I finished my review of Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood a few weeks ago, and started reading John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating. I also have Wild at Heart, although I won’t be going through Wild at Heart the same way I did Fascinating Womanhood and will be going through Captivating, but I might allude to it every so often. My fantastic partner will be reading Wild at Heart, and will occasionally be chipping in with his thoughts on it.
I’m excited to start digging into Captivating because it is the exact opposite of Fascinating Womanhood in every possible way. Fascinating Womanhood was . . . well, I hate to say “obviously ridiculous” because so many people still believe what it says, but it was far too easy to mock– and it was far too easy to show how she was wrong about almost everything she said. When all you’d really have to do is put up a post with a list of quotations to show how awful a book is, that’s not really a review.
Captivating, on the other hand, is far more subtle, and it’s obvious from the opening pages that John and Stasi are going to be straining with all of their might to make what they teach seem palatable. That makes it more interesting to discuss– and I’m looking forward to having posts with more nuance and less open annoyance. The best thing about engaging with Captivating, I think, will be showing how a lot of what is going on in Captivating is unconscious– it will be much closer to pointing out how sexism operates in modern evangelicalism, which I think will be much more useful for me– and us.
If you’re not familiar with Captivating, this is what appears on the back of the book:
Every woman was once a little girl. And every little girl holds in her heart her most precious dreams. She longs to be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, to be the beauty of the story. Those desires are far more than child’s play. They are the secret to the feminine heart.
And yet―how many women do you know who ever find that life? As the years pass by, the heart of a woman gets pushed aside, wounded, buried. She finds no romance except in novels, no adventure except on television, and she doubts very much that she will ever be the Beauty in any tale.
Most women think they have to settle for a life of efficiency and duty, chores, and errands, striving to be the women they “ought” to be but often feeling they have failed. Sadly, too many messages for Christen women add to the pressure. “Do these ten things, and you will be a godly woman.” The effect has not been good on the feminine soul.
But her heart is still there. Sometimes when she watches a movie, sometimes in the wee hours of the night, her heart begins to speak again. A thirst rises within her to find the life she was meant to live―the life she dreamed of as a little girl.
The message of Captivating is this: Your heart matters more than anything else in all creation. The desires you had as a little girl and the longings you still feel as a woman are telling you of the life God created you to live. He offers to come now as the Hero of your story, to rescue your heart and release you to live as a fully alive and feminine woman. A woman who is truly captivating.
It’s just the back of the book, and already I got problems.
As far as how it’s been received: it’s got about 230-240 reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble each, most of which are overwhelmingly positive, and there isn’t a single negative review at ChristianBook; most of these reviews have something along the lines of “I want every woman to read this book!” Out of the 18,000 reviews on GoodReads, 11,000 gave it 4 or 5 stars. It’s been well-received in the evangelical community– my own church regularly uses Captivating and Wild at Heart for both the married-couples and segregated men/women small groups and Bible studies. I’ve had it recommended to me at least a half-dozen times by different people, each person claiming that Captivating is a different sort of book– it’s not those other books that I don’t like. It’s better.
I’m going to be working with the “Revised and Expanded” edition that was released in 2010, but the book was originally published in 2005. It’s got 12 chapters, so I’m hoping to do this in about three months, although it might take a bit longer than that since I’m anticipating having to more thoroughly parse out– or put in broader contexts– what the Eldredges say in order to show how what they teach is problematic or unhealthy.
Also, can I comment about how I’m more than a little annoyed that the authors are John & Stasi Eldredge when Wild at Heart was just written by John? Why does John get to be one of the authors of a book subtitled “Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul”? Oh, right, I forgot. Silly me, thinking women were capable of writing books about our own gender on our own.
(A possible alternate explanation is that Captivating quotes Wild at Heart pretty heavily, which comes with another set of problems.)
*edit: I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier, but this would be fantastic. This doesn’t just have to be a review– we could also make it into a book club. If you already own Captivating or don’t mind spending money on it, we could read it together. I’ll post my review every Monday, and then whoever’s read it can pitch in with their own perspective. Brilliant, no?