Welcome back, mes amis, to book club day.
Set-Apart Femininity, is…interesting. I mean, you probably already gathered I thought that here. And here. And here. But today we’re beginning our first of three (yes, three) chapters dedicated to male/female romantic relationships, and it’s in these chapters that things get ironic.
On the one hand, this book proclaims a message that a Christian girl’s focus should not be on boys and relationships, and that moving away from a focus on boys to a focus on Jesus is an essential part of the set-apart journey.
Now, I absolutely agree that an obsession with boys and relationships is not a good thing. But on the other hand, the message of not thinking too much about relationships is packaged and delivered in a style all about men and relationships.
My hubby picked the book off the kitchen table last week, and after perusing the back cover of the text he’s been hearing so much about, raised his eyebrows. “Wait,” he began, “Here it asks: ‘Do you want a focus beyond chasing male approval?’ Yet a few lines down it says this book will address ‘captivating the heart of a Christlike guy.'” He looked up. “Isn’t that a little…ironic?”
Why yes. Yes it is. And fact that this chapter’s discussion on focusing on Christ falls under the headers of Becoming Attractive to the Right Kind of Guy, and Finding the Right Guy are just a few more of the ways in which this book sends mixed messages about whether you should be focusing on guys or not. Honestly, I’m finding it confusing.
But more alarming than these inconsistencies is the negative way Leslie Ludy seems to view women.
Women: Obsessive man-hunters?
Early on in the chapter, after discussing a fear of singleness, we come across this gem:
But we must ask ourselves this question–what kind of guys are we seeking to attract? (p. 60)
Here we find the big assumption that underlies this book’s dealing with relationships. The assumption Ludy has is that women are, by nature, preoccupied with finding and attracting a man. On the flipside, set-apart women can learn to focus on Jesus, not this natural obsession, and in focusing on Jesus attract a Christian man. But this blanket assumption, and the above quote, begs the question: must we be seeking to attract guys at all?
Simply asking this could have taken this chapter in an entirely different direction. But Ludy doesn’t go there, and seems to assume the answer is yes. Yes, women are seeking to attract guys. She then constructs the chapter based on the idea that all women (at least, all non-Christian and “average” Christian women) have a problem with flirting, manipulation, and obsessively throwing themselves at guys.
She wasn’t like other girls–even other Christian girls. She never changed her personality around him or tried to impress him by saying and doing the right thing. She was far more focused on Christ than she was on trying to turn his head or win his heart (p. 63).
If you follow the throngs of self-focused women in today’s world, the likelihood of bumping into a heroic man is slim (p. 65).
Evidence of Ludy’s distaste for femalekind shows throughout the book. She uses inhumane language to describe non-Christian and “average” Christian women: throngs and a dime a dozen are a few of the examples I’ve seen. In a later chapter she talks about the adulterous woman from Proverbs 7, and how her aggressive man-hunting is descriptive of “the majority of young women in our modern culture, even most Christ-professing ones” (p. 108).
Ludy makes it clear that she sees most women, even most Christian women, as obsessive, man-hunting, adulterous manipulators.
Ludy is right in criticizing a life of obsessing over boys. But she is wrong in holding this view of women.
Let’s set the record straight: I’ve known a lot of women in my life. And the “majority” are not concerned with turning a guy’s head above everything else.
The women I know–set-apart, “average” Christian, and non-Christian alike–are creative, deep, driven, and wonderfully complex beings. They have dreams and goals. They attend school, start businesses, work challenging jobs. They care for their families and cherish their friends. They keep horses and dogs and even the odd turtle. They read books. They write books. They make art and sing at the top of their lungs in the car. They run marathons and climb mountains and board airplanes toward new horizons.
They have relationships. But they are infinitely more than those relationships.
God bless the women in my life. And I’m grieved that the author would reduce any of these well-rounded humans to their romantic relationships, or label any of these unique and powerful souls as “a throng of self-focused women.”
Femalekind is not defined by relationships with men. And it is not, at its core, adulterous and obsessive.
Christian marriage: An unhealthy preoccupation
Here’s the funny thing: I did not encounter a culture of preoccupation with marriage until I entered evangelical Christian circles.
For those who didn’t grow up with it, the extreme focus on marriage and relationships in the evangelical world is something of a culture shock. At least, it was for me.
From the numerous books and sermons on the subject, to the flowery “princess” language, to the fact that a pair of single, opposite-sex Christians can’t hang out too often without it being assumed that they intend to pursue a relationship ending in marriage, the whole Christian relationship deal was a whole new beast to get used to. But what was strangest to grasp was that in a group of people so determined to not obsess over sex and relationships, the evangelical culture seemed more focused on sex and relationships than any other group I’ve been a part of.
In this chapter, Leslie Ludy includes an example of a girl who liked the idea of set-apart femininity, but was worried that such a life would make her less attractive to boys.
Cara, a college senior, wants to be transformed by Christ’s beauty. But she struggles with a nagging fear. “I know that if I become fully set apart for Christ, I will be beautiful to Him. But what kind of beauty will make me attractive to a man? How can I win the heart of an earthly prince? If I live a set-apart life for Christ, will I look strange and undesirable to the opposite sex?”
It’s all too easy for us to shrink back from the set-apart life because of this fear. We are afraid that if we don’t follow pop culture’s prescription for feminine allure, we’ll never turn a guy’s head or win the heart of an earthly prince. I understand where this fear comes from because I felt it myself when I first chose a set-apart life (p. 59).
I agree that women shouldn’t follow the beauty industry’s advice for how to attract a guy. However, I find it interesting that Ludy associates a preoccupation with turning a guy’s head only with pop culture and not with Christian culture. Ironically, I understood the fear of winding up single only after I joined the modern church culture and began reading books like this one.
Before I joined a nondenominational church, I was quite disinterested in relationships, and the number of times I had pondered getting married was maybe one: when I decided that I probably would never attempt such a thing.
Then in college I stepped into that breed of church culture, and into the normality of an abnormal focus on marriage, gender, and sex. I encountered countless “Christian” women’s books, articles, seminars, and resources that were all about singleness, modesty, purity, and relationships. Slowly but surely, my zero thoughts of relationships began to change, until I found myself willingly joining a book study on the book Lady in Waiting.
Unsurprisingly, living in a culture that’s hyper-focused on guy/girl relationships will make one hyper-focused on guy/girl relationships.
The church has a hyper-fixation problem, and changing the narrative to be about attracting Christian guys does not mend it. If you don’t want girls obsessed with boys, why tell them to follow God so a Christian man will be attracted to them? If you don’t want girls obsessed with boys, why fill their minds with visions of being someone’s future wife? Why give them books like these, books that are supposedly about salvation and sanctification but in reality devote a third of the chapters to boys?
Allow Him to transform you with His radiant beauty; the kind of beauty that will ravish the heart of your King and captivate a Christ-built warrior-poet. A set-apart existence may not turn the head of the typical American guy, but it will capture the heart of a Christlike man (p. 65).
I understand that we think about relationships from time to time, and it’s okay to address that: from time to time. But there is also a sense that the more you talk about something, the more of a problem it becomes. And the more we discuss faith as a means to attracting a Christian husband, and call a husband the “reward” for living a set-apart life (p. 64), the more we confuse girls over what their end goal in the Christian life really is. I beg the question: must we be discussing faith in the context of attracting men at all?
A knack for melodrama, a lack of evidence
As a writer, what I find primarily grating about this book is Ludy’s reliance on melodrama, blanket statements, and unverified facts to prove her points. Some of you observant folk have already noticed her tendency toward words such as majority, and most, as well as her frequent use of the word modern. While it’s okay to use these words from time to time, their constant appearance is not only poor word choice, but makes for questionable content, especially since such sweeping claims about “most women” or “the majority of modern Christians” have no research or evidence to back them up. Take this example:
Modern manhood, like modern femininity, is in a sorry state. Most guys have been taught that it’s healthy and normal to be obsessed with sex and fixated on the female body. They’ve been trained to serve their own lustful, selfish desires by cheapening and conquering feminine purity. Even Christian young men are often completely unaware that a higher standard even exists (p. 60).
Is this true? Are most guys are trained to be this way? And is it true that Christian men are often completely unaware of any standards higher than being a misogynistic jerk? And this is a modern problem (sexism and fixation on the female body never happened before ‘modern times‘)?
I don’t know, because none of these claims are supported with any evidence.
Sadly, it seems that quality standards of Christian books are woefully low. Elsewhere in the literary world, unverified blanket statements are not considered serious, informative prose. But in the world of Christian books, Ludy can continually create or exaggerate claims about “most of the world,” sell thousands of copies, and have readers claim her work is absolute truth.
Now, I’m not saying that her points are necessarily wrong: her language use does not mean you can logically conclude her points are false. But does the end point justify the means of melodramatic, quite possibly false statements? If a writer feels her/his point is really true, should that writer rely on “most” and “majority” statements to support said point, because they just know it to be so true?
I would say no. Frankly, if your point really is true, there should be an abundance of research you can use to back up your extreme claims. But not providing any of that research makes one’s writing questionable.
A Story to End With
I just wanted to share a little tale about guys and girls that’s stuck with me through the years. It brings a little ray of hope, and hopefully a counterbalance to Leslie’s doom-and-gloom views on men and women.
In my ninth grade health class, we were discussing relationships and were asked to split up by gender. Each group got a large piece of paper and was asked to compile a list of what we’d look for in a boyfriend or girlfriend. I don’t remember what we girls put, but I do remember that in the guys’ group, their marker had been taken over by one member: a senior who was repeating freshman health.
The girls put a lot of thought into our list, and when the teacher showed both lists, we were horrified at the guys’ list full of awful and sexist items (ex. must be skinny and hot, must be good in bed, must want to stay home and cook, etc.). Feeling rather dismal, we began to gather our books when the group of guys (sans the senior) came over to our side of the room.
“We wanted to apologize,” they began, “for what was on the list. [The senior] took over and wrote a bunch of things that we do not agree with. We wanted you to know that we care about girls who are smart and funny and are a good friend to be around, and the things on that list are not what really matters.”
That memory has stuck with me ever since. Yes, the odd sexist or obsessive or shallow person does exist, and they can leave a bad taste in your mouth. But they are not the norm for humanity. Just as I know many wonderful and well rounded women, I know many wonderful and well rounded men who think highly and respectfully of women.
We are all deeper and more valuable than the blanket statements made about our genders. Go and shine.