Feminism

"Captivating" Review: 150-169, "Arousing Adam"

adam and eve

I’m skipping a chapter because it’s titled “Beauty to Unveil,” and I’m not critiquing what they have to say about beauty again. I’ve already spent Three. Bloody. Posts. on it. I’m done talking about it, and how I wish they were done talking about it, too. When I was talking to Handsome about Wild at Heart, he mentioned that John’s book is also completely obsessed with beauty, as one of the things that is apparently essential to John’s version of Manning Manliness Manhood is “pursuing beauty.”

The reason why this is going up today instead of yesterday when I normally post my Captivating reviews is that I threw the book across the room three times and I couldn’t make it all the way through the chapter. I really just wanted to burn it. So, today’s post might be just a touch … fractured, as I’m really just trying to get through it in one, non-furious piece.

The chapter starts off in a decent place: you can’t get your fulfillment from other people, even your romantic partners. I agree with that. I don’t necessarily agree that personal fulfillment can only come from God, but I still think it’s an important point to make that you can’t rely on your partners for your sense of identity and well-being. We’re supposed to love and support each other, but we can’t be the end-all-be-all of our partner’s happiness.

However, the chapter slides into a disaster immediately after they make that clear, because they spend the entire time telling women that the core parts of what being a woman is– softness, tenderness, vulnerability, beauty– are all there in for the express (and only!) purpose to “arouse Adam,” to inspire men, to be their Muse.

The question before us is, how does a woman best love a man? The answer is simple: Entice him. Inspire him. Allure him.

Through the rest of the chapter, Stasi and John demonize any women they think aren’t alluring enough to men, or who don’t try to be alluring, or who don’t think that being alluring to men is important. We’re a bunch of emasculators who “make their husbands pee sitting down” (161).

But what made me want to burn this book (sigh … again) was the section when she’s using Enchanted April as an illustration to talk about a “desolate” character named Lottie:

She is not harsh– just shut down from years of living with a selfish, domineering pig of a man. She looks like a whipped puppy, rushing to please him in any way, not out of love but out of fear and some weird idea of submission. She is depressed . . .

Desolate women don’t seem at first pass to be all that emasculating. They don’t attack or dominate. But neither do they allure … The lights are off; they have dimmed their radiance. A man in her presence feels uninvited. Unwanted. It’s a form of rejection, emasculation to be sure.

Burn everything. Burn all the things.

I’ve never seen Enchanted April, but what’s described here sounds like an abusive relationship . . . that’s caused by Lottie being a desolate woman who is emasculating her husband, thereby making him feel unwanted– according to Stasi.

That section is followed by this:

There are men out there who are not safe and good men. Some of you are married to men like this … How do you love them? With great wisdom and cunning.

Uhm … no No NO NO NO. You divorce him.

The next two pages are Stasi sounding exactly like Helen Andelin (“It was a brilliant trap, well set,” because women should “cunningly” ensnare their husbands with manipulative traps), and then she relates a story about “Betsy” who was married to a “verbally abusive man” who was an elder, “mean,” who “villainized her to their children, their church.” But what did Betsy do– and what all women in her situation should do? She “didn’t seek divorce”; instead she:

invited him to feel the weight of his consequences … She fasted and prayed … She gave him many tastes of what life could be like together …

ARGH GABLARG.

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  • E

    Oh. My. Word. Because, of course, there won’t be any harm done when the woman in the end example doesn’t actually manage to repair anything by being charming, thereby leading her to feel like a failure for not being charming ENOUGH, so then she has made him pee sitting down. I freaking hate stupid people.

  • So…it’s emasculating to not entice and allure men? Arg Gablarg, indeed.

    • You can’t reject a man, ever. It’s emasculating!

      • Talle

        Sigh.

        Are there ANY behaviors whatsoever that men have to avoid because they are efeminanting? I am dying to know.

        • Ditto.

          • The “emasculating to not entice and allure men” is what we in the pretensiousness business would call a parabolic text. It just … the implications increase to infinity, to infinite shittiness, that is. That phrase is probably the most succinct statement of what rape culture is all about, if you think about it from the opposite perspective. It’s a lose lose situation for women. If you decline to emasculate by enticing and alluring men, and then one of those men, because they so manly and awesome, act on their uncontrollable urges and commit a rape, well, that’s still your fault, clearly. Parabolic, truly.

            I got to that phrase and had to stop, couldn’t read the rest. That was enough.

  • cm

    my husband likes peeing sitting down should I be concerned? LOL

    • Carla

      Have you tried praying and fasting about it?

  • I don’t think that they actually read The Enchanted April. Lottie is, at best, oppressed by her overwhelmingly priggish husband Mellersh (this is Victorian fiction, after all) because she fails to conform to the ideal of Victorian womanhood. However, by the end of the book, it is Mellersh who has changed his ideal – Lottie remains exactly the same non-conformist, lovely person that she always was.

  • UM. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Enchanted April, but isn’t that basically what Lottie does? Continues to be concerned about beautiful things, happiness, and an idealized happy ending, eventually succeeding in revitalizing her relationship with her husband? Despite the fact that all he did early on was discourage her and criticize her for not being more practical and concerned with other people’s opinions?

    I mean, given what else they say here, I would think they would see Lottie as a positive character. Lottie does her best; she’s sad and discontented because her situation has been miserable for a long time, but she never stops trying to be happy. If they don’t think she’s “alluring” enough, then they’re flat-out expecting some kind of superhuman, idealized woman who never gets the least bit tired or worn in the face of constant criticism and dismissal. :/

  • Stephanie

    This stuff is poison.

  • krwordgazer

    Alluring? I don’t know where they’re getting this stuff, but it sure as hell isn’t the Bible. Nothing in there about God creating woman to be alluring. Except for the symbolic one that Proverbs advises young men to keep away from.

  • BigSisterMama

    “Burn everything. Burn all the things.”
    Ha ha ha!

    I did leave my “not safe and good husband”. Best thing I ever did. And, to Her credit, The Church, as a whole—and Pastoral People specifically—–were nothing but supportive, caring, and never once shoving me anything about submission and “alluring”.

    The end of the story is fairly happy; the “unsafe” man got HIMSELF into intense therapy and turned his life around, and we have been back together for some years. To be honest, I still am rather emphatic about what I will and will NOT live with. This is about me feeling safe, and I take care to treat him as respectfully as any other person, and demand the same. He can take that or leave it. He chooses to take it, that is his choice.

    • Erin

      You go girl! My husband and I have talked about our boundaries since we first started dating, and still talk about it from time to time to make sure we’re on the same page. I love him dearly, but my health, happiness, and safety always come first. If he were to compromise any of those three, then we’d need to seriously reevaluate our relationship. He feels the same way, and I respect him all the more for it.

      • Peggy Trivilino

        Erin, you and your husband are obviously members of the Rational, Mature, Adults Club–peace and blessings to you both! 🙂

  • The thought of some women with an “unsafe” man reading this book and not leaving….this book is gross and dangerous.

  • Crystal

    Dear Samantha,

    I don’t think I like this book. It sounds so BOORRING! Thank you for critiquing it. I also find it hard to critique these things; they get to me too – real bad!
    Crystal

  • I literally read this and started cursing.
    I remember reading this book not even 5 years ago. Now I look at it and I’m aghast at what I used to believe and how that kept me in situations for too long – like one with my ex husband, who was one of those unsafe men.
    Thank you for dismantling this whole thing, honestly, someone needs to.

  • Cathy Hendricks

    I cannot imagine the absolute drivel that comes from that book. Sounds like it is part of the blame the woman for anything that happens to her syndrome. Definitely have a rejoice and burn the book party when you are finished with it.

  • Some Guy

    Two things, not in any particular order:
    a) it’s the age-old argument that “men look at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart” offset by “but if you’re really Godly, you’ll look and act and think a certain way”
    b) I always get a kick out of it when the height of emasculation is peeing while sitting down. Given my (relatively mild) hypospadias, if I’m going to pee standing up then I either need a 5-acre field to aim at or one of those 12-foot-wide troughs you might find at a sports arena. I have pretty much no control over my aim whatsoever. Any time I am forced to use a urinal I imagine the scene with Jim Carrey in Me, Myself and Irene unfolding in public, although it usually isn’t that dramatic…

    • Carla

      Hmmm. Have YOU tried praying and fasting about it?

  • ChrisH

    The line about loving with wisdom and cunning just feels like a bizarro world where love is an obligation and task and the book is advising you to work smarter, not harder.

    Maybe this is from the gospel of Frank Underwood.

  • I’m beginning to wonder howI didn’t see this when I first read it. But I read it when it first came out – which has been nine years. In a way, its good to see how much has changed! I read Captivating when I was single, and in retrospect, this is horrible advice. I’m really glad that people are recognizing this and calling it out now.

  • lh

    I’m so glad that I never actually finished this book. I kept wanting to enjoy it because all of the other girls in my church absolutely loved it, and all of the ladies who led our classes and small groups thought it was just the best thing. I have a copy of it somewhere that a friend lent me a couple years ago. Every time I’ve ever tried to read it (which has been numerous times since early in high school) I have just felt…really discouraged and weird. Even when I was totally immersed in the whole purity culture/evangelical thing, it still freaked me out.

  • Crystal

    Dear Samantha,

    I don’t know how you struggle through that mound of cow manure. Could you give me some tips on how to cope with my critiques? I find chauvinism EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT to deal with and have to stop and listen to something more secular or woman-affirming to feel normal.

    Crystal

  • Crystal

    I forgot to add that I think that the LORD is convicting me of my sinful draw to feminism, and how I must “submit to my role” YUCK! THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR INSIGHTS ON THIS PRODIGAL WASTE OF PAPER.

  • Crystal

    The remark on the “conviction of the Lord” is meant to be snarky, btw.

  • It always takes me a few days to read your posts on Captivating and then come back to respond. It just triggers weirdness and sadness in me (the stuff the book asserts, not you). I’m so glad I never actually read the book, even though it was highly recommended to me. But I only got through the first chapter and I just couldn’t continue. I so appreciate you breaking this book down for me.

    About the “alluring” idea: I remember once after I caught my husband in an affair and we went to marriage counseling. I remember how the Christian counselor assigned “His Needs, Her Needs” as our homework. Then the counselor and my husband lighted on the idea that I was “not meeting his needs” by not being attractive enough and not sexual enough. I was completely ambushed. My husband, the counselor, and the book we were all reading all came to the conclusion that my husband’s affair was MY fault. Even though I did not agree with their assessment at all, I had no recourse. If I wanted to be a “godly” wife then I needed to go home with my sexual predator husband and “become” more alluring to him and then he would be a nice boy and not cheat on his wife.

    • Carla

      Lori, ouch…that hurt so much to read. What was done to you was simply treacherous.

  • Thank you so much for this series reviewing the book Captivating. One of the young women I used to mentor and is now in ministry is using the book for a women’s Bible study she leads. The day she told me she was going to be using it, I told her to be sure she sought out other sources for a balanced view. The very same day, I ran across this blog and connected her to it. It has been incredibly helpful.

    I plan to reblog this particular post and expound on the use of the “desire/rule” combo in Scripture. Until now, I have avoided blogging about “the woman issue” because, frankly, I’ve grown tired of BEING “the issue” in my church setting and have instead just decided to fulfill my calling. But your post here, and the follow-up discussion with the young woman I mentioned, have me determined to add my voice to the discussion.

    Thanks again for the series … and for the inspiration.

  • Have you ever read or reviewed any of the Ludy books? I would love to hear your opinion.

    • I would second this request. The Ludy books were incredibly meaningful to me when I was growing up – and yes, I just cringed as I typed that.

      • I’ve thought about it. The next book I’m doing as a review series is Mark Driscoll’s (technically, Grace’s name is also on the cover, but I think it’s a joke to think that she actually wrote anything) Real Marriage, but the Ludy’s are high on my list.

  • Dana

    I am not sure how to word this and have it come out the way I mean it. But, here goes.
    Everything about this book seems so shallow and contradictory. Everything you say is right on, and I wonder if one reason it is so popular is that so many Christians (and not just women) are really not taught to think and to ponder things, just to accept whatever the right leaders say is “christian”.
    I have a friend who read this book when it came out, right after she had separated from her very unsafe and unfaithful husband, and she clung to this book. Thankfully, she did divorce him and has remarried a good guy. She still constantly quotes from this book on her Facebook, and I can’t figure out what it is about this book that she is drawn to, it is so opposite of what she had gone through. One of the reasons I am following these posts is that I am trying to figure this out.
    Thanks for your endurance!

  • Jackalope

    I’m a bit late to the conversation here, but just wanted to say thank you for doing this book review. I had a friend recommend it to me (who otherwise tends to be sensible, not sure why she thought I’d like it), so I read the first chapter (or maybe the introduction, I don’t remember anymore) online. It was so awful I had literal nightmares about it. There’s no way I could possibly read it, but I’m glad to have someone else critique it because it helps take the ideas that I responded to so strongly (in the intro to this book and in other, similar books) and help me see the things that I had a hard time with but couldn’t put into words. Thank you.