"Captivating" review: 204-220, "An Irreplaceable Role"


The patriarchy is strong with this one.

I think I might have broken a record for how many times I threw the book across the room during a single chapter, but I suppose that should have been expected considering this is the last chapter and John and Stasi have to really start nailing everything home– we only have the epilogue left.

They start off this chapter by making me laugh, because they frame the story of Cinderella as “a beautiful parable.” I’m sorry, y’all, but Cinderella is a character from a fairy tale. I’m not going to argue that fairy tales can’t communicate deep and abiding truths, questions, morals, and ideas (since the title of this blog is a reference to the argument that they can and do), but fairy tales and parables aren’t the same thing. At this point, though, I’m not surprised that they’ve conflated the two– they’re twisted and manipulated various forms of art all through their book.

At the end of the chapter, they pull from Anna and the King, the non-musical (and slightly less racist) version of The King and I, and uncritically present the end of the film thusly:

[King Mangkut] wants to show the British that his country is ready to enter into the affairs of the world, so the dinner is given in the English style– silverware, tablecloths, candlelight, and, at the end of the meal, ballroom dancing.

This comes after two hundred pages of John and Stasi insisting, repeatedly, that all women and all men in all countries in all times have believed and acted out the same exact things that the they, living in 21st century America, believe about gender. They have completely erased any other possibility that not every culture in every time has agreed with them about their sexist stereotypes, and then they take something that was supposed to indicate the imperialistic and colonialist oppression of the East by Britain and portray it as if it is a positive thing. They are utterly tone deaf, and seem completely incapable of getting outside of their white middle-class American privilege bubble.

Also, just two random observations: even though they refer to Junia as a woman, they use the almost-successful-attempt-to-erase-her-womanhood version of her name, using “Junias” on page 206. On page 214, they relegate Deborah, who is described as a “prophet” and who was “leading Israel” or “judging Israel” (depending on translation) in Judges 4:4, to a mere “advisor.” They take a woman who stands with Ehud, Gideon, and Samson and make her an advisor. ARG GABLARG.

Anyway, the argument of this chapter is that women are desperately necessary, and that we are meant to be “ezer.” Which, this is a beautiful thought, and on a superficial level I’d agree with them. They assert that “women in God’s story are as diverse and unique as wildflowers in a field. No two quite look the same,” and I think they’ve chosen an appropriate image for what they’ve spent three pages describing:

Field Of Mountain Wildflowers HD Desktop Background

While it’s certainly true that no two wildflowers are going to be exactly the same, when staring at a field full of them, what gets communicated is an overwhelming sense homogeneity. We might have subtle differences, but if women are collectively supposed to be as “diverse as a field of wildflowers,” then we’re not actually diverse at all, and that’s what comes bursting through in their description. They share a half-dozen different stories of women they admire, and they’re all either mothers or completely devoted to “spiritual” tasks (missionaries, etc)– and each one is painted as being sacrificial in the extreme. That is a problem, because women– especially Christian women– are required by patriarchy to be sacrificial to the point of degradation.

And then they talk about “spheres of influence,” blithely skipping over how horrifically damaging the Victorian doctrine of “separate spheres” was for women. If you’re not familiar with the term spheres of influence, it’s fundie-speak, adopted from Cold War-era political and militaristic rhetoric, although it’s simply another phrase for the “separate spheres” nonsense: men are to be in public, women are to be in private (example: men should vote, women cannot). It’s oppressive and sexist language, but they don’t even stop there:

We haven’t time here to address the issues surrounding the ‘proper role of women’ in the church … However, we do believe it is far more helpful to start with Design— with what God designed a woman to be and to offer … A woman is not the same as a man (thank God!)

Furthermore, many of the Scriptures on the Role of women in the church are a reflection of God’s concern for a woman’s protection and spiritual covering. We live in a dangerous world … It follows that God would want to ensure that woman helping to advance his Kingdom would be offered the covering and protection of good men. Issues of headship and authority are intended for the benefit of women, not their suppression.

God desires that wherever and however you offer yourself to the Body of Christ, you’ll have the protection of good men over you. Not to hold you back, but to set you free as a woman.

This is called benevolent sexism.

John and Stasi have done everything they can to convince their female readers that being relegated to passivity, beauty, placidity, restfulness, inaction, and weakness is actually a good thing, but what they’re really doing is nothing more than a bait-and-switch. You’re a powerful person! You’re the ezer kenegdo! You’re needed! But only if you stay within your proper sphere and let the big strong man protect you. Do anything else, and in their words you are Fallen, Strident, Dominating, or Desolate. If we think we just might be able to be something besides a beautiful muse, we better check ourselves, because that’s Satan trying to destroy what you can do for the church.

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  • Wasn’t it CS Lewis who said the worst type of tyrant is the one who thinks they are doing it for your good?

    • Caroline M

      Yep. Right on the nose in this case.

  • Nitpick: “spheres of influence” predates the cold war; as far as I know, it started as a colonialist term, referring to the practice whereby two or more European powers would divide up a weaker, usually non-white, country for purposes of economic exploitation, leaving the local government to do the actual governing.

    • True. However, it really came into the public conscious during the Cold War, and that was when it entered fundie-speak to apply to gender roles.

  • Rachel

    “A woman is not the same as a man (thank God!)”

    Because…the underlying assumption is that men are selfish, domineering, cruel, violent, sex-obsessed and basically animals, so it’s a good thing us ladies are there to tame them otherwise the world would fall into bloody chaos, amirite?

    To say nothing of the fact that the authors don’t make being a woman sound like an improvement over being a man.

  • @Lisa, here is the C.S. Lewis quote you are looking for:

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.

  • Crystal

    This article is awesome! Keep exposing the patriarchal lies in this book and all others like it — PLEASE SAMANTHA!

    It might surprise you that Adolf Hitler didn’t want women to go to college either. I guess all tyrannies have a common thread. Does anyone else out there think so?

  • Crystal

    I’ll add that I would recommend the Little Darlings by Sam Llewellyn series. They are in order, as follows: Little Darlings; Bad, Bad Darlings; and Desperado Darlings. If you look them up in Amazon.com, you will find them so hilarious you will cry. Please check them out after reading that utter cow manure, and you will feel better.

    A concerned remarker

  • Crystal

    By the way, Little Darlings is not sexist at all.

  • Caroline M

    What most surprises me is the sheer amount of willful ignorance that goes into a book like this. In the age of the Internet, in a time when a cursory glance would tell you that women in different cultures have different “roles,” how can someone really subscribe to Victorianism? It’s the same thinking that says “women’s breasts are always sexual” when thousands of civilizations consider a naked breast with a yawn.

  • Deborah was certainly not an “advisor”! Barack would not go to war without her–not “without her blessing,” but without HER. She judged and led the tribes of Israel, and even the military leader (the one who is usually called the Judge in that period) would not act without her explicit leadership.
    Junia was either an apostle (according to the Pauline definition), or was famously known to the apostles (the argument can be made either way, but I prefer the former). Absolutely a strong leader.
    Phoebe was a Deacon, also a leader, in the church.
    All of these biblical examples defy this submissive, inferior role this book tries to box women into.

  • David

    Thanks for this series of posts. I’ve really appreciated reading your thoughts and insights. Many of them mirror my own reactions to reading Wild at Heart several years ago, which isn’t too surprising given that the same sort of gender essentialism is at the root of both books.
    I used to lead a Sunday school class for the high school age kids at our church. My practice was to let the kids decide which book we would read each semester. Interestingly, one semester one of the girls requested Wild at Heart and the rest of the group agreed to give it a shot. Each week we would read one chapter and then discuss it during our class. Reading the book was agony — every two or three pages I would have to stop and rant to my poor wife about how awful it was before I could press on — but on Sunday mornings I kept my distress bottled up because I liked to let my class discuss their own views and reactions without injecting my own opinions (apart from giving them passages of scripture to compare/contrast) unless they asked for them. After the third chapter, one of the boys in the class said that he dreaded reading it every week and asked if we could consider switching to something else. There was a chorus of agreement from the others. Even the girl who had requested it said that she was deeply disappointed. I have seldom been prouder or more relieved. They ended up choosing Screwtape Letters as their next book, and we all had a much more enjoyable and enlightening year because of it.
    Anyway, thank you for undertaking the arduous task of working through Captivating to spare the rest of us the pain. Reading your posts has been one of my weekly highlights.

    • Lily Hedera

      ahhh geeze this is literally the best thing i’ve read all day. i’ve been up like, 24+ hours and stressing from personal junk and celebrity deaths and drama and the horrible types of news going on..
      i really needed something good.
      even just as simple as knowing a class of kids were able to speak boldly (and it IS boldness) that they were uncomfortable and found a toxic horrible destructive book gross.
      sometimes the smallest things are the most powerful on bad days

      • David

        That was actually one of the reasons I loved teaching that class. I taught that age group for six years, and with group after group I was consistently impressed by their willingness to honestly grapple with a wide range of issues in an intelligent and humane way. It is a bit of a cliche for teachers, but I’m absolutely certain that I got way more from them than they ever got from me, not the least of which was a deep sense of hope for the future. Their openness to each other and earnest questioning of everything was a terrific antidote to the bleakness of the news each week. If they are the ones who will be running things some day, then it can’t be all bad.

  • Isn’t it great to have Satan as a “trump card?” If you don’t follow the advice of the authors, you are basically helping Satan destroy the church. Who would want to do that? And, no doubt, that will convince most readers of the so-called truths put forth in the book.

  • Catherine

    I’ve enjoyed reading this series as well. I live in Lima, Peru. Here, there is a huge church that was started by missionaries 30 years ago. These missionaries continue to be the pastors of this church. The wife oversees Ellas, the women’s ministry. She’s had this book translated into Spanish and used as an obligatory class for any woman who wants to be a part of the women’s ministry. If you want to participate in a different Bible study, you have to have participated in the Captivating study first. (Oh, and I should mention that heaven forbid they mixed Bible study groups!) You are dead on when you say that John and Stasi argue that their norms about gender can be applied to all cultures of all times, and I have seen first hand how harmful this mentality is to the girls who read Captivating. What horrifies me is the superficial, sexist, and un-loving theology that is exported and supposed to apply to this city. Talk about a country that needs a new perspective on gender and sexuality! Unfortunately, the Church remains only a perpetuator of the societal issues at large.

    • Crystal

      Oh, dear. I’m sorry they’ve had this jolly rubbish in Peru. As a native-born Kiwi who desires to be in tune with the good parts of Kiwi culture, I entirely sympathise!

  • I’m glad you’re almost finished with the awfulness, although I will miss these reviews. 🙂

  • Samantha, I have a question. The incredibly stark fundamentalist Christian take on patriarchy and gender essentialism is completely unfamiliar to me and I’m still educating myself about it. And there is something that I just don’t understand. If a woman is supposed to be raised and educated solely with her role in a domestic context in mind, what is she supposed to do if her husband dies or becomes disabled? How is she supposed to support herself and her children? Maybe her parents are no longer living or they can’t afford to feed and house additional family members–what happens then? This whole patriarchal “protection and covering” thing seems to me to be an expression of upper-middle class fantasy. What does a woman alone with the responsibility of family survival do when she discovers that God, rather than inevitably providing on demand, sometimes prefers to help those who help themselves? Surely women aren’t expected to prove their love for, and faith in God by being willfully stupid.

    • spacegal2003

      I know this is WAY late to the party, but I think that’s why you’re supposed to be connected to the church. The church is supposed to care for widows and orphans, so she should just trust that they will, and that God will provide. And probably something about if your husband was a good provider, as he should have been, he would have insurance or something to help take care of you.