[art by papermoth]
I am working with the “revised and expanded” edition of Captivating. If you’re reading along with me, remember to write “Book Club” at the top of your comment.
One of the most frustrating things about the early chapters of this book is that Stasi does what a lot of other conservative evangelical women are required to do if they start saying things that could, at all, be interpreted as slightly femininst: she makes feminism the enemy. I’ve written about this phenomena before, so it wasn’t exactly surprising that she said this:
To be told when you are young and searching that “you can be anything” is not helpful. It’s too vast. It gives no direction. To be told when you are older that “you can do anything a man can do” isn’t helpful either. I didn’t want to be a man. What does it mean to be a woman?
She’s done a few . . . interesting . . . things in this paragraph. The first is thinking there’s a problem with women having too many options because it’s just too overwhelming for us. Women, apparently, need direction. We can’t be left on our own, to make up our mind on what we want for ourselves without the guiding light of Gender Roles.
If women can’t “be anything,” what can we be? What is beyond us? What are we not capable of? What should we not try to be? She answers this question when she conflates the statement “you can do anything a man can do” with becoming a man. These are not the same– and, I would argue that this is an extremely reductionist approach to feminism. However, she says that “you can do anything a man can do” isn’t helpful because doing what a man does is synonymous with being a man.
Stasi is assuming that gender is somehow based on our actions.
Enforcing this idea– that gender is tied to action– is one of the ways that patriarchy is self-perpetuating. There are currently many “signifiers” and “gender-coded behaviors” that are assigned either masculine or feminine labels, but this assignation is completely arbitrary, and subject to frequent and inexplicable change over time. When men perform an action thought to be “feminine,” they are punished– they are a sissy, a pussy. When women perform an action thought to be “masculine,” they are also punished– they are bossy, or a slut.
Stasi doesn’t really get into the meat of her chapter until page nine, when she begins laying out the thesis for the rest of the book:
All women have three basic desires that were given to us by God; we want to be romanced, to have a great adventure, and to be beautiful.
To Be Romanced
Stasi insists that all girls grew up wanting to play some version of damsel-in-distress because we all want to be fought for, and “This desire is set deep in the heart of every girl– and every woman.” If a woman like me were to pipe up with “uhm, no– actually, I hated being forced to play that game, and I don’t like being fought over,” Stasi would dismiss me by saying that I’m only “downplaying” my desire, that I’m “ashamed” of it and “Come now, wouldn’t you want to ride through the Scottish Highlands with a man like Mel Gibson?”
I’ve also been “fought over” by men, and it is not pleasant. It did not make me feel “wanted.” It made me feel used and like less than a toy. The men who were “fighting” over me had no interest in what I wanted– which was, in reality, neither of them.
But, apparently, in Stasi’s world, I don’t exist. Or, I’m deluding myself and I don’t understand my own life.
An Irreplaceable Role in a Great Adventure
This section starts off well:
I sensed that the men in these [WWII] movies were a part of something heroic, valiant, and worthy. I longed to be a part of it, too. In the depths of my soul, I longed to be a part of something large and good; something that required all of me; something dangerous and worth dying for.
There is something fierce in the heart of a woman . . . A woman is a warrior too.
So far, so good, but this is where she changes course again:
But she is meant to be a warrior in a uniquely feminine way.
Just . . . ugh.
I wish I could even understand what Stasi means by this. She tries to explain by referencing pop culture, and cites The Lord of the Rings (the films, not the book) as an example. She talks about how Arwen, Galadriel, and Eowyn are “valiant” and that they had “irreplaceable roles in a Great Story.”
I think you could only possibly argue that for Eowyn, since film-Arwen is literally a replacement. After the scene when she slays the Witch King of Angmar (with Merry’s help, notably), Eowyn is immediately shipped back to being a stereotypical woman by both Tolkien and Jackson. In the book Eowyn declares:
I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.
Another one of the significant problems with this book is that neither John nor Stasi engage with the media they are consuming critically or with awareness, which becomes glaringly obvious in the next chapter. I absolutely adore The Lord of the Rings, but I am an aware and conscientious reader, so I know I need to keep in front of me as I watch and read that Jackson and Tolkien incorporated tropes and stereotypes about women in their work– things which Stasi claims to think are “damaging.”
She also finishes this section by asserting that while yes, women “want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” we all want to be in this adventure with someone.
We want an adventure that is shared . . . Made in the image of a perfect relationship, we are relational to the core of our beings . . . We long to be an irreplaceable part of a shared adventure.
This is a stereotype. Many conservative evangelicals set up women as being more “relational” than men– that we are “nurturers” and “caretakers,” that we are more naturally given to fostering relationships and communities. Because this is our assigned role in our culture, women tend to do it– but not every single last woman in America is a nurturing mother-figure who desperately wants to be in a relationship, just like not every man is a power-hungry risk-taking ladder-climbing suit.
However, Stasi again tells women who don’t fit this mold that the only reason why we don’t fit it is “because we have been hurt, or are worn out.” Which, ok, yes, sometimes people want to withdraw from relationships because they’ve been hurt. That’s a human thing. However, I’ve met a lot of people– men and women– who just didn’t really need relationships the way that Stasi is describing. But, again . . . they don’t exist. They can’t exist, or John and Stasi’s entire premise for writing a book like this would completely evaporate.
I’m going to stop before we get into the section “Beauty to Unveil” because heavens is there a lot to unpack in that section.