Every once in a long while, a book comes along that challenges you to become everything you were created to be. My pick for the best nonfiction of 2007:
Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, by Jonalyn Grace Fincher
We’re all caught up in the gender wars: what should a woman be, do and say? What is femininity: a liability, or a deeply intuitive expression of the Divine? Ruby Slippers is beautiful, persuasive, and rich, a feast for any woman who longs to be her truest self.
I recently caught up with the author, Jonalyn Grace Fincher, and asked her a few questions: In Ruby Slippers, you encourage women to re-examine their definition of femininity. After spending years in research and study (and life!) how do you define it now?
I used to define it by all the outer trappings, the heels, the styled hair, the hourglass figure. But when I realized that anyone, even a man can copy this “feminine” look (that’s what drag is all about), I thought, wait a sec, this sort of femininity is really superficial. Sometimes all the outer fashionable “feminine” things give us a clue about an inner trait we really want to have. I think being a woman goes much deeper than a look or even a role. Femininity is about the way I am, my beliefs, thoughts, feelings, choices. If I had to sum up femininity in one word, I’d have to say vulnerable. I know it’s not exactly a comfy, feel-good word. But vulnerability is something most women have experienced, both in good and bad ways. Vulnerability is a key ingredient for any kind of intimacy. Friendship is good when we are vulnerable. Sex is good when we are vulnerable. How do we interact with that word? Do we fear it? Do we seek to understand it? The different ways we wrestle with our vulnerability are apparent all day long, from our clothing, to the way we move, the way we laugh and date and make love and marry. The most feminine women I know are not the ones with French manicures and heels; they are those women who have learned to own their vulnerability.
As we struggle to reconnect to our femininity, why does this lead us to reconnect with God? If God is always spoken of in the masculine, what can He teach us about the feminine?It’s easy to think of God as male. In the Bible, there are these places where God seems so uber-masculine. He did, after all, come to earth as the man Jesus. Because of all this, I had this deep down belief that God perhaps prefers men to women. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I mean from the first chapter of the first book of the Bible God announced that he would make men and women in his image. So from the get-go we have a God who used woman (and man) to show the world more about God. From there we see God use specifically womanly pictures to explain his love. “I’m like a woman nursing you,” he says in Isaiah 49. “I’m like a mother who’s weaned you, but still holding you near” (Ps 131). And my personal favorite is when Jesus explains the new life with a female metaphor. “You must be born again” (John 3). The “born again” phrase has been so overworked that we forget the source of it. Any birthing process involves not just the baby, but also the messy, straining, grunting, crying work of labor done by a woman. If we’re born again, who’s doing the birthin? That’s the picture God chose, an intimate, physically engaged, vulnerable, female experience.
Ruby Slippers broke open places in my heart I haven’t expressed before. How did writing this book change you, as the author?Writing Ruby Slippers was a huge way God helped me come home to my femininity. Writing is a curious thing, it calls you to the carpet, to get honest about your real motivations and fears. For instance, I was horrified to find that I was actually prejudiced against most women that I compared and competed for men’s attention more than women’s. I was eager to take someone else’s definition of femininity and slap it onto my own life than I was willing to work out what God thought about me and my femininity. Writing helped me own these inconsistencies and publicly confess them. There’s something about confession that breaks old patterns. God gave me a fresh start to own my femininity, like Dorothy owned her ruby slippers. I realized that I needed to create new templates of womanhood with him. These freed me to move into a new state, write more widely, speak more frequently with less fear and more boldness. The best part of writing was the unexpected pleasure of finding so many healthy, unique things in women. I was thrilled to find that these were also characteristics of God. When I realized that, I was like, WOW! I couldn’t have foreseen that at the beginning of the project.
As women embrace femininity, with all the mysterious strength and beauty it brings, we begin to be more aware of our sisters and their needs. What can we do to encourage another woman in her journey to wholeness?(Laughing) Well, that’s what my next book is about. I’d recommend walking in our sister’s shoes for awhile. Learn to ask questions about her experience of femininity. Usually women are not wholly pleased with their womanhood. If you ask them, “Why are you glad you’re a woman?” you’ll be able to hear their ambivalence and often anger. Stuff might bubble out, like, “Why am I GLAD??!” We need to give our sisters freedom to name the harmful, unnatural corsets they’ve been wearing, to realize that femininity is often more of a curse than a blessing in their lives. We need to free them to embrace their own God-given, unique femininity. It might not look like our own, but if we are full of freedom and grace, they will feel released to revisit femininity. Encourage them to level their complaints with God, to ask him what He thinks.