Blogger elaborates on year-long project exploring the topic
Watch Rachel Held Evans's talk on Vimeo.
Rachel Held Evans, author and blogger, gave a talk on Friday, February 24, entitled “My Year of Biblical Womanhood: Why I Camped Out in the Backyard During My Period.” Evans, who is the author of the book Evolving in Monkey Town
, shared about her year-long project during which she committed to following all of the Bible's instructions as literally as possible—from Pauline exhortations to submit to her husband to the exhaustive requirements of Proverbs 31 to Levitical purity laws.
“There are shelves of books out there in Christian bookstores about ‘biblical womanhood,’” she said, “but I wanted to immerse myself in the concept to have a better, more authentic conversation about it.” Evans explained that the movement started in the 1970s in response to second-wave feminism and glorified domesticity, motherhood, and submission to male leadership in the home and church. “The subtle message is, ‘if you don’t succeed at these things, you are not a biblical woman,” pointed out Evans.
During her year, which ended in October 2011, Evans submitted to her husband in all things—“which was weird, because we had a very egalitarian relationship”—and cultivated such “biblically feminine” qualities as gentleness, modesty, and domesticity. Each month, she focused on a particular facet of biblical womanhood, including Levitical purity laws that kept her from touching her husband for the 12 days during her menstrual cycle, and sitting on a cushion everywhere she went to prevent making the furniture “unclean.”
One of the most fruitful parts of the project for Evans was befriending an Orthodox Jewish woman living in Israel, with whom she stayed in contact throughout the year. “She was the first person who really revolutionized the way I saw Proverbs 31,” said Evans, referring to the passage that outlines the characteristics and lifestyle of an “excellent wife.” She admitted that she always hated that passage because it was the source of an “inferiority complex” in Christian women, but her friend shared with her that this is not the case for Jewish women. Rather, Jewish men memorize the chapter in order to know how to pray for their wives. “Leave it to Evangelicals to take a poem and turn it into a to-do list,” joked Evans.
As she studied and lived biblical womanhood throughout the year, Evans determined that the notion is actually a symptom of a larger problem—looking to the Bible as a clear-cut blueprint for living. “But just when you think you’ve found a blueprint,” she said, “a woman comes along who is praised for breaking it—women like Deborah, Tamar, Ruth, and Esther.”
Evans stated that the Bible is “not meant to be a conversation ender, but a conversation starter.” The ambiguities and contrast found in the Scriptures, even when it comes to what it means to be a woman of faith, are a blessing because they keep us in conversation with God and with each other.
“There is no right way to be a woman of faith,” Evans concluded. “Roles come and go and change, but the call to follow Christ remains the same.”
Rachel Held Evans will release a book about her year of biblical womanhood in September 2012. Visit her blog at www.rachelheldevans.com