Feminism

“Lies Women Believe” review: 63-90

Fair warning: today’s post is a little long. Because of that, I’ve decided to break today’s review up into the same sections that Nancy divides this chapter– “Lies Women Believe About Themselves”.

Eve’s Diary

These diary entries are supposed to reflect in some way the similarities between this fictional Eve and modern women, especially concerning the “lies we believe,” so I wondered if Nancy was ever going to address one particular statement Eve makes in this entry:

I don’t know if [Adam will] ever trust me again. In a way, I can’t blame him. I’ve really wrecked his life. I feel so stupid. Adam just doesn’t understand the effect that Serpent had on me. (63)

But nope … she never does. This idea that Eve, and by extension pretty much any woman, is capable of wrecking a man’s life with the smallest of decisions, is a fairly common one in evangelicalism, and it has always infuriated me, even when I was a fundamentalist. Adam was standing right there (Gen. 3:6 says “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her“); according to the story, Eve might have made the initial decision, but Adam made it right along with her after hearing the exact same speech.

Men are adults. They are capable of making their own decisions. They’re not mindless, unthinking automatons that can be nudged into the path of a wrecking ball with the barest hint from their wives. However, it’s not exactly unusual for men to do horrendous things and then for women to be blamed for them– see any time a rape victim opens her mouth, ever.

“I’m not worth anything”

This is one of those times when I agree with Nancy about the existence of a lie, but completely disagree with the reasons for it and how to go about solving it. In the case of this one– feeling worthless– Nancy does what most conservative Christians seem to do and flip cause and effect. The clearest example of this is when she gives us this “testimony”:

For the longest time I thought I was not worth anything. Even after I was saved, I thought I was equal to pond scum. This threw me into depression. (67)

A lot of the stories in this section have the same thread woven through them, with feelings of worthlessness being connected to depression, but the way these women and Nancy frame it, the depression is caused by feeling worthless, which is caused by letting yourself believe a lie. To illustrate the “letting yourself believe a lie” point, she chose the story of a six year old girl who was told she “should never have been born.” This six year old failed to “counter the lie with the Truth,” and this allowed her to grow up believing she was worthless, according to Nancy, who seems unable to grasp simple concepts like children are impressionable.

Also, this happened:

For example, a playmate may accurately observe to a six-year-old girl, “You’re fat!” That little girl will one day find herself in bondage if she grows up drawing conclusions based on that comment. (66)

If you’re getting the feeling that Nancy is not a very kind person, I agree.

“I need to learn to love myself”

This section is extremely unoriginal– just more of the evangelical nonsense about how we all really love ourselves because our default state is selfish, self-motivated, and self-interested. Therefore, according to them, worrying about “self-esteem” is absolutely pointless and wrong-headed. What bothers me the most about this section is here:

To the contrary, Jesus taught that it is in losing our lives that we find our lives. The message of self-love puts people on a lonely, one-way path to misery. …

If I didn’t “love myself,” I would ignore the [toothache]. But when someone else has a toothache, it is easy to be indifferent to his need–that’s his problem. We naturally love ourselves; we do not naturally love others. (70)

I call bullshit. First, because self-esteem and empathy are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible to experience both at the same time, and just because I am confident and think of myself as valuable does not mean that I’m rendered incapable of caring about other people.

Also, I strongly disagree with the idea that we do not “naturally” love others. Empathy, compassion, kindness– these are almost universal concepts, they cross many cultural lines. How we act on these things may differ according to time and place, but many people have studied the existence of things like altruism from the earliest days of mankind. Caring for each other is in our blood.

I think she’s also twisted Matthew 16’s “whoever will lose his life shall find it” beyond recognition, completely ripped it out of context and obliterated any significant meaning; she’s reduced Jesus’ teaching that following him will require sacrifice to don’t worry about having self-esteem you’ve got enough of that already.

“I can’t help the way I am”

To a certain extent, I can kinda sorta agree with this one, but not in the way Nancy frames it. Some rely on excuses to justify their behavior, and I don’t think that’s acceptable. I’m sure we’ve all done this, probably repeatedly, and it can be a very convenient– and depending on situation– a very damaging lie. For example, the excuses of “boys will be boys” or “I’m a man, I’m visual, I can’t help but stare at you” are imbecilically wrong.

However, Nancy takes it too far when she chooses some supposed “excuses” people tell themselves:

I’m so exhausted, I just can’t function.
My parents never affirmed me, and I’ve never been able to feel loved.
I had an abusive childhood; I’ve never been able to trust people.
My ex-husband constantly put me down [read: verbal abuse]; he destroyed my self-esteem. (72)

There are others, but these were the worst offenders. I’d like to point out that many of these statements are not descriptions of a person’s identity, or “who they are,” but are means of expressing emotions, states of mind, and responses to situations and relationships.

I grew up with the line “excuses are just lies wrapped up in pretty paper,” usually handed to me, ultimatum-style, when I was trying to explain my rationalization for something I’d done, or offer a reason for why I hadn’t done something. It took me years to undo this programming and realize that our experiences are a part of who we become, that different situations and contexts place limitations on us.

I’m an introvert that grew up in a family of extroverts. To many people in my family, desperately needing to just get away and have some peace and quiet for a bit means something is wrong– I’m upset or something, and it’s a problem they have to solve in order to get me to rejoin The Activity. Needless to say, this was not conducive to me enjoying family visits.

My introvertedness doesn’t automatically excuse my behavior with my family if I get snippy or grumpy, but it is a limitation I need to accept about myself in order to function well and maintain my emotional equilibrium. I cannot help that I’m an introvert, and that part of my identity requires certain actions from me at times.

“I have my rights”

You can imagine how I feel about this section. I started chanting burn it. Burn it with fire as I read.

The modern-day feminist movement was birthed and has been sustained by persuading women to march and clamor for “rights”: the right to vote, the right to be free from the shackles of housework [read: unpaid labor]; the right to equal employment opportunities; the right to equal wages, the right to control our own bodies … the right to be free from every other form of “male domination.” (74)

The only thing you need to know about this section is that Nancy has put women’s suffrage in scare quotes, calls the Civil Rights Movement “turmoil and rebellion” (74) and then compares women wanting to be paid the same as men and black people demanding their right to vote to Jonah. As in, “His insistence on his rights caused him to be emotionally unstable, isolated, and estranged from God” (75).

“Physical beauty matters more than inner beauty”

Like with Stasi Elredge’s Captivating, it is supremely ironic to me that with one side of her mouth Nancy condemsn feminism wholesale and then goes on to say that beauty standards are ridiculous. Guess who’s fighting for women to be appreciated based on our worth as human beings, to place more emphasis on our character. Oh right. Feminists.

And, like every other evangelical I’ve ever heard on the subject, Nancy can’t help but go back on her point:

There is a growing aversion in our culture to neatness, orderliness, and attractiveness in dress and physical appearance.  I sometimes find myself wanting to say to Christian women: “Do you know who you are? God made you a woman. Accept His gift. Don’t be afraid to be feminine and to add physical and spiritual loveliness to the setting where He has placed you …

We as Christians should seek to reflect the beauty, order, excellence, and grace of God through both our outward and inward person. (80)

C’mon, Nancy. Either physical attractiveness matters or it doesn’t. Also, your opinion that our culture has a “growing aversion” to anything you consider “attractive” is based on nothing more than you acquired your fashion sense when women wore hose and you haven’t gotten used to a world without shoulderpads.

The last lie, about “unfulfilled longings” is a bunch of unintelligible nonsense. No, we’re not going to get every single last thing we want all of the time, but nobody but the most greedy and supercilious of billionaires actually thinks that’s possible.

Anyway, I apologize for the length, but this chapter was more than frustrating and I just wanted to get it done with after putting it off on Monday. So far, each progressive chapter has gotten worse. I hope that pattern doesn’t hold.

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  • Beroli

    So far, each progressive chapter has gotten worse.

    It really has.

    I hope that pattern doesn’t hold.

    You know, we’d all understand if you said “reading this is just too unpleasant and I’m not going on.” Much as I appreciate your analysis, please, horrify Nancy by taking care of yourself first.

  • HypercubeVillain

    “self-esteem and empathy are not mutually exclusive.”
    Preach it! This was such a freeing revelation to me a while back. I only wished I’d learned it even sooner; it’s emotionally exhausting to constantly ignore your own feelings, and even moreso to try to convince yourself that it’s a healthy thing to do.

    That women’s rights excerpt is hilariously backward; I was briefly cheering at the things she listed until I remembered she was presenting them as more “lies.”

  • Allison

    No need to apologize for the length, I wish your posts were longer!

  • Catnip

    Her “excuses”, at least the ones you list, are all real, valid things that people experience. And they’re all real problems. Just from that one bit, I can tell that this whole thing is enraging (or would be to me, anyway). And oh noes, people want to be treated like people regardless of their bits or skin color! Fetch the fainting couch!

  • Know how this book affected me? I too thought Nancy wasn’t a very nice person, but I thought *I* was the one who needed to toughen up because “the truth hurts” (and I was in an abusive relationship at the time). Speaking of which, you haven’t gotten to the “advice” for women in abusive marriages, so that pattern has really just barely started…

  • Melody

    The thing that stood out the most to me is blaming children for believing the messages adults tell them. It makes me very angry. I’m still fighting the lies I was told as a child and to think that she blames the kids (who become hurt adults) for doing what I’m sure she preaches: trusting and obeying the grown-ups in their lives.

  • It is so strange how this book got the reputation it did. You’ve mentioned this before, but it’s review after review of women saying “It hurt, but it’s what God -needed- me to hear!” or “It’s only that I didn’t understand her” and it’s just such a strange thing where I see so many women repeating phrases of abuse victims… when talking about a very bad book. I hate that it’s been given so much cultural currency within fundamentalist/evangelical circles.

    And yes, isn’t it just friggin’ magical how women are NEVER EVER EVER allowed to say “it’s jsut who I am”, but it’s the VERY FIRST excuse religious/fundie men fall back on for all the reasons they just super duper HAVE TO control everything women do. “You have to dress modestly, men can’t help looking! It’s just who they are!” “You HAVE to do all the housework, men just aren’t built for that! We’re just leaders! It’s just who we are!”

  • Sheila Warner

    This brings back some really bad memories of childhood for me.

  • Victoria

    I heard a lot from Nancy when I was growing up. There’s a lot of toxic stuff there.

    I kind of blew up last night for similar reasons. I visited my husband’s church last night for a pot luck type thing. (I haven’t attended church regularly for a year and a half.) After dinner the interim pastor stood up and read a ‘parable’ of sorts – it was about a man who was made of chocolate who as a child decided to find out what chocolate tasted like so he started eating his toes. Eventually he ate more and more of himself until he was no more. It was a bizarre story, and everyone was kind of waiting to see where he was going with it. He announced, “The moral of the story? Self love is consuming.” And he started to sermonize. I interrupted and stated that the story wasn’t about self love, it was about self destruction, which is the opposite of love. I stated that I firmly believed that loving yourself, taking care of yourself, and being gentle with yourself was one of the bravest things anyone could do. I explained that I’d grown up hearing that self love was harmful and that I knew what the consequences of those teachings were, especially for children.

    You could tell I’d really thrown the guy off. I was so tense and wanted to run. He went on about how everyone can have different opinions and that was good, and sometimes as Christians we had to let people rail at us and realize it’s more about them than it is about you. It felt like he was patting me on the head and telling me he wasn’t at fault for my needing to vent. Grr.

    Someone came up to me and told me they were glad I felt comfortable enough to speak up. They were dead wrong. I was the last thing from comfortable. I was just too angry to stay quiet.

    It was so hard, because I really would have respected the guy if he had been willing to correct himself, and say that maybe self-absorption (narcissism) is harmful but that self love is necessary. Instead he just became one more reason for why I don’t belong in church.

    • HypercubeVillain

      That’s a perfect response; I’d never be able to come up with such an appropriate response in time. I wish more pastors were called out on their corny, pretentious storytelling

  • ReverendRef

    Adam was standing right there (Gen. 3:6 says “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her“); according to the story, Eve might have made the initial decision, but Adam made it right along with her after hearing the exact same speech.

    When we read that story, there are a few things that we need to pay attention to: 1) Adam was standing with Eve; 2) he was the one who received God’s instructions, but he failed to pass them onto Eve; 3) Eve and the serpent had the first recorded theological discussion, but Adam was either not interested in talking about God or wasn’t quite as smart as Eve; 4) what really got Adam & Eve in trouble was not their eating of the fruit, but in not taking responsibility for their actions — Adam blamed Eve, and she blamed the serpent.

    In the context of this series you are doing, we need to pay attention to the fact that some men still refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and either blame women (“She gave me the fruit”) or blame God (“The woman whom you gave to be with me”) for their sins. It’s this lack of accountability that’s still causing problems.

  • May I just say… #barf

  • Alex

    “I’m so exhausted, I just can’t function.”
    I had this problem. Turns out it was a vitamin D deficiency, not me lying.

  • Ysolde

    So far it sounds like Nancy would absolutely adore living in restrictive societies where women have less rights than they do in America. However the Nancy in that place wouldn’t even be able to read let alone write her book that made so much money. Hypocrisy much?