A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Word Lily review

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, October 2012), 352 pages

a year of biblical womanhood

My first inclination is to say I learned stuff from reading this book. Valuable stuff, even. But after that first inclination is past — when you ask what I learned — I can’t come up with much I actually learned from the book itself.

I learned the labels for things. Complementarian vs. egalitarian, for example. I came to more deeply understand how flawed the idea that biblical womanhood = June Cleaver really is. June Cleaver wasn’t in the Bible, folks. Polygamy was, though.

Reminded again (Hello, philosophy minor!) how vital it is to recognize the bias and assumptions we bring to the table when we approach a text like the Bible. Pulling single verses to make our point(s) is rarely advisable. (context, context, context)

How liberating is it to learn that Proverbs 31, in Jewish homes, is memorized by the men as a way to honor and esteem, praise, their wives, rather than by women as a to-do list! I don’t need to live up to an unattainable, theoretical ideal of a poem; rather, I want to, along with so many others, begin to reclaim this idea and honor women when I see them persevering and doing hard things — “Woman of valor!”

I didn’t actually enjoy the author’s approach. She uses humor, which in theory is good, but which in practice fell flat and/or felt awkward to me at several points. She downplays the work she did and the points she’s trying to make with it, which bothered me. I could never figure out if she assigned herself certain tasks to make a flippant point or to sincerely explore/learn. The brief profiles of women from the Bible felt a little unconnected to the rest of the text. I liked them, and all the other parts, too, but the text overall felt disjointed.

Maybe the biggest thing I gained from reading this book — and it’s pretty big — is some encouragement to keep pursuing the idea that I am an empath/prophet and what that looks like. That my voice is valuable and should be heard. That I can and should speak for the marginalized and wounded. Now if only I could someday figure out what acting on this actually entails …

And now some quotes (without page numbers because I read the book digitally).

“I think this is one of the reasons why, despite the fact that I vote for Democrats, believe in evolution, and am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell, I don’t mind being identified as an evangelical Christian.

Evangelicalism is like my religious mother tongue. I revert to it whenever I’m angry or excited or surrounded by other people who understand what I’m saying. And it’s the language in which I most often hear God’s voice on the rare occasion that it rises above the noise.”

and

“We cause serious collateral damage to the advancement of our sex each time we perpetuate the stereotype that women can’t get along.”

I liked that she learned (and documented that she learned) things mostly not related to her quest. As she focused on gentleness and silence, contemplative prayer became attractive to her, for example.

A prayer from Teresa of Avila that Evans used:

“Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.”

More quotes:

“Jesus once said that his mission was not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And in this instance, fulfilling the law meant letting it go. It may serve as little comfort to those who have suffered abuse at the hand of Bible-wielding literalists, but the disturbing laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy lose just a bit of their potency when God himself breaks them.”

and

“As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married, or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar.”

Rachel Held Evans is a blogger I’ve followed since roughly the start of this project (so, for several years now). She’s also the author of Evolving in Monkey Town. She lives in Dayton, Tennessee.

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this book? Leave the link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

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12 responses to “A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

  1. I felt that after reading it that a great opportunity was lost because of Rachel Held Evans bias showed throughout the book. There was at times when reading the book I thought the only reason she wrote the book was to attack those with conservative beliefs and or fundamentalist beliefs. I also could not help but wonder if that wife of the Rabbi who explained what Proverbs 31 truly means would she of belittled her if it had meant something else.
    I know women who believe that the head of the household is meant to be the husband, that a woman is not supposed to be the head of a church, and that staying home raising children is an honor a true calling. According to Rachel something is wrong with these women because they live their lives by the Bible and she believe those verses that these women use to justify their lives are out dated because we no longer live under the same conditions that those verse were written. It becomes a very slippery slope when I get to choose what verses are relevant and what is not relevant.
    I guess I feel like that if she had given both sides an equal honest evaluation and let the readers decide on what is right and wrong the book would have been way way better.

  2. parchmentgirl

    I fully believe in egalitarianism and I really like some of what Evans says (for example, her quote about her highest calling being to follow Christ), but sometimes her writing (on her blog) makes me cringe. It’s a crying shame that her bias shows so much, because the argument for egalitarianism is overwhelming, but she almost weakens it by writing about from such an emotional angle. Great review! I’m looking forward to reading this one myself.

  3. I imagine that you were really looking forward to this given that you’ve been following the author’s blog – sorry to hear you were disappointed. I’m interested in the other comments, particularly regarding bias. Was it your impression that Evans was trying to take an unbiased look at the issue?

    • I don’t think she would say she was giving an unbiased view; I remember her saying (and I agree) that we all come to everything we look at with a certain perspective. There really is no such thing a an unbiased perspective, in my opinion. The best we can do, I believe, is examine (and disclose) our starting points, which she does. That said, I didn’t find the book nearly as biased-sounding as earlier commenters make it sound.

  4. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Evangelicalism is like my religious mother tongue.

    aw I really love this and agree. In many ways I don’t feel like a part of evangelicalism and at the same time, I do. And this is the best way I’ve heard that expressed yet.

    There’s so much…bias on the other side especially to the kind of ppl I think she writes for that I don’t mind a book that shamelessly attempts to lift that oppression.

  5. Pingback: BookReview: A Year of Biblical Womanhood – an Unexpected LOL. | Sunglasses Always Fit

  6. Interesting…I didn’t read the same things into what she was saying as some of this commentary did. Perhaps I was too caught up in the humor to do so. 🙂 I did laugh a lot and appreciate the sense of humor with which she tackled some of the ridiculous things she did….it’s such a tricky topic, but I was entertained and it made me think of my own experiences with views on biblical womanhood. I liked it.

  7. I’m not sure this a book I would read, but it was interesting to me to come across your review because it’s a book I think several friends of mine would enjoy. I’m doing a Bible study with four high school friends and one of the things that has consistently come up (as three of us haven’t spent much time studying the Bible) is a struggle with some of the stories about women and families and that sort of thing. One friend, in particular, is struggling with this and I think she’d learn from this book even if your review was a bit mixed.

  8. It looks interesting, but I’m not sure I’d like it, especially when some of your reservations about it would bother me. That being said, these types of books always tempt me. Interpreting a woman’s place in the current world through the Bible is always tricky, and I like getting different perspectives. Thanks for the review, Hannah 🙂

  9. Pingback: Best of Reading for 2013 | Word Lily

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