The Last Jedi is a divisive entry – to me, exactly the gut-punch this cultural juggernaut needed to stay relevant, but not all fans agree. At least, not on their first viewing.
My current favorite analysis is this article which details the many ways in which Rian Johnson upended fans’ expectations and franchise icons to deliver a better story. In it, the author details many important turns in Johnson’s script and their importance to breaking viewers’ expectations. Spoiler warning, of course! The Last Jedi Doesn’t Care What You Think About Star Wars (Slashfilm)
The following three points have stuck with me since seeing the film, along with a general awe for the gorgeous visuals and lovely John Williams score. (Do you think he hears another million $$ hit the bank every time a Star Wars film releases? haha)
Women leading like women would lead
Carrie Fisher is gone, but the film in its final form doesn’t trim her significance to this story. However, it’s not just Princess/General Leia who occupies an important role in SW:TLJ. I uttered an audible gasp at Vice Admiral Holdo’s critical moment in the film. (The on-sreen visuals alone elicited a “whoa.”) Holdo’s leadership style was not at all what Po Dameron wanted from his commander, and in that onscreen relationship, I saw the archetype of so many long-suffering women in positions of power with boys chafing underneath them because they don’t engage in the same brash, risky behavior that drives male leadership. A good read by Vanity Fair on how The Last Jedi stomps all over “mansplaining”
All over this film we see women collaborating, arguing, debating, nurturing, leading. I relished seeing Rose confront cowardice and greed and betrayal with both her heart and her head. Of course, Rey is a central figure in the entire trilogy, a young women who represents formidable integrity and hope in the face of dark times.
The Resistance army needs brave hot shots like Poe Dameron to score the big hits, but it needs good leaders who make careful decisions more than it needs bravado. But this isn’t an anti-male story — I genuinely believe Po is being set up for a strong finish in the next film, based on the cues we get from his character presentation in the final moments of The Last Jedi.
Good leaders come from both genders. It’s just that most of my female Gen-X peers never got to see women exercise that leadership without having to “play a man” to get it or keep it. And I’m relishing every strong, capable women I’ve seen on screen in 2017.
POV and narrator complexity
Rian Johnson offers us a complex web of stories which unite into a unified second entry for this trilogy. One singular element of the story is the conflicting versions of why Kylo Ren/Ben Solo destroyed Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training school. Like with so much of our messy human existence, “it’s complicated.” We’re hard-wired to assume Luke is in the right here, because he’s the hero we know and love. But Johnson’s story forces us to question why the son of Han and Leia would grow up to manifest the worst traits of his grandfather Darth Vader. We never get the whole picture, but we do begin to see more of Kylo Ren’s internal struggle, portrayed so well by Adam Driver. And this presentation of “what happened” reminds us that history is written by the teller. The facts are malleable, depending how you interpret them, how they’ve been warped by both Luke and Ben’s memories, and by the strong emotional overtones both men bring to their versions of the story.
There’s a parallel technique happening with Finn’s experience of his part in this story. We are all invested in Finn and his growth from being “a bad guy with a conscience and a choice” in The Force Awakens toward someone we assume will be important in the new world of Star Wars. Finn discovers throughout The Last Jedi that he snaps to judgments prematurely and needs to slow down and consider that he might not be seeing everything in play. This instructs us viewers as well not to make hasty assumptions about the folks who inhabit this universe. Will this new trilogy simply give us heroes descended from now-famous families? Or will we again see the rise of “nobodys” to positions of greatness?
It’s smart script writing and I’m pretty sure I’ll notice even more masterful moments when I see the film a second time.
Failure, not success, grows us into better people
Much of the fan hate arises from critique of Luke Skywalker’s part in this tale. Those of us raised on Star Wars would love to take a time machine back to the early 80s when Harrison Ford wasn’t so wrinkly and so damn grouchy, and when Luke/Leia were the hottest characters across the pop culture spectrum (whether toys or graphic novels or Halloween costumes).
Do I want to be reminded that my celluloid heroes are now old or dead? Well, no. Momento mori isn’t what I expect from a space fantasy. Yet here we are.
And The Last Jedi is so much better because Johnson wrote like a man who has lived in our world, not just in a fantasy land where people can wield light sabers and little fighters and score impossible victories in the face of an overwhelming superior yet evil Empire.
I’ve spent my life in education. Seeing Luke recoil from his own failure as a teacher resonates so much with me. Teaching is the most fulfilling, terrifying job I can conceive of. It’s not the work of it that makes teaching hard. It’s holding in your feeble hands the minds and hearts of people who might grow up to change the world if you can avoid screwing them up or cheating them out of the challenges that will force them to grow.
Fans didn’t ask for a Luke Skywalker who is aware of his insufficiency and his failures and fearful of the consequences of action now that he understands – as an old man – what those outcomes may be. And I, a 40-something woman who yearly gains a better grasp of my own shortcomings as my life flows through middle age toward old-ness, I grab hold of Luke’s story with all of my heart. It catches me even now. I want to drop everything to run out and watch the movie again so I can see Luke the Teacher, Luke the Failure, come to grips with his actions and their interplay with the free choices of Ben Solo that turned him into Kylo Ren.
The greatest teacher, failure is. ~Yoda
Luke is confronted in that significant scene on the island to remember that teachers labor to be surpassed by their pupils. That is the calling we were given, not to exercise control over our students’ choices and lives.
I’m a sentimental sot, but if you’re going to throw teacher wisdom at me in the middle of a blockbuster franchise film, I’m probably going to bawl. So I did.
* * * * *
I know fans will rage and argue, but I think The Last Jedi is some of the best and most meaningful Star Wars writing we’ve seen in years. I applaud Rian Johnson’s outstanding work on the script, and I am thrilled he’ll be at the helm of a new trilogy in the future, in some other corner of a galaxy far, far away.
I grew up in Fundamentalism with the phenomenon of men and women living under radically different holiness codes. One of the most notable, even to my young eyes, centered on the way men – especially married men – could not be in the room with a woman alone. For example, if the male church janitor was in the sanctuary cleaning up, it would not be considered appropriate for the church secretary (a woman, of course) to be the only other person left in the building.
When I was a teenager, my Christian school almost canceled a planned field trip because some parent of one gender canceled and that left only the opposite gender parent and I’m not really sure because even then it seemed weird to me that people were so worried about parents-without-their-spouses hitting the sack on the backside of a 711 or something. I think somebody’s wife agreed to take a day off work to go on the field trip and protect the testimonies of all the parents involved.
(Man, if I’d been any more worldly-wise growing up, I would have raised several eyebrows at how often “testimonies” needed to be “protected.”)
When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and started a long march through chemotherapy. As a senior in college, I awoke one weekend to the nightmare that she’d had a stroke once the cancer hit her brain (or maybe it was the chemo; those particular drugs had a habit of triggering strokes) and had been rushed to the hospital. It was bad there for awhile, and I was 500 miles from home, and my parents didn’t really have the money to put me on a plane. So the youth pastor from my home church, a man whom I barely knew because he’d started working there after I went to college, graciously offered to drive down to Greenville from Western PA and pick me up for a quick weekend home to see my mom after she had brain surgery. Problem was, he couldn’t be in the car with me for the ride home. In Fundamentalism, that was a deal-breaker. My agnostic, rock-band, techie brother agreed to do the ride-along job of chaperon, creating what must have been the Universe’s weirdest “buddy comedy road trip adventure” story of the year.
I’d pretty much called ‘bullshit’ on this whole paradigm when the head pastor of the church I attended in Greenville made a point in a sermon and then in a published article of expounding why, if he saw a single woman walking down the road in the pouring rain with groceries, he could not be expected to give her a ride. I don’t have a copy of the article and this was pre-internet, but someone on that side of the fence commented on the general gist of it in a post at TGC.
So this might explain how I went for years without any man touching me ever, even on the arm, even as a hug, even as a goodbye or hello, when I lived and worked and studied in Fundamentalist circles. It explains why, when I joined a PCA church in the early 2000s, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a guy would tap my arm as part of normal conversation. Took me years to retrain my body that human contact is actually healthy and good.
Vice President Mike Pence made a splash in January when it hit the news that he refuses to be in a room with another woman if his wife isn’t present. A lot of people outside conservative religious circles guffawed, but many of us – especially women – rolled our eyes and said, “Here we go again.”
Many people wrote good articles about how this is a form of gender discrimination. I liked The Atlantic’s piece: “How Mike Pence’s Dudely Dinners Hurt Women.” In a world where men still serve as gatekeepers to power, barring women from the room unless there’s a chaperon around isn’t protecting either of them from wrongful accusation. It’s just keeping women out of the chambers of power.
A friend of mine is studying science at a nearby, large, Research One institution that shall remain nameless. She is a senior PhD student in a STEM field, highly capable and respected by her colleagues. If she needs to use a particular piece of equipment in another lab, the professor (a man) refuses to let women into his lab unless there are other people present. Since this student cannot control others’ schedules, she has sometimes lost her slot to work with this critical lab equipment because there were no other people around to “chaperon” their time in the lab. But it’s ok – some guy got to jump in and take her spot, since apparently religious conservatives are so opposed to LGBTQ+ people that they refuse to consider them when building these holiness codes.
What makes this so galling is the way her science department and university administration cannot see that this professor’s holiness code has become a weapon against women in STEM at that university. Instead, she’s noted that people are stunned when she suggests anything but admiration for this man “who cares so much about his marriage that he refuses to be alone with any woman who isn’t his wife! Isn’t that chivalrous?! Isn’t it grand?!”
No. It’s legalism, if we want to parse this through the lens of Christian theology. God never said “don’t be alone with another woman.” What He said was, precisely, “Don’t be an adulterer,” which Jesus intensified as “Don’t lust after another woman in your heart.” You can’t cut your heart out of your body, guys, so you’re going to have to rely on the Grace of the Cross for your sanctification, not your own rules about who’s sitting in the office after hours. [Please don’t bring up “Let not your good be spoken about as evil.” Not the point of that passage. If we want to play the proof-text game, then let me remind you, “To the pure, all things are pure.” So get your damn mind out of the gutter next time you see a man and woman together in a professional setting.]
And from a professional, “business” viewpoint, it’s sexism. The primary victim of all holiness codes are the women. In the name of protecting something good (marital fidelity), the brunt of the work falls on the women – not to be present if there’s a man doing his job; not to dress in a way that a man finds provocative; not to be available lest he want to rape her. Oh, sorry, I forgot we aren’t talking about the Stanford swimmer-rapist.
Things were simpler, I realize, when the only power brokers in the boardroom, the lab, the classroom, or the pulpit were white men. That 1950s demographic profile does remain in many conservative circles, but in general American experience, things have opened up for us ladies. ….Kind of. OK, barely….. 😉
But I wish more men were out there expressing the outrage they ought to feel when their religious structures reinforce the idea that sexuality and attraction are uncontrollable forces in the universe; that women are temptresses and men are faithless ever; that a man wants only sex from the women he’s around; that people’s ability to claim any ridiculous thing about your reputation trumps the Great Commandments should you happen to see a woman walking in the rain and you’re the only guy in your warm, dry automobile as you pass her.
As a woman who’s married (19 years and counting) to a man who’s nothing like that, I’m offended on my husband’s behalf that people not only think like this, they celebrate people who do. I don’t feel any need to track my husband’s movements via his iPhone or think twice about what he’s doing with his genitalia where other humans are concerned. Why? Because he’s a decent human, and I trust him. It’s part of what Love means when I think about my marriage vows.
You don’t get to close your lab “in the name of Jesus.” You shouldn’t applaud people like Mike Pence who use a non-biblical standard of sexual “purity” in a way that locks women out of the halls of power. It doesn’t matter whether Pence “intended” for that to be the effect. It IS the effect his holiness code has on the women around him.
You shouldn’t cancel your kid’s field trip for the sake of your testimony. (Good grief, who ARE your friends, and why do you keep hanging out with them if they are going to scream nasty things about your reputation the minute you set foot in an automobile with someone of the opposite sex?)
You shouldn’t avoid doing the right thing – the kind and loving thing – because you’ve built yourself a big ol’ holiness fence to protect your personal reputation. Sometimes doing the right thing is going to look rather messy. At that point, you can either love your holiness code or you can love the person you’re trying to help. You can’t do both.
This is the conversation I wish someone had held with me when I was 24 or 28 or even 31, early enough in my life to grab my shoulders and shake me and say, “Don’t just let life happen to you. Make some decisions. Don’t assume it’s not going to matter.”
Because that’s how I did it, and it kind of sucks to realize in the rear view mirror that I should have–and could have–planned ahead.
My experience is not the norm for yours, but maybe this can serve as a starting place for all you lovely ladies out there who are still trying to figure out your place in this world.
1. You need a plan.
This is what no one told me, boiled down to its simplest form: Regardless of your family status (married, kids, cat lady, divorced, whatever), you’re going to live a long time and do a lot of stuff over the course of your life. You’ve got 40+ years of life – probably more if you’re in your 20s and take relatively good care of yourself.
What are you going to make out of those years? What would you like to build with your life? What problems do you want to solve?
Or play the “Write your own eulogy” game: imagine you’ve just died, and write out what people will recognize as your greatest accomplishments. Don’t laugh – this is a great way to force yourself to imagine what your future might could look like. *
You don’t have to map it all out. But you can start heading in a direction toward something that holds your attention. Whether you turn that passion into your “day job” to earn income is a different set of questions. But you’ll be happier if you can get your work and your interests/skills/talents to align – even a little.
2. Make it a flexible plan – create room for growth and change.
It was really liberating for me to hear someone say, when I was in my 20s, “You won’t hit your [career] peak until you’re in your 50s. That’s when many of this world’s great minds churned out their best work.”
I know a couple people who are in their 40s and are doing the job they set out to train for when they were 18. Some of those folks are still in the same occupation because they are trapped there due to educational debt or the consequences of some career arcs. But a couple really did know at age 12 they were going to be a lawyer or doctor or whatever, and are happy with it.
That’s a few people. The vast majority of people I’ve encountered fell into their jobs, or stumbled into a career they enjoyed, or realized they weren’t happy doing one thing, and launched out (despite the risk) to do something better. Even approaching their 40s or 50s.
Knowing that life is uncertain (so eat dessert first!), you need to build contingency plans into your career master plan.
Acquire new skills constantly. If the job is meh but they’ll pay for you to train in some useful skill, it might be worth a couple years of relative boredom to gain something that opens doors later. Or take some classes at a tech college for a couple hundred bucks. Or go hang out at the maker’s collective downtown and see if you can get some hours painting or building furniture or sewing or whatever. Learn to code – classes on Udemy or EdX or Coursera are often on sale for $20 or even free. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE NOT TO BE LEARNING SOMETHING RIGHTNOW.
Education is usually a good investment, except when it isn’t. Learn all you can about the job market you’re interested in before committing to anything long-term. [If you earn a masters, do NOT pay full price for one. Get funding, do a grad assistantship, or shop around for other schools.] Balance the value of the credential (at any level) with what it will cost you to earn it. For the record, pretty much every adult needs at least an associate’s degree.
But don’t let the potential consequences of your choices cripple you psychologically, freezing you into a state where you don’t make decisions about your future. If it seems like a good idea and you can legitimately afford it, go for it!
Be willing to trade comfort for experience. It’s nice to do a job that’s easy and in your wheelhouse… until you’re bored to tears with it. Then what will you leverage to move up or out? Will you have gained any experience or skills that will make you marketable? If not, it’s probably time to look for something that will challenge you, or get some more education in the field.
Keep analyzing your interests and strengths, and get people (preferably older, wiser ones) to comment on your options. Do a career inventory every couple years; check out what jobs are developing in your field. Read job ads. Revise your resume. Apply for a couple dream jobs just to keep your interview skills sharp. Don’t assume things will just stay the same.
3. Don’t trade away the real future for a “maybe.”
My critical mistake was to assume the future was going to go a certain way.
In my 20s, I “knew” that eventually we would have kids, and then I’d have to drop out of the work force for at least 5 years because there’s no way we could afford full-time child care, and wasn’t that the best way to raise kids anyway? **
That perspective led me to believe my career choices wouldn’t much matter … until I didn’t have kids, and then my passive not-choices became my choices. It’s a hell of a thing to wake up at 37 and realize you don’t have a plan for this Life speeding along.
To be clear – I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done. I’ve worked as a teacher, reference librarian, academic coach, graphic designer, and communications/marketing professional. Along the side, I’ve honed my skills in design, writing, cooking, networking, problem-solving and game-playing…. not to mention instructional design, research, and progressive approaches to education.
But if I’d made a plan – an actual plan – when I was in my mid-20s or even my early 30s to target something I’d like to spend the bulk of my time and effort working to fix/make/create, I would have done things differently to prepare myself for the decades to come. I probably would have earned a PhD in my 30s, opening doors in higher education I can only dream of at this point.
I’ve met a lot of women who found themselves single at 30, childless at 35, or divorced/widowed by 40. It happens. If you’re in Evangelical Christianity, you may not even see these women because they’re painted out of the picture in so many churches or sermons. They are seen as the exceptions rather than the norm; yet demographic statistics argue the point that half of us won’t be married by the time we’re in our 40s.
My upbringing within Fundamentalism actively workedagainst me realizing I needed to plan a career arc formyself; instead, I viewed my work as a subset of my husband’s career (which has been even more patchwork than mine) and didn’t bother planning much for myself. (Not his fault. And he tried to get me to.)
It’s hard to row against the current here – so many forces push women to focus everything on getting married, making babies, and raising them. [If that’s what you want and what you get, great! Enjoy! But eventually, your babies are going to grow up, and you’re going to find yourself an empty-nester. Then what?]You need more of a plan than “I’ll figure it out once the kids are older.”
4. Seize the opportunities that appear in front of you.
Serendipity is a central feature of success. Yes, hard work and practice are essential too – your luck doesn’t matter if you don’t have the chops when it comes time to seize the day.
But being “in the right place at the right time” is a thing. Take steps to put yourself in the way of potential opportunities by expanding your skills and networking wth people.
At least a few times in your life, you’ll be staring right in the face of an opportunity, usually one that’s enticing you to take some big risk for an even bigger reward. And I’m here to say, when those opportunities present themselves, don’t be afraid to say YES.
We girls are notorious for under-rating our own value and abilities, for hedging our bets because we’re risk-averse almost as a genetic trait. We live with imposter syndrome daily on top of suffering the real effects of gender discrimination in the workplace. There will be 1,000 voices in your head shouting down a new idea. Go get some outside perspective to affirm the benefits of taking an opportunity when it comes.
My husband and I became teachers because someone we only sort-of knew thanks to the internet called us and asked us to consider helping him start a high school that was unlike anything else in the community. We said yes. It’s still one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had, and it set me on the path of becoming a formal educator. I was 27 at the time.
In hindsight, we should have probably wrapped things up a few years earlier than we did and moved on to new developments in our teaching careers. We should have looked for the new opportunities that would have stretched us, opened doors, helped us see the bigger picture. Live and learn from my example, young ones.
5. Do what you must to get mentors in your life. Don’t make career decisions in a vacuum.
This one is hard, because you don’t have a lot of control over whether people further along in life are willing to sit down with you and talk about how they’ve lived their lives to this point, what they’d change, and what wisdom they can share. And you might have grown up in a family that didn’t invest much in you, one that didn’t see you as having potential or much of a future.
But I’ve hardly ever met someone who, when asked with sincere interest, would turn down the offer to talk about themselves. 😉
You can connect to professionals across the globe now using Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s not weird to write someone in your field an email asking to grab coffee or for a quick paragraph response to a question about how to succeed in that field. It’s not weird to approach someone a little older than you to see if they have time for a drink and a chat.
It’s not weird to do more than daydream about the things you love doing, and to build the machinery to make that life possible. But it’s going to take a whole lot of work, and there will be times in your life when that work simply won’t be possible (because you won’t have the funds, the time, the energy, or the freedom).
No one can plan your life for you. (If someone is attempting to do so, set some better boundaries or get that person out of your life.) But you can learn a lot by asking people to share what they learned about #adulting.
Not gonna lie: adulting is 99% making it up as you go and hoping this isn’t going to be a colossal failure. On the other hand, I’m thrilled to be an age where I’m ok with that. Haven’t died thus far (from my own stupidity) and hopefully won’t die till cancer gets me (it’s in my genes; I’m resigned), this in-between time is mine to play with, and I’m glad to say I finally have some goals in mind to shoot for.
If we know each other IRL and you want to grab coffee and talk about planning your own career (regardless of your gender), please don’t hesitate to reach out. My door is open. Plus I really like coffee.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ *If I were do this exercise now, because really there’s no reason not to check in on one’s life goals every few years, this is what I’d write: “Lori left behind a legacy of creating opportunities within education for many who would have otherwise dropped out or given up. A respected instructor at several university centers of teaching and learning, she mentored hundreds of faculty into better teaching practices and ways to support struggling learners. Thanks to her work, thousands of students attained their educational goals and graduated. She also worked to simplify educational processes, clarify messaging within the educational world, and unite disparate departments into holistic teams working for the best interests of students.”
** I’ve always loved Ursula LeGuin’s assessment of how women can juggle parenting and a career in writing. One person cannot do two full-time jobs and make it work. But two people can effectively juggle three jobs, and that’s how she and her husband made it work:
It takes a lot of courage to write out your story of rape. It also takes a lot of courage to tell people you don’t want to be a Christian anymore. I’ve long appreciated Dani’s honesty and willingness to continue dialogue with people whose worldview perspectives are opposed to hers.
I encourage you to read her latest essay thoughtfully, and be willing to learn from her critiques of purity culture and religious moralism which feed a tolerance for rape culture. I don’t personally believe that Christianity must necessarily produce the warped views of sex, purity, and gender that Dani experienced in her early years, but I’ve seen these views in every church / organization I’ve been a part of, and it needs to be addressed.
Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a “date” that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.
And I also highly recommend Dani’s series of posts “for the well-meaning Christian.” Some of my dearest friends are atheist or agnostic, and I trust that my love and care for them has improved since reading Dani’s series.
The amount of controversy kicked up by Rachel Held Evans never fails to amaze me. She says stuff I disagree with, stuff I agree with, and a lot of stuff in between that just represents …. ideas. Not brilliant or heretical or life-altering. Occasionally perceptive, deep, and moving.
So it was with when I sat down to read one of her more famous books. After noticing how the mere mention of RHE turns many of my (otherwise nice, kind, normal) male Christian friends into raging assholes, I started reading more of her works in an attempt to make sense of what kept happening on my Facebook feed.
A Year of Biblical Womanhoodpunches all the buttons of someone who wants to hate RHE’s books: She’s happy to pick and choose theological and religious experiences in her pursuit of living for a year like a “biblical woman.” She rejects several standard, beloved Evangelical positions. The whole book is written as if it should be a Big Deal… when it really isn’t. But hey, I remember being 30 and uncertain and searching.
On the other hand, RHE always turns up (IMO) ideas I find worthy of contemplation. Several moments of her yearlong experiment in living through loosely defined ‘biblical womanhood’ resulted in moving passages in the book. I nodded along and underlined sentences and starred words which encapsulated some of the same critiques I launch at the “evangelical establishment” – though usually only for the tiny audience of my husband. Baptizing patriarchy and calling it holy through years of tradition and cultural syncretism is bad, even if challenging the status quo makes people uncomfortable.
Her ceremony to honor the female victims of the “Texts of Terror” is a good example of what makes her so infuriating to Evangelical men and endearing to me — a section both controversial and very touching. Rachel and her friend met in a modernized vigil similar to the commemoration of the Jephthah’s daughter mentioned in Judges 11:39-40 but lost in history. They lit candles in honor of the women who lived (and often died) in horrific circumstances, preserved for all time an eternity as “stories” in the Biblical text: Jephthah’s daughter. Tamar. The Levite’s concubine cut into pieces.
It pisses off Evangelicals to label as “texts of terror” the Old Testament accounts of brutal rape, murder, or mutilation of women. But RHE has a point: By normalizing these stories (or simply ignoring them – when’s the last time you heard a sermon from Judges 19?), we never force ourselves to come face-to-face with the difficult questions presented in the narratives of Scripture. Our world is seriously fucked up. Evil is really really reallyevil. Saying “it’s not so bad! God can make it good!” doesn’t make the evil less evil. But it’s way easier to ignore this than acknowledge it.
Or take Proverbs 31. A simple search for “Proverbs 31 woman” on Amazon brings up 100 pages of title results. To say it in emoji: O.O
This text is so revered as the sine qua non pattern of perfect womanhood, most of us won’t even speak out loud how deeply this text shames us: The Proverbs 31 Woman, as archetype, is unattainable. Within the Evangelical Christianity of my upbringing, this woman may be prized as far above rubies, but the daily failure of any of us to live up to the standard makes it hard to smile through the Mother’s Day sermons. “She shall be praised,” yes, but the rest of us women live with the consequences.
RHE brought to light the fact that, within Judaism, Proverbs 31 is a blessing, not a command. How ironic. The “woman of valor” (eschet chayil) uses her gifts to bless her household, and within Judaism, it is the husband who memorizes this passage, that he may quote it for his wife in acknowledgment and gratitude. Reading that section on Proverbs 31 in A Year of Biblical Womanhood released the passage from its status as oppressive overlord and gave me eyes to see instead beauty and grace. “Women of valor” exist everywhere in my life and they should be praised!
* * * *
The conversation on “biblical womanhood” revolves around three fights: 1) equality vs submission within marriage; 3) women’s roles in the church, especially relating to the pastorate; 3) modesty.
I appreciate RHE even when I disagree with her exegesis, hermeneutics, or conclusions because she reminds me that those fights are not as cut and dried as we insist on making them.
Good people – men and women with whom I will share the New Jerusalem – do not agree whether women can be pastors or whether the pursuit of egalitarian marriage is misguided or what makes something ‘modest.’ And when our response to an opposing viewpoint is to label it as dangerous liberal heresy and refuse to engage in the ideas or even acknowledge the writer herself as having a legitimate voice at the table, we fall into a blindness of our own making.
RHE is a signpost for the changes in 21st Century American Christianity. A Millennial, she speaks for many who simply do not operate under the older “rules,” especially the tinge of Modernism that shaped the Christianity I grew up in. For postmodern Christians, story trumps propositions. Community triumphs over sectarianism and denominational divisions. Significance means seeing the Gospel heal the world in both tangible and spiritual realms, not ‘being right.’ Faith anchors in a living relationship with The Word (Christ).
Obviously many of my male theological friends disapprove (if Facebook is an accurate thermometer), but I happen to think the young’uns are headed in a better direction.
This particular book of RHE’s will not move any mountains, and in some ways it’s as much an experiment to provide content for her blog/book than anything else. But others – like Faith Unraveled – are absolutely worth your time to read.
And I am glad that Rachel Held Evans (alongside many articular women) is writing, speaking, and provoking responses in the Church. We need her – and many more like her.
Pick up A Year of Biblical Womanhood at your local bookstore or Amazon.com (affiliate)
I appreciate articles which offer us a glimpse of the tension between personal faith and historic Christian tradition. I’ve rarely found anyone who attempts to hold both feminism and Christianity as complementary worldviews rather than as enemies. Yet Dianna Anderson is living that dream. So to speak.
The Atlantic did a short piece on her recent book Damaged Goods, where she writes as a committed Evangelical Christian about gender issues, sex, and womanhood. Though it sounds like her narrative doesn’t really marry these divergent viewpoints into a true harmony, I appreciate her willingness to live inside cognitive dissonance while she works it out. It’s more honest than the “purity culture” narrative that Evangelicalism is trying to live with.
Anderson claims she has developed a whole new way of thinking about Christian sexual ethics, yet she refers to this casually as her “thing.” The personal quality of her argument doesn’t necessarily make it more persuasive; it would take more than 200 pages and a quick skip through history to reconcile two ideologies that have been defined almost wholly in opposition to one another.
But it is probably more honest. Anderson really wrote Damaged Goods because, as she puts it, “I felt like a freak because I was a feminist, a Christian, and a virgin.” For the next generation, this might be a useful framework for engaging with both Christianity and feminism, and one that will probably resonate: understanding the work of Jesus and the identities of women not in abstract political terms, but as glimpses of truth people use in shaping their own lives.