Review of The Accidental Feminist: Restoring our Delight in God’s Good Design by Courtney Reissig
By MADELINE FETTERLY
The Accidental Feminist, by Courtney Reissig addresses a very important and culturally relevant topic today—feminism. One needn’t look far to see that gender and feminism are issues that raise much debate. With mainstream culture clamoring to define gender roles—or rather to define ‘gender’ as ‘the absence of specific roles’—it is worthwhile for the Christian to consider how God defines gender. This task is exactly what Reissig sets out to do in her book.
Reissig begins by confessing that she is an accidental feminist. Not that she ever burned her bra or swore off men, but that she has personally struggled to figure out her role as a Christian woman in the church, home, and society. The reality with feminism as Reissig points out, is that it is hard to define. As the culture has evolved, so has the definition of feminism—so much so that feminism now means anything you want it to mean. Reissig also cautions her readers to not write her off too quickly, or believe that they aren’t accidentally feminists as well, or don’t struggle to submit to God’s good authority or design. Instead she claims that, feminist thinking isn’t found only outside the church, but rather that it’s within the church and within our thinking. She therefore argues that the audience for this book is wide and many can benefit from reading it. I tend to agree.
After spending the first two chapters discussing God’s design for women and the difference between men and women (relying primarily on scripture from Genesis), Reissig moves into the ‘S’ word: submission. The term that causes feminists everywhere to cringe when they hear it. The reason why feminism exists in the first place is to rebel against this very idea. Reissig sets out to answer two primary questions: What does submission really mean? And does it really matter?
To answer these two questions, Reissig spends a significant amount of time talking about authority. She reminds the reader that submission is not just a marriage issue. She states, “If submission in marriage is ultimately about our submission to God—and it is—then submission matters for everyone…As a Christian, submission to Christ as his blood-bought bride is your basis for all other forms of submission” (Reissig, 81). Her point is challenging, yet a good reminder that we are all under some form of authority—and especially as Christians we are to submit to the authority of God. For women, that means obeying the command of submission to our husbands. Moreover she states that, “our ability to submit in marriage is rooted in our relationship to God. We submit to our husbands because we know we are ultimately submitting to God and his rightful authority over us and our marriage” (Reissig, 73).
Just as she spends a fair amount of time discussing God’s design for submission, so she also spends time analyzing what submission is not. Submission within your marriage is not about becoming a doormat and just letting your husband, “walk all over you.” Nor is submission a personality killer—something that limits and stifles a woman’s personality. Reissig describes how the image of submission in our culture today has a tendency to conjure up ideas of slavery, property, and weak women. This imagery runs counter to the modern woman today who submits to no one (especially men).
Against the many arguments against submission, Reissig argues that one of the main ways we know that biblical submission is not a blueprint for doormat status is because God shows us in Genesis that marriage is a picture of a relationship of friends and equals. She describes, “When Adam saw Eve for the first time, he didn’t praise God for giving him a servant to meet his every need. He praised God for giving him an equal from his very flesh. He was delighted with her.” (Reissig, 80.) Through this picture the reader is reminded that the cultural environment has twisted the idea of biblical submission into an archaic, pre-modern, and outdated hierarchy. But as Reissig rightly reminds us, this is not what God intended at all.
Although the entire book was an encouragement and reminder of God’s good design, I found some sections a bit redundant and similar to other books on Biblical womanhood that I have read. Reissig’s chapter titled, “God’s design for the home,” however, was a delightfully fresh and insightful section of this book. As an individual who has struggled with the idea of saying at home with children, giving up a career, and spending days at home, this chapter reminded me and encouraged me that if the Lord calls me to stay at home to raise children, that call is good, purposeful and valuable.
As Reissig concludes her book, she grows increasingly bold with her message. The pages of carefully articulated thoughts, arguments, and ideas fade away into brief one liners like, “Some feminists even claim that Jesus was a card-carrying feminist himself, but the seeds of feminism are actually an affront to the gospel,” (Reissig, 154), and “Many feminists argue that we should view the local church as an equal opportunity employer. God doesn’t work that way. In God’s economy, equality does not mean sameness,” (Reissig, 145). Equality does not equal sameness—what a rich idea running completely counter to modern day feminism!
The final chapter, “Restoration is possible,” challenges the reader by saying, “ When we get womanhood wrong, we tell a wrong story about Christ’s relationship with his bride. We tell a wrong story about God. We essentially say that God has not really spoken,” (Reissig, 155). Clearly there is a lot at stake here, and according to Reissig it is absolutely crucial that we as Godly women get it straight.
As an individual who would also classify themselves as an “accidental feminist,” this book was both encouraging and challenging. Encouraging in that I admired Reissig’s perspective and appreciate her insight and gentle instruction and correction. I appreciated Reissig’s vulnerability and desire to share personal stories about times when she has struggled, fallen short, and strayed from God’s design for her.
Her book was challenging in the sense that her message runs totally counter to our culture, to the feminism that is engrained in me, to the images we see on television, and to the things we hear in music. As she poignantly states, “Feminism used to be something you had to ascribe to intentionally. Now it’s so much a part of us that we have to intentionally turn from it in order to understand God’s good design for us,” (Reissig, 145). This struggle resonates clearly throughout her book and forced me, to come face to face with the reality that I am too an accidental feminist and that much of my thinking and belief about gender roles runs counter to God’s design for me. As such this book would be a great read for anyone else who finds themselves struggling through the tension of mainstream feminism and Godly womanhood.