"The Book of Womanhood" by Amy Davis Abdallah
I recall a moment, in early adulthood, when I wondered if I had become a woman. Standing behind a counter, waiting for an attendant to approve a Costco membership felt significant. A few months earlier, I had dressed in a white gown, spoken vows, lit a unity candle, and driven into the sunset with my new husband. Receiving a membership to the wholesale warehouse felt like a rite of passage. I recalled the day when my own mother had received her membership with full privileges to groceries, furnishings, and a host of other goods that I associated, at the time, with mature adulthood. The man behind the counter snapped my photo, stapled some paperwork, and handed me a white plastic card with my face on it. "Was that it?" I wondered silently. "Had I crossed some kind of threshold? Had I become a woman?"
In The Book of Womanhood, Amy F. Davis Abdallah addresses the gap that girls face as they mature into adulthood. She recognizes the diverse culture that sends mixed messages and offers few markers to help with the transition. Davis Abdallah digs into questions many ponder along the way—What must happen for a girl no longer to be a girl? What qualifies her for womanhood? When can she think of herself as a woman? At what point can she confidently call herself a woman?
Drawing from her own experiences and questions, Davis Abdallah speaks like a caring older sister. Her story calls to mind the labyrinth that girls face from adolescence to adulthood: Does coming to procreative age make a girl a woman? What about receiving a driver's license, graduating from high school, and becoming a legal adult? Does graduating from college and finding a job mark womanhood? Or is it marriage and bearing a child? What about women who remain single and/or do not bear a child? What of the spectrum of women whose individuality, choices, and situations do not fall into expected norms off womanhood? What exactly makes a woman a woman?
Davis Abdallah explains that womanhood is not about achieving but rather about being on the journey and walking it with others. Within her own community, as a professor at Nyack College, she developed a rite of passage for women to explore the ways their unique identities relate with God, self, others, and creation. The Book of Womanhood emerged as a guide to the process. For those longing to work out their identities as a woman—in small groups, discussions with friends, etc.—The Book of Womanhood offers a profound resource.
"God has made you a woman," Davis Abdallah writes, "and given you the privilege and authority to agree with your Creator by naming yourself 'woman' and forming your identity as a woman." She explains the importance of knowing, speaking, and owning the truth in community. Throughout the book, women who have participated in the program (called Woman) share insights about their experiences. Each chapter closes with questions for discussion and a prayer for God's support to develop and practice womanhood.
Turning to Scripture, Davis Abdallah explains what it means to be fashioned and formed in the image of God. Though distorted by sin, we bear the essence as women and men. We are relational, and God calls us to steward the earth in equality and interdependence. She explains the tendency of many women to pull back from exercising stewardship, demonstrating that as a result of the Fall. Rather, God intends women to oversee the world in partnership with their brothers in Christ.
"Abusing our bodies," Davis Abdallah explains, "whether tangibly (e.g. eating disorders) or intangibly (e.g. calling ourselves ugly) has spiritual effects."
Davis Abdallah uncovers intimate portraits of women in scripture, including those Jesus cultivated as disciples and those he referred to in stories. She unpacks important nuances of the lives of Mary the mother of Jesus, Huldah, Deborah, and Martha. She spotlights often overlooked feminine images of God: a woman giving birth, a female eagle serving as a shield, a mother bear defending her cubs, a mother bird offering refuge in her wings, a woman with a baby at her breast. In light of Scripture, women bear the image of God with unique strength and dignity. Davis Abdallah encourages each woman to own the truth of her God-inspired identity.
Women, Davis Abdallah explains, are physically created to partner with God in a number of life-giving ways, not limited to marriage and procreation. Tending to physical and emotional health is an essential aspect of womanhood. Davis Abdallah suggests that women treat their menstrual cycles as a reminder to meditate and take care of their bodies, even to give themselves permission to dial back activities. "Abusing our bodies," she explains, "whether tangibly (e.g. eating disorders) or intangibly (e.g. calling ourselves ugly) has spiritual effects."
Davis Abdallah offers excellent advice on building confidence. She cautions women especially to pay attention to self-talk, taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. "We must call ourselves saints who occasionally sin rather than calling ourselves sinners." She outlines practical ways for women to find their unique voice and learn to use it confidently. "Let us be those who stand and speak," she writes, urging women to boldly embody Christ's presence in the world.
"We are created to be family and friends and to need family and friends," Davis Abdallah writes. She encourages women to cultivate strong relationships with girlfriends (peers) and older women (mothers and mentors). She provides excellent advice for developing healthy platonic relationships with men. "Female-male relationships are healthy, needed, and instrumental for portraying the image of God to the world."
Speaking from experience, Davis Abdallah provides encouragement to those "doing life solo." "It is freeing," she explains, "to realize that as part of the kingdom of God, our commission is for spiritual procreation, the preaching of the gospel and discipling of believers (the Great Commission, Matt. 28:19-20)." She further offers advice for healthy dating relationships that may or may not lead to marriage.
The final section of The Book of Womanhood addresses a woman's relationship with creation. She emphasizes the importance of Sabbath that God has created rhythms for the good of bodies and souls while caring for others and the world at large. Davis Abdallah makes practical suggestions for stewarding the earth. "We can recycle, walk to work, and cut down on our meat consumption. We can make ourselves aware of our ecological footprint and take steps to make it smaller. Though it may be a long hard process, we can begin."
Standing in Costco 20 years ago, I wished for a handbook to explain the elusive journey that girls face on the way to womanhood. Reflecting on my own experiences, however, and the spectrum of women I have known, I think that every woman would need her own handbook. For this reason I'm glad The Book of Womanhood offers a framework for each woman to work out her one-of-a-kind identity and purposes. May Jesus' body thrive as girls and women grow into the fullness of God's purposes for their lives.
Amy Rasmussen Buckley is a freelance writer, speaker, and activist. She is a contributor to Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse: Churches and Their Leaders Look to the Future (Wipf and Stock, 2013) and oversees the "Stop the Silence Initiative," which addresses domestic violence, as an editor at SheLovesMagazine.com.