Love Month Feature: Rachel Held Evans

February 21, 2011

“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  What if doing things the old-fashioned, outdated way actually had benefits?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!)

17 responses to Love Month Feature: Rachel Held Evans

  1. Hi Matt and Rachael,

    Biblical Gender roles?

    Well, I don’t sleep with my head on the ground and I hide the hammer and tent pegs from my wife.

    Other than that we don’t pay much attention to gender roles. We just get the job done.

    John

  2. Well, the roles for taking care of the household vary from family to family.

    Me? I do the grocery shopping, cook dinners and clean the kitchen and bathroom. I also pack lunches for everyone.

    My wife? She does the laundry and takes care of the doctor’s apps with the kids. I’d say I got the better end of the stick as most of you with kids know what I’m talking about.

    I really don’t see gender roles when I’m cooking dinner or cleaning up the kitchen.

    I like what John @4:11am said. We just get the job done.

    nicodemusatnite.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..Second look – Being a Grasshopper

  3. It’s a proven fact that men and woman have different emotional needs. I think that the gender roles, when we are aware of those needs, seem to fall into place.

    My wife and I never have a problem with the work to be done. We made a list before we got married, and we found that she like to load the dishwasher more than unload, and I was the opposite. I can cook, and so can she; she prefers to, I don’t. She doesn’t like to grill, and I am out there regardless of the weather. The same was true for many other things. In the end, we do what needs to be done.

    She works, and we both would prefer that she didn’t have to. We thought about dumping the second car, the house cleaner, the lawn care and day-care so she could be home. But it was too much of a hassle getting the kids from the 3rd floor to car so I could get to work and home again.

    It’s the emotional roles that bring up more in the way of conflict. She likes to dialog about her frustrations/fears in taking care of our daughter, my daughters (who add a challenge to anyones life), her mother in the hospital, and the instability at work… me I have been on the phone all day, or working through the intense details of a software program; commuted for 2 hours in traffic and don’t have much to offer a lot of nights. I like to come home relax with some music, do the chores, have a meal at the table together, and then I try to listen – sometimes I am successful – other days I just need a bullet list so I know what’s important.

    It sounds like an interesting project! Everyone lives the Bible a chunk at a time, and these sound like some interesting chunks.
    David recently posted..The Monday After

    • Sounds like you and your wife were very thorough in doling out the chores! I haven’t seen that before. You make a good point about the emotional differences providing way more challenges, but I suppose a couple has to have a certain level of maturity to make it to that realization in the first place.

      • I want to recommend a book entitled: 1000 Questions for Couples by Michael Webb. That is the one we used.

        It covers just about everything from your favorite candy bar to sex and vacation preferences.

        I see that there is a one entitled: Christian 1001 Questions for Christian Couples, but I haven’t used that one.

        I got the PDF version and copy and pasted it into emails by section. We lived 60 miles apart while we were dating and we both enjoyed it.

        We still refer to the answers over 10 years later and they have solved a few conflicts too!
        David recently posted..Fixing the Church from Your Pew – Part 2 of Many

  4. Excellent, I would love to hear more about this as time goes on. I completely agree with your take on biblical submission, and the confidence it displays and engenders between spouses. Neither I nor my husband could imagine one person having sole responsibility for the housework at this point, and we’ve never seen it as a purely female role so it’s never been a huge issue. I do agree to carry most of the guilt when it’s not done, but not most of the responsibility :)

    I don’t agree that relationships used to be a lot easier back when there were few if any choices, however, I just think we like to tell ourselves that. There are always women who fit what society would like them to do and it looks easy when they do it, but with no ability to make a living, enter into contracts, inherit property, etc. those who didn’t fit into the expectations faced incredible odds. It’s natural to romanticize the past, it’s just not completely accurate.

    • Yes!

      My husband and I like to think of “submission” in terms of humility, not hierarchy. It’s an attitude that works best when adopted by both partners.
      Rachel H. Evans recently posted..Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go

      • I like that. The rule at our house is that if it doesn’t require an ovary it’s not women’s work, and there is another corresponding rule. It makes it hard to just dump the things one doesn’t want to do on the basis of gender once the childbearing thing was worked out. Mostly the reason I bristle at rigid rules is that they are usually motivated by selfishness (no man I know refuses to allow his wife to clean the toilet by making her “submit” to his will) and that they end up alienating us as people, reducing us to roles.

  5. My wife, a stay at home mom, does the majority of the housework. However, I help out quite a bit and do a lot in the evenings when I return home. And she DOES NOT do laundry. That’s all me.
    seekingpastor recently posted..New Uses for Old Offering Plates

  6. My wife and I share whatever needs to be done. We definitely live by the “humility” understanding of submission. When I was working full-time and she was a student, she did most of the housework. Now that we have switched places I do a lot of the housework. She still seems to prefer making most of the meals, but I am not afraid to cook (especially on the grill!) and do on occasion. There are times when either of us are having a “not-as-good-as-it-could-be” sort of a day, and that means we go into a cleaning frenzy. That usually means stay out of the other’s way unless asked to do something – at which point you had better do what is asked!

    I actually reference Proverbs 31 when people ask how she does “at being a wife”, and she likes pointing to Ephesians 5 and 6 for how our marriage seems to work. We had great pre-marital counselors. They are great friends of ours.
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..Singles Awareness

  7. i grew up in a house that had the old school traditional roles. Even though my mom worked (school teacher – a more traditional female job) she still did the dishes and took care of the house. But roles have changed with more parents doing different chores in the house. Either way, your post rings true about what went in some houses and what still does….great and informative post..zman sends

  8. Well, as a stay at home DAD, I’m understandably interested in reading about gender roles, traditional or not. We’ve discovered that in the last year and a half that I’ve been at home, I have taken on more of the traditional “homemaker” roles (dishes, laundry, cleaning the house, etc.) – and both my wife AND I are moderately fine with it. Granted, there are times when I need to retreat into my “man cave” (aka spare bedroom/office space) and – I don’t know – watch GODZILLA movies on my laptop, but for the most part, being a stay at home dad has given me a GREATER appreciation for what my mom did (as a stay at home mom), as well as what a number of my female friends have gone through/are going through as stay at home parents.

    This interview? Brilliant.

    Can’t wait to read the book…from THOMAS NELSON Publishing! Home of Donald Miller! :)
    Sonny Lemmons recently posted..Heel- boy Heal!

  9. I like the idea of talking to women across denominations. Sometimes the roles and ideals we have for either men or women or related more to our background than anything truly Biblical.
    Jeremy Statton recently posted..I do not say cuss words

  10. Hubs works full-time (actually, “slightly” more than full-time). I work part-time, mostly from home (two afternoons a week in the office). Since my schedule is DEFINITELY more flexible and more of it is spent at home, I take on the vast majority of the homemaking roles. I had to get over an unrecognized expectation that taking out the trash was a “man’s” job (because my dad did it), but we figured that out relatively early on. He’s still coming to terms with the idea that me putting bags of trash/recycling by the front door is in no way my passive-aggressive way of getting him to do it, it’s just my way of not forgetting to do it myself the next time I go out.

    I try to protect his “home” time as much as possible for time with the kids and time for him to relax. He works very hard and needs some time to play. He takes care of the books and most of the car stuff. This will be our first year with a yard, so we’ll have to see how that works out.

    And when our kids are babies, I’m the one who takes the night feedings. It makes zero sense to me for him to wake up just to hand me a baby to nurse when I’m staying home the next day and he’s not. If we both worked full-time, it might be a different story, but I just don’t get that when the mom stays home. It’s like it’s retribution or something.

    Submission to me is freedom. Hubs listens to my opinion, respects my opinion (often agrees with my opinion), but in the end, “big” decisions are his to make (i.e., not my responsibility). We only very rarely get to a point when that’s ever the case. Usually we come to a consensus long before a “decision” has to be made.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

  11. Wow, I admire your dedication, Rachel! My parents definately did not follow the traditional gender roles. They were not Believers when they were married and I think that really affected it. I don’t agree with every decision that they made in organizing the family, but I did learn a lot from them. That being said, I struggle with what my role should be as the wife. Thankfully, I’m not married so I’ve got a while to figure it out! I’ve also been blessed with great examples of Biblical womanhood to look to. I look forward to reading the book!

    Hannah
    Hannah recently posted..In Pioneer Country

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