Fight like a Girl is the second offering from Lisa Bevere on the topic of gender, following Kissed the girls and made them cry and preceding Nurture. Lisa is an American woman, popular on the women’s speaking circuit and perhaps best known in Australia for her appearances at Hillsong’s women’s conference, ‘Colour’. I’ve been wanting to read some of her stuff for a while, not least because my observation has been that, while in some evangelical circles, discussion of gender differences is only just getting going again, the mainline pentes have been doing it for some time.
The basic premise of the book is that women have had two reactions in the great battle of the sexes: they either become passive, imagining that it is ladylike to do so (p.2) or they rebel against males, trying to become like them. One is refusing to fight; the other fights, but like a man, not like a woman. Bevere’s call is to fight like a girl. What are women to fight for? Good gender relationships, as God intended them to be. Bevere believes strongly that men and women are different, that this is a good thing and that it ought to be lived out:
Gender has always been. Gender was one of God’s creative ways of expressing diversity within unity… Because gender issues have repeatedly been a source of unjury, we have mistakenly attempted to bring about healing by blending the man and the woman. The theory was that if the differences brought wounding, perhaps their minimization would effect a cure. If somehow androgyny in the strengths resident in both sexes could be achieved, then gender would be rendered meaningless and thereby categorized as harmless. The hope was good, but the answer was inadequate. We will never find the cure we seek in this hybrid… we need something separate but one. P.25
She rightly sees that in Jesus, the restoration of creation is won and so she calls women to “find yourself released to be all you were created to be” (p.7). The rest of the book is an explanation of what that looks like: wisdom, authenticity, tenderness. She calls for women to recognise their strength and influence and to wield it for the glory of their husbands. There is lots of advice on both the theoretical and the practical level.
One of the things that I appreciated about this book was the empowerment it calls for. Lisa does a wonderful job of highlighting the strength and influence a woman has. And as she calls for her to wield these for the glory of her husband, it feels like she’s encouraging me to do something that only I can do for him; a special role, God-ordained for me! She’s not condescending and I feel empowered for the task, for she’s very careful to highlight what an essential part of the creation women are, that it was not good for the man to be alone. She does speak of a ‘helper’ role but of being an essential counterpart, working with and alongside one’s husband. She sells the vision of being a biblical wife as something that we need to step up to. She presents it as a beautiful and unique challenge that we need to grasp hold of, own and, yes, fight for!
One of my frustrations in reading other literature about gender roles has been that authors give their theological framework but then stop short of applying it and wrestling with what it looks like in practice. Not so with Fight Like a Girl. It deals on both the theoretical and the practical level with lots of anecdotes and illustrations, from Lisa’s own life and others’. This is a great strength of the book. However, I think it errs on the other side of the equation. Let me explain.
While Bevere makes a good attempt at unpacking Genesis 1-3 as a framework for thinking about gender, she largely uses the rest of the Bible to proof-text her theories of gender. For example, she takes on 1 Cor. 11, saying that the woman being the glory of man is akin to saying that she brings him favour from God and quotes Prov. 18:22 to support this. The problem is that the latter passage is about a man and his relationship with his wife while her argument about 1 Cor. 11 seems to be made more generally about men and women. What’s the problem? I think that in doing so, Lisa specifically ties marriage (and in other places, motherhood) to womanhood and femininity. It is telling that the majority of her practical advice is about how to relate in marriage and there is almost nothing directed at single women, widows, single mums, etc. It’s as if you’re not fully female until you’re married. At one level, I can see what’s happened here. After all, most of the Bible speaks about women and wives interchangeably. However, if the concept of biblical femininity is to be applied into our culture, where gender roles are no longer confined solely to marriage, we need a larger framework to make sense of them. I think the Bible offers that but it takes a bigger picture than Fight Like a Girl offers.
One thing that Fight Like a Girl pushed me to thinking about more was the question of where humanity is headed. Not sure that I’ve come to any conclusions here so I’d love to hear comments. The thing is, that I think the general thrust of the Bible is forward, not back. It’s about renewal not reversal. We’re not heading towards a garden but towards a city. So we’re to be people of new creation, living out and hoping for the world to come. But what does it mean to live this out with regard to gender? After all, some think there’ll be gender in heaven, others don’t. (What’s does it mean to be ‘like the angels’ anyway?!) Most think there won’t be marriage in Heaven. Some would say that this is what Paul is getting at in 1 Cor. 7 when he talks about not marrying. I think Ephesians 5 gives us more to go on – that marriage now is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his church. But is there more to it than that?
So, would I recommend this book? Well, it depends. I would not recommend it to a single woman. It is too heavily focused on femininity in marriage. I’m not sure it would help them practically or pastorally. I would not recommend it to a married woman who hasn’t thought through a framework for thinking about femininity or approaching the Bible in general. It doesn’t provide a holistic model of either.
But there’s no doubt that there’s lots of gold here. For women who are married or girls going out with someone, considering marriage, there’s lots of food for thought about what it will mean to be a strong helper. In fact, there’s a lot as well about how not to sell out to your culture, how to be empowered as a woman and what the conduct and speech of a godly woman is. I enjoyed it. I thought it was helpful. Though the use of the Bible was inadequate I appreciated the practical advice for life and marriage.There’s plenty of stuff here for all women to hear but the application is so limited to the married woman that it lacks broad appeal. A more robust theological framework would serve both the argument and its readership.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.