The following is a book review of Rosalie de Rosset’s book, Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices. I’ve been given a copy of the book to give to one of my readers, so if you’re interested in a free book, leave a comment!
When I first began reading Unseduced and Unshaken (which one of my twitter followers joked sounded like what you’d get when you played a James Bond film backwards), though there were a few aspects of it that made me uneasy, I wanted to like it. I really did. The author made several points that stood out from typical Christian jargon and I wanted to embrace those points and write a review about how I was “pleasantly surprised.” The main idea of the book is the idea that women should be “dignified.” That word made me cringe right from the start, but the author’s initial definition of dignity actual had me nodding my head in agreement. According to Rosset, a dignified woman is strong, demands respect, has found her voice and uses it, and boldly speaks the truth. Rosset encourages women to educate themselves, study theology on their own (in opposition to asking their husbands at home, a point which made me particularly happy), and to reject the world’s attempts to sexualize and commodify women. These are all things that I want to do and be as a feminist woman.
However, despite the good, I couldn’t get over my unease at the idea of demanding that women be “dignified.” I was too much of a skeptic to embrace the author’s positive points. Women speaking and being bold and thinking for themselves? I just had a feeling that what I was reading was too good to be true. This is a Christian book. There has to be a catch.
I was right about that. The book quickly decelerated until the last few chapters where it got so bad I wanted to throw the book across the room. Even before that point, however, there were hints as to where the book was headed.
One positive thing I will say about the book is that it meets its intended purpose. In the introduction,the author states, “I pray that this book will begin significant conversations, lead to further reading, discussion, and even disagreement.” Oh, there was disagreement. But that disagreement led to discussions, with Abe and with friends on Twitter. Through these discussions, I realized that many of the points made in this book are commonly made in Christian culture, and that these points can have unhealthy, even disastrous, effects on women.
I’m going to list and briefly discuss a few of these points below, and I, like Rosset, hope that they lead to significant conversations. A few of these points may even merit their own blog post in the future.
- Be rational!: The book consistently makes a point to demonize emotions. Emotions are usually equated with sin, and women are told to foster rational thinking so that we can combat the feelings that are leading us to sin. Rational thinking is good and important, and it’s refreshing to hear someone encourage women (and Christian women at that!) to use it. But when rational thinking is contrasted with emotion, it sets up a false dichotomy of thinking and feeling. The message many take away from that false dichotomy is “Don’t trust your feelings and don’t express them too much.”
- God fixes eating disorders: In one chapter, the author explains how vicious society is toward women. She’s right, of course, but rather than turning her critique toward society, she critiques the women who are affected by society. She describes women who don’t feel adequate because of societal pressures as having a “pathetic greed.” She also states in another chapter that eating disorders and depression are caused, not by a society that constantly tears down women, but by women not fulfilling their longings with God.
- Respect or sex? You can only choose one: The author states that many women “open themselves up to disrespect” by “getting physically involved too soon and going too far.” The author also tells women that they are to dress modestly so that they “are taken seriously…not objectified and don’t attract the wrong kind of man.” She then says that once we overcome sexual sin, we can return to our “self-respect.”
- Lesbians are pathological and clingy: The author lists “same-sex attraction” as an addiction. In one of the most rage-inducing parts of the entire book, she describes lesbian relationships as mere friendships that include “attachment that is marked by emotional immaturities, crippling dependency, exclusivity, and insecurity.” She sees lesbian relationships has having some “elements of genuine affection,” but as mostly being “problems of idealization and unresolved childhood attachment that create a barrier to healthy adult mutuality.” She ignorantly suggests that lesbians are unable to “emotionally receive the presence of another without a loss of self or a dependent consumption of the other.”
- Masturbation is evil: According to this book, masturbation will make it hard for you to have a relationship with someone because you’ll be satisfied with satisfying yourself. I’ve heard this argument many times from Christians. I have no idea where they get it from. I’ve never heard of anyone (besides maybe John Mayer) who just couldn’t relate to a sexual partner because of masturbation. The author defends her idea that masturbation is a sin by stating that people feel guilty for doing it. This kind of contradicts her whole “don’t trust your feelings and use logic” point. Her reasoning here just baffles me. She doesn’t address Christian culture that makes people ashamed of all sexual expression, nor does she address society that shames women who are able to find fulfillment outside of men. She simply concludes that since people feel guilty for masturbating, it must be a sin.
- Modesty. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed: The book tries to make a point for modesty outside of the tired, old “don’t cause your brothers to stumble” line. The author believes in this line, of course, so I couldn’t even celebrate her choice not to focus on it for too long. But the author thinks that our idea of modesty should come from theology, specifically the theology that states how worthless we are without God. Using the story of Adam and Eve as a reference point, the author states, “clothing confesses that humans are ‘without.’ We are…untrustworthy, vulnerable to one another, and lacking faith in the benevolence of God.” We are to dress modestly to “confess who [we] are in Christ by showing who [we] are without Him–naked and ashamed.” With this idea, the author lifts all pretense from the modesty discussion and states what it is really about–being ashamed of our bodies, ourselves.
- Civilize the menfolk! Later in the book, another reason for modesty is given: it “changed men from uncivilized males who ran after as many sexual partners as they could get to men who really wanted to stick by one woman.”
- “One of the most precious gifts in life is innocence,” the book states. Yet innocence is stolen from us by things like sex education and sexual abuse (yes, the author really puts those two things in the same sentence as thieves of innocence). The author praises the Lord–who protected her from ever having been touched sexually or jeered at inappropriately–for protecting her innocence, which hit a nerve for me since the Lord apparently chose not to protect my innocence when I was abused at a young age.
When I discussed these points with Abe, his response was, “Well, that just sounds like every other Christian self-help book for women. Why do we need to hear all that again?” He’s right. You’re probably not surprised by the above points if you’ve spent any time at all in evangelical culture. For many of us, these points have shaped, and may even continue to shape, our worldview. I’d like to spend some more time dissecting these points in the comments. Let me know if you’re interested in a free copy of the book so you can dissect it more thoroughly!