Browsing Tag

gender roles


playing hard to get and being pursued

over shoulder
Me and Handsome

I put my cell phone back in the pocket next to my arm rest and looked for a spot to turn the car around. It was not going to be possible to drive all the way back to Virginia– the snow was coming down too swiftly for it to be safe, and my boss agreed, but I couldn’t get a hold of my friend to ask if I could crash at her place. Until I could, I would hang out with a friend and Handsome, who I had just met the day before.

We sat on the couch, side by side, watching a few episodes of Justified, and, at one point, our mutual friend stepped out.

Do something, Samantha. Don’t just sit there.

I wanted to. I wanted to speak up, to be brave, but my mind flashed back to the single time I’d ever had the guts to ask a guy out– and how horribly that had ended. It was a humiliating experience I wasn’t eager to repeat. So, we sat on the couch and made idle chitchat, with me silently begging for one of us to do something— until his friend returned and our golden opportunity evaporated.

I sighed to myself, resigned to the fact that he probably just wasn’t that into me.


A few weeks later, on a Wednesday night and I was getting ready to go out, my phone rang, and the screen lit up with a number I’d never seen before.

“Hello?” It came out a little more tentative than I would have liked.

“Hi, is this Samantha? This is Handsome, from a few weeks ago.”

Instantly, I was on the gigantic fluffy couch, warm and comfortable and nervous as hell, waiting breathlessly for something to happen.

“I remember. Of course I remember you.”

A few more minutes of not-horribly-awkward-but-still-awkward conversation, and then Handsome made me the happiest woman, I’m pretty sure, of all time.

“If you were up here, closer, I’d ask you out to dinner–“

And, typically, I jumped in with both feet first. “Well, if I was there, I’d say yes.”


Later, in conversations that I’m pretty sure all new lovers have, Handsome told me that one of the first things I did that attracted him to me was that I didn’t play shy, or coy, or hard to get. I was honest, straightforward. I’ve never been interested in playing games, or leading men on, or being anything less than myself.

I also encourage women to think about taking a similar approach– to throw out all of the bull that goes on in the flirtation rituals and just be honest about what you want. Don’t be or mean, or dismissive– politeness and respect go a lot further in this world than cruelty. Don’t laugh at the poor guy who you would never dream of dating, but don’t try to let him down so easy that you leave him on the hook.

I really do think that honesty is the best policy when it comes to the interactions between men and women, although of course this is more complex than what I’ll be able to lay out here.

And part of it is this.

Please. Go read it.

Right away.

. . .

I 100% agree with the point of Rachael’s article.

But, it also made me think, because it brought to mind the endless parade of articles in the Christian (and non-Christian) blogosphere that tell women to view the act of pursuit as exclusively masculine. Women are unceasingly told, from virtually every mouth, that if we pursue a man, we will thenceforth be perceived negatively. We’ll be too bold, too forward, desperate, clingy . . .

I think these ideas are interrelated: American culture has this pervasive idea that playing hard to get somehow makes a woman more attractive, that it makes “the chase” more dynamic, more interesting; Christian culture has this pervasive idea that it is our biblicallly mandated role, as woman, to be pursued.

One culture says allowing yourself to be pursued is more interesting.

The other culture says that being pursued is absolutely necessary.


Neither of these positions encourage honesty, transparency, effective communication. Neither one contributes to the man or the woman being able to learn and understand more about each other. Neither one is conducive to building an open relationship based on mutual respect and communication.

In the past few years, there have been a boatload of articles flooding my facebook feed about how “manboys” (what a terrible term) are being too passive, that women are watching opportunities to date possibly awesome guys slip through their fingers, and they’re trying to figure out what to do about it. Some of these articles even propose conservative solutions, like Candace Watters’ popular post, Pulling a Ruth.

But, all of these solutions still operate inside the gender binaries that are heavily entrenched in Christian culture.

While I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time in the honor’s office, which, to be frank, was heavily populated by men throughout the day. On a whim (I have a lot of those. There’s not a lot I can do about them except just go with it), I started an impromptu survey of pretty much every single man in the office, then in the library, then around the second floor of DeMoss.

I only asked one question:

If I a woman you thought was attractive and seemed nice asked you out, what would your reaction be?

Overwhelmingly, the response was negative. Decidedly negative. These college-aged men responded without hardly any thought, and their reaction was positively knee-jerk. With a few, I could even see their reaction on their face: disgust, revulsion– pity, even. Almost all of them (out of the 100 or so I asked) said that they’d be flattered, but they’d ultimately say no. If they seemed interested in talking further, I’d ask them why. Without exception, they said that they would perceive the woman as too bold. That they wanted to be the one doing the pursuing.

I don’t really want to get into why this is so, I’m certainly no sociologist or psychologist, and there’s plenty of resources on the Great Wide IntraWebs on possible explanations for this, but, I think that it’s likely that this is a socially constructed narrative for men and women.

Socially constructed narratives are an integral part of our lives. A lot of these narratives could be called etiquette. We tend to follow these rules– like don’t hang up the phone without saying goodbye, or don’t turn around to face a crowded elevator. Breaking these social rules tend to freak people out.

But these narratives, these rules, aren’t always good, and I think this one is especially pernicious. Because, at its most basic, the evangelical concept of “men that pursue” is based on subject-object understandings of gender. Women become prizes, trophies– things. Valuable things, to be sure, but things nonetheless.


Fascinating Womanhood: Appreciating and Admiring Men


Covering two chapters today (good thing, too. There’s like thirty chapters or something). Both are dedicated to women fawning over their men, essentially. I actually almost used a picture of Bella and Edward because of the feelings I have toward these chapters.

Sorrynotosorry if you’re a Twilight fan.

Surprisingly, most of the advice Helen gives in “Appreciate Him” is not bad advice. I’m not overly fond of the gendered way she talks about these ideas (as if women don’t need appreciation, too) but, if you take some of the things she said as “what it means to be a nice person,” then it’s golden. She says women should focus on things like character (which included the attribute kindness, shocker), intelligence, and the little things he does for others.

However, Helen also does have a section labeled “When you Can’t Find Anything to Appreciate,” which she subtly blames on the woman. It’s not possible that a husband is deficient enough as a person to not be worth esteeming– to Helen, even abusers have something worth appreciating.

When you have unwavering faith in his better side, you inspire him to live up to your conception of his ability. You offer him hope that he has not appreciated himself at his true value . . . You can, in fact, transform a man from an apparently stupid, weak, lazy, cowardly, unrighteous man into a determined, energetic, true, and noble one.

This, in the middle of a section dedicated to women who have a hard time appreciating their husbands. Instead of acknowledging that there might be some nuance involved, or that there might be a reason why this is a reality for these women, she essentially blames it on them. This book unceasingly puts all of the burden for the entire marriage onto the woman in every single instance. It’s frustrating.

She also tells us to look for “virtues beneath his faults.” If a man is obnoxious, it’s not because he’s self-centered or anything, no, it’s because he’s not appreciated by his wife. That is what makes him a “difficult man to live with.” A moody man doesn’t have any possible underlying issues like depression, no, it’s because he has high expectations that are not being met by his wife. If he’s neglectful, he’s actually a genius, and you just need to stop worrying your pretty little head about it.

She starts off chapter five, “Admire Him,” with a definition, since she notes that appreciation and admiration are similar ideas. The difference, she says, is that “you appreciate a man for his true worth, and what he does for you, whereas you admire him for his manliness.”

Oh, boy.

There’s a common idea in Christian marriage advice books: women want love, men want respect. But here, Helen says respect simply isn’t good enough. You have to admire him, and what she describes… Боже мой. And you specifically have to admire him for his masculinity, his manliness, and if he doesn’t receive admiration for himself as “a man” (starting from infancy, she argues) he will never be completely whole.

I realize that this book was written a long, long time ago, but I am working with the updated edition. If you go to the goodreads reviews, one of them claims to be from Helen’s granddaughter, who says she’s asked her grandmother to “update her language” and Helen refused. If books like Pride’s The Way Home are any indication, people who believed that masculine and feminine stereotypes are essential, they only dug their trenches deeper– and continue to do so.

One of the most damaging problems I’ve seen as a result of this gigantic push back toward gender stereotypes is that is hurts both women and men. In the gender essentialist system, no one wins, because no one is really allowed to be herself or himself. Men are expected to adhere to a gigantic list of what it means to be manly, and they face retribution and mockery if they do anything that could “revoke his man card.”

I was sitting in a bakery with many of my friends on Friday, and one ordered a chai tea because he thinks it’s delicious. He spent some time overseas, serving in the military, and developed a liking for it. When he ordered it, however, nearly every single man at the table exploded in some kind of “good natured” condemnation. Because tea, a simple beverage choice, isn’t manly enough. They seemed to be largely joking– I know that they have a lot of respect for the man who ordered the chai. But they still used an opportunity to mock and belittle a personal choice based on stereotypes.

And Helen is doing the exact same thing here, only in one sense it’s worse– because she’s telling women that enforcing these stereotypes is absolutely necessary in order for their husbands to feel whole. But what if their husbands don’t fit into those stereotypes? What then?

Her failure in this regard puts him on dangerous ground. When a man’s important needs are not met he may be vulnerable to the attentions of another woman who begins to fill these needs . . .

What he wants you to admire . . . are his manly qualities. If you admire only those traits which are alike in both men and women, he will be disappointed. For example, if you admire him because he is kind and thoughtful . . . he may appreciate your praise but it will do little to stir his feelings for you. It is his masculinity he wants noticed and appreciated, his masculine body, skills, abilities, achievements and dreams.



If you don’t, he’ll cheat on you. If you don’t, he won’t love you.

Got it.

I realize that this might have some small basis in reality– I mean, I see my guy friends get into *ahem* measuring contests nearly every single time I’m around them. If I make a comment about my husband’s amazing shoulders (always been a shoulders-and-arms girl. Swoon), he does perk up a bit– in much the same way I do if he appreciates any physical qualities of mine that he likes.

But, if I thought for one second that he was praising my ass because he thought I wanted my ass praised and not because he actually likes my ass, I’d be frustrated and possibly offended. And if I ever praised a physical quality of Handsome’s that I didn’t actually like, he’d be able to tell, and he’d be hurt.

It’s important to think about why we’re doing these things. Telling our partners we love the way they look: always awesome. If we actually love that about them. And every person is different. Telling women to praise their husbands physicality because of gender stereotypes is shallow and deceptive.

Also, she describes “dreams” and “goals” as being innately masculine. Tough luck, ladies. We don’t get to have dreams and “worthy goals” that we can be “dedicated to.” That’s just for our men.

And when you’re listening to him talk about the things he’s passionate about, remember:

don’t become so wound up in the subject that you form strong opinions which lead to arguments. Follow the conversation, of course, but follow the man. He may display special knowledge about the subject . . . if his attitude shows impatience . . . this may indicate that he has ideas on the subject, ideas that need to be appreciated.

Once again, it’s vitally important that you agree with everything your husband does or says, because anything less could cause an argument, and arguments will always end badly. Men and women are not capable of having an honest, tempered discussion about anything. You’ll just fight about it, so why bother?


“you can safely guess that if [your husband] deliberately talks over your head, he is doing so only to arouse your admiration. You need not be well educated or highly intelligent to follow a man’s discourse . . .

Whether you agree with him or not doesn’t matter. You sit there and admire, not his words, not his ideas, but his manliness.

I know I’m not a man, but as a human being, if my husband sat across the dinner table from me and disagreed with me and never said so, I’d be insulted. Because I would feel that he was doing the exact opposite of respecting me, because he would be refusing to truly engage with me on something I truly valued. I want to be challenged, I want to grow, I want to understand more than just what is inside my own head. I married Handsome because I want his thoughts, his perspective, his opinion, his arguments.

This relates to a conversation I had this weekend. Two friends of mine got into some banter about the girlfriend, once again, being right about something. Another man in the car piped up and said “don’t you know you’re in a relationship with a woman, and the woman is always right?”

Later, in a conversation with said woman, she felt that this comment represented one of the areas that women have power in our culture, that it’s a stereotype that “helps” us. I disagreed, because of what this comment represents: a woman’s argument isn’t valid because it’s based on facts, reasoning, logic, or experience. In fact, it’s probably wrong, but, because she’s a woman, it’s not worth disagreeing about, so you just let the silly, emotional woman “be right.” So you can get laid or something, because that’s the world we operate in, apparently.

That is exactly what Helen has been doing this entire chapter. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with him, if you think he’s wrong, it only matters that he thinks you admire him for things you may not even actually admire him for.


This is the fifth post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.


complementariansim and Aphrodite


Aphrodite, goddess of love.

If you’re not familiar with Greek mythology, Aphrodite is probably one of the more important figures in the pantheon. Both Ares and Hephaestus are her lovers, and she is the primary figure involved in many well-known conflicts, such as The Trojan War. By the time that Paul was writing his letters to the Corinthians, Aphrodite was being worshiped as Venus, and there were two major celebrations in her honor in Athens and Corinth. Athens is the patron city of Athena, so the primary celebration was held in Corinth, where there had been a temple dedicated to her (which was destroyed in 44 B.C.). One of the few things we know about Aphrodite’s cult was that worshipers honored her by engaging in sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes. By the time Paul was alive, the temple had been destroyed, but the prostitution continued.

The interesting thing to note about this form of prostitution?

The women shaved their heads.

So, that explains that whole bit about head coverings from I Corinthians 11. Women cutting their hair short, in Corinth, meant identifying with the Aphrodite prostitutes. I’m not exactly sure why this was a problem outside of the general understanding that Corinth was a particularly hedonistic and decadent church. But, it might have been particularly troubling because temple workers — like the Vestal virgins and the Hetaera– were allowed autonomy and independence in Roman society: they did not answer to anyone or anything besides their civic duties. This could explain the connection between “head coverings” and “symbol of authority,” since whose authority a woman was associated with was an important part of her identity in Roman culture.

But, the head covering isn’t really the important part of the passage from I Corinthians 11.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God . . .  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man . . . Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

I Corinthians 11:3-12

Did you catch that?

So man is now born of woman.

Jesus changed everything, and this is a common pattern we see all through Paul’s writing. Paul, as probably one of the best-educated biblical scholars who had converted to Christianity, spent much of his time in his letters re-examining the Law and the Prophets through the advent of Christ. This passage beautifully highlights that transformation. Almost everything people believed and understood about women was based in the idea that men carried anything needed to bear a child (like Aphrodite being born from Uranus’ castrated manhood that was cast into the sea). Women were receptacles. When Jesus was born of a virgin, that changed how anyone understood what God had told the deceiver in Genesis– that there would be enmity between him and the seed of the woman. That was . . . just not possible. Women did not possess seed.

Until Jesus.

And, then suddenly, in the Lord, man is not independent of woman, and that is from God.

Why have we missed exactly how radical a statement this is? Why is it, that so often when we go to this passage, all we see is that “woman was created for man,” and then stop there? Why don’t we keep going to see exactly how Paul is about to completely upend everything? That what he is about to say revolutionizes everything they thought they knew about women? He says that Christ is the head of the man, and the man the head of the woman, but why don’t we think of this as one glorious circle that ends in Nevertheless, so now man, the Christ, is born of woman?

Why don’t we look at how Jesus came to earth, and when he became the leader of his ragtag group of fishermen and tax collectors, that he said that the first shall be last, and that he spent his time washing feet? Why do we look at the word “head” and say commander and not servant?

This passage is beautiful, because it’s really about how much we need each other. In fact, the chapter before it and what follows this passage are a testament to community and people being able to rely on and trust each other. The church in Corinth was neglecting that– when they celebrated communion, some brought enough wine to get drunk when other people in their church were starving, and then did not share with the least of these, their own brothers and sisters. Paul is speaking to an audience that doesn’t seem to understand what it meant to love thy neighbor, and that is what he spends his time focusing on: teaching them what the “unity of the body” should look like. If there’s a word that sums up I Corinthians 11, it’s unity, a body of believers acting as one. He’s teaching them about a place where men cannot be independent of women.

We need each other.

Women are half the people on this planet, and we have diverse gifts, abilities, skills, and talents that we are eager to contribute. Every woman, like every man, has her own unique perspective that can enrich and deepen our communal experiences, especially in our churches. By ignoring, dismissing, and actively silencing half of our church, we are really doing damage to ourselves. There are passages, like those dealing with the spiritual gifts, that make absolutely zero reference to these gifts being limited to genders, and women in the early church were allowed to practice teaching (Priscilla, who taught Apollos), prophesying (all four of Philip’s daughters), generosity (the women who financed Jesus’ ministry), and leadership (women like Junia, who was “outstanding among the apostles”).

Imagine what our Church could look like today without women.

Jesus would not have been born; he would not have been fully human. The Incarnation is one of the most important parts of our theology– what would it be like if Jesus was more mystical, more divine, and less real?

His earthly ministry would not have been as effective. His disciples might have had to keep fishing, and Jesus might have been limited to teaching near Nazareth as he worked with Joseph in carpentry.

The story of his Resurrection would have been highly suspect; his disciples could have been easily accused of protecting their own interests, and the Pharisees would have had an easier time dismissing the Resurrection.

Paul’s letter, one of the best treatises ever composed on the nature of Grace and Law, might not have been delivered to Rome.

Without Priscilla, Apollos might have continued teaching an incorrect approach to the gospel, and the early church would have been deeply and bitterly divided.

Without Lydia, the Gospel might not have spread into Asia Minor and Europe with the swiftness it did, since she was one of the earliest and best-loved converts. Her ministry was so important she was one of only two people raised from the dead in the Book of Acts.

Without Junia, Paul may not have been able to continue his ministry. He needed her to do for him what he could not.

And I could go on.

But yet, that is exactly what we’re trying to do today. Most of our Church is stumbling along without women– outright forbidding them from contributing in any meaningful way. Instead of opening its arms to women, like Jesus did with the woman at the well, or the woman begging for crumbs, or the woman with the issue of blood, or his own mother on the Cross, the Church bars us– slams its doors shut against us.

What happened to the teaching that there is no male nor female?

What happened to man is not independent of woman?


Fascinating Womanhood Review: Understanding and Accepting Men

russian woman

One thing I will say for Helen’s writing: she is organized. The book is split into two primary halves based on Angelic and Human qualities, and each quality is broken down into parts in order to be explained efficiently. The Angelic quality “Understands Men” is introduced by chapter three, “Accept Him.”

This chapter does have some solidly good advice, which can be summed up in two words: “don’t nag.” I think most people would agree with that– in general, nobody likes a nag. This was one element of the chapter that I could basically agree with, although I completely disagree with where she goes with it. Don’t be a nag becomes, quite easily never talk to him about things that could create conflict, and, if it is absolutely necessary, be as insipid as possible.

that be great
This is a nag. Don’t be that guy.

Helen does make caveat-like statements all the way through this chapter; don’t be a doormat, don’t deceive yourself into thinking your marriage is perfect when it isn’t, don’t resign yourself to unhappiness. However, sometimes in the same sentence, she contradicts herself. So, while she does make these caveats, she completely overrules any help they might give through everything else she says.

Accepting him, to Helen, is based on a concept I’m the most familiar with as a joke: women marry men expecting they’ll change, men marry women hoping they won’t. Personally, I think this is a ridiculous stereotype that I’ve never seen played out. People have expectations, especially expectations for what their marriage will be like, but Helen completely dismisses this. Women don’t get to have expectations. They are not allowed preferences or wants; in order for a woman to be happy, she must have a husband who loves her, and in order to have a husband to love her, she must do everything she can to cater to him.

She gives a list of the things women try to change about their husbands (which could as easily be read as a list of things that men like to change about their wives) which includes things like spending habits, ignoring the children, and social behavior. The most interesting thing to note about this list is that none of the items she lists are insignificant. They are all things that I would discuss with my husband and have major concerns about if it wasn’t something we could come to an agreement or compromise.

If he would only change, you may say, your life would be better, happier. Review your husband’s faults to see if this is true. If he changed, would your life be more pleasant? Would your eliminate some problems, have more comforts . . . or other benefits?

These questions, Helen goes on to say, are the completely wrong questions. Because you’re the wife: your happiness and personal comfort don’t matter. Talking to him about anything you are concerned about could “create discord,” and “no matter how carefully you word it, he will likely respond with resistance.” And to that I say: what human being doesn’t occasionally respond to any kind of critique without resistance? I want to meet that person.

The discussion that follows this idea, though, is downright disturbing, because she starts using words like unhinged and violent, and she concludes with “isn’t love and harmony in marriage of greater value [than talking to him about your concerns]?” If your husband is doing something you’re uncomfortable with, like spending money unwisely, and you can’t even talk to him about it without him becoming “angry” and “unhinged,” that is a serious problem worth addressing.

Next, she uses one of her historical examples by referencing Leo and Sophia Tolstoy. Tolstoy is well-known for eventually giving up all his wealth and embracing voluntary poverty, even giving away the publishing rights to his books. Understandably, this caused some tension in their marriage; after all, Sophia had married a financially stable Russian noble, and expecting continued financial stability . . . well, at the time financial stability was the primary motivation for women to marry. The fact that her husband completely abandoned the responsibility to support his family for the sake of his ideals . . . if I’d been Sophia, I’d have been just as pissed. She’d supported him all through his literary career– she hand-copied War and Peace seven separate times. And then he pays her back by forcing her, a doctor’s daughter and a Countess, to live in abject poverty.

But that’s not what happened in Helen’s point of view. To her, Sophia tried to “change her husband.” She was selfish, she “longed for wealth and riches.” She claims that it would have been “noble” for her to have “accepted his way of life” to “let him have his freedom.”



When one of my best friends told me she knew someone I should meet, one of my first questions was is he employed? When she said he was an engineer, I was more than ecstatic. It’s not that I would never have considered someone who was unemployed, especially nowadays, but with my health conditions it is difficult for me to support myself. When it turned out that he was more than capable of providing for us, it was a huge comfort for me.

If he ever decided to leave engineering and pursue a dream, I would be supportive– because we would discuss it, and I would know exactly what the plan was. And it wouldn’t be to go live in poverty for no reason except that living in poverty is some sort of “ideal” that I didn’t agree with. Maybe we’ll end up in Nigeria with him being an emergency pilot and me working in a fistula hospital, I have no idea, but it would be a decision we would make together, and my concerns and desires would be just as important as his.

One of Helen’s main arguments through the book is that what women are “used to doing” just doesn’t work. Do it her way, and presto, your husband will love you and your marriage will be fantastic. However, this is what she describes as being normal behavior for women:

You might as well give up trying to improve your husband because it doesn’t work. Hints, carefully worded suggestions, or even pressures won’t change him . . . Sometimes women try to change men by force in the form of demands, ultimatums, or threats. Usually, however, they resort to pushy suggestions, criticism, disapproval, or nagging.


Notice how none of this is open communication. It’s not a wife engaging her husband in a conversation and treating him like a human being. It’s women playing coy, beating around the bush, and expecting passive-aggressive manipulation to work. In this case, I do agree with Helen; passive-aggressive behavior, while it can be effective in the short term, isn’t about building a productive, healthy relationship, but about control. However, she doesn’t go on to say “communicate your concerns,” but, in fact, the exact opposite. One of the more hilarious parts of this chapter is an explanation of how a man’s freedom to make his own decisions is crucially important– and why is this the case? Because God gave man free agency and autonomy, that it is one of the “most fundamental laws.” But do women get free agency? Hell no.

Interestingly, Helen does answer the question “should I ever try to change him?” with “yes.”

At first, I was shocked. Yes? You mean, women actually get some sort of say?

Not really, though, no.

She lists out a specific set of circumstances: when he is blind to a fault that is causing him damage. In this case, it is alright for his wife to point out that flaw to him– but not as a flaw she personally feels is there, but a flaw she supposedly thinks his authority or “the world” could see. “I think you’re just absolutely wonderful, sweetie, but don’t you think showing up two hours late for work everyday could make your boss think you’re lazy?” There’s no way this could come off as anything except disingenuous.

The second circumstance is when is abusive to his children, and she is perfectly clear that she does mean abuse, and not just harsh disciplinary methods. She says that a mother has a moral obligation to remove her children from an abusive situation for their safety, but then she turns right around and says:

Don’t judge him or condemn him for his actions. Be firm but kind, letting him that you are doing it for the protection of the children. Your firm but kind attitude, accentuated by your actions, may humble him and bring him to repentance.

What the.

 This is one of the reasons why I don’t trust Helen– because she has no concept of abuse, abusive patterns, or of the people who are abusers. People who abuse others in the way that Helen describes aren’t doing it because they just don’t know any better– they are abusing the people in their life because of a hugely overblown sense of entitlement, a consuming and absolute need to control, and the willingness to do anything to get what they want. If your husband is abusing your children, leave and never look back. Maybe one day he’ll get counseling and grow into a realization that what he did was evil, but it is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO BRING THAT CHANGE. You need to get out. That’s it. Don’t focus or worry about anything else– getting away from an abuser is hard enough as it is.

She also applies the same advice to husbands who verbally abuse their wives:

Should you try to put a stop to his behavior? No, count this flaw as a human frailty. But, do respond to his mistreatment in the right way: don’t be a doormat. Don’t shrink back and act wounded, or retreat behind your shell. Instead, have some self-dignity. Stand up to him and he will love you more because of it. But take care you do it in the right way.

This . . . this passage is horrifying.

I survived an abusive relationship– it was emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually abusive, in that order. Verbal abuse is supremely dangerous because people who use verbal abuse are good at using their words as weapons to get what they want. Very good. They purposely create triggers, they use “set ups,” they trick and deceive and manipulate. Verbal abusers are ruthless.

And do you know what happened when I “stood up” to my abuser? When I confronted him about how he was treating me and how it made me feel? It escalated to physical abuse. The first time he hit me was when I stood up to him. As our relationship progressed, he deliberately trained me to “cower” and “shrink back” and “retreat.” If I did anything else except almost literally bow down to him, I would be severely punished and degraded.

Sadly, this manner of viewing abuse and abusers continues through the rest of the book.

And she wraps up with this:

Try to understand that any advancement to a better, happier life is difficult. For example, living the Christian religion is not easy. You are taught to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . . a devout Christian does not set aside these goals because they are difficult. The ladies talking over the back fence [about accepting their husbands being too difficult] might as well give up being Christians as to give up accepting their husbands at face value.

In one sense, Helen is right. Living out Christian values like turning the other cheek and loving those who curse you: not easy. Impossibly difficult, at times, and I realize that is true.

However, loving your enemy does not require anyone to remain in an abusive relationship, as Helen continuously maintains. Even when she says “take your children and leave,” she only means physical absence, not cutting off the relationship. She believes that continuing an abusive relationship is the only right thing– in order to “bring him to repentance.”

To compare the two– living out Jesus’ teachings and staying in an abusive relationship– and saying that giving up on one means giving up on the other is insane.


This is the fourth post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: The Ideal Woman


This chapter is titled “The Ideal Woman: From a Man’s Point of View,” making sure, in case we forgot, that women’s lives need to revolve around men, and there’s also plenty of “if you don’t do what I tell you to, your husband will never love you” to go around. This is the chapter where she explains two terms that Helen will be using throughout the book: “angelic qualities,” and “human qualities.” There’s even an amazing little diagram at the end of the chapter:

ideal woman

The qualities listed under “Angelic” are “Understands Men,” “Inner Happiness,” “Character,” and “Domestic Goddess.” Under “Human” are “Femininity,” “Radiates Happiness,” “Has Radiant Health,” and “Childlike.” However, this diagram is just a summation of the ground she’s already covered, so let’s tackle that.

This chapter, like the previous ones, introduces the literary characters that she will continue to reference through the rest of the book, and, just like last time, her presentation of these characters is disingenuous at best. I realize that not every single person has gone through a graduate program in English, but her approach to literature is maddening. She’s essentially proof-texting these women, ripping them out of context and refusing to give us information that would be useful in making any kind of decision. I don’t mind that she’s gone to literature as her examples– the pieces that she’s chosen (Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Dickens’ David Copperfield, Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea) are fantastic works, and reflections of their times. However, she ignores all context, any historically relevant information, and at times, the plot of the novel in order to make her point.

But, before we get into all of that, you should watch this:

Also, I love Anita and Feminist Frequency. So much win.

Yes, ladies and gents, the Ideal Woman is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only worse. They’re lobotomized and infantilized MPDGs. She opens up this chapter by contrasting what men and women tend to appreciate about women.

Women are inclined to appreciate poise, talent, intellectual gifts, and cleverness of personality, whereas men admire girlishness, tenderness, sweetness of character, vivacity, and the ability to understand men.”

This dichotomy becomes increasingly frustrating as we get deeper into the book, but the trait she’s going to focus on in this chapters is girlishness. “Childlikeness” is something she emphasizes is necessary for all women, everywhere, and personally, I find that incredibly creepy. However, it helped when I realized that by “childlike,” she was basically talking about an MPDG, although that term hadn’t been coined when she wrote this and she’d probably deny the connection, mostly because the MPDGs that appear (especially in film) are portrayed as “clever,” and that isn’t a quality men admire.


Anyway, she begins her poor literary analysis by comparing Dora and Agnes from David Copperfield. She argues that Agnes possesed all the Angelic qualities, and Dora possessed all the Human qualities. She even acknowledges that he loved these women at the same time, but instead of working with the tension and conflict that Dickens’ was building into his text using David’s untempered naivety, she simply blames it on the female characters. It’s not David’s fault that he loved Agnes while married to Dora, and loved Dora while married to Agnes– it’s primarily Agnes’ fault for not filling the void in his life:

She was too independent. She was to able to killer her own snakes, too hesitant to lean on David, didn’t appear to need his manly care and protection. She was too unselfish, for David said, “Agnes, ever my guide and best support. If you had been more mindful of yourself, and less of me, when we grew up together, I think my heedless fancy would never have wandered from you.”

She was “too unselfish,” which puzzles me exceedingly, because this is a disconnect from reality. I’ve known men and women who are much too modest, who rarely ever ask for help from their friends, who hate feeling like a burden to their friends in any way, and Agnes shares some of those qualities. However, this quote reinforces Helen’s primary argument: it is the woman’s fault if her husband doesn’t love her. And what she identifies as “too unselfish” is not the same thing, it’s her independence and autonomyIt’s not that Agnes didn’t ask for David’s help when she needed him, it’s that she didn’t need David’s help that was the problem in Helen’s eyes. She could open her own pickle jars, and that’s not feminine, apparently.

She goes through Hugo’s Toilers of the Sea, which I’m not familiar with outside of it being a task-oriented hero tale, so I’m going to simply point out that Deruchette seems to be simply another example of a MPDG:

You may think . . . that Deruchette was a bit insipid. Remember, however, that Hugo was a man, a rugged man who wrote challenging sea stories, speaking more the language of men than women. We can be grateful that he has provided us with a very masculine viewpoint of true femininity.

Remember, ladies: what you or I think is “insipid” (meaning shallow and dull), is actually just girlish femininity that men absolutely lose their minds over. Insipid women inspire heroic men to fight off an octopus.

The last literary example she works with is Amelia from Vanity Fair, which, notably, is the main character, and one of the primary conflicts of her life is that her husband, George Osborne, has an affair with Becky Sharp. An affair, as in, her husband has sex with another women, falls in love with another woman, all while married to her.

Helen, I’m questioning your judgment.

This is the second time she’s held up a woman as a shining beacon of girlish femininity that men will worship and cherish, and the men in their life completely fail to do this. I don’t think that Helen approves of affairs, although she seems to take a similar tack as Pat Robertson and Debi Pearl: the only correct way to respond to adultery is, apparently, to start singing “you ain’t woman enough to take my man.”

Her last example she pulls from real life: Mumtaz, the woman who is entombed in the Taj Mahal (with a passing reference to Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, because, gee, what woman doesn’t want whole empires going to war over the right to break her hymen with his penis?). Here, she brings the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fully to life, because Mumtaz’ single contribution was “influencing her husband” so that his reign was “peaceful.” She claims that his reign saw no wars except brief rebellions, which is false. Again, I’m uncomfortable with how willing Helen is to twist facts and narratives in order to make her arguments.

The main point she drives home through all of these descriptions is that women are supposed to be girlish, childlike, faery-like, “fresh and joyous as  lark.” We’re all supposed to have “gay little laughs” and be “make all kinds of gentle noises, murmuring of unspeakable delight.” Women are to be eternally uplifting and encouraging. We’re not allowed our moments of sadness or introspection, we’re never allowed to express any other emotion except constant happiness. Happiness is a quality she lists under both Angelic and Human, of the internal and radiant varieties.

There’s no place, in Helen’s world, for complex women with depth, with independence. She’s limited to eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, and straying outside of that means that her husband won’t love her. He’ll sense that she is lacking in some way, and go to another woman in order to find true love for himself.


This is the third post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: Celestial Love

[in quoted portions, bold is my emphasis, italics are hers]

In this chapter, Helen will be laying out her explanation for the kind of love she wants the women who read this book to kindle in their husbands; technically, it’s still a part of what Helen included as the introduction, although it is separated into its own chapter. The picture she paints is very lovely, and something that I initially appreciated was that she used literature. When it comes to describing love, going straight to Longfellow is a fantastic idea.

However, the more I got into the examples she pulled from literature, the more I realized that not only does she not practice honest scholarship when it comes to the text, she starts following a dangerous, deceptive pattern of only showing you exactly what she wants you to see. She doesn’t present this ideal of “celestial love” with a whole lot of integrity.

First, she gives her definition of what celestial love is:

 . . . not dutiful, but spontaneous, warm, and tender. When a man truly loves a woman, he experiences a deep feeling within. At times it can be intense, almost like pain. He may feel enchanted and fascinated, with a tender desire to protect and shelter the woman he loves from harm, danger, and difficulty. Then there is the deeper, more spiritual feeling, almost like worship. Even this cannot adequately describe the many-splendored thing called love.

If you take this at face value, this passage is relatively harmless. It sounds pretty enough, romantic enough. Who doesn’t want this sort of love to enrich their marriage? However, this definition becomes anything but harmless as we progress through the book, so I’d like to take a moment and break down some things here.

The level of intensity she describes– it borders on obsessive. Some people do experience love this intensely, and I’m not trying to dismiss or belittle them. However, many men and women just aren’t this crazy intense when they fall in love. For me and my husband, what I have always loved about the way we love each other is that it’s comfortable. Being with Handsome is like swinging in a hammock on a balmy, breezy summer day, listening to the wind in the trees and feeling the sun warm my skin. It’s gentle, and almost placid. When he holds me, I feel safe, not exhilarated.

And this might be reading too much into what she’s saying, but I don’t think so. Here, part of the celestial love she wants women to experience is her husband keeping her from difficulty. Granted, I’m not particularly thrilled when something in my life is difficult. But if my husband took all the difficult things out of my life, I wouldn’t be able to grow as a person. Part of having strong character is meeting challenges head-on, defeating them, and then dancing on their graves.

Anyway, moving on. She starts going into her examples from literature and history. The first one is a quote from  Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish, specifically when John Alden decides, basically “to hell with it” (it being loyalty to his friend, the promise he’d made, the bone-deep conviction he had that pursuing Priscilla was sinful, and his duty and obligation as a soldier). The quote she pulls is this one, from “V: The Sailing of the Mayflower

There is no land so sacred, no air so pure and so wholesome,
As is the air she breathes, and the soil that is pressed by her footsteps.
Here for her sake will I stay, and like an invisible presence
Hover around her forever, protecting, supporting her weakness;

Now, that was a beautiful thought expressed by Longfellow. This is literally ground-she-walks-on-air-she-breathes level stuff. However, Helen doesn’t let the reader know that Longfellow has previously described Alden as “rushed like a man insane.” Alden’s love for Priscilla… it really is obsession, and he’s willing to throw away anything he previously believed was important.

Next example: Victor Hugo and Adele Foucher– a relationship she refers to repeatedly through the book. She quotes from his diary where he talks about all the sacrificial ways he would be willing to give of himself to Adele, how much her happiness means to him, that he wants to be the man she can always trust, always depend on.

At this point, I’d like to mention Juliette Drouet, his mistress and traveling companion for fifty years; Leonie Biard, who went to prison when they were discovered while he did not; Alice Ozy, who was in a relationship with his son . . . and many, many others. So, while Victor Hugo was quite a passionate and capable writer, holding him up as an example of “celestial love”– the first time I read this, I laughed so hard I cried.

Her next example is Woodrow Wilson, who was known for his “unemotional schoolmaster” personality. She quotes a letter to his wife where he describes her as “the spring of my content,” and was in general quite elegant and touching. However, she chose Wilson as an example to argue that “every man has the capability . . . if these passions are awakened by the woman.” This argument in unfair and misleading. Every man is his own person, and the way he loves a woman is going to be different. She’s painting this grandiose picture of wild, passionate, worshipful love, and it’s not going to be what every relationship looks like, no matter how healthy it is. What she’s showing us, here, is really as fanciful and unrealistic as a fairy tale or Disney movie.

She rounds out this chapter with two justifications; first, she answers the question “isn’t wanting this kind of love selfish?” She says no, because when you become the woman he can love, and he loves you with celestial love, then he will be a better man for it. So no, it’s not selfish, because the only reason why you’re doing it is for him. Also, you can’t have a healthy family without a happy marriage, so your kids will thank you, too.

She also argues that if you apply what she’s about to teach you, you’ll learn to see his “finer side,” and you’ll love him more because of it. This is an argument that she returns to frequently, and while it starts off . . . ok . . . here, it becomes troubling, because she directly tells women to just stop worrying about their husband’s less-than-stellar qualities (like verbal and emotional abuse, for example).

Her motivation, all in all, isn’t a bad one. She wants women to experience romantic, passionate love, and that’s fine. That doesn’t really bother me all that much, except for the reality that the kind of love she describes isn’t something that every single last relationship should look like, and burdening women with this idea that any other kind of love is like weeds, crumbs, and hell, is . . . well, cruel.


This is the second post in a series. You can find link to the rest of the series here.


Fascinating Womanhood Review: Introduction

male gaze

That, folks, is what we’re going to be talking about today, and I’m going to start us off with a short explanation of what the male gaze is. It’s a term that gets thrown around a bit without being well-defined, and while I’m positive that most of the people who use this term knows exactly what it means, it’s not a term I grew up hearing about an awful lot, for what are now quite obvious reasons.

It’s a pretty intuitive idea, on the surface. It’s something that, as a woman, I live with every day. While our culture plays a huge part of what constructs my idea of beautiful and sexy, that construct is largely based on what your typical heterosexual male finds beautiful and sexy (thin, but not too thin, voluminous hair that isn’t too poofy, breasts that aren’t too small or too big). Many women– myself included– have made decisions about our clothes, our hair, our makeup, our shoes, based upon what a man would think about it. Often, the simple decisions we make to get ready for our day are heavily influenced by what men want to see– or, at least, what we think and hope they want to see.

Very often, especially in Christian culture where the idea that marriage is the ultimate goal is ubiquitous, the male gaze moves away from just surface-level appearances down to behaviors, personality and character. Will a good Christian man think I’m lady-like enough? Will a good Christian man think that my speech and conversation is pure enough? Will a good Christian man trust my character? Will a good Christian man think I’m principled? Will a good Christian man think I’m kind, gentle, meek, unassuming?

However, once I started really unpacking this idea, I ran into a lot of trouble, because it turns into a huge, gigantic, awful mess pretty quickly.

Here is the quintessential problem with the male gaze:

probably NSFW, TW for violence against women

It only works one way. It’s not a two-way street. There’s no such thing as a “female gaze,” and anytime the roles are reversed the results are completely and utterly ridiculous.

The fundamental and most basic problem with Helen’s book is that it is based on the male gaze; the male gaze is accepted as the natural, accepted way that things are. But, I’ll get to that more in a bit. First, let’s start us off with this gem:

To be loved and cherished is a woman’s heartfelt desire in marriage. This book is written to restore your hope in this desire and to suggest principles to apply in winning a man’s genuine love.

This is the opening statement of the book, and it’s the theme that Helen will keep returning to. Oh, you want your husband to love you? Follow this book, and he will! is the promise she’s making. However, she frequently uses the underside of this promise as a threat: don’t follow this book, and he won’t love you.

This statement, however, wouldn’t be so problematic if it wasn’t in the context of this book. Do I want my husband to love and cherish me? Absolutely. Is it totally and completely within in my power to make my husband love me, as Helen asserts? Hmm— maybe not. Also, if my husband says he loves me and does everything within his power to make me feel cherished, but he never respected my ideas or dismissed my opinions? Not cool. This whole “women want love, men want respect,” dichotomy, like most dichotomies, doesn’t really work out that well when it hits reality. To be honest, I’ve never been entirely sure what that statement meant, even after I read For Women Only.

But, let’s keep going:

Do you feel lost in a sea of darkness? Or, you may be in greater darkness. You may think you are happy, when in reality, you are not. Your marriage may seem happy . . . but you fail to see that there is more. You lack the vision to see how happy a marriage can be, and should be. You are satisfied to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, for you have never tasted the banquet. You think the weeds are pretty, for you have never seen beautiful flowers. You may even be content with hell because you have never had a glimpse of heaven.

Unfortunately, Helen is not really just talking about mediocre marriages. In the context of just the introduction, it seems like it could be just addressing marriages that are going along pretty well. Nothing too spectacular, they’re just comfortable. They’ve settled into life together, and just accepted some things as the way they were, and that’s ok.

Sadly, that is not what she’s getting at. This passage is obliquely talking about, you guessed it, feminists. Lets do a quick experiment and see how it turns out:

Feminists are in greater darkness. Feminists think they are happy, when in reality, they are not. Feminists’ marriages may see happy . . . but they fail to realize that there is more. They lack the vision to see how happy a marriage can be, and should be. Feminists are satisfied to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, for they have never tasted the banquet. Feminists think weeds are pretty, for they’ve never seen beautiful flowers. Feminists may even be content with hell because they have never had a glimpse of heaven.

See what I mean? It becomes obvious later on in the book, so if you don’t quite buy it here, stick with me, and you’ll see it for yourself. She also goes on to describe the woman who is reading this book, the woman who is willing to “get vision,” as open-minded, as willing to “truly build a happy marriage.” Two paragraphs later, she also tells us this:

Fundamental, however, is your husband’s love. If he doesn’t love you, your life will be an empty shell.

This is a pretty good example of the kind of language Helen’s going to keep on using throughout the book. It’s going to be assertive and absolute, with purely black-and-white statements dominating almost everything she says. She doesn’t admit to any kind of gray area, or any possible exception. This statement is also doing two things: it is a threat, and it is also re-enforcing the narrative– especially in Christian culture– that single women are incapable of being happy on their own (which applies to divorced and widowed women, as well).

In the next paragraph, labeled “The Answer” we get this:

The first step to a happy marriage is to understand that all life is governed by law– nature, music, art, and all of the sciences. These laws are immutable. To live in harmony with them provides healthy, beauty, and abundant life. To violate them brings ugliness and destruction. Just as unwavering are the laws of human relationships. These laws are in operation even though you may not understand them . . .

We find one woman happy, honored, and loved; and another . . . neglected, unhappy, and disappointed. Why? This book explains why, for it teaches the law she must obey if she is to be loved, honored, and adored.

The law she is referencing here is the male gaze. That is the only “law” she presents in the book– anywhere in the book. Everything the book talks about, everything the book teaches, is established on this idea: do what a man wants, be what a man wants, say what a man wants, behave how a man wants, look how a man wants, and your marriage will be happy.

Next, we run into victim blaming territory. Didn’t take her very long– it’s page 3.

If your husband doesn’t love you, you are likely doing something to cool his affections, or have lost something that awakens his love. You may have begun marriage lovingly but romance is fading. Why? Could it be that you have changed? Take a good look. In most cases a man stops loving a woman after marriage because she stops doing things which arouse his feelings. When you regain your charming ways, love can be rekindled.

And this is one of the reasons why this book was so incredibly popular: because, in an odd way, it puts all of the control squarely into the woman’s hands. Because, as Helen repeats all the way through this, if a woman just does XYZ, then presto-change-o she can get her husband to love her. As she says on the next page, “you hold the keys to your own happiness.”

However, this attitude is also a common marker for co-dependent and abusive relationships. When a wife is in an abusive situation– especially if it’s emotional abuse– the abuser very frequently turns the problem around back onto the wife. “If you would only do Y, then I wouldn’t have to do Z. You’re forcing me to do this, really.” In this situation, however, it’s the abuser that’s calling all the shots, making all the rules. He says jump, the wife says how high. In abusive situations, however, the abuser purposefully changes the requirement of “how high” after his victim has jumped. This book is incapable of changing the rules, obviously, but if an abuser reads this book and tells his wife “yes, this, exactly! Just do whatever this book says, and our marriage will be wonderful!” . . . you can imagine what can happen after that.

To be fair, marriage advice books are firmly within the “self-help” genre. Which means that part of the book’s marketability and saleability is based on the claim it makes– a reader will approach any self-help book with can this book help me? and if the answer is “maybe,” that’s not an effective strategy to get people to buy your book. However, I think there’s a particular failing among Christian marriage advice books in a way that’s totally different from the self-help genre in general: these books don’t claim that they can help, these books claim that their way is the only Christian, biblical way.

The next section is labeled “Self Dignity.” To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what she means by this, even after reading the book. When I think of dignity, however, what I envision is someone with a healthy amount of self-respect. A person who doesn’t demean themselves, a person who– whatever circumstances he or she is in– stays true to themselves. That’s not exactly what she means, though:

Does your husband ever speak to you harshly, criticize you unduly, treat you unfairly, neglect you, impose on you, or in any way mistreat you? The important thing is not what he does but how you react.

I think this idea is linked to an idea that seems like common sense: you can’t control anyone else but yourself. You’re not responsible for anyone’s actions, but how you respond. If someone is mean and ugly to you, it doesn’t mean the correct way to react is to be mean and ugly right back.

However, that’s not really where Helen is going with this. Here, she is again promising that if you respond to his ugliness in a way that all men appreciate, than you’ll diffuse his anger (which is one of the reasons why “a kind word turns away wrath” and the admonition to “heap coals of fire on their head” always frustrated me). In short, by responding to his anger “correctly,” you do control how he treats you after that.

All of that has a basis in reality to a certain extent (escalation, for example, doesn’t exactly help communication), but where she goes with it is troubling. She tells women that she wants them to be “fiery” or “little spitfires” or “saucy.” However, she comments here that her goal is to show women how to have something that she will call “childlike anger,” which she says can “turn a crisis into a humorous situation,” that “childlike anger can increase love and tenderness.”

This becomes a huge, glaring problem as we get into the book, because part of Helen’s definition of “fascinating womanhood” she very openly acknowledges is “childlike.” She infantilizes women all over the place, and it becomes deeply disturbing. She wants women to be treated with tenderness, to be cherished, and how she does that is by turning full-grown women into swooning, giggling girls. “Feminine,” to Helen, is intrinsically linked with “girlish.”

As an aside, she warns the women who read this book not to use what she’s teaching them to woo away a married man. Because, obviously, all men lack any sort of self-restraint or self-control and you can use your feminine wiles to get any man you want. My eyes rolled so far back into my head it hurt. I had a girlfriend in college who very confidently told me that she could “get any man she wanted,” and, looking back, I think it was because of this book, which she loved.

To close out the introduction, just in case you didn’t quite believe me when I said that this book is based on the male gaze:

The study centers around the ideal woman, from a man’s point of view, the kind of woman who awakens a man’s deepest feelings of love.


This is the first post in a series. You can find link to the rest of the series here.

Feminism, Theology

complementarianism and the genesis fall


As a young teenager, I had an immense respect for my cult leader’s wife. I was best friends with her daughter, which meant that I was one of the few people who were frequently invited into their home. I spent many weekends having sleepovers at their house, watching John Wayne movies until the wee hours of the morning, playing army in the backyard for hours on Saturday. The first time I ever had grits was in her home, the first time I made cookies she taught me, the first time I went garage sale-ing I was with her. I admired her– her frugality, her work ethic, her constancy in her faithfulness to her husband in all things, the sacrifices she made for her family, her earnestness in raising her children… she was a large part of what I pictured in my head when I envisioned the ideal wife. My parents marriage was, and is, healthy, but my cult leader’s wife fit more easily into the mold I was being taught was the biblical role for a wife. Even to this day, when I’m reminded of the Proverbs 31 woman, I think of her.

One Sunday morning, after the cult leader had disbanded any kind of “youth group” and told the teenagers that our regular Sunday school was canceled and we were expected to attend Sunday school with the adults, the cult leader preached a message on marriage. I don’t exactly remember the context of the entire sermon, but I do remember feeling relieved that his wife hadn’t been there to hear it– she had been keeping nursery that morning. My mother leaned over to my father and whispered “thank God Miss Dianne* wasn’t here to listen to that.” But, in church, he said the exact same thing:

“Husbands, you know how it is, you know what it’s like. Sometimes, you just really don’t want to be married anymore. Nothing about marriage seems worth it, and it would be better if you were just alone. Can I get an Amen?”

While a few men in the congregation muttered an unenthusiastic amen, I looked over at Miss Dianne, and I will never forget the look on her face. She was crushed, devastated– destroyed by the husband she submitted to.


Growing up, I didn’t know the word complementarianism, officially, but what I did know was that a wife was intended to “complement” her husband. A husband and wife, united, made up for lacks in each other. They filled out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Even today, I can appreciate the core of this idea, even though it is frequently over simplified and reduced down to ideas like “opposites attract.” There’s a certain beauty in two people meeting together and becoming stronger because of each other. That’s what I find most stunning in the imagery of becoming one flesh.

However, in conservative religious environments, there are limitations and boundaries to what complementing your husband can look like. I grew up with this idea that women were to be “keepers at home,” that there was a universal standard of femininity I was expected to live up to, that my role and responsibility was in being a wife and mother. I was taught that envisioning a role for myself that included roles in addition to a maternal one was sinful and selfish. If I attempted to be a wife, a mother, and a career woman, I would most definitely become depressed, maybe suicidal, my marriage would be ruined, and I would fail as a mother.

On top of that, I was also taught that there is one biblical structure for marriage: a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the Church. I am called to obey and submit to my husband in all things, regardless of how my husband might behave toward me. If he was treating me badly, I was taught that it was probably because I was not practicing biblical submission. All I had to do, in order to ensure a beatific marriage, was be a submissive wife, and the rest would fall into place.

I can’t really deconstruct everything that is wrong with those particular set of teachings, but I want to talk about where these teachings come from, and why complementarianism is exalted as the “only form of biblical marriage,” and why the egalitarian position is frequently dismissed because, supposedly, we don’t read our Bibles.

The first place that many complementarians will go to in order to argue that complementarianism is biblical is Genesis 2 and 3. They begin with God’s decision to create Eve:

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The key word there is helper. There’s a lot to be said about this word (‘ezer, or עֵזֶר). At its most basic, “helper” really is probably the best translation for the word, although “help meet” is used as well. Many complementarians argue that this means that women were created to help men. That was the reason for Eve’s existence, and continues to be the definite, primary purpose of women today. This passage seems to “very clearly and plainly say” that this is why God created women. We are helpers, not leaders.

But let’s take a quick look at where else this word is used. First of all, Genesis 2 is one of only three places that ‘ezer is used to describe a person or a people; the other fifteen times ‘ezer appears, it’s to describe God. It’s used twice in Deuteronomy, where God is described as someone who “rides through the heavens to your help” and as a “shield of help.” It’s used again in the Psalms, where the God of Jacob is called upon for protection, for him to send “help from the sanctuary.” In other places in the psalms, God is a “help and a deliverer,” or as the one responsible for all of creation.

If God is helping Israel, if we’re going to be consistent in our hermenuetic, it means that he is in a subservient position to Israel. He is not leading, or directing. He is not the one making the decisions. He’s helping, that’s all. Israel is the leader, God is the helper.

I think it’s also interesting that when this passage eventually comments on what their relationship is going to be, it’s in the directive for men and women to become one flesh. To me, that doesn’t say hierarchy, or that one is to be dominant over the other. That doesn’t make any sense, really. My body is one flesh. How does any part of my body have dominance over another? In fact, when, a “part” of me does have dominance over another “part” of me, it’s usually to my detriment. When my head rules my heart, or when my heart rules my head, there’s imbalance, and it’s dangerous. I’m not operating in a way that is true to all of me, to every part of me.

Complementarians also use Eve’s deception to show her up as weaker, as more fallible, than Adam. Some have even claimed that the serpent went to Eve because he knew that he wouldn’t have been able to deceive Adam. Except, Adam was with her. He was there, listening to the same deception. Some have argued that Adam only ate the fruit because he knew that God would send Eve out of the garden, but he loved her too much to let her go alone.

I don’t have to space to tackle all of that right now, especially since the biggest argument that complementarians pull from this passage is after the Fall, when God is cursing Adam and Eve. When God curses Eve, he tells her that her pain in childbirth will be multiplied, that her desire shall be for her husband, and that he will rule over her.

Those five words provide much of the foundation for complementarian ideals; they argue, over and over again, that it is God’s design for men to rule over their wives. That’s the way it should be, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If women violate this God-ordained order by not allowing our husbands to have the rule over us, we are inviting our own destruction. We will be unhappy. We’ll be miserable. Because, deep down, we know that submitting to our husband’s headship is the way it’s supposed to be.

Except… morphine exists, as do C-sections, and epidurals.

Why is it that women are “fighting against the natural order” when we want equality with our husbands (note: complementarians frequently argue that a husband and wife are equal-we have equal, but separate roles. This is a problem, because complementarians are not defining “equality” the same way, because women in the complementarian role are to submit to their husband’s headship. If there’s a hierarchy, they’re not equals), but there isn’t a problem with reducing our pain in childbirth? Or, while we’re on this subject, why is it that no one talks about “violating God’s ordained order” when we try to get rid of weeds, or when we develop reapers and irrigation to help combat our difficulties?

I’d like to highlight something that is present in this passage: when God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden, it’s to send them to work the ground. He’d just finished cursing the ground, but he still sent them to till and harvest it, to survive– and to eventually thrive.

Yes, the Genesis passage curses Eve with a husband who will “rule over” her. But it also includes the hope that this is not the way things are supposed to be. God didn’t create our relationships to work this way– he created us to be “one flesh,” in complete unity. And he sent Adam and Eve out into a world that would be hard, and full of struggles– but struggles and trials they could defeat together.


Introduction to Fascinating Womanhood Review

reading woman

Today I am announcing the beginning of a new project that I mentioned a while back. I’m pretty excited about this, and I hope this journey we’re all about to embark on is entertaining, thoughtful, illuminating, and discussion-generating.

This means I’ll have two regularly running features for now– the Learning the Words guest post series (which is still ongoing and open for submissions), and now my series on Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womahood.

The format of this series will be similar to Libby Anne’s on Debi Pearl’s Created to be his Help Meet— where I got my inspiration. I will be reading through the book again and posting my thoughts to portions of it. I might speak about a few pages or a whole chapter, depending on what I run into that requires a response. These reactions are going to vary from a serious and thoughtful deconstruction of the explicit and implicit messages of the book, as well as poking fun at some of its more ridiculous moments (of which there are many). There are going to be a few jaw-dropping WTF moments, too. She makes some rather spectacular statements throughout this book.


Fascinating Womanhood is similar to Created to be his Help Meet in many ways. It’s a marriage-advice book predicated on the complementarian model of submission and headship. Helen was a Mormon, but there’s nothing in the book itself that makes that apparent (I say that because in my interview with Christianity Today, I mentioned this book and a commenter came back with “Andelin was a Mormon, so obviously the book will be twisted”). Its target market is the same market as Debi’s book, especially since most of the book’s content focuses on helping struggling Christian marriages. She is more strongly anti-feminist than Debi, and her book is not as widely read. However, the ideas in the book are extremely common in pretty much any conservative evangelical environment, and the ideas that Helen presents are the natural outcome of unrestrained complementarian teaching. Helen’s book, unlike Debi’s, however, is entirely focused on teaching women how to make their men love them– and her argument is dangerous, for reasons you’ll see pretty quickly as we get into this series.

Here’s the description from the back of the book:

How to Make Your Marriage a Lifelong Love Affair

What makes a woman fascinating to her husband? What is happiness in marriage for a woman? These are just two of the questions Helen Andelin answers in the bestselling classic that has already brought new happiness and life to millions of marriages.

Fascinating Womanhood offers timeless wisdom, practical advice, and old-fashioned values to meet the needs and challenges of today’s fascinating woman. Inside you’ll learn:

What traits today’s men find irresistible in a woman
How to awaken a man’s deepest feelings of love
Eight rules for a successful relationship
How to rekindle your love life
How to bring out the best in your man—and reap the rewards
Plus special advice for the working woman—and much more!

Fascinating Womanhood offers guidance for a new generation of women—happy, fulfilled, adored and cherished—who want to rediscover the magic of their own feminine selves.

This bestselling classic has already brought new happiness and life to millions of marriages, and now Andelin offers timeless wisdom, practical advice, and old-fashioned values for today’s fascinating woman. Learn how to awaken a man’s deepest feelings of love, eight rules for a successful relationship, how to rekindle your love life, and more.

In many ways, this book is the seminal gender essentialist’s guidebook. If you want to see all the “feminine” stereotypes about women in one place, this book is the place to go.

The web page for this book and the accompanying ministry that grew out of it is worth its own post, and it is illuminating about the ideology behind this book, so it might be worth reading over, if you’re into self-flagellation and stuff.  From what I can tell, it went inactive in 2007, but there is a note on the home page that you can still take the online eight-week course as of Spring 2013. It continues to be a popular seller on Amazon, and in Christian book stores, with well over 2 million copies sold. I’m not sure what the community looks like today, but Time magazine did an interview with Helen in 1975, and she said that the program had over 11,000 “teachers” leading studies on the book around the country. It was a book I grew up familiar with– it was beloved and dog-eared by many of the women in my church, and it was a required textbook in at least one class of Marriage and Family at my fundamentalist college.

The Barnes & Noble reviews are almost exclusively glowing– all along the lines of “this book saved my marriage! we’re like a couple of newlyweds!”

There are 244 Amazon reviews, most of them 4 or 5 stars, with the same sort of praise, although many of the 5-star reviews include some sort of caveat about “needs the language updated” or that there were parts of the book worth ignoring, but that the overall message is worth listening to. Of the 78 1-star reviews, most of them include notes from husbands about being insulted and disgusted by the content, or concern that the message of the books creates co-dependent and abusive relationships.

The reviews on Goodreads are much more mixed, with reactions varying from “comedic” to “frightening and cruel” to “every woman must read this book!”

So, at the very least, we know it’s polarizing.

I’m going to try give my dead-level best to give it a fair shake, but I make no promises. I hope you’ll come along with me as I make my way through this book, and I hope you’ll be a part of the process of helping me– and each other– unpack these sorts of ideas. I’d also like to extend a special invitation to men– the primary and dominating focus of the book is “how to make yourself attractive to men,so I’d appreciate your brutal honesty and your candor. I’ve already had two men in my life read it– my husband, who was absolutely repulsed, and a friend, who thought it was great, nail-on-the-head advice.

My plan at the moment is to update every Monday, but I’m flexible, and there might be Someone on the IntraWebs who Said Something Stupid and Infuriating. We’ll see.


importance of being honest

importance of being earnest

Currently, I am on vacation in Florida, so this will be my post for the week. I’ve gotten some  ideas for the next few weeks (and I’m going to start a long-scale project for which I am very excited to begin in a bit). There’s some issues that I really need to tackle, just for myself, so it’s going to be hard, rough, slow going for me. I may not be able to post every week day like I have been, since I’m going to have to slug through these issues at my own pace. But, I think they’re becoming more important for me to really wrestle with, so I’m finally doing it after avoiding it for weeks.

But, for the moment, I am on vacation. Last night I went and saw a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. If you’ve never seen it the play performed, the film adaptation is pretty solid (after all, who doesn’t love Colin Firth in Victorian frippery?).

The most hysterical part was the location of where I saw this play performed: I was at my undergrad college. I’d seen it performed there a little under ten years ago now, and it never occurred to me back then how funny the play actually is in that context. The Importance of Being Earnest is a scathing critique on Victorian society, and Wilde spares no one. Like all excellent satire, he makes a mockery of the rich and powerful: their social dynamics, their priorities, their politics, their ideals.

My undergrad college shares all of the same issues.

The play advocates toward a more post-modern understanding of human interactions and the rules and boundaries we set, and it especially critiques the Victorian (read: complementarian) approach to gender roles, which Wilde portrays as completely ridiculous to the highest degree. My undergrad college idolizes those roles to the same ridiculous degree that the characters act out.

What made it so horribly ironic was that the audience was completely blind to the fact that the play was satirizing them. I was laughing my head off the entire way through, and many people were turning around and staring. They had no idea what the play was actually saying about the way they choose to live. It was weird to be the only person to get the joke. Normally, I’m the one who doesn’t quite catch on to the cultural references.

Handsome even pointed out the quote they chose to open their playbill: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” He just laughed and commented that it was a strange quote for the college to endorse, since they proclaim that the truth is always pure and simple. They probably only saw it as some of the nonsense Algernon Montcrieff lets fly throughout the play and used it to comment on the Liz Lemon–style “TWIST!” at the end. They have no idea how very true that statement is.

Also, side note: I wore a Grecian-stye wrap dress with a deep V neckline. Oh, the judging judgment and the glares that would have roasted me alive a few years ago. Seriously, guys, mouths dropped open and claws came out. It was spectacular.

Enjoy this week, and I’ll see you on the other side.