Where are the novels about life? There are so many, so many, about love and romance, modern or historical, realistic or fantastical. I read plenty of middle school and some YA books and those don’t always have romance, but in the adult Christian fiction I read there is almost always a Man who comes into the Woman’s life and by the end she’s realized he’s not the annoying jerk she first thought but in fact her God-given soul-mate.
Secular fiction provides the occasional escape from this, such as ONE of the four stories in a fantasy series I read this summer that didn’t end with a romantic happily-ever-after… but probably only because he’d already met his match in the book this one was a prequel to. Many of the secular books I end up reading follow the same formula as the Christian ones without the bother of squeezing God into the story. (note: there ARE other formulas, such as the unlikely couple against all odds getting together, but those are more often middle-school retold fairy tales than grown-up fiction)
To add to my frustration with The Formula, along came Wendy’s post over at Practical Theology for Women, “50 Shades of the Curse.” The curse on Woman in Genesis 3:16 runs like so:
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (ESV)
The bit about pain in childbearing is straightforward. It comes to her daughters even before we get to have kids, thanks a million, Eve. The second half has usually been interpreted mainly as-written but – sidenote and according to Wendy – just in the last 35 years or so has also been interpreted that women would incorrectly desire to rule over their husbands but be smacked down. Uh not quite. Anyway, the original meaning of woman-longs-for-man, man-sinfully-dominates, not only fits the wording but also fits what we see in that reflection of culture, popular fiction. Woman desiring husband rather than God, wanting him to meet all her needs, needing to be affirmed and loved by him, desperate by the climax of the book with the thought that she might have lost him (before the happy denouement of course); meanwhile the man, especially in those delicious historical or fantasy settings where woman’s role is limited to either ornament or mother, trying to oppressively protect, break, train, ignore, control, mold, etc, the woman (before happily realizing she is his match and settling into fulfilled married life). The woman tends to fight this oppression (unless she thinks she deserves it) but her desire for the man overwhelms her fight for freedom eventually. This is oversimplified but I think generally accurate.
This is the curse, and yet it is the formula we are fed.
And a part of the curse as I see it playing out in my life is that, however happily equally-yoked the Woman and Man end up by the last page, THE WOMAN STILL GETS A MAN. Her desire as foretold in the curse is fulfilled. And the story reaffirms in me that a happy ending requires a husband. That a husband’s love is the #1 requirement for fulfillment and should therefore be my #1 desire. Which is a LIE and from which I am freed by the death and resurrection on the Second Adam, Christ. But do I need the lies of my flesh being fed by every story I read, even ones with a figurative fish on the bumper?
A number of questions are prompted by this, some more personal and others more general. Why do I keep reading these stories? What changes can I consciously make to my reading habits now that I’m aware of this? How do I take the need/desire for the emotions I get from these stories to God for fulfillment? How can I find more interest & involvement in the Real Story going on around me while also meeting my introverted need for time alone after long days of teaching and meetings (especially if the answer isn’t books nor DVDs nor Facebook)? What kinds of stories would be uplifting and entertaining while also modeling a kind of life not so dissimilar to the one I live? And WHERE ARE THOSE LIFE-AFFIRMING STORIES?
Where are the thrilling true stories of women like Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward, who reached out in love and saved lives? Of women who lived purposeful lives, maybe lonely for a husband, maybe never thinking of marriage; maybe never married, maybe married at 35, 45, 65, 80… (and who had such full lives that the idea of marriage at 80 doesn’t depress me to read it)? Where are the breath-stoppingly, page-turningly engagingly-written fictional accounts of women in any time period, real or fantastical, who give up the chance for marriage or never have the opportunity, not because they are determined not to need a man but because they need God more, and move forward to serve him in everyday lives ordinary or extraordinary? Why aren’t these books being written, or if they are, where are they?
Authors, these are the kinds of books I want (perhaps need) to read. Please write them. Fellow readers, please recommend them and buy them to support the authors and publishers who make them available!