A Review of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood
by Sarah Flashing
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; Publisher: Thomas Nelson (October 30, 2012); 352 pages
Probably the best place to begin a review of this book is to consider who Rachel Held Evans says she is. She tells us in the subtitle, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master (YBW). Her analysis of “biblical womanhood” begins from a feminist perspective but a bit of misinformation resides in this subtitle. She didn’t exactly find herself in these various circumstances. It’s not like she was captive of a religious cult demanding her unyielding obedience or commanded by her husband to a position of servitude. Evans—as the liberated feminist she claims to be (36)—deliberately placed herself on the roof, in the kitchen, and in Hobby Lobby with the primary objective to prove that there is no single understanding of “biblical” womanhood to be derived from the pages of Scripture.
The media has been coaxed into a frenzy over this book. Of course, the media is always naturally curious about schisms and moral failures within the evangelical community—this I know from personal experience in a denominational setting. But this is hardly a story they needed to uncover, it was practically hand delivered by the author herself. Prior to its publishing, an editor at Thomas Nelson recommended to Evans that she might need to remove the word vagina from YBW in a couple of instances because some bookstores might take issue with its usage and not want to stock the book. Evans made the decision to respond to this issue on her blog for the whole world to see instead of opting for a posture that would support their right to choose—a feminist virtue, after all—based on their own conscience about the contents of the book.
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Stirring up “vaginagate” which inspired her readers to create t-shirts and online protests has made this the sensationalistic story it has become around the country, bringing public ridicule to evangelicalism. For the record, Lifeway has publicly stated that their decision to not carry the book was, at least in part, related to the poor sales of Evans’ first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. If Lifeway’s decision was based on any of the content of a pre-release copy, they probably discovered, like me, that locating the word vagina in YBW is akin to a game of Where’s Waldo in a crowded Times Square on New Years Eve. This book provides numerous reasons to be concerned apart from any incidental mention of female genitalia. This is just a non-story.
Evans isn’t explicit about her view of Scripture until the end of the book, and so it’s the end of the book where I wish to begin. When you understand her methodology upfront, her various exploits throughout the year make much more sense.
I don’t believe this book is really about biblical womanhood, or biblical anything. YBW is a book about the Bible and how we read it. To fulfill her objective to live out this year of biblical womanhood and prove that there lacks a complete of consensus on what it is, Evans employs a feminist hermeneutic of suspicion that begins with the assumption that instances of female submission in Scripture and as applied by the evangelical biblical womanhood movement are cultural artifacts rooted in the male pursuit of power and domination. But her fallacious methodology casts a shadow of mock and ridicule on a movement of men and women who seek alignment with the character of God in all manner of living…
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