In this goal she succeeds only partially, I think. She rightly points out the problems that a twisted view of “women’s rights” have caused in our society—problems like abortion on demand and a thriving “raunch culture.” But her analysis of the root causes of these problems, and her solutions, are sometimes wanting.
McCulley begins the book by recounting her own experiences as a young feminist, which led to “a relentless self-focus” and subsequent “emptiness,” and how coming to faith in Christ changed her view of femininity. From there she segues into a short history of feminism over the past few centuries, and its impact on our current culture.
McCulley’s overview is no doubt immensely helpful to some of the girls and women whom she’s met (described in the preface) who know little or nothing of how feminism developed. And she makes some cogent points about economic and industrial changes that led to changes in our views of home, family, and women’s status.
On the other hand, her analysis is not always accurate. For instance, she edits a quote by early feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton to make it look as though Stanton considered marriage degrading to women, when in fact Stanton expressed that opinion only about marriages that were based on “anything but deep, fervent love and sympathy.” Whether Stanton was right about that can legitimately be debated, but to expand her criticism of certain marriages into a blanket criticism of all marriages is misleading.
This is only one instance, but it seems to be symptomatic of McCulley’s overall approach to feminism, which leads her to make such sweeping statements as, “The history of feminist ideology is manifestly anti-mother, anti-child, and anti-Jesus.” Even if we set aside the work of, for instance, Christian suffragettes and women in the abolitionist movement—which we really shouldn’t do—I have a feeling that modern groups such as Feminists for Life and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List (named for a very pro-life early feminist) would take strong exception to that statement.
Again, there’s room for differing views about these groups, what they do, and what they call themselves. The second and third waves of feminism—as McCulley notes—caused untold harm with their insistence on sexual liberation and their downplaying of the importance of the family, to the point where the very label feminist is highly suspect today. But to my mind, such blanket statements do more to muddy a complex and difficult issue than to clarify it.
Much the same effect is given by McCulley’s treatment of feminism’s causes. She makes a crucial point when she reminds us that men are not the enemy in the gender wars. Both men and women could have been spared a great deal of pain and damage if feminists had recognized this.
But she lets the pendulum swing a little too far the other way. While being quite specific about how and why feminism has damaged our society, she vaguely attributes male offenses to “sin.” (Specific sins like chauvinism and polygamy are touched on, but only briefly.) Of course, one has to remember that her book was written to discuss feminism, not analyze the male side of things. Nonetheless, the treatment feels a little unbalanced.
By the same token, there are points where McCulley downplays some of the concerns that led to the development of feminism, as follows:
The Bible teaches us that marriage is about much more than having the legal ability to direct your spouse’s health care or other perceived civil rights. Its significance is greater than a big pageant on your wedding day or all the stuff you can cram into your gift registry. These are the concerns of finite human beings with finite perspectives. Yes, it’s rightful and necessary to have equal civil rights as a woman—I certainly don’t want to go back to the days without them! Gifts are nice too. But seen in the big picture of Ephesians 6:12, these concerns just don’t matter much for those who live each day in the awareness that there are spiritual forces that are arrayed against us.
This passage should be considered within the entire context of the book, in which McCulley does acknowledge the importance of genuine women’s rights (as opposed to “women’s rights” as pro-abortion forces would define them) more than once. At this point, however, she seems to downplay these rights to an almost alarming degree.
I can see no reason to divorce concern over human rights in any form from concern over the spiritual forces of evil, particularly since the deprivation of rights is itself a form of evil. And to equate rights with overly expensive and fancy wedding gifts, as she seems to do here (though she may not have meant to), may leave the wrong impression.
(Also, when we examine McCulley’s ideas here in the even larger context of her work as a whole, such as her blog posts here and here, it appears she may have a habit of downplaying these rights, in a way that I believe could have disturbing implications for women in abusive marriages.)
McCulley is at her best when discussing the need to anchor our views in a sound biblical theology. As she points out, “when the Bible is actually properly taught, history shows that women’s status improves.” It’s discouraging to see Christians—both men and women—drift away from their scriptural moorings because they don’t like what it has to say about sexuality, marriage, and gender.
So I can understand and appreciate what McCulley is trying to accomplish with this book, and to some extent she does accomplish it. But the simplistic approach of the book is a problem. For me, Radical Womanhood raises more questions than it answers.
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