“In my house I’m the boss. My wife is just the decision maker.” – Woody Allen
You know what I love to see my wife doing? Woman’s work.
Of course, she also likes to see me doing woman’s work. Couples today probably spend a lot more time debating who has to do what around the house then they used to. Relationships used to be a lot easier in that way. But now that we’ve thrown off the shackles of old-fashioned gender roles, we think we’re much happier, even if we can’t agree on who does the dishes.
But what if the June Cleavers of yesteryear were on to something? What if doing things the old-fashioned, outdated way actually had benefits? That’s what self-described feminist Rachel Held Evans is asking. She’s going all the way back to the June Cleavers of the Bible, attempting to live as a “Biblical” woman for a whole year.
After being a dedicated reader of her blog, and featuring her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, I knew I had to talk to her about how her new project has impacted her life and marriage.
Last time we talked, you had just released your first book. How do you feel about it, now that the work of writing and promoting it is behind you? Are you ready to jump in again?
I’ve been really pleased by all the great conversations that “Evolving in Monkey Town” has generated. It’s been such a joy and relief to connect with other people asking some of the same questions about their faith. My current project has required a shift in that it consumes my entire life. If I can make it through the year, the book will likely come out in 2012. Thomas Nelson is my publisher, same as the great Donald Miller!
Nice name-dropping…You’re calling your new project “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” Tell us about the genesis of this project.
For the past few years I’ve been hearing a lot about gender roles as evangelicals debate the place of women in the home, church, and society. While many hail “biblical womanhood” as the ideal, few seem to agree on what it means. So I embarked on this quest to learn all I could about what the Bible says about women, to talk with women from a variety of denominations to see how they interpret the Bible, and to attempt to follow as many biblical commands as possible for a year.
You seem to be taking the project really seriously. You’re even doing things that probably aren’t necessarily required of you by the Bible. How do you distinguish what are the “musts” from the “extra credit?”
The thing about the Bible is that it’s not exactly written in bullet points, so it can be tough to sort out what counts as a command, what’s implied as desirable, what’s culturally constrained, and what’s trans-cultural. And just when you think you’ve found a “blueprint” for biblical womanhood, someone like Deborah comes along and shatters it to pieces.
So for the experiment, I’ve been relying heavily on the interpretations from the various caveats of the Judeo-Christian tradition. I’m drawing from Amish and Mennonite women for guidance on modesty, Orthodox Jews for guidance on the Levitical purity laws, patriarchy advocates for guidance on obedience, complementarians for guidance on homemaking, and so on.
Of course I’ve had to get creative, and of course I’ve had to leave some things out. I won’t be practicing polygamy any time soon, though I am interviewing a polygamous family.
What kind of pattern did you and Dan settle into before this project? What’s changed since you started this endeavor?
Dan and I have been happily married for seven years, and we were settled into a pretty egalitarian lifestyle before the start of the project. We both worked, both took care of the house, and both served in leadership positions at our church. We spent little time talking about gender roles or submission or anything like that. The biggest change is that now I handle just about all of the housework. I’ve also made a more concerted effort to consciously submit to Dan’s will, which hasn’t been as hard as I thought since Dan has a lot of good ideas.
It’s funny that that’s a big discovery. It seems we’re conditioned to believe men are buffoons and women are here to save us. (Just look at the average depiction of men in TV ads.) Tell us about what you really think the Bible has to say about men and women and gender roles, and how to honor God with our marriages.
I believe that God ultimately requires the same thing from men and women, to love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves; to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. I believe that a woman can do that in just about any occupation, any family situation, any culture, and any time.
There are a few specific things I’d like to continue after the experiment. I hope that I’ll continue to avoid gossip, to cook only with fresh garlic (yum!), to complain less about the housework, to try new things, to make an effort to learn from older women, to get up a little earlier, to practice contemplative prayer, and to submit to my husband, not because submission is something only women are called to do, but because submission is something we are all called to do.
That said, I look forward to being able to pray without covering my head, letting Dan help me with some of the chores again, and feeling less guilty when I speak in front of a crowd in direct violation of 1 Timothy 2:11. (A girl’s gotta make a living.)
“A girl’s gotta make a living?” Where’s that in the Bible? Anyway, on a related note, we have rampant divorce in our culture. Do you think part of that is a result of people not practicing “biblical” manhood and womanhood in their marriages?
Believe it or not, even as a self-described feminist I think submission is incredibly important to practice, for both men and women. To me, submission means concerning yourself with what your partner desires, placing his or her needs above your own, letting those little annoyances go, and responding with respect to ideas, dreams, and initiatives are important to your spouse. I know our marriage is healthier when I take responsibility for my end of that bargain.
If you haven’t already, check out Rachel’s blog, but before you do that, tell us about the gender roles in your household. (Or what gender roles are most disputed in your household!)