“A formidably self-possessed young woman with a fully realized, detailed moral sensibility.”
As the main author of the book “Unseduced And Unshaken” points out, this is not usually what comes to mind when people think about what a godly young woman should look like. But it is a description applied by a secular critic to, arguably, the most moral, godly, and intelligent young woman in fiction, Jane Eyre. And as Rosalie de Rosset also points out, it is a description that any godly, intelligent young woman should aspire to.
“Unseduced And Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices” is a book of essays from six contributors—two professors, a therapist, a teacher, and two college students. It seeks to introduce the concepts of a dignified life and self-respect to young women, even Christian young women, who have never been taught that such things as dignity and self-respect exist at a time when anything and everything goes. It is written for young women (primarily college-age and in their 20s) who want to live Christian lives but feel that the church doesn’t really teach them how to do so in the real world in which they find themselves.
Though a bit lacking in cohesion, due to its nature as essays written by different authors, the book is passionate and deep. It strives to teach Christian women to be like Abdiel, the only loyal and faithful member of the seraphim after the fall of Satan in “Paradise Lost”: “Abdiel, faithful found;/Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,/His loyalty he kept.”
Rosalie de Rosset starts off with an essay about Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, and dignity. Jane and Elizabeth are both dignified, spirited, intelligent female characters in classic fiction. Elizabeth makes her mistakes, but she refuses to compromise her values, and she continually entrances new generations of young women who don’t really know or understand why they want to be her. Jane’s virtues and attractions come from a more overtly godly morality, something that tends to be lost or glossed over in film versions of the story. She learns humility but not passivity; she knows who she is and where she stands in relation to other humans; she “follows her heart” until she sees that it is going to lead her to ruin, and then she refuses to follow it anymore. She is dignified because she knows the God she serves, and she knows herself. She is not overcome by all the whims of the world around her or even by the passions inside her. De Rosset holds her up as a particular example for young women to really pay attention to.
Pam Macrae takes on the difficult subject of the silencing and self-silencing of women in the church in her essay, “Finding Your Voice: Knowing And Being Known.” Though, as de Rosset points out, Pope John Paul II once highlighted the fact that “Christianity, more than ‘any other religion’ has given women special dignity,” church cultures through the centuries have also done as much as any other society to force women to stifle themselves. Despite the fact that God used women in remarkable ways in the Bible (such as the bold, honest Abigail, who is a central character in Macrae’s essay), and that Jesus honored the questions, input, and ministry of women, His church has often gone out of its way to denigrate those things.
Macrae tells the story of one woman who “was led to question her value as a person more after she entered the church than before.” A psychologist and professor Macrae interviewed described how the inability to have a voice in matters of intimate importance, such as home life and religion, can play a role in depression. As Charlotte Brontë says so poignantly through her character Jane Eyre, “Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer. . . .”
In a second essay, “Everything Is Theological,” Rosalie de Rosset carries this idea a little further and illuminates how women are not taught to think theologically, and even discouraged from doing so. Women’s ministries and Christian books for women don’t tend to nourish our minds and encourage us to intense reflection on the nature of God and His self-revelation. “While there are notable exceptions, too much of what goes on at these events or in church venues is feeling centered rather than content rich, the challenges presented predictable if not downright clichéd.” They appeal to our emotions more than our minds and often do no more than feed us self-help in our life situations.
But when Jesus encountered women, He used their situations to force them to think more deeply about who God is and their own standing with Him. He didn’t teach Mary, Martha’s sister, how to be a better, loving sister by helping out around the house; He commended her intense attention, along with the men, to the deep things of faith He was teaching. “If theology means knowledge of God, every woman, serious about her faith, young or old, must be a theologian. . . . It is not enough to fit into the life of the church, to be an ethical Christian. . . .”
The other essayists tackle such difficult subjects as pornography, masturbation, and dignity and morality in women’s sexuality; such polarizing subjects as modesty; and such delightful ones as learning and growth through fiction and imagination. They are trying to teach young women to think, to evaluate, to make conscious decisions about the kinds of lives they will live, to go forward with purposefulness, so that their lives need not be a scramble to patch up mistakes caused by being seduced by the world, but rather, that they might live growing, intelligent, dignified Christian lives.
“Everywhere we look,” de Rosset writes, “people are telling stories of recovery from sin; and, of course, God’s grace is marvelous beyond words. However, it is possible to choose well, to spend less time recovering and more time deepening our walk with God.” It is possible, in fact, to become “a formidably self-possessed young woman with a fully realized, detailed moral sensibility.” This delightful book will help girls, even in an “anything goes” world, to do just that.
Image copyright BBC Films.
Christy McDougall is a Web developer, writer, and aspiring missionary with bachelor's and master's degrees in Christian theology.