A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”

Rachel Held Evans is a rising star in the world of Christian blogging and publishing. Her New York Times bestselling book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, is equal parts informative, humorous, and controversial.

(Why controversial? The biggest hubbub—which arguably has overshadowed the content of her work—was Held Evans’ refusal to remove a six-letter word referring to the female anatomy from the text; in response, a large Christian bookseller refused to carry A Year of Biblical Womanhood.)

“So…what is biblical womanhood?” you might ask.

For Held Evans, it was a radical 12-month experiment to take all the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible.

As you might imagine, the author discovered that her quest took quite a bit of effort. It meant, among other things, growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.

To that end, Held Evans pursued a different virtue each month (each of which became chapters):

  • October: Gentleness—Girl Gone Mild
  • November: Domesticity—Martha, Martha
  • December: Obedience—My Husband, My Master
  • January: Valor—Will the Real Proverbs 1 Woman Please Stand Up?
  • February: Beauty—My Breasts Are Like Towers
  • March: Modesty—Hula-Hooping with the Amish
  • April: Purity—The Worst Time of the Month to Go Camping
  • May: Fertility—Quivers Full of Arrows and Sippy Cups
  • June: Submission—A Disposition to Yield
  • July: Justice—Eat More Guinea Pig
  • August: Silence—I Am Woman, Hear Me No More
  • September: Grace—Days of Awe

But A Year of Biblical Womanhood goes deeper than a cultural and epochal clash; Held Evans also corresponded with an Orthodox Jewish woman and a polygamist wife. In addition, she wrestled hard with difficult passages of the Bible that would seem to portray misogyny and violence against women.

Here’s Held Evans going over the details of her yearlong excursion into biblical womanhood:

Check out this excerpt detailing the author’s exploration of one virtue:

When I told friends that my goal for October was to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, a few of them laughed. Not in a mean way, but in a sympathetic, knowing sort of way. This was partly because they knew me, and partly because a lot of us church girls had the “gentle and quiet spirit” thing rubbed in our faces at early ages. […]

In search of some direction, I looked to the book of Proverbs, a collection of wisdom sayings that gives us some of the most colorful quips, cracks, praises, and poetry about women found in Scripture. This preoccupation with the feminine should come as no surprise, considering the fact that King Solomon, the figure to whom the book is often attributed, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.

Proverbs’ cast of female characters includes the virtuous woman, the foolish woman, the excellent wife, the shaming wife, Lady Wisdom, and Lady Folly. Making multiple appearances is the so-called contentious woman, who seems to have the opposite of a gentle and quiet spirit […]

•The contentious woman gave me an idea for kicking some of my less-than-gentle habits.

I decided to make a swearing jar of sorts. Each time I caught myself in the act of contention, I’d put a penny (or nickel or dime, depending on the severity of the infraction) in the jar. Behaviors that qualified as contention included gossiping, nagging, complaining, exaggerating, and snark. The Bible includes no direct mention of snark, of course, but in a decision I would come to regret, I added this pervasive little vice of mine for good measure.

I labeled it “The Jar of Contention,” and resolved that at the end of the month, each cent would represent one minute I’d have to spend doing penance on the rooftop of my house to simulate what it’s like to share a house with a contentious woman, according to the book of Proverbs.

Within the first few days, The Jar of Contention held twenty-six cents and a crumpled note card upon which I’d scribbled a log of my transgressions:

10/6/10—1¢, snarky comment about Dan letting Commandment #1 go to his head

10/7/10—1¢, snarky comment about the president of the Southern Baptist Convention using three forms of the word “serious” in a single sentence

10/7/10—1¢, complaining about the Jar of Contention

10/7/10—1¢, complaining about the experiment in general

10/8/10—5¢, ranting about negative comments on my blog (four of the five vices employed)

10/8/10—1¢, nagging Dan about taking out the garbage […]

10/9/10—1¢, complaining about how Dan arbitrarily added swearing to the list of vices

Apparently snark makes up a large percentage of my sense of humor, and I’m kind of a whiner. On the upside, I don’t gossip a lot—a good thing, since abstaining from it was my ninth commandment.

Biblical Womanhood Tip #1 (Tent Time)

Biblical Womanhood Tip #2 (Roof)

Biblical Womanhood Tip #2 (Wardrobe)