So, this is it: the very last post on John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating. One of my favorite things about writing this sort of extended-review-critique-thing is that I get to interact with all of you– especially since I grew up in an environment where books like Captivating were far too liberal for me to read. I didn’t have the same sort of experiences that many of you have had; this wasn’t a book I was given by a well-meaning Sunday school teacher, I never had to sit through a “Bible study” dedicated to it. In the end, I absorbed many of the same messages, but the way I was given them was much more toxic, and I believe that level of toxicity makes it easier for me to reject some of those ideas.
I was honestly surprised by Captivating. When I was wrapping up my review series on Fascinating Womanhood, I went looking for the most popular books I could find that covered similar ground, and at the time I believed that what I’d find would be . . . I dunno, maybe not so clearly awful. So when I dug into Captivating and really just found the same exact beliefs as what Helen Andelin promoted, only with a more palatable verbiage coating, it made me angry. I wanted to believe that evangelicalism had moved past the obvious nonsense that Helen wrote about in the 60s… but apparently we haven’t at all.
Anyway, on to the chapter: a lot of it is “buy more of our stuff!” They have CDs and conferences and retreats and study guides and journals and Wild at Heart to push, after all. But, before the sales pitch, Stasi gives us a reason to buy all of their stuff:
So stay with this! This way of life John and I have laid out here has utterly transformed the lives of thousands of women … But you must choose it. You must be intentional, or the world, your flesh, and the devil will have you for lunch.
I just had to laugh and shake my head when I got to that threat, especially when it was followed by a page-long commercial.
This also made me smirk:
Women need men. We will always need them. We need them as a godly covering over us to protect us from other men, from the world, and especially from the enemy. Mary had Joseph. Esther had Mordecai. Ruth had Boaz. We will not become the women God intends us to be without the guidance, counsel, wisdom, strength, and love of good men in our lives.
Esther had Mordecai. Ruth had Boaz.
Right. Because the fact that Esther was kidnapped and forced into a harem was totally Mordecai “protecting her from other men, the world, and especially the enemy.” Granted, her book shows Mordecai offering her advice, but he wasn’t exactly a covering. And Ruth had Boaz? Because Boaz was totally there when Ruth thew off the shackles of her patriarchal culture and decided to follow a woman to a country she’d never been in before and set up house in a town completely hostile to Moabite women (not the least because God commanded them to be that way).
I also couldn’t help but think about all of the women in the Bible who did awesome stuff all on their own. Huldah. Deborah. Dorcas. Men don’t picture in their stories. Deborah, who was married, was the Judge of all Israel, and she ended up being the “covering” for her general. Dorcas was a widow, but was so vital to the ministry of the early church that she was raised from the dead. The king went to Huldah to authenticate the Torah before he went to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. Not much “covering” happening there.
It’s just hilarious to me how much of the Bible you have to pretend doesn’t exist in order to think the things about women that a lot of evangelicals do.
At this point, I wanted to take the time to share some of the comments that I’ve gotten on these posts about the experiences some of you have had with Captivating. I think it’s important to highlight the damage that books like these can cause, especially when there’s not very many ways for us to share our pain with the churches trying to pawn these ideologies off on us.
This book was super damaging to me when I read it as a young adult/college student. The idea that women need to be rescued is SUPER damaging, and it creates this idea that we need to depend on men/others to take care of us. Which can land and trap you in some very abusive situations.
I don’t remember if those things were explicitly stated, but they were things I learned from this book.
I grew up believing in gender essentialism, and I was always trying to be “the woman God wanted me to be.” But I’m nothing like the women Staci describes in this book. I don’t value external appearance. Like, at all. I keep my hair short because it is a pain in the butt to take care of otherwise. I am not nurturing. I value my career. I like working. I’m not naturally good with people/relationships, and I don’t want to have kids.
And these are things I was always made to feel ashamed of in the Christian church. I felt like a failure to God because I didn’t have long flowing hair and magical social skills. Books like Staci’s only served to confirm what I had already been taught: that I was “wrong” somehow.
I felt the same way reading through Captivating: it’s entirely circular, and apparently, I don’t exist. “Being a woman is good. Women are womanly, so it’s OK to be who you are. Who you are is valuable. Unless you’re not womanly the way I am womanly. In which case, you can forget about ever being acceptable. Are you sure you aren’t repressing who you REALLY are? Maybe you should change into a more stereotypical woman: because there is something wrong with women like you. Women who are womanly like me get to ‘be ourselves’ because we are God’s design. You get to fake it until you make it.”