Feminism

"Captivating" Review: 221-225, "Epilogue"

miranda the tempest

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.

From Marie:

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.

From PJB:

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.”

Way to go Stacy: You can make (what? guessing the stats here…) maybe 85% of women feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and how they fit God’s design for our gender. Too bad all those warm feelings come at the cost of the 15% that you don’t think are entitled to be members of the same gender as you and your cool womanly friends. That’s OK, Stacy. We’ve met you before. “Mean girls” have been excluding others from their version of femininity since we all turned 10 years old. I don’t think you get to recruit God into your clique just because you married a minister though.

From Aibird:

When I came out to my best friend (she’s an evangelical Christian), she used that same language of that I was damaged, hurt, broken, and needed God to set me right again. To heal me. To restore me. It didn’t matter that I’d never, ever been sexually attracted to guys. My memories of my own life didn’t matter. How I identify is just a disagreement she and I have.

That language Stasi is using is used so incredibly often against anyone who dares to act outside the conscripted norms, who aren’t exactly the way Christians like Stasi believe people should act. This language is so incredibly damaging. To this day, I still struggle with trying to view myself as whole. I still wonder if they’re right. If I am a damaged, broken, wreck of a human being because my sexuality isn’t straight, because I struggle with my gender identity, because I hate wearing dresses.

And it makes it all the worse when they act all sympathetic and want to help. Even though what they’re doing is just making it worse.

From 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.

From Rachel:

Wait, so being a “strong” woman is bad, as women are supposed to be vulnerable etc. The opposite of strong is weak.

But a “weak” woman married to an abusive husband is an accomplice to her own abuse and the abuse of others.

No way out for women in abusive situations, then. Thanks, Stasi. You are such an encouragement to battered, confused, and forcibly submissive women everywhere.

From MageRaven:

I read the book as soon as it came out years ago when I was still searching through the popular evangelical self-help doctrines for the reason why I hated myself. This book only served to increase my shame over not acting feminine enough (not to mention deepening my humiliation over being a ”weak” female in the first place), and sent me into a pretty deep depression. Which, of course, I was supposed to pray myself out of to be a happy, demure, peace-filled Christian beauty. *gags*

From Shikonmaris:

I wanted to focus on this part of the quote, “alluring those in our lives to the heart of God.” An interesting choice of verb. Women can’t teach, can’t explain, can’t demonstrate, reenact, show, etc. No, women must allure – tempt, entice, seduce, manipulate. Anything straightforward, logical, action orientated etc is not in the realm of women. I hate that Staci writes women as so seeped in deceit that our service to God cannot be separated from trickery and manipulation.

From David:

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.

 
 

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  • Do you have a plan for what to review next? I vote for a counter-example like “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” or “Jesus Feminist.”

    • Well, since I do occasionally review books that I like, I’ve opted to keep the Monday series to analysis/critique. The next book is Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.

      • Oy vey. I better make sure to restock my wine cabinet before reading your reviews for that book.

        Out of curiosity, would you say it’s okay to warn others about this book if you’ve never technically read it? I found your reviews very thorough, and our views on gender in the church and evangelicalism as a whole seem to be very similar. But what you shared about this book definitely gives me no desire to request it from the library.

        • I’ve shared reviews like mine for books I’ve haven’t read, like the one Libby Anne is hosting on Dobson’s “The Strong-Willed Child.” They might not trust it the way I do, but at least they’d see quotations from the book in an illuminating context.

      • Oh wow. That’ll be interesting…..

      • Oh boy, I’m torn. I want to read your thoughts on it, but I also don’t want him to get any more attention . . . he seems to thrive on it after all.

      • That should be interesting in light of the recent Mark Driscoll controversy. I have to give you props for being able to stomach that guy. He has a horrible personality.

  • As I was looking through the reader comments you selected above, I … don’t know what I would have done if I had read anything like that growing up. I did absorb some of these complementarian messages from my way-too-conservative “Christian” middle school, but thankfully I felt exempt from whatever they were saying because I was Catholic and I knew what they thought about Catholicism!

    I, too, am not “feminine” at all. Minimal effort into my appearance (I had other things I would rather be doing), “male” hobbies like sci-fi and working out, and once upon a time I felt like being in the military was where I was born to be. I had zero qualms about dying in combat if that’s what the cards held. (Thankfully, being in signals intelligence means you’re … not exactly on the front lines.) In addition, I have never had any clue how that “feminine wiles” thing is supposed to work; never been able to talk my way out of a speeding ticket. On top of that, in high school I couldn’t get a date to save my life, which just underscored how “unfeminine” I felt.

    I wish I could say that I became comfortable with myself because I internalized that I was made in the image of God, regardless of how unfeminine I am. The reality is, though, that I happened upon a string of guys that thought I was awesome and badass just the way I am, including my wonderful husband. So unfortunately it took the desire of men for me to learn to love myself and be confident in my natural gifts.

  • I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I just want to thank you for it. Thank you for reviewing this book. I started to read it many years ago, because someone from my church recommended it, but it made me start sobbing early on. So I put it down and never picked it up again and I’m glad I did. I already have self-esteem issues without these people telling me I’m not good enough, because I don’t fit into the box they want to shove me and every other woman in.
    So thanks for doing it for the rest of us.

  • Jackalope

    Thank you for the review. As I may have mentioned during a previous comment, I read the first chapter of this book on a recommendation from a good friend (who usually has pretty good judgment as far as what I would and wouldn’t like) and had such a strong reaction that I had nightmares. I decided at that point to listen to my gut and not read the rest; your reviews have helped confirm that this was a wise choice. I am a mix, like I imagine is true of most people, of differing traits. Some of them fit female gender roles and some do not. I am far enough from the traditional, however, that I’ve spent most of my life being reminded that I don’t fit in and can’t manage to be what everyone else thinks I should be. Ironically, considering the initial quote you shared in this post, it’s the conservative church that I believe has totally had me for lunch (or at least done their best to try), NOT any of the others (except that I truly believe that the devil is working through them in this area). It is far more frequent that I feel less-than or not valuable among people who believe what the Eldridges are espousing than anywhere else.

    Also, to their last point that you raised here: yes, in some ways it’s true that women need men, just like men need women. God created us all to be interdependent, and the world would be a much less rich place if all of the men OR all of the women suddenly disappeared (not to mention the fact that the human race would suddenly come to a screeching halt within just a few decades…). It’s HOW they say we need men that is an issue. It gets so old being told that you need a big strong man to protect you. If I were being attacked I would be glad to have someone around who had my back, and to be honest I wouldn’t care if they were a man, woman, or child. Most of our lives, however, are not spent being attacked, and outside of physical assault I’m not sure how this is relevant. And furthermore, I prefer relationships where my friends/companions and I have each others’ backs, not just a one-way street. (As an aside, yesterday we had a sermon on Exodus 1 and 2 that began with a dramatic reading, followed by a question and discussion time. One young girl asked, “What did Pharaoh have against boys?” Someone else told her that they could become soldiers and so were more of a threat in Pharaoh’s mind. Then a third person said, “Well, if you look at this text, almost all of the action (and all of the heroic action) was from women. The Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys, Jochebed and Moses’ sister (possibly Miriam) rescued Moses as a baby, Pharaoh’s own daughter adopted him… It seems that Pharaoh picked the wrong gender to be afraid of!”

    (Also, totally confirming what Zoe said: If all of this were truly “following our feminine natures”, there wouldn’t be so many issues about trying to force us into the tiny little boxes they want us in. We would all behave this way with no problems, just like I didn’t have to work at teaching my cats to follow their “feline natures” by painstakingly forcing them to bat at feathered string. It just happens, because that’s how God made them.)

  • Jackalope

    Also, as a PS, where on earth do people writing books like this get the idea that our purpose as women is to be beautiful? How is this a biblically sanctioned idea? Yes, some beautiful women are mentioned in Scripture, just as some handsome men are. But the one place I recall beauty being discussed explicitly is in Proverbs where it says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.” No matter how you interpret that verse, it’s hard to make it out to mean that women’s primary purpose as envisioned by God is to be beautiful.

  • I tried to read this for some bible study in college during one of my kicks trying to give Christianity one last shot. I think I got half way through and got bored. I definitely internalized these messages growing up though. I’m still afraid to initiate interest with men because of the way I was raised, even though I do not believe any of it now. It’s just so ingrained that I will be seen as too forward or something. This stuff really is damaging, and it’s amazing to me how much they say you shouldn’t conform than expect you to conform to their cookie cutter world.

  • BigSisterMama

    I am curious: have you ever thought of engaging Stasi (the writer) about some of your issues in the book? It would be difficult, granted, since you come from such different places, and would take great forbearance on both sides for a discussion to be useful in any way. But I think it would be interesting to hear her response to some of your points.

    On a more personal note, I grew up around all this conservative stuff, but my parents were free thinkers and I didn’t buy much of it. A good thing, too, because once in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage, I fought back and set boundaries and gave him consequences, left, and set up a safe life for the kids and I.

    We have been back together for a couple years, now, after he got himself some intensive counseling and turned himself around, to my surprise. But I am still the alpha here, and expect the same human respect I give, and set the rules and expectations—-politely enough. That flies against all the women submission stuff I was taught, but it is the best thing for the family I have. And I know God is pleased.

  • Crystal

    I’m taking a bet ten to one that you are JOLLY HAPPY TO LEAVE THAT NASTY BOOK BEHIND AND GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE. You might like to try the men’s book for Courageous next. I’m wild with wondering what’s in it myself!!

  • Crystal

    Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t read your remark that you’d be reading Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll. I’d like to see what’s in that too. I sincerely apologise!

  • Crystal

    By the way, in Luke’s gospel it mentions that Jesus had many lady disciples (Joanna, Susanna, many Marys). I wanted to point that out to you because too many women get skimmed over in church and Bible studies. Even in Nehemiah there were men and women in the choir for the tabernacle!

  • ARGH GABLARG! is best expression

  • This is, wow. The same ideas I had pushed at me all through my childhood, about how women are the nurturers and men the caretakers. I remember going to an all-girls Christian beauty retreat in junior high. This women gave a talk about how God made us beautiful on the inside, and our spirit is what’s beautiful. Then she spent an hour giving us makeup tips. I wasn’t very into makeup at the time and confused by the conflicting messages of, “You’re perfect the way you are,” and “Here’s how to put on makeup the right way to make you pretty.”

    It’s still a struggle I have with my parents, and part of why I started my own blog. My dad comes from this conservative Christian view that says women are mothers and men are breadwinners. That there is a distinct difference between the two genders, and I have always struggled with not wanting to be confined by those boxes.

    • Crystal

      Keep soldiering on my friend. It can be jolly HARD at times!!

    • Jackalope

      Yes, I remember seeing a Christian women’s retreat once that was called “What’s Your Color?” that was a mix of spiritual Bible study and having a consultant help you figure out what color scheme would look good on you, help you with your makeup, etc. I chose not to go because I was deeply uncomfortable with a retreat that was basing itself on your physical appearance. No problems with someone helping you pick good colors if that’s your interest, but as a retreat??

    • rachel

      Yeah, Evangelical Christianity has a weird relationship between women and beauty/makeup. On the one hand, women are supposed to be humble and not vain, yet on the other hand they’re supposed to be attractive to men. So makeup doesn’t count as vanity, as long it’s for the purpose of being aesthetically pleasing to men.

      But once a woman uses makeup or hairstyling (or the lack thereof) as a form of self-expression or personal taste (goth, bright colors, nail art, etc), then she’s “drawing attention to herself,” “selfish,” “letting herself go,” and all other forms of demonization.

      This has been my experience. The women and teenagers in these churches seem to have a uniform hairstyle/cut, and makeup that looks “natural” but anyone who’s familiar with makeup knows it’s there.

      • Yeah, there was some info on how to get rid of acne, and some on how to properly apply blush. I forgot the rest, but it was very much “this is how to properly apply makeup to be pleasing to god.” It wasn’t about self-expression or enjoyment, though it was meant to be fun.

        I was like, “But what does this have to do with my relationship with God?” I think it goes back to a distortion of the idea that as Christians, God should be present in all parts of our life. Instead of remembering him or being mindful, it becomes, “Here is the Christian way to dress, wear makeup, go out to eat, listen to music, etc.” Sometimes the actual connection to Christianity is more clear than others.

  • Amanda

    I happened upon your blog when you had just posted the second installment of this review and I’ve been a ravenous reader of yours since. You’re practically my therapist 🙂 Thank you so much for the review, for being a strong voice willing to call out the patriarchal systems which are a disservice to everyone, and for challenging me in some of my own beliefs. You inspire me. Can’t wait for the next book review!

  • Crystal

    I’d have to say I agree with Amanda. You are MY therapist too!!

  • Bonkles

    I know the Eldredges personally–a close relative is very good friends with one of them (sorry for the vagueness in both the description and my name–I don’t really care to be discovered by anyone in meatspace). I have to say, your review is right on; it’s been very good to read it. The point about language is particularly apt; they really do have their own jargon that couches and obscures much of their message. Since becoming friends with an Eldredge, my relative has also picked up on this jargon, and often it’s hard to parse out just what they’re saying whenever they talk to me about spirituality (or many other aspects of life). It just all seems so fake; even more so than most evangelical speak I’ve dealt with.

    • Crystal

      Don’t worry, Bonkles. You are contributing to the website in a positive way and you will not get attacked here!!

  • Laila

    I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoy your blog and find it very healing. I think your posts are a wonderful balance between logic and mystery, and it is inspiring to see someone who is able to hold onto faith even though they have been hurt by faith institutions. I myself am still struggling to figure out what I believe as an ex-evangelical, but I do know that I love what Jesus taught, but that it has been muddled by American Christianity. I’m just not sure what that means for me yet.

    In regards to Captivating, my former therapist recommended it for me and I bought it, though I never actually got around to reading it, thank God. I did grow up with a lot of the Eldredges’ messages in my youth group, though (we read Ludy’s “Authentic Beauty” which is just as horrible). I guess you can say that in some ways I did fit the mold of the “godly christian woman,” though not completely (but really, who does?). I got the message that I needed to be even more weak and passive, and that my timidness was positive. I thought I was being a godly woman by being quiet and suppressing my opinions, but in reality I just had social anxiety and depression.

    Whether you identify with Stasi’s version of womanhood or not, it is still a toxic book. It promotes an unhealthy view of oneself and shames strong women into becoming co-dependent.

    • Crystal

      What is WRONG with being strong? Isn’t that the way GOD made us?!!

  • Jackalope

    “That’s OK, Stacy. We’ve met you before. “Mean girls” have been excluding others from their version of femininity since we all turned 10 years old.”

    I’ve spent much of the week chewing on this. Thank you for this comment. I had always thought that there was just something wrong with me, and while I eventually just decided to accept the fact that I don’t fit any of the “woman boxes” that people try to stuff me into, I just thought it meant that there was something wrong with me. It is helpful to get the reminder that just because someone else says that I don’t fit properly and I need to change myself around, doesn’t mean that they’re right.

  • Hi Samantha, i just want to say… it’s been so interesting to read your critique of Captivating. I read the book when I was eighteen and the honest truth is it was through Captivating that I first began to understand how deeply God loves me, it was like an invitation for me to be loved truly & deeply and I will forever be so grateful for the book because of what it meant for me. When asked what book has most shaped my faith I say, “Captivating!” and I’ve even bought it several times as gifts. BUT. I absolutely agree with everything you’ve written on the book. I think when I read it I was so used to hearing those sexist messages from the Christians around me that I didn’t realize how damaging and non-Jesus-like they are. If I were to re-read it now I know I would throw it across the room too, ahaha. So thanks for the truth-telling you’re doing here because I absolutely see & understand that many women have received insults & shame from Captivating’s message, and I’m definitely not going to be giving it away anymore!

  • Jessica

    I’ve enjoyed your series on captivating and I was wondering if you had seen this music video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl1uv6gB4hE If the address doesn’t work for some reason the video is by Raelynn God Made Girls. I’m pretty sure she’s quoting Captivating at the beginning. Hate the lyrics, the beats decent, but the visual, I mean the film, dress and choreography are pretty great. So kudos to the director and the costume designer. Everything else though… just ugh.

  • As a 30 something year old woman who has read captivating and been around churches for a long time I agree. One of the main reasons I do not attend church anymore is because of the way single ‘older’ women are viewed often unintentionally. The church body or family is often such a hard place to be as a single.