Feminism

"Captivating" Review: 44-47, "Haunted by a Question"

haunted

This is the chapter when Stasi starts obviously contradicting what she told us on the first page; she started out assuring her readers that “this is not a book about all the things you are failing to do as a woman.” She was unable to live up to that promise even in the first chapter, but by chapter three she’s slipped into the familiar pattern of these “biblical femininity” books: she paints a picture of exactly what she thinks a “godly woman” is. Although her description is lovely, it’s also incredibly limiting.

Eve was given to the world as the incarnation of a beautiful, captivating God– a life-offering, life-saving lover, a relational specialist, full of tender mercy and hope. Yes, she brought a strength to the world, but not a striving, sharp-edged strength. She was inviting, alluring, captivating.

That’s a list of “all the things you’re failing to do as a woman,” by the way. Striving? Not a godly woman. Hard-edged? Not a godly woman. Lacking tenderness? Not a godly woman. Unalluring? Not a godly woman.

The problem is that these words, although they might seem vague, have pretty particular meanings in American evangelical culture. When Stasi and John go on at length about how “disturbing” a “striving woman” is, they’re letting their (probably) evangelical reader fill in the blanks with what they think that is, and our definition has been given to us by dozens of other “godly femininity” books.

There’s a lot of assumptions spinning around in the following pages– like how Stasi assumes that “career women” aren’t married and don’t have children on page 46. We already know how Stasi feels about feminism, and her attitude toward women who don’t conform to the American middle-class white stay-at-home stereotypically-feminine mold is usually either bemusement or hostility.

She goes on to insist that every single woman’s “deepest doubt” is about whether or not we’re beautiful, which is a claim I have mixed feelings about. Knowing my partner finds me beautiful is . . . yup. I enjoy that. A lot. I love the way he looks at me, and I’ve come to feel much more confident about my body since I met him. Knowing he finds me drop-dead gorgeous helps me to see myself that way. However, I spent the majority of my life not giving a rat’s ass whether or not I was “beautiful.” I purposefully cultivated frumpiness in order to avoid appearing beautiful (although the reasons for that are, admittedly, complicated).

And if a lot of women in America today struggle with seeing themselves as beautiful, I don’t think it necessarily follows that it’s because we were supposedly created to “be like Eve” and might have everything to do with our culture’s ridiculous and impossible-to-meet beauty standards. Have to be thin, but not too thin. Have to be one of the guys, but not masculine. Have to wear makeup, but not too much.

When she says this:

Little girls want to know, Am I lovely? The twirling skirts, the dress up, the longing to be pretty and to be seen– that is what that’s all about. We are seeking an answer to our Question . . . I wanted to be captivating. We all did.

Uhm . . . nope. I wanted to be noticed and appreciated, sure– I was constantly coming to my parents and grandparents with stories I had written, music I had memorized. I wanted my skills and my work to be recognized. If my parents had said “oh, Samantha, you’re so lovely!”  instead of “oh, Samantha, you’ve worked so hard! You play that so well!” or “this is a well-written story!” I would have been . . . well, frustrated, bordering on angry.

When I was about eight, I wrote a story in a form a bit like one of Aesop’s fables, about a turtle outsmarting a fox, I think. When I showed it to my mother, her reaction– at least to me– was to be blown away. She bought a little illustrated book-kit, and helped me write it all out neatly and illustrate it and bind it. That she went to all that trouble to show me how she valued my work is still one of my best memories from my childhood.

That has nothing to do with me being lovely, and I’m a little sick that Stasi thinks that affirming our daughter’s “loveliness” is the most important thing we can do for them. I disagree. Affirming their abilities and their development is far more important, and when our culture stops seeing “beauty” as a necessary element for womanhood the better of we’ll all be.

Also, this is the third time I’ve had to write a post responding to Stasi and John’s all-consuming interest in “beauty,” and I’m getting more than a little fed up. Next week we’ll be able to talk about the ramifications the Fall has on womanhood, and it ain’t going to be pretty. There’s whole sections on “Desolate” and “Dominating” women. Whee.

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  • BigSisterMama

    I have become convinced that The Question all little girls supposedly have is not “Am I Lovely?” but more universal than that, it is: “Am I Enough? Am I important? Can I trust the people in my life?” And that all genders and ages have that question.

  • Oh, good grief! First teach them a fake question so we don’t have to deal with the real heart of the matter … and then focus on it to the exclusion of all else. Not a recipe for disaster at all …. not … at … yeah.

    I’ve never focused on beauty with my girls (though we enjoy giving each other compliments, dressing up, and twirling till you can’t stop laughing from time to time) and they STILL had that stupid, biased question hammered into their brains by the culture. I don’t appreciate it at all.

  • Jackie

    Thank heaven no one in my family insisted I read crap like this when I was a child. They stood back while I read about rivers and trees and submarines and science and history and all the wonderful mysteries of this world. I wanted to know how this world worked. And quite frankly, outward beauty is transitory. It’s here today. Gone tomorrow. Then what do you do with yourself? Their world is very, very small and they want the rest of us to live in it. Unfortunately they’re probably making a pretty good living peddling this snake oil. Thank you for reading this so WE don’t have to.

  • Bri

    One of the worst, most demeaning aspects of patriarchy is the way it teaches girls that their value is primarily in their looks, their bodies, and their overall attractiveness to men, rather than their minds, their thoughts, and their abilities. And here is this fucking book, which claims to be trying to help women, actively promoting that idea, and actually claiming that this is a good thing rather than the horrible, damaging, dehumanizing thing it is. How in the world do these people think they’re doing women a favor by insisting that our first priority is, and should be, being beautiful? Fuck that. Fuck it to hell.

  • …exactly which verse of Genesis calls Eve “a life-offering, life-saving lover, a relational specialist, full of tender mercy and hope… inviting, alluring, captivating”? I’m not a Biblical literalist by any means, but I’m still wondering exactly why we’re supposed to believe what she’s saying about Eve. Eve is usually portrayed as such a horrible temptress and all that, which also seems unfounded, but I don’t see any reason to believe the opposite either.

    • Sounds like Staci has been reading Milton.

  • The farther I get out of this culture, the more and more bizarre, and menacing, it seems.

  • krwordgazer

    None of her assumptions about Eve are in the text. Not beauty, not allure, not tenderness. The text tells us next to nothing about what Eve looked like, her personality or anything else. All of this is just reading into her Bible what Staci wants to see there.

    • Hattie

      “All of this is just reading into her Bible what Staci wants to see there.”

      I think this is my main problem with these types of books. The thing they’re most informative about are the author’s particular hang-ups.

      Hang-ups I’m okay with. Hang-ups posing as theology.. not so much.

  • The word alluring, at least to me, has a sort of sexual connotation to it. To relate one’s spirituality to one’s sexual desirability and prowess is a heresy far too destructive and horrifying to ignore.

    • Hattie

      Bingo.

  • I also find it very confusing that she says all that stuff in the intro about all women of all shapes and interests and beauty not being external and then spouts all this nonsense about ‘am I lovely?’.

    Over the years, I have personally found all the teaching about women being soft and tender to have been damaging to me, and to make me strive to be someone I am not. Straight-talking, no-nonsense, a bit blunt, that’s the words I use to describe myself. Softening my edges is not going to turn me into a tender soft-hearted person.

    And I agree with April, ‘alluring’ has sexual connotations, or at least visual ones. It means to tempt and seduce. And it comes from the French word for ‘bait’ so take from that what you will…

  • I really appreciate how well you defend all of us who feel slighted by these attitudes. I used to be a very Evangelical Christian and I had to leave the faith because of several things, but what you wrote about here impacted me so badly… but under the surface, like a cancer. I’m only just beginning to realise the damage done, and the fact that you are helping defend yet still have your faith makes me respect you highly. x

  • I don’t get this blog. I only came across it because of an some unusual circumstances some of which are posted here.Anyway, does everyone hate men here? Does everyone think that men are against their daughters? I love my daughter and have suffered for her. Also – what is meant by, “Dragons”. I’m sorry if I am not welcome here.

    • No, no one here hates men. No one here thinks all men are against their daughters. I’m not exactly sure where you got that, actually. If you could give specific examples of why you think people here think that men are “against their daughters” or “hate men,” I would appreciate it.

      Defeating the Dragons is a reference to a G.K. Chesterton quote: “Fairy tales are true, not because they tell us that dragons exist; but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” I explain that on my “Purpose” page, which you can find under “About.”

      • Divizna

        You mean the author of Father Brown? Wow, I love those stories.

    • Hattie

      Dude wutt?

    • Abby Normal

      Persecution complex much?

    • Bri

      What in the world gave you the impression that anyone here hates men?

  • Abby Normal

    It sounds to me like the author is doing an awful lot of projecting.

    I personally never wondered “am I lovely?” as a child and never worried over whether someone would tell me so. In fact, having become aware fairly early on that I was an awkward and gawky child (my younger sister is very pretty and would get fawned over by all the church ladies while I was usually mistaken for a boy), I soon came to the conclusion that anyone telling me that I was pretty (with the exception of my parents or close friends) was probably either lying and/or up to something.

    That’s not as sad as it sounds–it all comes down to the question of who’s the best judge of how I look? Nobody but me, thank you. I’m pretty satisfied with my appearance, but also aware that I’m not drop-dead gorgeous. I’m also aware that complementing her appearance is considered a sneaky way to “butter her up”.

    Anyone (besides my husband) telling me that I’m beautiful will only be rewarded with a size able side-eye from me.

  • Amanda

    not to be super ironic, but what you have written here is beautiful. thank you so much.

  • Jackalope

    As someone who does ballroom dancing as one of my main hobbies, I was bemused to hear that things like twirling skirts are a sign that I want to be considered beautiful. I find the tactile input from the breeze created on my legs when I swirl and the fabric alternately touching and then not touching me to be pleasant (esp the breeze when I’m in a hot dance studio on one of those nights that makes you wish our culture didn’t require clothing). Also, it makes the dress look cool when I see it on other people, but I had honestly never thought about it making me look beautiful. ???