One woman took the suggestion of doing something “by the book” to a whole new level.
Rachel Held Evans, 31, of Dayton, Tenn., decided to pursue a life of “biblical womanhood” for an entire year in an effort to explore the true meaning of what women are being taught in her evangelical Christian community. To do so, she vowed to take the Bible’s instructions for women, such as modesty and obedience, as literally as possible.
“I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt,” Evans said. “In that culture, folks often talk about biblical womanhood and how women should strive to achieve biblical womanhood. They were invoking the phrase to argue for a return to a pre-1950s lifestyle, forbidding women from working outside the home. To me, this doesn’t quite feel right.”
Evans practiced a different virtue each month, and wrote about her experiences in her new book released Tuesday, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”
One of the more difficult verses she observed was 1 Peter 3:5-6, where she had to call her husband, Dan Evans, 32, “master.”
“I had to call my husband my master for a week. But I had to put a lid on that one really quickly, neither of us liked it,” Evans said.
But the most physically uncomfortable Bible verse to pursue was Leviticus 15:19-33, which has a strict code about how women should conduct themselves while on their periods.
“During your period, and for seven days after, I was considered ceremonially unclean,” Evans explained. “That means I couldn’t touch any men at all. Not even my husband. No hugs. No handshakes. No high fives. That was strangely isolating. Also, anything a woman sits on that time is considered unclean, so I brought around a stadium cushion to sit on everywhere I went.”
The verse she enjoyed most was Proverb 31:23, which states, “Her husband is respected at the city gate.”
“I took that one hyper-literally and made a sign that said ‘Dan’s awesome.’ I took it out to the ‘Welcome Dayton’ sign. That was actually pretty fun, I enjoyed that one,” Evans said.
Evans believes there are a lot of mixed messages about biblical womanhood. And, by living this way, she wanted to prove that none of us are really, truly practicing biblical womanhood all the time.
“There’s a lot more to it than just staying at home and praising your husband,” she said. ”The church’s idea is more of a glorification of a nuclear family, with Western stereotypical gender roles. The Bible was written in ancient culture. It was nothing like June Cleaver.
“I felt as though biblical womanhood was just a phrase being used really carelessly. I wanted to challenge that in a way that would be funny and disarming and a conversation starter. I never quite expected people would get so passionate about this conversation.”
Evans explained that some people are concerned that she’s mocking the Bible by doing this experiment, but she begs to differ.
“If I’m poking at anything, it’s the interpretations of the Bible, not the Bible itself. All of us struggle with how to interpret it. I love the bible and I’m certainly not mocking it, I’m just playfully challenging this idea that anyone is practicing biblical womanhood 100 percent,” Evans said.
Her husband was really supportive and encouraging throughout her entire process.
“He didn’t take advantage of trying to impose a more hierarchical relationship,” Evans said. “We were trying to take those submission passages very literally. We imposed hierarchy on our relationship when normally we’re a team, but he didn’t take advantage of that. He was just supportive and had a good time, but we were really glad when it was over. It just didn’t feel natural.”
When asked whether she would recommend practicing this lifestyle to anyone, her answer was clear: “No. I don’t think anyone should try this. It’s terrible. Obviously, not all of those things should be taken literally. The point was, let’s be a little more careful about how we use this term Bible womanhood.”