t because the Bible said that women can’t do that. Yeah, well…bullshit! Please keep up the great work! Your voice is still needed. Thank you!

  • The bit about how of course she doesn’t feel obligated to follow her own rules is true of a long list of current conservative women. Phyliss Schaffly. Beverly LaHaye. Suzanne Venker (Schaffly’s niece) who have high-powered jobs while lecturing on how women shouldn’t or don’t really want high powered jobs.

    • Don’t forget Nancy DeMoss. Not only a career woman, but *gasp* single.

  • You don’t have to convince me that these attitudes are still relevant. America is not that far from the time when society in general embraced these ideas. They are still part of the undercurrent of our thoughts about men and women. I started to read the Mary Kassian link and it makes me a little mad. When people see the conflicts – the strains that gender roles can cause they (we) have two choices. We can join the struggle to redefine gender roles in ways that allow each individual to find their own particular “sweet spot” in life. Or we can reinforce the existing roles in hopes that if we just do it REALLY well then everything will fall into place and everyone will be happy. Then, if you add a little “Christian” jargon you can even claim some authority on the matter and wipe away any irony that would otherwise stem from the fact that you are, in the very act of writing or speaking on the topic, taking advantage of shifting roles that offer more freedom and possibly more joy for everyone. I have lots more I would love to rant about, but just as a parting question before I go pick up my kid from school….When did being a Christian become synonymous with fearing change?

    • Just to clarify, when I say “you” are claiming authority I mean Kassian and others like her.

  • The comment about being strong and independent leading to “depression and suicide” reminds me of the old Catholic arguments against masturbation. It’s just one more way to control people. I think I’ll take my chances being strong and independent:)

  • Oh how hypocritical. But as usual, the only moral X is their X. Everybody else’s X is immoral so should be stopped immediately. On that note, I’ve actually read quotes from forced-birthers that say modern women suffer from “the curse of independence,” and imply that if only we just realized how much happier we were back when we were chattel and knew our places, we’d stop pursuing abortion rights and all that equal pay nonsense. Their job is to remove and erase abortion rights and end equal pay arguments, and they really think it follows that women will go back to the kitchens and back to churches and it’ll all go back to the way it was back in the happy gauzy 1950s they think the real 1950s looked like. I am glad that not all Christian women are buying this nonsense. I’m sad though that nothing’s really changed–if anything, Christian leaders are drilling down harder–about the rigid gender roles I struggled with as a fundamentalist back in the 80s and 90s. It’s like they realize their blithering isn’t working, so the solution is to blither more loudly.

  • Clearly we should put our response in an unambiguous way that can clearly counter all the words and nuances that they claim are different from those extreme weirdos, even though the overall message is still the same. This should be good for use in the US and Canada:

    …………………/…./ /
    ……….”…………. _.•´

  • Betta Splendens

    It’s like this, really. A “prophet” says: “I’ve just figured out the secret to life: THROW YOURSELF OFF A CLIFF!!!!”

    People: “So why don’t YOU jump off a cliff, then?”

    Prophet: “I… ummmmm… well, OBVIOUSLY someone needs to say up here and tell everyone ELSE to jump off!”


  • I went to a church that studied Lies Women Believe for our annual women’s Bible study. To be honest, I had quite a good time during our Bible studies because I made a lot of new friends. However, when I left Fungelical (the “fun” in it doesn’t stand for “fun” at an amusement park ;-p) Christian world to become a progressive Christian, I thought about how my view on myself, relationships and men was tainted by ideas of what I “should” be, according to a select group of female ministry leaders who are published, as well as Focus on the Family. My dating life as a Christian and my perspective as a single Christian woman has been screwed up for a long time. It is laughable that Nancy Leigh DeMoss and her female colleagues denounce women pursuing a career when they have successful careers……as ministry leaders and writers!

  • What strikes me about the Kassian article is the sense of entitlement that the women she describes have. They really believe they are *owed* support. I would imagine that this idea wouldn’t fly particularly well for those of lower income, where both spouses have to work their butts off to pay the basic bills. It is yet another symptom of the societal disease that views men primarily as a paycheck. And, their manhood (and in this case, “godliness”) is directly tied to the size of that paycheck. Obviously, the ongoing change to a more even split between wage earning and household duties will require that men look at women as more than housekeepers. But it will also require that women stop looking at men and seeing $$$$.

  • Their odd viewpoints leave out the fact that many pastor wives are the breadwinners in their families, because they church can’t pay the pastor enough to live the lifestyle their preach about. How does that even line up with what they claim is the RIGHT way of doing things?

  • Zoe

    Good point. Let’s not even start on pastor’s wives who minister full-time alongside their husbands but can’t be ordained because of their inconvenient plumbing–in fact can’t even be paid because that would be acknowledging that they are ministers too.

  • K

    Hi Samantha,

    This is an interesting article. I am totally against the oppression of women everywhere and under any circumstance. I have a question for you. This may sound bizarre, but please believe I am not asking with ill intent. What if a woman *wants* to stay home? What if she wants to look after her little ones, to nurture and bring them up with love and tenderness, and to serve her husband selflessly within the home? Yes, a woman can certainly serve society at large, but what if it is her desire to focus on her own family and invest every resource in them? Should a woman never be allowed that sort of liberty? Or some say that such women do not contribute to society. Then.. Does a person only contribute to society if they are bringing home a pay check? Because there seems to me a great many things a person can do with love that benefit our society that does not earn them a cent.

    • Not speaking for Samantha here, but for myself I would say that it’s not about getting women out of the home. It’s about opening up roles so that they are defined by the people who fill them rather than using them to define people. When a woman stays home because that is what fulfills her then everyone wins. When she stays home because that is what is expected of her everyone loses.

  • No wonder they hate Girl Scouts. It’s right in the Girl Scout Law: “I will try … to make the world a better place.”