I have a genuine domestic streak in me, one that makes me gravitate toward all things homey: color schemes, difficult recipes, hospitality, home economics, and meal planning included. This summer, I even bought myself Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Guide to Etiquette, a book that’s not only helpful in figuring out the ground rules for high class entertaining, but also just delightful to read: “The savvy hostess makes a checklist,” the authors quip. “Such a hostess is relaxed and has a wonderful time at her own party.”
When I read Amy, I read the rules for a well-ordered life.
But I barely have enough mental space right now to remember to switch over the laundry, and so I follow all the home-making blogs to help me stay on top of this home-management business. Nearly every one of them has a Christian slant, which is not too surprising considering that the vast majority are written by stay-at-home mothers. It takes a lot of work to keep up a popular blog, but I bet very few of these women would categorize themselves as “working moms.” More of the blogs than I would like to admit are so conservative I cringe a little when a really excellent fall craft idea is matched with a verse from Titus 2.
It’s hard to criticize Christian women writers because you don’t want to detract from the fact that they are women who are writing. That women are digging into what Kathleen Norris calls “the quotidian mysteries” and writing about faith amidst the hard work of home-making and mothering is a beautiful, wonderful thing. I don’t want to diminish that. We can’t forget that it was a long time before women in the Christian tradition could use their words without worry of gaining the label “mystic” or “heretic.”
Women bloggers who happen to be Christian won’t be condemned for writing. They probably won’t be called a heretic just for making arguments about faith through the written word. (After all, as my friend Rachel reminds us, when a woman writes, her anatomy can’t make anyone “stumble” in their walk with God.) Even the most conservative bloggers, women who associate with the Christian Patriarchy Movement or Vision Forum, don’t seem to feel any anxiety when they write about faith. There is always a careful note in the “About” section, though, which states, “This blog is carried out under the oversight of [insert man’s name, usually the husband].”
I especially struggle with critically reading the women who consider themselves deeply conservative, but aren’t so strict they believe women should only wear skirts. These are the women bloggers with serious mass appeal. Their books sell like wildfire, they have an army of women behind them (usually other stay-at-home moms who have blogs too—everyone has a blog, y’all), and they are in-demand as speakers at Christian conferences. They are conservative, but not too conservative, and so they fit on the main stage.
Oh, but there are so many holes in their argument and in their theology. So much of their advice toward mothers is self-effacing, as in, “I know it’s hard, but you must die to yourself so that you can be more available for your children; your top vocation is cultivating these souls.” They wage a war against feminine “selfishness” (which, translated, means a desire to work outside the home rather than remain the primary caregiver to the kids). They chronicle the daily battle with submission in their marriages, pushing themselves and others to “just say O.K.” to what their husband wants to do. They proof text, they proof text, and they proof text.
But they probably bring a lot of women to God, especially women who feel isolated as stay-at-home moms. So how can I criticize them when they do good? How can I criticize them when, yes, they are indeed women writing and that’s a very good thing. They also have really excellent home-making ideas. They really do link to the best recipes.
And every now and then they say something that truly encourages me and I feel thankful that a woman is writing and she’s writing about her faith. But when I view them this way, they are sort of untouchable, you know?
The old argument, “If it brings people to God, it must be good,” is like a specter here. If these women and their writing bring other women to God, isn’t it good? What good will I do if I criticize that writing other than diminish the value of the women who are writing? And if I criticize them as another woman, aren’t I just making things worse? Shouldn’t I be standing alongside women who want to write about faith?
Women writers are a good thing considering women’s history within the church. But they grow untouchable with our carefulness, I think. I’m a good example of this: did I name anyone in this post? Nope. And I don’t think I’m ready to—at least, not yet.