Introducing A Year of Biblical Womanhood
I first heard of this project months ago and have fascinated by the concept ever since. When the chance arose to get an advance copy in exchange for making sure to blog about it, I jumped at the opportunity. I would have blogged about it anyway… but this way I don’t have to pay for a copy of the book. More posts will come as I work my way through it, but for this post, I’ll introduce the author and the project.
The Author: Rachel Held Evans
For that matter, the author’s story in general has always fascinated me, so maybe I should start there. Rachel Held Evans proudly identifies as an evangelical in the southern United States. In fact, she’s from Dayton, the location of the famous trial about teaching evolution in the classroom, and wrote her first book Evolving in Monkey Town to talk about that upbringing and her journey since (a book I have yet to fully read). To this day, she continues to call herself an evangelical, continues to use language like most other evangelicals use, and leans heavily on Scripture in her works. At the same time, most other southern evangelicals would label her a “feminist,” which for them is about akin to being labelled a God-hating heathen who is determined to drag down everyone else to Hell with her. She personally prefers the term egalitarian, since feminist can carry some negative connotations, but the point stands: many would consider her a walking contradiction.
The Project: Literalism to the Extreme
In the Introduction to the book, Rachel identifies her and her husband Dan’s decision to still not have children at 29 years old as a trigger for her motivation in this project. In many church communities, it is an expectation for women that they will have children – preferably multiple children and preferably staying home to raise them. Even in those churches who teach egalitarian freedom in lifestyle choices, it is still considered weird at best to not get married and have children. I even experienced this tendency in my early 20’s, constantly being asked if I had a girlfriend yet by the older members of the congregation. Despite the fact that the apostle Paul says he wished everyone were single like him, we have a tendency to assume that we aren’t fully within God’s will if we aren’t getting married (usually young) and having children as soon as possible. We make it even worse by referring to this as the “biblical” way to do things – “biblical” of course being synonymous with “1950’s white suburban America,” but more on that to come as I review the book.
With this cultural backdrop in mind, one day Rachel decided that she would take every command for women in the Bible as literally as possible. This is what she was always told she was supposed to do, after all. She was and is routinely criticized for picking and choosing from the Bible, so she decided to actually test out the literalist hermeneutic. If you’ve heard of A.J. Jacob’s Year of Living Biblically, this is essentially the same concept but only with the teachings specific to women. I’ve just started the book so don’t know all the specifics yet, but it means things from calling her husband “master” and greeting him at the gate of the city with praise to making all her own clothes at home to camping out during her period so that she didn’t make anything she touched impure. She was going to demonstrate true “biblical womanhood” to the best of her ability (some weren’t possible, like Dan taking other wives, but she did interview some women in that situation) in order to show how ridiculous that phrase and the cultural expectations that come with it are.