A Review of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”

Though I am an avid reader of Rachel Held Evans’ blog and appreciate her perspective on gender issues, I must confess that I had given up the ‘fight’ as regards the equality and dignity of women, in home and in the church, and, for that matter, in the public sphere. Reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood has re-ignited a passion for women’s full flourishing.

As a college student, I fiercely defended both egalitarian marriage and women’s ordination. It seemed unfathomable to me that women could be relegated to submission and silence in view of what Jesus has done to empower us by the Holy Spirit. This view wasn’t entirely influenced by my pneumatology, which I am grateful to the Nazarene Church I attended in middle and high school for imbuing me with. It was also profoundly rooted in my social situatedness. I grew up in Northern California, certainly not a bastion of conservatism of any kind. I attended a church with a heavy emphasis on the work of the Spirit and with a history of ordaining women. I confess my view of women and their flourishing is also rooted in anger and ambiguity related to growing up in a largely single mother home. My father was – and is – not abusive, at least in the physical sense of the word. In any case, his less than stellar respect for and verbal treatment of my mother was in no wise motivated by his understanding of male headship, since he opposed religion and did not situate himself within the Christian tradition. My mother did an excellent job of raising my sister and I with very limited financial resources, a lack of social capital, and a disjuncture in academic training and past job experience. Indeed, a woman of valor! I don’t believe I was ever explicitly anti-male; rather, the environment in which I lived was filled with strong examples of strong women, which I celebrated, and so emphasized. I grew up in my formative teenage years without a father or male role model and without, ever, a brother.

As a result of these things, and perhaps, with a sense of my calling toward the Church and/or the Academy, I understandably defended women’s full participation in whatever spheres of life they find their vocation in. I was perhaps, at first, rather unsympathetic to female friends that wanted to become homemakers and homeschooling moms. I am happy to say that I have softened in this regard and indeed have deep respect for women who honor God in these spheres and find plenty to admire.

To complicate all of this, my mom became drawn into a conservative Mennonite community while I was in college and taking courses such as “Women in the Bible”. I composed a paper on the Biblical context of head coverings in an effort to prove to her how head coverings are culturally contextual, and not, ahem, biblical.

I was not sure when reading this book, what I would learn as I felt that I had exhausted this subject in previous study and conversation. However, I was pleasantly surprised with scholarship Rachel shared that I had not engaged with previously.

At the same time, she treats her subject matter and the people she interviews with profound respect and care. As someone who has lived in or near PA Dutch country, I especially enjoyed Rachel’s foray into the Amish world. I am always nervous when people come from outside, without a basic understanding of and care for the Amish community. I thought Rachel treated her Amish dialogue partners with much humanity and fairness, and it actually enriched my understanding of Amish views of ‘plainness’ and ‘honesty’.

This book also moved me profoundly. As Rachel recounts the ceremony she held for the ‘forgotten’ women of the Old Testament, I was struck by how many women are not ‘remembered’ either in and out of their suffering and in fact consigned to oblivion. Surely this was not our loving Creator’s intent, when He made male and female in His image and died to redeem what had been marred in the fall.

Held Evans’ chapter on the Proverbs 31, was, in a word, ‘liberating’. That eshet chayil is meant to be an unconditional blessing, and is routinely sung in Orthodox Jewish homes on the Sabbath from husband to wife, is a wonderful testament to the ‘warrior’ like nature of women and the diversity of literary expression in the Old Testament.

All this to say, I am grateful for what Rachel has contributed to the conversation on gender in the Church in her newest book. Her scholarship, humor, and grace are all evident in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and I thus heartily recommend it.

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About Olivia

A place to explore 'the soul in paraphrase, the heart in pilgrimage' (George Herbert) View all posts by Olivia

5 responses to “A Review of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”

  • Deborah Johnson

    Hi, Liv!

    I just rediscovered your blog–hurray! This is a beautifully-written post. As a current attender of a conservative Mennonite church myself, I was interested to read about your Houghton paper regarding head coverings. If you would be willing to email me a copy of said paper, I would very much like to read it! During my experience at my new church, the issue of head coverings has proven to be a bit of a dilemma for me when it comes up in sermons. My uncovered head feels obtrusive at times, but I’m not convinced that covering is something required of me as a daughter of Christ. Your thoughts would another dimension to my consideration of the topic, methinks! 🙂

    Hope you’re well, friend!

    Debbie

  • Emily

    Liv,
    Like Debbie I also just “re-discovered” your blog! I’m glad I did. This was a wonderful post and review. I do not always agree with Rachel Held Evans when I venture over to her blog, sometimes to a point of frustration, but I always admire her tireless efforts to stand up for true equality of women in the Church. I had decided not to read “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” but after reading your post I definitely WILL read it. : )
    Thanks for sharing!
    –Emily

    • Olivia

      I’m glad this encouraged you to read it! I don’t agree with all of Rachel’s theology but love the space and platform she’s created for discussion with her blog, especially around this issue. I’ve loved reading her “Women of Valor” Essay Contest Series. Good stuff.

  • Carolyn

    I just finished A Year of Biblical Womanhood last week. Each chapter was a little conversation on a topic with which I’ve felt uneasy or by which I’ve been hurt. It was so healing to read it! It was my first official exposure to Ms. Evans, and plan to read more. But for now, the taste is lingering, and my senses are sharpened to the lack of equality I see around me, resulting in a broken heart for both women and men who think the Bible has specific prescriptions for our cultural roles.

    The part that keeps coming back to me is the “Quiverfull” woman movement, and the idea that a woman’s highest obligation is to give birth to as many babies as possible. Yikesyikesyikesyikesyikes. HENYWAYS: Liv, you narrated a good part of my life in your own beginning here. I love you, Woman of Valor.

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