Here’s why ‘Year of Biblical Womanhood’ release scares the pants off of patriarchal Christians

Patriarchal Christians and the so-called “complementarian” male-supremacists of the Neo-Reformed movement are terrified of Rachel Held Evans.

Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, releases today and, based on the reaction so far, those patriarchal Christians are right to be afraid. It seems the princes of patriarchy may no longer enjoy the enthusiastic support of their subjects.

Here’s just a sampling of the response to Evans’ book.

Suzannah Paul:Making Peace with Proverbs 31

The concept of “Biblical Womanhood” is something of a sacred cow in contemporary fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Daring to question its prescriptions is akin to heresy in certain circles, and this book has invited a firestorm from those who don’t appreciate questions — or women who won’t toe the line. Rachel has become something of a lightening rod for mean-spirited criticism from some Christians, which puzzles me as I find her writing to be both generous and orthodox.

But God is not honored by infighting, and this book is not intended as ammunition is anyone’s battle. Rachel writes not to fan flames but to loose chains. In exploring her own frustrations with Scripture and Christian culture, Held Evans grows to love the Bible more — and the One who inspired it and sets hearts free.

Rachel has a high view of scripture. Her work is not mockery but an honest and faithful investigation. She illuminates the truth that every person and tradition interprets which makes some folks uncomfortable who prefer to imagine Bible interpretation in easy blacks and whites.

RevGalPals:A Year of Biblical Womanhood

The scholarship in this book reveals many lessons about biblical women and church history that may be ho-hum to clergy of all genders in mainline denominations, but it is likely to be very revelatory to those in the pews around us. Let’s face it: most of us cannot be as loud as the evangelicals around us and Evans’s has done a commendable (and readable) job of making a book suitable for any Bible study- with brief sketches of biblical women, including Eve, Deborah, Tamar, Vashti, Mary of Nazareth, and Lydia, among others.

… Evans’ research is thorough. She consults different Bible translations and has several mentors, including a Jewish woman who gently steers her understanding and interpretation of Hebrew scripture and its intersections of worship and life. … Her projects reveal how quickly an attempt to create, achieve, and perpetuate a biblical standard can leave one frustrated and feeling distanced both from those one loves (and who love one in return) and, possibly, even distanced from God.

… The truth of this book, and of the time in which we are living, is that there are too many negative words and images that surround being female, being feminist, and being honest about one’s own self, one’s body, and one’s experiences. We need all the voices we can raise, lest the rocks do our own work, to say that we are valued, gifted, and powerful creations of God

Ben Emerson:‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ by Rachel Held Evans: My Whole Dang Review

Before this book is even about womanhood, it is more about what we mean when we say something is “biblical.” And that is perhaps the thing I appreciated the most. She has been having this conversation for a long time on her blog and I hope this book will invite even more people into that conversation.

I will tell you straight up, I liked the book a lot. It is funny, intelligent, disturbing, relatable, and asks some fantastic questions. I highly recommend it.

Jana Riess:A Year of Biblical Womanhood

If you enjoy memoir, want to know more about the Bible (which, as she points out, is not actually “the best place to look for traditional family values”), and have a robust sense of humor, you should check this out.

Sarah Bessey:In which I call Rachel Held Evans a woman of valor

The book is a game-changer, a turning point, and it’s a damn good read. Fascinating, funny, erudite, wise, complex, I couldn’t put it down.

One of my favorite sections of the book is the chapter about the Proverbs 31 Woman. Rachel writes about the need to “take back” Proverbs 31 to its original intent – a celebration of women of valor!

Eshet chayil is at its core a blessing – one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally….We abandoned the meaning of the poem by focusing on the specifics, and it became just another impossible standard by which to measure our failures. We turned an anthem into an assignment, a poem into a job description.

Natalie Burris:‘Me Too’: An Affirmation for Rachel Held Evans

Growing up as a young woman in the Southern Baptist church, I too experienced the Bible being used as a weapon against me and my calling. I too have been accused of being a “bitter, angry woman” intent on destroying the Church with my “radical feminist agenda.” And I know I’m not alone. That’s why your writing has been such a valuable ministry to women like me (and men, too) who have been wounded by the church and whose questions have been shot down with appeals to concepts such as “inerrancy” and “complementarianism.” I’m sure I’m not the only wanderer who’s been encouraged to return, and who joins the chorus of “Me too!”

Like so many evangelical women, I’ve faced hurtful accusations when I push back against the status quo. Sometimes I don’t have the words or the grace-under-pressure to articulate what I believe. And many other people in the church who are not white straight men fight a similar battle. Thankfully, you do have the ability to speak so clearly when others are still tending to their wounds and can only offer a quiet “Me too.”

Addie Zierman:Biblical Womanhood: Fault Lines & Rachel Held Evans

I could tell you about the humor and the insight and the grace in the book. The Baby Think It Over electronic doll and the intimate way Rachel lets readers in to her fears and hesitations about motherhood. I could quote some truly beautiful and poignant one-liners.

But what I really want to tell you about is Rachel. I want to tell you how kind she is. I want to tell you how this book is full to the brim and spilling over onto her blog, where she is doing beautiful things. She is giving voice to the voiceless, promoting peace by hosting interviews with those who understand the Bible differently than she does. She calls out injustice where she sees it. She calls for unity.

Shawn Smucker:Why Rachel Held Evans’ New Book Is Deceptive

Even now, there are plenty of people who are more than happy to use the Bible to support continued suppression, oppression, or war in various degrees and forms. There is no doubt that we all, in some form or another, are selective in our reading and application.

So disagree with Rachel’s conclusions if you want, but don’t hate on the book, because this idea, this subject, this discussion about how the Bible should be read and interpreted is one of the most important discussions Christians can facilitate.

Tamara Lunardo:Beyond Mere Words

And they balk,
“She’s not a person of faith
who loves God and His Good Word.”
They don’t realize they’re seeing you
a life of lived-out Scripture.

Alise Wright:Why Biblical Womanhood Needs Rachel Held Evans

I went to churches where women had no authority anywhere. I went to churches where women were equal in the church, but not in their homes. No matter where I went, and no matter what their theology regarding women was, I was told that it was biblical.

… Rachel Held Evans grew up in the same culture. She accepted it for a season. And then she also found the questions too big to ignore. So she donned a skirt and a head-covering and set out to see just what it was to be a biblical woman.

And while I was already dipping my toes into the egalitarian waters, Rachel’s journey invited me to dive in.

In her book, she invites all of us, women and men, to dive in.

Ed Cyzewski:Rachel Held Evans Is Hiding in Your Church

Here’s the thing that makes someone like Rachel important for the church today: she’s putting into words the very questions and issues that many women (and men) have been asking and thinking about for years but haven’t been able to discuss openly.

… Rachel is one of the most capable voices who is speaking up for gender equality to the broader church. For many women, she has shown them that biblically committed Christians can take the Bible seriously and still live without gender hierarchies.

J.R. Goudeau:Open Letter to Rachel Held Evans

This is what you’ve done. You listened to us. You shared your space. You told our story. You are changing these lives.

And when the dark nights come and the doubts prevail, I hope you’ll remember the faces of the women of valor you have touched, whose lives are forever impacted because you yourself were a woman of valor to them.

Kelly Nikondeha:A Little Alliteration for Rachel Held Evans

Rachel – thanks for being brave, going first, and opening the door wide behind you for others to join you. You are a gift to us and we cherish you. We also celebrate your latest publication.

Zack Hunt:A Response to The Gospel Coalition ‘Review’ of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

I’m still waiting for someone from the complementarian/Neo-Reformed tradition to actually write a review of Rachel’s book and not a theological polemic. Honestly, I might even settle for a decent, rational polemic, but alas, all we get are ridiculous, thinly veiled theological attacks from Desiring God and now from The Gospel Coalition.

Ben Witherington:Women in the Hood — ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’

As it turns out, a good deal of the Bible is R rated, especially the parts that involve women, and their involvements in sex, and war, and ministry, and politics. Actually few of those aforementioned women were stay at home gals in the modern sense. But then, as I like to say, the problem with women like these in the Bible is not that they are strong women. The problem is that then as now, weak men have a problem handling strong women whether inside or outside the Bible, inside or outside the church, inside or outside the family. It’s sad, but it’s true, perhaps especially in conservative Christian churches.

Rachel Held Evans has come by her writing awards honestly. There is some fine writing, and some very funny writing in this book, and Rachel herself is often quite transparent and self-effacing about the ways she falls short of any sort of model of a ‘Biblical woman’ as she tells of her adventures in an entertaining and informative way.

kelly escobar:5 gifts we can give rachel held evens

we are grateful for you, rachel! congratulations! keep stirring the pot & speaking from your heart & calling the church to something better …

"The purpose of torture is torture."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"He's rumoured to have agreed.So the families will be held in limbo and without their ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"That assumes that he'd know that the German pronunciation was different."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"It's kind of amazing how the memory hole from 1984 became an actual thing the ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Lunch Meat

    You found a study implying that men who appear more masculine are in some cases more sacrificial than men who appear less masculine, and are using it as a citation for men are more sacrificial than women because testosterone? I’m not a scientist, and even I know that’s dumb.

    You’re pointing out average preferences (which no one at all disputes) and implying they are due to innate characteristics, that women naturally like children and socializing more and men naturally like isolation and abstraction. The innate part is what I’m objecting to. It has been explained to you, repeatedly, that there’s no way to tell whether common preferences/characteristics of men and women are due to innate biological traits or cultural socialization. You are ignoring that explanation. That says to me you are not arguing in good faith.

  • Lunch Meat

    Well then please define what is a woman.

    Someone who identifies as one. Why is this so hard?

  • Carstonio

    Not sure what you mean by judging “nature” as moral or immoral. Nature is not an entity but a concept. 

    And “system of morality”? Ellie Murasaki said it best in another thread:

    The essence of morality–the essence of charity and compassion as well–is to minimize the harm done to people and to maximize happiness where that does not conflict with minimizing harm. If following a moral principle involves doing harm that could be avoided, especially if the harm could be avoided easily and without causing greater harm, then ‘moral’ is not an adjective that applies

    And again you’re making broad and unjust assertions about gender tendencies. By “domination” I mean a gender hierarchy where men hold authority over women. In many societies women have used subversive power strategies, but it’s wrong and cruel to assume that this is some kind of inherent hormonal feminine tendency. It’s far more likely that such strategies existed because women were locked out of all other forms of power or authority. The alternative would have been simple submission. 

    It should be possible in societies at almost any level of technological development for the sexes to be legal and social equals.

  • Kiba

    But sexual dimorphism does not translate into the idea that men and women are somehow mysteriously impelled by some ancient force of nature to be boys-blue, girls-pink, etc.Such things are socially constructed, and rather pernicious.

    That whole pink/blue thing pisses me off. Anyway, from the Ladies Home Journal (June 1918): “…the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is pertier for the girl.” 

    And from what I can find idly using the Google is that it varied by country as well.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    Testosterone is the hormone responsible for masculine physical appearance. Men that have more testosterone appear more masculine and are mor sacrificial because that is their natural role, to sacrifice for women and children.

    I think that if gender preferences were culturally constructed there would be evidence of many ancient isolated cultures developing divergent gender roles which I challenge you to show. Show evidence of isolated cultures developing male childcaring roles and female risk taking roles. Even if you could find some few examples I’m sure they would not be very successful in economy, reproduction and technology.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    So by that logic if I identify myself as Napoleon I must be Napoleon and society ought to treat me like Napoleon.

  • Lunch Meat

    Right, because common nouns are proper nouns.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

     Also what are the traits to which a person must identify in order to become a woman?

  • Lunch Meat

    Testosterone is the hormone responsible for masculine physical
    appearance. Men that have more testosterone appear more masculine and
    are mor sacrificial because that is their natural role, to sacrifice for
    women and children.

    Women were not even included in the study, which, again, was correlating appearance, NOT hormones, with sacrificialness. There could be many explanations for their appearance and for their actions.

    Again: If women are less sacrificial, why do we “naturally” (as you would probably say) risk our lives in pregnancy and caring for children? Is it because we’re selfish?

  • Carstonio

    Comparing the burdens that those societies placed on the sexes misses the point. The issue here is who held the authority, and with a few exceptions it was men, whether it was in the family or in the tribe or in the royal councils. Even if one assumes that the tradeoffs you’re talking about were beneficial or necessary, they wouldn’t have required a gender hierarchy.

  • Carstonio

    There’s also a practical argument that preindustrial societies that had rigid gender roles were not using their resources wisely. Imagine such a society having a large woman who was a fierce fighter, more than capable of holding her own in combat with men. It wouldn’t make sense to demand that such a woman hang up her sword and pick up her nursing blanket to avoid violating gender norms. Similarly, the society could have a woman of stellar leadership qualities, but again it would rather preserve the all-boys club in the councils of power and let her skills go to waste.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Also what are the traits to which a person must identify in order to become a woman?

    …being a woman.

    Seriously, that’s it. If she considers herself a woman, she’s a woman. The single most common trait that women share is a uterus, and not all women have or had one. There’s a constellation of secondary sexual characteristics (but not all women have female secondary sexual characteristics, and some of those that do have them needed hormone treatments and/or sex reassignment surgery to get there), there’s a constellation of personality traits and expectations (but as we’ve been discussing, that’s all culturally imposed bullshit and lots of women don’t want to go along with it), but neither is important. If she says she’s a woman, she’s a woman.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    Well yeah it’s a trade off: man gave off resources and risked their physical integrity,  women gave up autonomy.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    So what kind of Woman am I if I decide to be identified as one but still like to dress in manly clothes, look at naked girls, play contact sports, groom poorly, behave aggresively dominant, hang out with boys and curse all the fuckng day long while spitting tobbaco?

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

     Well I think it’s a better compromise than giving your life to protect the woman and the child.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Tomboy lesbian. Though, since you use ‘decide’, which carries certain connotations of choice, volition, not innate, capacity of changing one’s mind, it might also be ‘heterocis male jackass’. Or maybe I’m confusing your hypothetical with you.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

     The exercise of overt power implies the use of authority, otherwise how is power exercised?

  • EllieMurasaki

    When you’ve been pregnant, come back and tell us whether your opinion on that subject has changed. Until you’ve been pregnant, or at least acquired the capacity to become pregnant, shut the fuck up about whether pregnancy is better or worse than anything else you can think of; it is not something you can experience and therefore you will never be in a position to decide whether a pregnancy is something you want or don’t want to begin or to continue. (Unless invited to give your opinion by someone who is or can be pregnant, but the final decision on all such matters is still not yours.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Ever seen The Great Debaters? There’s one scene, mid-to-upper-class black family inadvertently damages property belonging to lower-class white man. (I think they ran their car into the farmer’s pig, but I forget.) It is abundantly clear from the way that scene played out that the white man had all the power in the scene even though nobody had authority over anybody.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    I never said women were selfish, but that men are more inclined to sacrifice themselves (risking their lives) for others than women. The fact that women have always outlived men is an evidence that there is a gender that makes greater sacrifices than the other because one is inherently more valuable.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

     Well I think it’s ok to arrive the conclusion we won’t fully agree on the topic, I don’t see why further this discussion. I’m glad I discussed with you.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The fact that women have always outlived men

    [citation needed]

    (Number one killer of women of childbearing age until very recently, historically speaking? Childbirth.)

  • Lunch Meat

    Well I think it’s a better compromise than giving your life to protect the woman and the child.

    Because women never die during childbirth?

    So what kind of Woman am I if I decide to be identified as one but still
    like to dress in manly clothes, look at naked girls, play contact
    sports, groom poorly, behave aggresively dominant, hang out with boys
    and curse all the fuckng day long while spitting tobbaco?

    I’m pretty sure you’re implying my husband (along with probably 90% of the other men I hang out with regularly) is a woman, since:

    -He wears pretty much what I wear (t-shirt and jeans)
    -He doesn’t look at any naked girls (just one naked woman
    -He doesn’t play sports
    -He grooms quite well
    -He is neither aggressive nor dominant
    -He hangs out equally with both men and women, and possibly even more women
    -He curses hardly more than I do
    -He doesn’t chew tobacco

    So, yeah, thanks for proving that not only do you believe irrationally in innate gender norms, but the ones you believe in are kind of stupid.

  • Lunch Meat

    I never said women were selfish, but that men are more inclined to
    sacrifice themselves (risking their lives) for others than women.

    I know you never said women were selfish. I was being sarcastic, because the fact that you can believe men are more sacrificial when child-bearing people (usually women) literally give up their bodies–risking their lives–to carry a living being inside them for the better part of a year, and then spend the next one or two years feeding it out of their bodies, is mind-boggling to me. What is your explanation for that?

  • Carstonio

    You haven’t explained why it’s necessary for women to have no authority in a preindustrial society. All this talk about tradeoffs sounds like male blackmail: “I’ll protect you and feed you, but in return you have to obey me in all matters and give me sex whenever I want.” And naturally, much of that protection is from other predatory men, because patriarchal society inculcates men with senses of entitlement. It’s the same reason that fundamentalist Muslims treat women as the property of either families of husbands.  Gregory Maguire dealt with these themes somewhat in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, where unmarried or widowed women were powerless in such societies. A society where men hold all the authority is by definition a man-oriented society, and it’s infuriating that you’re condoning social structures that treat women as property with no rights.

  • Lunch Meat

    Until you’ve been pregnant, or at least acquired the capacity to become
    pregnant, shut the fuck up about whether pregnancy is better or worse
    than anything else you can think of; it is not something you can
    experience and therefore you will never be in a position to decide
    whether a pregnancy is something you want or don’t want to begin or to

    This is probably why he thinks abortion is obviously evil–because pregnancy is just like carrying around a 10-pound weight in your pocket for a few months, or something.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think the unstated assumption here is that women who neither are nor are planning to be mothers nor are mourning their infertility have something wrong with them, but there’s nothing wrong with men who neither are nor were nor plan to be soldiers nor are mourning the disability that keeps them from soldiering. Women aren’t sacrificing anything to become mothers, they’re just doing what’s normal. Men who go soldiering are breaking from their normal (or their society’s normal, at least, depends how one thinks about someone who joins up during wartime and goes back to farming or whatever when the war’s over versus someone who’s a career soldier), which often means sacrificing something.

  •  > it’s ok to arrive the conclusion we won’t fully agree on the topic, I don’t see why further this discussion.


  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    Well as I said before, women have always outlived men, in other times by more than two decades. The reason? Men got killed more frequently because they took all the risky tasks. Men were told “Be back with your shield or over it” and off they went to be slaughtered instead of women.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    If you want to prove me wrong go make your own homework.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You’re confusing Roman legionnaires with all men everywhere, and you’re forgetting that, before modern medicine, childbirth had a terrifyingly high mortality rate. As a general rule, the people whose lives are being risked by childbearing are not men.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

     Yeah, you are married to a pussy.

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    The fact that women have always outlived men even when they are physically stronger is proof that they live riskier lives .

  • EllieMurasaki
  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    You know what, I’m really tired of your ranting.

    Fuck you too. Whatever or whomever you are supposed to be.

  • Mark Z.

    Right. See, women who risk their lives to bring children into the world aren’t being sacrificial because they have nothing else to live for anyway. Dying in childbirth is what women are for. Whereas men could do lots of worthy things, but instead generously go and die in wars, which constitutes “sacrifice” on behalf of women and children. Even though the ones sending them to war are never women and children, but always older men, i.e. patriarchs.

    I don’t know, maybe it sounds less stupid in Spanish.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last person on the planet. You sound like you could do with a good fuck, though, and I’d hate to inflict you on anyone who doesn’t want to be around you, so why don’t you go fuck yourself?

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    Reverse the blackmail: give me your resources whenever I want and risk your life defending me or I’ll take your descendants from you. Yeah, women needed to be defended from men predating resources for other tribes, it’s competition, nature loves to make us compete against each other.

    I think it’s better we leave this topic at rest, we are not going anywhere. Have a good day.

  • Carstonio

    Yuck. I hope you don’t really believe that women in general use children as bargaining chips that way, in this era or any other. The children aren’t “his” but “theirs,” and that’s the whole problem, the patriarchal idea that a man’s property includes not just women but also children. I’ve actually encountered a couple of men who believe that controls on female sexuality are necessary to prevent men from raising other men’s children. 

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    Yeah I would certainly not be motivated to share my resources with a woman who bears children from other man, it’s only evolutionary logic.

  • And yet, step-fathers regularly share their resources with women who have borne children from other men, and adoptive parents regularly share their resources with children born from other parents, and people regularly share their resources with unrelated neighbors and friends.

    If, as you suggest, there exists an “evolutionary logic” that inhibits our motivations to do that sort of thing… and yet we do it anyway… that seems to imply that this evolutionary logic is not the primary determinant of our behavior.

  • Lunch Meat

    Yeah, you are married to a pussy.

    You know what? The commenters here know that I don’t use words like this often, but you are a total fucking asshole. I mean, you’ve been repeating the same fallacious, misogynist arguments over and over again, ignoring counter-arguments and facts that don’t support what you say–I can handle that. I like to argue on the internet, because it helps me understand what I believe and what other people believe better. But you’re just like those jerks in high school calling boys gay because they don’t like football. Whatever, dude. Believe whatever the hell you want about me. My existence and that of my marriage is proof that your idiotic ideas about gender norms are pointless, fruitless, and doomed to failure. I’m done with this.

  • FAQ: But men and women are born different! Isn’t that obvious?

    I ran across that from an unrelated subject, but thought it would be useful to contribute this link to the discussion on gender essentialism.

  •  Okay. Seriously, you are a fossil and a monster and you need to just shuffle off somewhere and calcify. Fuck you, fuck your half-truths, misrepresentations and outright lies. You’re a moron and an asshole and you’re pretty obviously deeply insecure about your masculinity.

    Oh, and for most of history, about 1 in 100 pregnancies ended in death of the mother. This adds up to about 1 in 16 women dying as a result of pregnancy.  That whole “Men sacrifice themselves to protect women” thing? Fucking bullshit.

  • Women who die of natural causes have always outlived men who die of natural causes, you fucking idiot. But for most of history, men were more likely to die of natural causes than women were.

  • P J Evans

     [citation needed]

    I have a database with 16000 males and 16000 females. For all the individuals with a death age, the average age at death for males is 62.8 years and the average age of death for females is 61.0.

  • P J Evans

    We didn’t make you show up here and spout unbacked-up claims.
    Please let the door hit you when you leave.

  • P J Evans

     And fuck you and the white elephant you rode in on.

  •  Dear Jesse: I want to eat my stepchildren. Is this normal?

    (I’ve been thinking about this for every piece of tripe you’ve posted. You just made it so darned apropos.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have survived the author’s move to a new site, hence the google cache.)

  • Héctor Muñoz Huerta

    So it’s ok if your husband is called a Woman but not a Pussy.