If you’re trying to live all the commandments of the Bible for women, does wearing a hoodie count as covering your head?
Rachel Held Evans hopes so. In her new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, she takes us through a hilarious year of kitchen disasters, ethical questions, fashion dilemmas, and new adventures in her quest to live a godly life.
So here's my take. If you enjoy memoir, want to know more about the Bible (which, as she points out, is not actually “the best place to look for traditional family values” ), and have a robust sense of humor, you should check this out. I enthusiastically blurbed an advance reader copy earlier this year:
When Christians allude to “biblical womanhood,” they seem to mean someone safely feminine and clad in floral prints. In her project, Rachel Held Evans uncovers something far more mysterious, a picture by turns glorious and disturbing. Blending laugh-out-loud humor with rigorous cultural critique, Evans discovers that living the actual teachings of the Bible means surrendering idealized role-playing in favor of becoming an eshet chayil—a woman of strength and wisdom.
The author takes on the sexist idiocy of Mark Driscoll (you go, girl!). She looks at the modesty wars and the mixed messages our culture gives to women. And in my favorite chapter, she wades into the throes of motherhood by “adopting” a Chucky-esque doll baby that is programmed with a chip to eat, cry, and cause havoc like a real baby.
(After posting triumphant pictures of herself feeding the baby on her blog, one of her readers pounced by expressing concern that she was feeding her computer baby with a bottle and not the breast. Welcome to the mommy wards, Rachel.)
Rachel comes from an evangelical background, and much of the book is about parsing the difficulties – and the joys – of that legacy for women in the church. There’s a rare honesty here, not just about the intimate details of things like biblical menstruation, but about truly taboo subjects, like maybe not wanting a non-computer baby someday.
She expresses a strong generosity of spirit and a passion for the full flourishing of women. Feminism, she says, is merely “the radical notion that women are people.” After some cogent exegesis of biblical passages that address women’s roles and leadership, she argues that injunctions against women speaking in church, for example, were actually directed at a very specific group of young widows who had begun teaching but had not yet been trained in what Christian beliefs were. Holding on to such atavisms now is actually turning people away from Christian faith. She concludes:
It is a tragic and agonizing irony that instructions once delivered for the purpose of avoiding needless offense are now invoked in ways that needlessly offend, [and] that words once meant to help draw people to the gospel now repel them. (262)