Slutty Book Reports: Radical Womanhood (1/7)

Hey everyone!

The wait is over! I finished the book you choose for me to review: Radical Womanhood: Feminist Faith in a Feminist World! For a refresher on my Evangelical book report project, check out my previous posts on the subject. I’m excited to share what I learned, and hear your feedback. On one hand, Carolyn McCulley was exactly what I expected her to be, but she still managed to throw me for a loop. As I got deeper and deeper into the book, it became more than about just reading the book; everything I believe on what it means to be a woman and an adult was fiercely challenged. I started taking copious notes, highlighting passages and cross-referencing key points. My poor roommate had to deal with my constantly altering moods: laughing at the ridiculousness of something, or yelling at the book as if it could hear me and argue back.

Eventually, I decided this is not the kind of book I can sum up in one post. There is too much stuff which blew my mind and I want to talk (vent) about it. So, with your gracious allowance, I think I’ll split this book in half and cover it in one post a day for the next 7 days. I’ll still start reading the next book you vote on this week, but I’d like to give this project its due diligence. Plus, everything I’ve written on it so far has totaled up to over 10,000 words! If I post that all at once, it may overwhelm you. I think with 7 individually focused posts, I can best achieve my objective.

Basically, I divide the book into pre-mommy and post-mommy stages. In other words, everything about a woman’s life before she actualizes her true purpose as a mom, and after she becomes a mother and is finally a real woman. Since I am not a mother and don’t intend to consider my uterus as anything other than a vestigial organ for quite some time, I have quite a bit to say on her views of the pre-mommy stage.

The tone of the book is set in the foreword, which was written by Dr. Wayne Grudem, a popular Christian author of many books on godly marriage. He talks briefly about the necessity of a man being the head of a marriage, which is illustrated through a story about his wife’s health. Apparently, his wife had chronic back pain after an auto accident, which was exacerbated by the humid climate of their home in Chicago where he had a cushy tenured job at a university. When they took a trip to Arizona, the dry, hot climate worked wonders and her pain lessened considerably. So, it raised the question if they should give up the comfort of a secure job and move to a place where his wife would be happier, or if she should just tough it out for the next 10 years or so until he retired. Naturally, their own intellects and 30 years of marriage failed them, so they decided to leave it up to prayer. If God wanted them to move to Arizona, He would make it come about. God “moved” Dr. Grudem’s heart to send out letters to universities in Phoenix, and remarkably, he heard back from one of them with a job offer! Now, I’ll set aside my reservations about the need to move, as opposed to say, using the money from the cushy Chicago job to buy a home sauna that his stay-at-home-wife could sit in all day to alleviate her back pain. That would just be too logical, and our brains often fail us in the pursuit of what God’s will for us is. Clearly God wanted them to have another mortgage thousands of miles away. As the story continues, we learn that Dr. Grudem and his wife struggled with what the “best” decision would be. His priority was the health and happiness of his wife, and he wanted her feedback on what they should do. Her reply? Her decision was that he should decide what to do.

Stop for a minute and imagine the confused look on my face. This is not a trip to DQ for a Blizzard. This is leaving the home she’s known for the past 30+ years where her children and grandchildren live, and her thoughts on the matter are she doesn’t have any? Maybe my ideas of what constitutes a healthy marriage are completely off due to my lack of having ever been married, but it seems to me that’s more of a cop-out answer than a finely tuned understanding of God’s will for her wifely role.

Dr. Grudem explains this is how a godly woman should respond, because she knows the man must take the lead and ultimately make the final decisions in a marriage. Great Scott!
He ends the foreword with the happy news he and his wife moved to Arizona and live happily.

I put the book down and rubbed my eyes at this point. Oh boy….

Carolyn continues with the preface, with spunky  prose about how she was such a badass feminist who had her legs kicked out from under her when she realized how erroneous her life was without Christ. She likes to emphasize how successful and snazzy she was in her little business suit holding the latest copy of Cosmopolitan magazine. She had everything and knew everything. Everything, that is, except she was empty and miserable. As she puts it, “a relentless self-focus hadn’t produced much happiness.” So at the age of 30 she became a Christian. Again, she didn’t buy a puppy, switch jobs or take a trip to a relaxing beach in Cabo San Lucas with her hard-earned single woman salary. She started going to Church.

She goes on to inform us women about what feminism really is. I almost felt like I had gotten lost in a 1930’s propaganda pamphlet about how to spot a Bolshevik. She lists the name of game-changing feminists; Gloria Steinem, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Betty Friedan, Simone De Beauvoir and their contributions to the cause. In her opinion, what started out as a movement to increase woman’s role and value beyond that of chattel (which, in her opinion, was entirely admirable), somehow evolved into a sinful, bitter, promiscuous, man-hating revolution. This loss of focus on the part of the woman on the family, along with her constant need to blame men for all her problems, is why there is so much divorce, babies out of wedlock, and general identity confusion among the latest generation.

This blew my freaking mind. My male friends must be freaks of nature, because they’re even more quick to point out blatant offenses against women and sexism than I.

What I found fascinating was how her reasoning for why the early feminists had it so wrong often had the exact opposite effect on me. Especially her description of what she calls the “fractured feminine psyche”. She calls the militant feminist archetype the Athena Complex:

What’s funny is so much of this description was dead on accurate about me. And it didn’t make me feel like less of a woman—it made me feel empowered! I’m proud to be an anomaly of felinity, and I can’t imagine being different. I can name specific instances in previous dating relationships where I grew restless because my mate didn’t challenge me intellectually. When I dated someone who was my equal, years later, my fears that I would always be the “man” in a relationship were assuaged. His “masculinity” wasn’t challenged by my assertiveness at all. I don’t see this as a paradox of nature, rather, it just makes it more enlightening when I am around friends who are equally independent and quick. Sparring is not “fighting”, its the spirited debate and exchange of knowledge that is so sexy to Athena types. I love my mettle to be tested, and to test others mettle in return.

It’s hard for me to imagine a world in which I hold my tongue, and question every opinion before I share it. I strongly believe gender is a very weak way to define what it means to be feminine or masculine. In a well-rounded human, we espouse many different elements of identity. I enjoy shopping and cooking, but I also enjoy playing frisbee and skidding through mud.This may alienate me from the vast majority of definitions of what it means to be “feminine”, but I’m okay with that. It seems Carolyn would have us believe we must have a strict constructionist approach to gender roles through a very linear translation of the Bible.

But I’ll write more on that next time 🙂

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12 responses to “Slutty Book Reports: Radical Womanhood (1/7)

  1. It seems the woman who wrote this book is a typical example of how religion creates gender identity issues. Religion’s grip on culture is, I think, the reason why gender identity issues even exist at all.
    Good review.

  2. I’m loving this. Can’t wait for the rest of it. I’m quite a fan of the Athena type, btw, but I’m skeptical of this “wound”.

    • I’d be very interested to hear your take on Athena’s “wound”. I can see the “anomaly” or even the seeming disconnect of the identity, but it seems very limiting to suggest a woman is less “feminine” for being an Athena type, and therefore must be at odds with herself as a woman.

  3. Pretty stupid premise for a book. The point of feminism is not to turn all women into the ‘athena’ type or even that all women aspire to be like the ‘athena’ type. It’s that women have get to do what they want to do with their lives, and that they have equal opportunity and capacity to do so.

    I think I’m fairly feminist, but I also have become quite content in a relationship and can see marriage and maybe (ick) babies in the future. But the point is that he doesn’t decide things for me and my life doesn’t hinge on him. Moreover, the point is that I reject the role that society says I should play by ambitiously pursuing my career and life goals, and I fight back against a system that puts a lower value on my contribution in the workplace, my health, my happiness and a number of other things.

    Either way, I understand why people turn to God or spirituality for a sense of inner contentment or satisfaction. And I also understand that by writing a book about your opinions, you have to go from the basic assumption that you are right. But it’s pretty egotistical to find something that works for you and then deem from your mighty podium of ‘what’s right for you’ that everyone else is empty and disatisified and God is the only answer… or better, that a man, whether that man is GOD or your husband, is the only answer.

    🙂 Ok – so you sucked me in.

    • Rachel, I shall greatly look forward to your pithy and spot-on comments! Please keep them out. Much food for throught.
      I fight back against a system that puts a lower value on my contribution in the workplace, my health, my happiness and a number of other things.

      Let’s do our best to inspire other women to realize they have a say in the matter too!

  4. That excerpt pretty blatantly equates masculinity with strength. Nothing masculine was suggested in the “Athena” personality until it was suddenly suggested that she is androgynous–for no other reason than that she is strong and assertive, apparently.

    • I agree. There’s no reason why the Athena “complex” has to suggest she is masculine or struggles with femininity. People are far more complicated and to suggest she is less of a woman because she has distinct “male” traits is the same reasoning that deduces homosexuality is a choice. “Oh, they’re just confused with their gender” or “she probably had hippie parents who neglected teach her how to be a girl.” So toxic.

  5. Why would she choose wound? I mean isn’t that symbolically used to mean vagina in women’s literature? I remember reading that used in my women’s studies classes in books. I can’t remember which ones though. Except for 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed which isn’t classic.

  6. It is really interesting to see how religion and feminism intersect, if at all. I think it can, but this book doesn’t seem to achieve this. Really interesting review!!

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