'Year of Biblical Womanhood' Draws Criticism From Complementarian Women

The reviews for Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood keep coming and criticism is largely coming from complementarians.

Mary Kassian, a council member on The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, released her review over the weekend and said she's mostly disappointed in how Evans "caricaturized" what complementarians believe.

She first took issue with the way Evans defined "evangelical complementarianism," and said she had her first and best laugh of the whole book when she read the definition.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

"'Evangelical complementarianism,' claims Rachel, '[is] a movement that began as a reaction to second-wave feminism and found some of its first expressions in the writings of Edith Schaeffer (The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 1971) and Elisabeth Elliot (Let Me Be a Woman, 1976).' Rachel goes on to explain that complementarianism rests on the 'uncompromising conviction [that] the virtuous woman serves primarily from the home as a submissive wife, diligent homemaker, and loving mother,'" Kassian wrote.

"Seriously? 'The Hidden Art of Homemaking???!!' I just about fell off my chair."

Kassian said she has never even heard of that piece of writing.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans chronicles her experience in following the Bible's instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. She grows out her hair, makes her own clothes, covers her head, obeys her husband, gets up before dawn, and abstains from gossip, among other things.

Evans has been overwhelmed by the response to her book since its release this year. But along with the positive reviews was pushback from some complementarians.

A major problem Kassian came across in the highly publicized book is Evans identifying homemaking as a woman's highest calling.

"I found myself curious about which 'proponent of the modern biblical womanhood movement' used 'strong, unequivocal language' about homemaking being woman's highest calling. And which complementarian in her right mind would even remotely assert that 'the only sphere in which a woman can truly bring glory to God is in the home,'" she said in her review.

As she read Evans' book further, she found that the author was referring to women who are on the fringe or are extremist and not anyone who is representative of the modern complementarian movement.

Kassian, who has spoken to tens of thousands of women about biblical womanhood and helped coin the term complementarian, said when she first heard of Evans' project early on, she contacted her and made herself available to help her. Evans did not take her up on her offer but attended part of a conference that Kassian spoke at. They also spoke a couple of times thereafter.

The conference that Evans did attend was also attended by women who were publishers, physicians, theologians, students, social activists, in the military and in business.

"If complementarian ideology were truly what A Year of Biblical Womanhood portrays it to be, my messages would have urged all those women to find husbands, have kids, and stay at home so that they might 'truly bring glory to God.' ... As if," said Kassian.

"I feel frustrated that the complementarian movement was so misrepresented."

Kathy Keller, wife of Pastor Tim Keller, also criticized Evans' book. You can read the review here.

Complementarians, according to Kassian, believe that God created male and female as complementary expressions of the image of God-male and female are counterparts in reflecting His glory. Having two sexes expands the view. Though both sexes bear God's image fully on their own, each does so in a unique and distinct way. Male and female in relationship reflect truths about Jesus that are not reflected by male alone or female alone. Complementarians do not believe that men, as a group, are ranked higher than women.

"If you hear someone tell you that complementarity means you have to get married, have dozens of babies, be a stay-at-home housewife, clean toilets, completely forego a career, chuck your brain, tolerate abuse, watch 'Leave it to Beaver' re-runs, bury your gifts, deny your personality, and bobble-head nod 'yes' to everything men say, don't believe her," she said.

Even though Evans interviewed an Orthodox Jew, an Amish, a polygamist, a Catholic and a Quaker, among others, she did not interview any evangelical complementarian women for the book, Kassian pointed out.

"To me, the omission is glaring. Even disingenuous. It strikes me as extremely odd that the book includes the perspective of everyone except the women who lie at the heart of its critique," Kassian wrote.

Evans tried to clear up her intentions in writing the book in a recent blog post. She said she wanted to "challenge the idea that the Bible contains a single message about something as complex, beautiful, and mysterious as womanhood."

"I wanted to unpack, piece by piece, what we mean when we talk about 'biblical womanhood,' and I wanted to do it in a funny, disarming way that turned the laughter on myself as an imperfect interpreter rather than on the text itself. The goal was to hold up a mirror to our interpretive biases to show just how reductive and misleading the phrase 'biblical womanhood' can be."

The term "biblical" is loaded, she said, and "this idea of a simple, unbiased, and patently obvious hermeneutic is an illusion."

"My goal with the project was to create something of a second naivety in order to open 'biblical womanhood' up for further discussion, to, in a sense, start at the beginning again," she added. "I wanted to unpack that phrase and ask what sort of presuppositions we are bringing to it."

In response to the criticism she received over her exaggerated exercises in following the Bible, such as holding a giant poster praising her husband while standing by the side of the highway, she said they were "meant to be hyperbolic and provocative, intended to bring some of the Bible's most interesting word pictures to life, and to illustrate, Amelia Bedelia-style, the futility of a hyper-literal application of the text."

"Biblical interpretation is a messy, imperfect, and at times frustrating process. I wrote this book with humor and with love because I think both are needed in the conversation, particularly as it pertains to something as complex and beautiful as womanhood."

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles