"Captivating" Review: 48-60, "Dominating" and "Desolate" Women

kamino gravity

Finally, Stasi’s moved past her obsession with beauty, at least for the moment.

She opens this section by arguing that the primary consequence of The Fall and The Curse is that women want to control and dominate. Which, ok, for the sake of argument I suppose I can give her that. I don’t have any real reason to argue with this interpretation of Genesis 3. I’d also argue that the same thing goes for men, as well—the curse that God gives them also has them fighting for control and dominance, so . . .

But, Stasi has a pretty narrow view of what “controlling” and “dominating” are (with examples like Mrs. John Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility), and she take an interesting approach to defining these terms: she defines them by what she believes is their opposite. In this book, that is vulnerability. In order not to be the conniving, manipulative women she holds up as examples (like Lady MacBeth), we have to be vulnerable. Vulnerability and tenderness is feminine, and feminine is good.

Controlling women tend to be very well rewarded in this fallen world of ours. We are the ones who receive corporate promotions. We are the ones put in charge of our women’s ministries. Can-Do, Bottom-Line, Get-it-Done kinds of women. . . . We have never considered that by living a controlling and domineering life, we are really refusing to trust our god. And it has also never dawned on us that something precious is squelched, diminished, and refused.

To be clear, I don’t think Stasi is condemning women who get promotions and lead women’s ministries. However, she does condemn a particular kind of woman who earns these things. The “Can-Do, Bottom-Line, Get-it-Done” woman. Now, perhaps I’m reading Stasi incorrectly and I’m hearing something else in these words, but as one of those authors who believes that it’s my job to communicate, I’m going to go with it.

I describe my best friend as “The Competent Beast Who Gets Shit Done” (competent being my favorite compliment since reading Fascinating Womanhood). She is a brutally efficient organizer, and I’ve seen her pull off unbelievable things like she’s Mary Poppins. She is straight-talking, and commanding, and it is, honestly, awe-inspiring.

She also has trouble being vulnerable. I can count the number of times she’s been vulnerable with me on one hand. She’s always honest, and she’ll tell you what she’s feeling, but I don’t think I’d ever describe her as vulnerable. Or tender. She is an Amazon. A shield-maiden.

One of the most fascinating things about my best friend is that while she is basically Wonder Woman made flesh, she is also one of the more stereotypically feminine women I know. She loves baking, and interior design. Her favorite motif is bows, and she has “Hello Kitty” stuff all over her car.

And Stasi has spent the last seven pages telling me that my best friend is Lady MacBeth.

Uhm… no.

There is more than one kind of woman in the world, Stasi. You’d think I wouldn’t have to say that, considering she said that on page x, but apparently, it bears repeating. My friend is all of the “controlling” and “dominating” things Stasi has described, but she is still a woman, and nothing Stasi can say will ever convince me that my friend is this way because of The Curse.

She moves on to talking about “desolate” women:

Desolate women are ruled by the aching abyss within them … they are consumed by a hunger for relationship …

Desolate women also tend to hide their true selves. We are certain that if others really knew us, they wouldn’t like us—and we can’t risk the loss of a relationship. (55)

We hide behind our makeup. We hide behind our humor. We hide with angry silences and punishing withdrawals. We hide our truest selves and offer only what we believe is wanted, what is safe. We act in self-protective ways and refuse to offer what we truly see, believe, and know … And so by hiding, we take matters into our own hands. We don’t return to god with our broken and desperate hearts. (57)

I’ve known people a bit like what Stasi is describing here, and I could see myself in this section (at times), so I understood where she was coming from more with this. However, she illustrates her point by saying these women read books like Men Who Hate Women and the Women who Love Them.

Because God forbid a woman read books about abusive relationships and domestic violence and how to escape them. That would be the absolute worst. That would be an example of her being desolate and “ruled by the aching abyss.”

And … Samantha Throws the Book Across the Room Time #4.

Way to condemn one of the most valuable resources that abused women have, Stasi. That sentence might have actually killed women, who after reading this book and listening to her, they throw out resources about misogyny and abuse and attribute all of their problems to some “aching abyss” they have.

And not only that, I am frustrated by how Stasi and John are insistent that patriarchy and misogyny don’t exist. Almost everything that Stasi described in this half of the chapter has its roots in the damaging messages of patriarchy that both men and women receive.

She describes Lady MacBeth in the absolute worst of terms, and she quotes the line when Lady MacBeth asks the gods to “’unsex her,’ to remove her femininity so that she can control the fate of the man in her life, and thus secure her own fate.”

To me, that screams patriarchy. Lady MacBeth, as a woman, had no control over her own life. Not who she married, not who her children married, not where she lived, not even if she continued to live. Everything in her life was decided by the men who ruled over her in the starkest and most literal terms, so she tries to wrest whatever sliver of authority she can, and it turns out that her husband is actually pretty open to her manipulation. I’m not praising Lady MacBeth, but I do understand her. But Stasi doesn’t see that. It’s like she’s blind. Patriarchy can’t possibly exist, so all of the evidence that it does has to be attributed to something else.

In Stasi’s world, that “something else” is usually women.

Five gold stars for people who know how the image at the top fits with today’s post, because I’m a geek like that. Also, my first YouTube video is up! Subscribe, share, all that!

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  • Zoe

    It’s pretty horrifying. I grew up in a conservative religious home and as time passed we had all the proper books; and I got married and we got more of the proper books. I’ve read about everything proper out there about how to properly be a woman, until I stopped reading them. It’s horrifying. They spend half their time telling you this is natural and how you were created, and the other half telling you how and why you should do what you’d presumably be doing anyway IF IT WERE NATURAL. It’s not, and that’s why we have such a cottage industry of books for women policing them back into their “place.”

    This wouldn’t require such effort if it were in fact natural, and if women were in fact all the same deep down as the authors would like us to believe. It’s false, false, false, and there’s just enough truth and just enough spiritual language to get all the bull past people’s radar.

  • I find her description of the “desolate” woman interesting, because it’s an exact portrait of a trauma victim: desperate for love yet unable to fully trust and always wondering which side is “safe” to show. These women don’t need more shame or a denial of their femininity; they need healing and affirmation of their worth. I’d have thrown the book across the room, too.

  • It was really interesting for me to read this today. I’ve spent most of my life recovering from severe childhood trauma, and by no coincidence, trying to identify my own passions and goals (which I hid from myself and from others in order to be “safe”). In my 40s, I’ve been emerging, discovering that some of my truest passions and desires are in the professional world: I write; I promote my writing in the world; and I coach others who write and have small businesses. I LOVE it, and my greatest anguish in life has been in putting everyone else’s needs above my own deep need to “get ‘er done” for myself! I love my husband and my child, and I will continue to work part-time for a while because I want to spend time supporting them. But I also need in my deepest heart-of-hearts to fulfill my professional goals in order to be true to my callings. The needy friend, the doorbell, the dishes, some of my family’s less crucial requests: these things can wait, while I do MY work.

    In my teens/early 20s, I was convinced I should be a missionary because it was the most gawdawful thing I could imagine doing, and God called us to sacrifice ourselves for the cause. Now I realize that it was God Himself/Herself who gave me the desires I had: I was built to do the things I’m doing now in my career. The “aching abyss” wasn’t because I was being too goal-oriented but rather because I kept subverting my own goals for everyone else’s requests for my time.

    Thanks for your thoughtful review, Sam. I get a lot of blog alerts in my email inbox, and I ignore most of them but never yours:)

    • As I point out during peer counseling, “Sometimes the person you are obliged to nurture is yourself.”

  • Well, let me give you at least one reason to reject the interpretation of Genesis 3: It didn’t even arise until the 1974, from an article written by Susan T. Foh, in the Westminster Theological Journal. The interpretation, in my view and many others, was a direct reaction to second wave feminism. The more traditional interpretation is that the woman’s “desire” for her husband was a desire to be fulfilled by him in a way that she should have been fulfilled by God.

    You described your friend as “The Competent Beast Who Gets Shit Done.” You could have been describing my wife, who is a great leader, forceful, competent, and amazing. If I ever face an apocalypse, I want to be her right-hand man, because she will probably save the world.

    Need I say that it was *brutal* on her to be raised in a patriarchal cultic group?

  • Provoking thought coming to my mind… couldn’t we compare Lady MacBeth’s situation and behavior with Debi Pearl’s? I remember reading reviews at Libby Anne’s blog and to me it looks like this massive patriarchal controlling might lead some women to special kinds of manipulation. Ok, this doesn’t anwer to your review on “Captivating” but I just wanted to share it spontaneously.

  • Nevertheless it’s bizzarre to see that Lady MacBeth is the negative example for these women who glorify patriarchy in their books. Not to be misunderstood – and to come back to “Captivating” – to me Stasi’s character doesn’t seem like Debi’s. I don’t have a very specified imagination how she is yet.

  • Having resigned myself to failure as a Star Wars fan, I shared this post with a couple super-fans and even they couldn’t figure the picture out. I don’t get it 🙁

    • It’s from Attack of the Clones, when Obi-Wan approaches Yoda about not being able to find Kamino in the Temple Archives. Obi-Wan explains that all of the stars in the area are being pulled by gravity to a specific point, but there wasn’t anything there.

      The connection was that Stasi and John Eldredge are seeing all of the “stars being affected by gravity,” but they’ve deleted “patriarchy” from their Temple Archives, so they’re being a bit like Jocasta Nu, the librarian: “if it does not appear in our records, it does not exist.”


      • “Lost a planet, Obi-Wan has…” *chuckle* I hadn’t figured it out to THAT extent, but I was getting close, I think. Love the reference and I love that you’re unashamed of your geekdom. Never really LIKED the Jedi Council. No arguments with the philosophy or the idea of Warriors for Light… but they misapplied it soooo horribly. Hmm… kinda like fundamentalism as a whole!

        • I think Star Wars might be the reason why I favor the BURN IT ALL WITH FIRE approach to problem solving. Unbalanced Force? CHOSEN ONE DESTROY. Need Empire and Republic to work together? YUZAAN VONG DESTROY.

          • Ah, I get it now. I knew what the scene was but was too dense to make the connection. Hey! You should put a Star Wars picture on every post, it could be like a puzzle that we have to figure out every time 🙂

          • To be honest, I actually favor a position of *balance* as opposed to “burn it all and let the midichlorians sort it out”, and I think that is ultimately the lesson of Star Wars. See, the problem with the “Light Side” as embodied by the Jedi Council is that they have forgotten that Light Is Not Good. Light can be just as much a tyrant and an evil as Dark. And if you look at the Jedi Council and some of the stances they were taking, they WERE tyrants, they just didn’t know it because they assumed that they were “the good guys” by virtue of focusing on the Light Side.

            It’s something you’ve got to look closely at in order to pick up the mentions, but they were just as controlled by their emotions as any Dark Side Jedi because they were so focused on *denying* their emotions. Yes, emotions are dangerous, but the answer isn’t to deny them entirely, it’s to learn to control them and direct them in healthy, beneficial ways. The Light Side, as taught by the Jedi Council, was actually making the Jedi more susceptible to the Dark Side because none of them knew how to handle their emotions.

            It’s like Fundamentalists and Sexuality. The more they deny the very human nature of their bodies, the more they are controlled by their primal drives. The answer isn’t to institute a Modesty Culture that makes everything worse, but to accept the body and to master oneself so that the person is in control, not the fear or the lust.

          • Aibird

            That was my thought on the light vs dark side debate of the force. That the balance was actually an approach near the middle. And that Anakin — who didn’t end up really “balancing” anything in the end — wasn’t actually the chosen one. Luke Skywalker ended up being the chosen one because he, in the end, was mostly in control of his emotions, but at the same time, he let himself feel them and even acted upon them at times. He didn’t deny his emotions (although at the beginning of the Return of the Jedi I was afraid he’d go that route, but in the end he didn’t). At least, that’s how I interpreted it all. In the books it’s more clear how Luke interprets teaching others to use the force, and it’s also in this more balanced way — learn to control your emotions but don’t deny them either.

            I also like your tie in with Fundamentalists.

          • And yet Luke makes a clear choice at the end to reject the dark side and to embrace the light, with the words, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” Part of the genius of Star Wars is its embrace of the paradoxical nature of truth; it affirms the existence of absolute truth in that it depicts Luke as choosing the light side, but also affirms the necessity for nuance, balance, and situationalism. Luke’s position, ultimately, doesn’t amount to a compromise between light and dark, but to a broadening of the idea of what it means to be a Jedi: not to deny one’s emotions and “darker” desires, but not to be controlled by them, either. Like what Maracae said about the alternative to fundamentalism above: not repression, but control.

          • It actually goes back to Sam’s previous post about Modesty Culture vs Raunch Culture. Think of it like this, Raunch Culture is the “Dark Side”. Objectification through audacity. Controlled by the expression of our sexuality. Modesty Culture is the “Light Side”. Objectification through denial. They’re controlled by sheer inexperience and ignorance. The answer then isn’t to go wholly to one side or the other, but to moderate the Light Side by allowing ourselves to feel and embrace our natures, but to be the ones in control, not controlled by our emotions and our desires.

            This, then, is why the False Dichotomies of Fundamentalism fail to address the actual issues, because the answer isn’t in an either/or situation, but in an embrace of self control that isn’t bounded by a list of Do’s and Do Not’s. Rules will never address the actual problem because rules aren’t malleable, they don’t help the person *self* control because they’re all about *outside* control, and they don’t accept the fact that each individual is different and has a different circumstance.

            And may I just say that this is why I love being a geek and a nerd. The sheer conversations I can have go so far above and beyond what I can have with those who are bounded by “the Real World”.

          • I really like your analysis, Mrs. G.

          • THIS!

      • Aibird

        Your Star Wars reference was a thing of beauty. 😀

  • Betta Splendens

    For my part, I don’t see vulnerability and dominance to be mutually exclusive. I have had voice teachers who, though they controlled every breath I took while I was in lessons with them, and looked at me in a scary way when I forgot to memorize my music (which only happened that one time), would be near tears when the song finally came out right and the beauty they had always heard in it finally came out in my voice. I have had conductors who, though they led their choirs with an energy somewhat like that of a border collie herding sheep, could be so overcome by a single measure played perfectly that they jumped up and down right there and screamed, “Yes!!” at the top of their lungs.

    I don’t believe vulnerability has to be about weakness and dependence. I think it can be about just having an open heart and free spirit. I think it can be about opening the full extent of your being to the world. I’m not saying that everybody is naturally vulnerable or that they should be; merely that vulnerability does not, by itself, indicate a lack of dominance, strength, or “striving.” So yes, Stasi, vulnerable women could still be “disturbing” to you.

    • Sarah S

      For sure.

  • wbgl0

    It’s funny. I’ve always thought of Lady M as being the very embodiment of evil. I never thought of her as a victim of partriarcy. Very interesting.

    • Oh, I still think she’s evil– but a lot of the things she did/wanted were a reaction to being powerless in a lot of ways, particularly by being a woman.