Book Review: Radical Womanhood, by Carolyn McCulley
Before I was a Christian, I was an angry feminist.
I railed against the injustices I saw in the world and wrote impassioned papers about how women needed to free ourselves from oppression, but I didn’t understand true freedom or how we obtain it.
Then, through a long series of events, the Lord graciously brought me to himself through the gospel. I understood myself to be a sinner saved by grace and I believed that the Bible is true. But other than that I wasn’t sure what to do with my now-upended feminism. I didn’t understand how the culture had influenced the paths I’d taken, and I needed to learn what the Bible had to say about my life as a woman.
Carolyn McCulley wrote Radical Womanhood for women like me. Published in 2008, it came out a few years after I became a Christian and answers all the questions I had at that crucial turning point in my life.
RADICAL WOMANHOOD: A BIBLICAL DIAGNOSIS AND CRITIQUE OF FEMINISM
At its heart, Radical Womanhood is a biblical diagnosis and critique of feminism. In response to feminism’s claims about the problems women face, McCulley writes that biblical passages such as Genesis 3:16 teach us
that women do have a problem. But it’s not men. It’s sin. Sin warps everything, including the good that God has designed in being a man or a woman. Women sin against men and men sin against women, and everyone sins against God and falls short of His standard of holiness and perfection. Sin is the reason men have oppressed women and women have usurped men. Sin is the reason for the jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder and every vile practice that characterizes false wisdom. Sin is the reason we need a savior. (46-47)
McCulley goes on to explain that because sin is the root problem that feminists are both responding to and perpetuating, the gospel is the only solution:
As a movement, feminism arose because women were being sinned against. I think that is a fair argument. But feminism also arose because women were sinning in response. That’s a classic human problem: Sinners tend to sin in response to being sinned against. The glorious hope we have is that Christ came to rescue us from this spiral of sin and sinful response. Only the gospel can accurately diagnose the issues on both sides and offer both the good news of forgiveness for our sins and the restoration of our relationship first with God and then with each other. This is true liberation for women . . . and for men. (47)
AN EMPATHETIC VOICE
In Radical Womanhood, Carolyn McCulley has written the book that she wishes someone had given her when she first became a Christian. She too was saved after being a vocal feminist for all of her adult life. She experienced intense culture shock as she found herself in a church culture that was far different from the culture she had lived in for most of her life.
Not surprisingly, McCulley brings a uniquely empathetic voice to her book. She is a woman who’s experienced feminism and its effects personally. But because she also knows even more deeply the grace and mercy of God, she does the difficult work of understanding how feminism has become a dominant cultural force and how that affects us today. Not only that, McCulley capably offers a faithful biblical response.
VALUABLE HISTORICAL WORK AND MODERN TESTIMONIES
Radical Womanhood is a short yet comprehensive survey of feminism in America, going all the way back to its roots in the American Revolution. Her historical work is superb: she takes up the challenge of understanding the different streams of feminism of different eras from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem to the women embracing the sexually forward “raunch culture” of today. In the course of this study, McCulley traces how feminism has affected our views of sexuality, the home, motherhood, men and women’s roles in marriage, and more.
Throughout the book McCulley fairly, clearly, and non-combatively assesses key feminist arguments, presenting a positive picture of the Bible’s teaching about men and women’s roles and relationships. Each chapter ends with a testimony of a woman who has struggled in the area discussed by the chapter (for example, motherhood, marriage, or sexuality) and explains how God’s grace in the gospel transformed these areas of their lives.
WHO SHOULD READ THIS? BASICALLY EVERYONE
Who should read this book? First, any young Christian woman who’s never grappled with our culture’s dominant assumptions about marriage, motherhood, sexuality, and what it means to be a woman. As McCulley points out, that’s actually most young Christian women!
Many women in the church may not have thought through why they were trained to be professionals but not mothers. Many mothers in the church may wonder why they feel ashamed when they tell people they’re “just” stay-at-home moms. These women need to understand the prevailing cultural currents and learn to respond to them biblically. This is exactly what McCulley’s book equips us to do.
Pastors who want to better understand and shepherd the women in their flock should also read this book, as should male church members who want to better encourage their sisters. Finally, even women who’ve not been immersed in feminism would benefit from McCulley’s careful biblical and historical work. Feminism is the air we breathe, so every Christian, male or female, can benefit from engaging it biblically.
That’s why I, like many other women, am deeply grateful for this book. It has helped me understand feminism and respond to it biblically. As a result, it has spurred my growth in biblical womanhood, which truly is a radical way to live.