Apparently, pop star Daya and Douglas Wilson’s daughter Rebekah Merkle have something in common: neither of them wants to sit still and look pretty.
Merkle’s new release from Canon Press, Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity, sets up smart, enjoyable takedown of the feminist manifesto. This was what I expected from the book. But what I didn’t expect was Merkle’s fresh and edifying perspective on a woman’s role in the world. Without relying on any of the usual mommy-blog tropes, she gives us a reason to be truly excited about what we get to do and be as Christian women living in the 21st century.
A Sparks Notes history of feminism
The book opens with a brief history of the feminist movement, tracing its work on American society very simply through four women in four different generations: Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (with Susan B. Anthony), Margaret Sanger, and Betty Frieden. This is fascinating and informative, and helps us to get a better handle on how the outlook of an entire society has changed so drastically over the course of 200 years. But even more helpful was her diagnosis for the sexual revolution in the 60s. She chalks it up basically to … boredom. The supposedly conservative-ideal 1950s in America contained all the ingredients for the revolution of the 60s, argues Merkle.
Women revolted because they had been put in a position that was, she agrees, degrading. The technological changes in the country, combined with a period of economic success, created an environment of adverse conditions for the thriving of American wives. Where their mothers and grandmothers had thrown the full force of their labor and creativity into homemaking and survival—just in order to be ready for another winter—suddenly women found that they didn’t need to try very hard. They were being told by books and magazines that the best use of their time was to play bridge, dust the mantlepiece, and make sure to look refreshed when hubby came home from work.
“When the 60s feminists were chomping at the bit to get out there and work,” says Merkle, “they were doing so because that’s what God made us for. God didn’t look at Adam in the garden and say, ‘It is not good for man to be alone, he needs something pretty to look at.’”
The labor saving technology available in this country has only continued to develop since then, and Merkle has no problem with that. The solution is not to return to those times of hardship and survival, she says, but to invest our ten talents instead of burying them. She even includes a chapter denouncing something she calls “Pretendyville,” which is when women pick a period of time in the distant past, based mainly on aesthetic preference, and decide that since life was so much better in that time, they’re going to pretend their way back there. This is their misguided escape route out of a confused culture.
So what should I be doing?
After the history lesson in the first third of the book, you’re left wondering: Okay, so now what? I agree that sitting around looking pretty is not going to work as a life plan, and I agree that feminism has impoverished the American household and brought general insanity to the world around me… but here I am, a woman with a dishwasher and electric lights and access to grocery stores, with a whole lot of other personal and professional resources. What do I do now? Are you telling me I can’t work?
The next sections of the book answer this basic question—what do we do now?—in a most satisfying way.
Merkle divides a woman’s unique purpose into four major headings: “subdue,” “fill,” “help,” and “glorify.” Then she circles back around to each of these to flesh them out. Several of these chapters—particularly the ones on filling and on glorifying—were so helpful to me that as I was describing them, my husband was intrigued and picked the book up himself. He polished it off in a few days.
The gist of Merkle’s argument is this: Yes, the home is not as demanding as it once was. Yes, we have access to more career opportunities than ever before. But the home is still the front line in the war on sin and Satan. So the cream of our abilities, our energies, and our resources should be spent on the flourishing of our homes. This is our #1 spot, and we need to realize that a halfhearted job is not going to cut it. It will require girls and women who have education, experience, cultivation, and a good work ethic. Whatever their station in life, women must prepare and pour their whole selves into the lifelong work of what Merkle calls “enfleshing” truth.
I’ll let her explain:
“It’s not that men are supposed to be involved in teaching theology and women aren’t—it’s that men are to teach it one way and women are to teach it another. If men are the words, women are the music. If men are the skeletons, women are the flesh. If men are the radio waves, women are the amplifiers…
“Our job as women—and it’s a phenomenal responsibility—is to enflesh the weighty truths of our faith. If our role is to make truth taste, to make holiness beautiful, then what does that look like in the details? As a random example of this, take Christmas. Christmas is, of course, when God did ultimately what we women can only shadow. The ultimate enfleshing… The men can talk about the Incarnation, church fathers can write important treatises about it, pastors can preach about it, theologians can parse and define it… but we women are the ones who make it taste like something. We make it smell good.
“…’And for my next trick, I will take Athanasius’ De Incarnatione and I will say it with cookies and wrapping paper and cinnamon and marshmallows and colored lights and tablecloths and shopping trips and frantically-last-minute-late-night-Amazon-orders and ham—and I will do it in such a way that my four-year-old will really get it, and it will send roots deep down into his soul where it will anchor his loves and his loyalties and shape his allegiances well into his nineties.’”
In her chapter on glorifying, she deals with that controversial chapter in 1 Corinthians, on the roles of men and women in the church. She makes an important connection—between the beautiful, strong surrender of Christ to the Father, and the beautiful, strong surrender of a woman to her husband. She concludes that a woman’s glory is actually the “glory of the glory” of God. Compared to the man, we are an even more concentrated and distilled version of God’s image (“if men are the beer, women are the whiskey…”).
Another favorite point: In chapters on helping, she offers common sense observations about the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to husbands:
“What does it look like to help, to sacrifice, to glorify, and to be fruitful if your husband is a plumber who likes to hunt and hates parties? It looks completely different than if he were a beekeeper who likes crossword puzzles and gardening, or an academic who enjoys opera and dinner parties. Every man is unique, and being a helper to him means that you have to translate—to take an abstract principle and translate it into something tangible.”
It’s just a great book. I wouldn’t be surprised if I came to the end of this year and found that it was my favorite non-fiction book for 2016.
Only time will tell. But at least at this point, the week after reading, it’s inspired one reorganized utility room, a few serious conversations about various jobs and projects that I give time to outside the home, and some great inside jokes between me and my husband (“You enfleshed dinner really well tonight.” “Thanks! Maybe we should enflesh some of the wisdom literature later…”).