Book Review: The Accidental Feminist, by Courtney Reissig
Courtney Reissig, The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Deisgn. Crossway, 2015. 176 pps. $14.99.
I cringed. I’m admitting it. When I saw the title of Courtney Reissig’s book, The Accidental Feminist, I cringed.
Because, if I’m honest, the question she asks in her book hits a nerve.
I’ll summarize her linchpin question like this: Have you—as a Christian woman—unwittingly allowed the culture rather than your Creator and Redeemer to define your womanhood? Have you allowed the feminist culture to shape your views about gender?
“What feminism did was slowly erase the differences between men and women. Equality now means sameness,” she writes. The Bible, Reissig makes clear, opposes this supposition and instead gives a complementary view of gender: men and women are equal but different. Reissig is quick to acknowledge that some of the feminist gains have been good, for instance, the right to vote and the right to own property. However, she writes that other parts of the feminist movement have chipped away at biblical womanhood.
The Accidental Feminist offers a flyover history of feminism and her own experience with it. Femininity and domesticity were baffling to the young Reissig, who dreamt of becoming a fashionable writer in a big city. “I wanted to be the master of my own destiny. This drive for independence was the key aspect of feminism that I bought hook, line, and sinker,” she writes. Then, in chapter one, she dives into the question she’ll end up spending the rest of her book answering: “What it Means to be a Woman (and not a Man).”
Christian women, she writes, should see themselves as life-givers and helpers. And right there, right at the word “helper,” that’s where my shoulders rise up and my teeth start clenching. To my own ears, the very word sounds demeaning. However, Reissig notes that God Himself is referred to as a helper in the Bible. She notes that Adam was not complete without Eve. She notes that helper and life-giver aren’t one-size-fits-all stereotypes. She writes, “As women, we don’t find our identity in our home, our work, our body, or marital status. We find it in the God who created us in his image.”
With these reminders, my shoulders and jaw relax … a little.
Reissig’s subsequent chapters tackle culturally taboo topics like submission, modesty and homemaking, and women in the church with honesty and grace. In them, she speaks to women at different stages in life. Christian singles, marrieds, mothers—all of us, she says, are called to examine our lives in front of the mirror of Scripture and obey it.
Reissig asks her readers these pointed questions: Can God be trusted? Can God’s design and purpose for you be the most fulfilling thing in your life? Is God’s Word really that trustworthy and authoritative?
And this is the crux of the matter.
A couple of years ago, I experienced this question acutely. It was a snowy morning in February when my husband got a phone call. He’d been accepted into an amazing graduate school program—a fully funded amazing graduate school program. It was a great opportunity. In fact, the only problem was that we’d have to move from our beloved friends, family, and church to a new place that I was less than excited about.
Many families have made moves like this one. Many people have had to make much harder decisions, but this was difficult for me. Although a master’s degree would hopefully open up more professional opportunities for my husband and more financial stability for our family, I really didn’t want to move halfway across the country for three years in order to get it. My husband, God-fearing and kind, asked for my input on the decision and made it clear that we needed to make it together. At this point, I had the choice to refuse the opportunity or instead follow my husband into the unknown.
And it came down to what I believed about God. If I believed the truth that Christ died on the cross for my sins and then rose from the grave, would I then also believe that his design for my life as a woman was the best design? Would I be that helper and life-giver to my husband and three children even when it was difficult and opposed to my own plans?
The answer was yes. So we moved across the country, and it’s been both good and hard. It’s an almost daily struggle for me to love and serve my family in a self-sacrificial way. At times, I still clench and cringe. But thankfully, Philippians 1:6 is true, “that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” And thankfully, there are brave women like Reissig who write boldly yet gently on culturally unpopular matters like biblical womanhood.
This is a thought-provoking, conversation-kindling book, which I would recommend to Christian women looking to cut through the smog of culture and find a picture of Biblical womanhood. Like I said earlier, reading Accidental Feminist pinched at some nerves. And yet I’m glad for the opportunity it afforded to examine my own life against God’s design.
Reissig closes like this: “We ultimately want to yield our spirits to the will of God who created us in his image, for his glory, and with a beautiful and distinct purpose—to display his glory as women.”
Far from cringe-worthy, that sentence, a capsule version of Reissig’s project, has about it the clear, bracing ring of truth.