I got Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley some years ago when I caught it on sale – both because it was on sale and because I have enjoyed some of Carolyn’s writing in the past. It’s been on my TBR shelf ever since, and every now and then when I’ve noticed it, I’ve wondered why I keep getting books on this topic when I’ve already studied it out in Scripture and read several books on it and pretty much have nailed down my views. I guess because it’s one of my main interests. But I was compelled to pick it up recently (maybe due to guilt for its having been there so long) – and I was extremely glad I did.
Carolyn comes at the topic from a different angle than I have read in the past, and that makes for a refreshing viewpoint. She grew up as an unbeliever and a full-blown feminist. Her world changed completely when she became a Christian at 29, and attending church was a major culture shock. Over time and through her own study of the Bible and the preaching and teaching of it by her church, she came to different conclusions about womanhood than she had been raised with. She wrote this book partly because she wished her 30 year old self had had something like it to help her navigate through the conflicting viewpoints, but also because she discovered in her speaking engagements that a lot of women didn’t know what the Bible said plus didn’t know how our feminist-influenced culture got where it is today.
The eight chapters are divided by topic, with a history of feminism related to that topic, a Biblical perspective, and a testimony from different women about living out that particular aspect of Biblical femininity.
She points out that feminism did address some serious needs and inequalities, but then went too far. “There’s a difference between restoring God-given rights to women and setting women above both men and God. The history of the feminist movement shows that one led to another–and much earlier than the 1960s” (p. 32).
Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1776 concerning the fact that women were not equal in legal status to men and urging him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands…Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness” (p. 32). She “was not suggesting that women should throw off every aspect of feminine existence, trashing the roles of wives and mothers. She simply wanted laws that recognized women as fully legal, adult entities in this new nation” (p. 33). She predicted that failure would “foment a rebellion” in which women would “not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation” (p. 32). Unfortunately, though they had a “close and loving marriage,” he “did not take her seriously on this point” (p. 33).
Her prediction proved true, though. By 1848 the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention met and compiled a “Declaration of Sentiments” including a list of their grievances.
These grievances led to needed reforms in education, marriage, suffrage, and employment for women. But mixed in with those needed social reforms was a challenge to Christianity–its church governance, biblical teaching, and community service…eventually [leading] to the destruction of biblically defined concepts of God, sin, gender differences, marriage, and more (p. 36).
Carolyn deftly details the history of feminism from there, comparing it to what the Scripture actually teaches, and providing some background information on some of its activists. I was surprised to learn–though I shouldn’t have been–that some of feminism’s most strident voices had distinctly anti-Christian views at the core of their philosophies.
I have many more places marked than I can quote here, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:
All my previous feminist philosophies resulted in merely kicking at the darkness, expecting it would bleed daylight. But Scripture says it is by God’s light that we see light (Psalm 36:9) (p. 26).
The irony of Stanton’s claims is that when the Bible is actually properly taught, history shows that women’s status improves (p. 38).
Spiritual battles are won or lost in the day-to-day thoughts we harbor. Ideas matter! (p. 59).
Every one of us is prone to agree with Satan’s character assassination of God. We often chafe at the good boundaries God has given us. We are easily tempted to think the worst of God. And we doubt that what God has provided is anywhere near as good as what He has restricted. In some ways, we may have more in common with self-proclaimed feminists than we may realize (p. 60).
Back to my beginning thoughts about why I should read a book like this when I’ve already studied it out, Carolyn had this to say:
If you are a longtime Christian, I pray you will be refreshed in your commitment to these godly principles. Biblical womanhood is not a one-size-fits-all mold. It’s not about certain dress styles, Jane Austen movies, tea parties, quiet voices, and exploding floral patterns…or whatever stereotype you are picturing right now. To live according to biblical principals today requires women to be bold enough to stand against philosophies and strongholds that seek to undermine God’s Word and His authority (p. 29).
This was quite an eye-opening book for me. Though every chapter was interesting and filled with information, most interesting to me was the one on the home and it’s history from home-based businesses producing goods to consuming goods, and the fact that my beloved major, home economics, was originally an outgrowth of Social Darwinism!
I wouldn’t agree with just every little thing taught by every Christian leader Carolyn quotes, but I don’t recall coming across anything I would consider a glaring error in the book.
I feel like I have only shared the tip of the iceberg and haven’t done this book justice. Let’s just say I highly recommend it.
Genre: Christian non-fiction
My rating: 10 out of 10.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)