Sunday, November 30, 2008

Radical Womanhood, by Carolyn McCulley

This book lept out at me, demanding my attention. I was even more excited to read it after Lisa talked about it over at 5 Minutes for Books. After faithfully devouring it myself, I am here to encourage you to do the same.

This book is exactly what Lisa described it to be - a history of the feminist movement. McCulley has a strong desire to make women aware of the history of the movement and does not just assume that her readers are aware of the culture shifts and changes as relate to the women of today. Instead this book is a studied approach to how specific ideas of the past are playing out their role in today's society. This book is a basic primer, if you will, on the history of the feminist movement written from a Christian perspective. The second half of my last sentence is what is going to raise the hackles of a great many people today. The Feminist Movement and Christianity have not made a point of walking hand-in-hand. More often than not, we discover the clashing of swords when the two distinct groups are mentioned together. I know this doesn't make for a fun topic at times, but I really do think it's a topic that we need to grapple with a bit.

I would have to agree with McCulley when she makes the claim that women of today do not really understand the history of the movement. Most women pick up where the last decade left off (without examining the past) and grab hold of whatever arguments are running screaming by them in the moment, claiming that the entire movement was based on one statement/thought and/or idea. We've traveled from a time period where women wanted a vote and wanted some career paths open to them to a place in time where wearing the Playboy Bunny on your t-shirt somehow means you've made the better choice for yourself. In this book McCulley examines focal women who have led this phenomenal movement and what their core beliefs were -- and how they ended up living out their own lives (quite fascinating). McCulley addresses what the Bible had to say about females, taking a close look at how Jesus Himself treated women.

The thing that was probably the most impacting for me, as a Christian woman, in reading this book was an argument she didn't make at all. I realized that I can't sit passively by and either dismiss history or refuse to pass along my knowledge of it. The moment we stop teaching and learning history is the moment of our demise as a society AND as an individual. It is because statements and beliefs of the "feminist movement founders" have been laid aside that we have come to certain positions as a society towards marriage, home and, most alarmingly, the unimportance of children.

She wrote this book to educate women of today as to what the founders of the feminist movement were all about. She offers quotes, historical facts, gives sources and makes good arguments about bad ones. Without an even basic knowledge of where we have been, collectively, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

To that end, here is one historical fact that I gathered from McCulley's book:

Margaret Sanger was the founder of the modern birth control movement and a vocal proponent of eugenics - the theory of race improvement that was the cornerstone of Nazi Germany. Sanger believed that all evils stemmed from large families, especially large families of those she deemed unfit. As she wrote in her 1920 book, Woman and the New Race, "The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it." (page 128)

It would be important to note here that McCulley is not advocating large families. She points out that Sanger herself came about through one of her mother's eighteen pregnancies. Those eighteen pregnancies wore her body down, resulting in an early death. Sanger felt eighteen pregnancies was a bit excessive and no doubt many of us would as well. Prudence and wisdom in using the body and resources God gave to each individual is something to be considered. The remarkable thing about leaving it between individuals and God as to how many children any one family has is that no laws are required - small families can then have grace to smile upon larger families and vice versa. If my body can handle pregnancies well and I have the resources to care for my children then back off. If I don't - then back off. Certainly the least gracious thing that can be done is to suggest murdering the infant family members to spare anyone any undue pain and possible hardship. That's a rather shocking statement.

This book is full of such shocking statements - direct quotes from leaders within this movement. I don't have enough time (or patience, really) to sit here and detail them all but that's ok because there's this book . . . .

Now, McCulley also does write from the Christian perspective. She does examine the way that Jesus welcomed women into His company. He taught them scripture. He encouraged them in hospitality and ministry to other believers. He valued women and treasured them. I think the Bible is pretty clear on that point (although I know there are plenty out there who will disagree.) McCulley talks about equality between the sexes and in God's eyes, equality most certainly does exist. However, that does not mean that we're all created for the same tasks. Equality, yes. The same roles? No. This book encourages the reader to examine Scripture and see what God had to say about the roles the men and women played. They were to be compatible to one another, encouraging and helpful to one another. Loving and respectful. However, man is to lead and woman is to help him to do that. That's McCulley's end conclusion and mine as well.

Does this mean degrading women and reducing them to slavery and abuse? Not a bit of it and McCulley herself argues against the abuses women have faced throughout history. (Again, with the history thing, I know! I know!)

I walked away from reading Radical Womanhood with this thought pounding away in my brain:

Older women, teach the younger women!

If the older women decide that they don't have enough time to instruct the younger women on any variety of issues (from societal history to child rearing, to being good wives, to balancing a budget, etc., etc) then THEY ARE TOO BUSY! Plain and simple. If those with experience refuse to share their experiences with a younger set so that they can build and grow in the knowledge passed on to them - then they are failing to improve society. Women wrapped up in self aren't doing the whole young lot of us very much good. As a thirty year old I'm here to declare that I would LOVE the advice and care of someone older than me, who is more advanced in years and experience with wisdom and pure knowledge to offer. Thankfully I know a few and they take time to share with me now and again for which I am truly grateful. If you are in the "older woman" catagory and are reading this - speak up! We WILL listen. We long to listen. We long to learn and to grow! I'm grateful McCulley took the time to sit down and write this all out for my benefit. It's a useful tool and I welcome it!

In summary - we must learn about the past and carry into our future. We need to be dedicated to pure knowledge so that we can correctly instruct those who are going to follow in our footsteps. It would be utter nonsense to suppose we can raise our children without understanding of the culture - where it has been, what thoughts have brought it to where it is today, and where such thoughts will lead. Thoughts affect history. A handful of women thinking about The Way Things Ought to Be changed our world - sometimes in good ways and most often in not (simply because they chose to leave God's design in the dust in an attempt to create their own culture).

I'll close with this quote that McCulley shared from John Piper, who said this at a pastor's conference:

"I love strong women! I think they are magnificent testimonies to Christ. Because if they are complementarian - which I hope they are at our church - then they are combining things the world can't explain. They are combining a sweet, tender, kind, loving, submissive, feminine beauty with this massive steel in their backs and theology in their brains!" (page 187)

The Bible also advocates strong women who can help lead their homes, follow their husbands, offer wise and sound advice, have their heads full of good knowledge that is trustworthy and reliable. The Bible applauds women who nurture their children, love and build up their families and - again - use their brains when doing so. There is nothing in scripture that would suggest that women are not to be thinkers and should not act on accurate and biblical thought. I think of Abigail in the Old Testament who married David, Esther, Rahab, the Proverbs 31 woman. I move to Mary, sister of Martha, in the New Testament, and Lydia. I think of stunning character, wisdom and insight portrayed by these women and the honor they received as a result of their quick wit and studied thoughts. Strong women are needed both for the role they play today in protecting what is pure, what is right and what is just (biblically speaking) and for the part they play in the future. Make no mistake about it - each one of us plays a role in the future in some way, shape or form. It's just a matter of how we want our influence to unfold in future lives and generations.

Each woman is special and beautiful before God. He made an amazing thing when He created the female -the life giver! He gave her a tender heart and a sure and steady head and both are absolutely necessary to live a life well. That's all McCulley wants and, what I suspect most of us wants - a well-lived life.

There is so much to say on the topic of the feminist movement and what the Bible has to say about women and their role in the church, society and the home. This particular blog post entry is not meant to be an in depth article on any of those three spheres and likely isn't addressing any of the three in a remotely satisfactory manner. I understand why McCulley said throughout the whole book that there was much more to talk about! But this book is a good start, particularly if you are a Christian and would like to understand a little bit more about your place in history. It's worth a good look. Why? Because you are worth the look, worth the time and worth the study.

A note on comments. You don't have to agree with me at all. I don't preview comments. I let you post away! I just ask for respect for my person and my family, as always. These are my thoughts and my opinions and you might have some that differ. Just keep an even temper and I'd love to hear you out! Thanks!


Stephanie Kay said...

After reading this post and the one at 5MFB I must read this book. I am intrigued and want to learn more. Thanks for sharing your insights.

One other thing... as a 34 year old woman I am learning that I am both a "younger" woman and an "older" woman. My kids are 6 weeks - 5 years so I need instruction from the moms with older kids. But having been married over a decade there are things I can teach newlyweds and new moms. One of my goals for the new year is to reach out more to the younger women in my circle. I think reading this book might be a good starting point for that.

Marni said...

I agree with your "older women, teach the younger women" statement. After having 5 of my own kids, I've told my younger sisters that if they really want good information, stay away from parenting books and magazines and call mom or grandma. My youngest sister just about to have her first still knows it all so she won't listen to anything I say, so I guess at least to her I'm not old enough yet. Soon.... very soon.

Lisa Spence said...

Great thoughts. I must once again acknowledge your superior review-writing skillz!!!

I am (reluctantly) coming to terms with the idea that I am (to some) the older woman, yet still I feel like such a mess! :-)

Oh yeah, your quote of Carolyn's quote of John Piper reminded me of something I heard him say at the True Woman conference (didn't go; downloaded the messages): Wimpy theology makes for wimpy women. I want to be a strong woman of God!

Alicia said...

Wonderfull, detailed review. This book sounds fascinating. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This sounds good! I need to add it to my quickly-growing TBR list!

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