What if I Wanna Be Wild at Heart Too?

In order to be a trendy teenager in my friend circle growing up, one was encouraged to read the twin books Wild at Heart and Captivating, if not by an adult, by peer pressure. I was actually given both books by different folks; the books were wildly popular during my coming of age years and still are to some extent in some circles.

Wild at Heart is written for men by John Eldredge and Captivating is written for women by both John and his wife Stasi; both books contain the subtitle: “Discovering the secret to a man’s/woman’s soul.” The books outline characteristics which differ between men and women and discuss what went wrong when those characteristics are not allowed to be fleshed out.

I offer some reflections on the books, but want to preface by saying, I am speaking not with counseling or psychological expertise, but rather from the expertise that comes from my experience as a woman. I should insert here that John is a counselor and has previously taught at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, with whom you may associate the name, James Dobson. So he appears to have some expertise that I do not have in certain areas, even so, I would like to offer a critique of the books. They both certainly remain vivid in my memory as they were influential during some impressionable years, whether unfortunately or not.

In an interview on beliefnet.com, when asked about the similarities and differences in the desires of men and women (which comprise the basis of the books), both John and Stasi describe them as follows:

“Well, they  are very similar, what a man desires and what a woman desires, and they fit together really well. And yet, they’re distinctly masculine and distinctly feminine. In fact, in Wild at Heart, I said every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. And in Captivating-every woman wants to be romanced; every woman wants to play an irreplaceable role in a heroic adventure, not just to be useful but to be irreplaceable; and every woman longs to have a beauty that’s all her own to unveil, both an external beauty and an internal beauty as well. To be the beauty and to offer beauty.”

When asked about men not always pursuing women in today’s society, John and Stasi responded:

“That passivity on the part of men is not a good thing. That’s wounded masculinity, and that’s why “Wild at Heart” is trying to get guys to take initiative. Hello, give her a call, right? Buy a ring! Make a move, buddy. One of woman’s greatest powers is the power of invitation. Just by virtue of being a woman, the way she’s living her life, determines what she’s inviting others to. If she’s a very controlling, afraid woman, she’s inviting others to not risk anything and certainly asking them not to be vulnerable with her. If she’s driven, she’s inviting you to being driven. If it’s done with wisdom, there’s a very cunning way that a woman can arouse and lure a man to move, to become a man.”

In another interview that John gave beliefnet.com, John was asked: “You write that Christianity as it currently exists has done some “terrible things” to men. What do you mean by that?”

“Christianity has basically communicated to men that the reason God put you on this earth is to be a good boy. Mind your manners, be a nice guy. That’s soul killing! It’s not true, and for a man to hear the message that the greatest achievement of his life is simply not rocking the boat, not offending anyone, not taking any risks but just being a genuinely swell guy–that kills him.

His nature is made for something much more dramatic. Here’s how you can tell: look at the games boys play or the films men love. Boys want risk, adventure, danger, exploration. Why do men love maps? Women don’t love maps.

Look at the films men love, whether it’s Chariots of Fire, Schindler’s List, The Shawshank Redemption, the Die Hard films, Indiana Jones, or James Bond. They all involve a challenge, a great battle, something to be won, some deep hardship to be faced and overcome. That’s the soul of a man. To tell him that you’re really not made for that, that what God really wants is for you to be an altar boy, kills a man. It takes all the passion out of life.”

Let me be clear, besides the sweeping generalizations here, I believe that this kind of militaristic attachment to masculinity (especially Christian masculinity) is as damaging to men as it is to women. It’s especially damaging when paralleled with emasculation of Christ. This militaristic Christianity is that which landed Christians leading violent crusades; it also reinforces the principals of complementarianism which assert that the man is the head of the household and the woman’s role is to submit to the natural hierarchy of leadership instated by God. But I digress and will save that topic for another post.

The issue I want to address here is the damage which I feel these ideas does to individuality. These books narrowly define men and women into categories which suggest the secret to distinct, deep longings for both sexes. But what if I, as a woman, am wild at heart? What if I enjoy Indiana Jones for crying out loud? Men aren’t the only folks who have a deep desire to be respected. We confine girls to these specific roles of waiting to be pursued and learning how to possess some kind of seduction techniques which help men be more masculine. I, as a woman, have no responsibility to help a man be more masculine. I do have a responsibility to love and respect my brother as well as my sister. I do not have a responsibility to wait around to be pursued by someone; I do have a responsibility to pursue justice, mercy, and kindness. What are we teaching our girls with books like these? I am afraid that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy situation. We tell our girls that their deepest desire is to be loved and rescued by a man and so they live into that. And they wait and wait in silence.

I would like to have a daughter one day and if I am given that beautiful honor, I do not desire to teach my daughter how to be a woman, rather, I want to teach her how to be a human. To give her a voice and confidence to use it to love people.

Hear me here, I am not advocating for the eradication of genders (mostly because I have no intelligent ideas to suggest here– hint, hint– if you do, hit up the comments section), but what I am saying with a loud internet voice is: I don’t want to be defined by my gender, but by my spirit. 

What if we celebrated our individuality based upon our gifts and passions, not based upon our gender?

*********

If you’ve read the books, feel free to jump in with your thoughts. What was your experience in reading one of both?

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14 thoughts on “What if I Wanna Be Wild at Heart Too?

  1. Well said, Kate!! Haven’t read the books but I get the idea. Doesn’t sound like they lend themselves to raising up strong, Christians of leadership whether men or women. While the generalizations above may be true for some, this in no way applies to all men and women. I’m glad that we raised one young lady that is an adventurer too!

    • Thank you for your thoughts here! I agree… I guess one of my concerns is how much responsibility they give women for making men feel like men. And the inverse is true as well. Thank you for the space you give me to figure out all of this!

  2. Allright…*cracks knuckles* Here’s what’s wrong with the passages from these books that you’ve posted. THEY ARE SOME OF THE MOST BACKWARD, MEDIEVAL-MINDED HORSE MANURE IDEAS I’VE HEARD SINCE BLOCKING THE 700 CLUB FROM MY TV!!!

    Sorry to get into so much psychological jargon on you. Seriously, though, these type ideas about gender roles have been propagated in western civilization for centuries and it is brazen barbarism to me that anyone can advocate for them in the 21st century with a straight face. It does not surprise me, however, that a follower of James Dobson would do so, however. I used to listen to his radio broadcasts when I was in high school and found them, more often than not, very instructive and inspirational. In later years, however, I began hearing more and more political agenda and intolerance in the messages coming from Focus on the Family.

    There are differences in the ways in which men and women experience the world, and yes, evidence shows that SOME of them are hardwired into us. But the vast majority of gender stereotypes we have are the sins of our fathers (and mothers). It’s shameful that so many Christians insist on imposing such harsh limitations on men and women, denying their full potential and then OSTRACIZING THEM IF THEY REBEL AGAINST IT!

    Knights in shining armor?! Helpless princesses?! Please!! Go back to that rock and keep trying to pull the sword out of it!

    • Your imagery here is cracking me up; I appreciate your passion for egalitarianism… I mean that with all sincerity. It is a precious and necessary thing. I also appreciate your counseling expertise on gender stereotypes… I was hoping for this as it’s not something I can claim. I also had a big problem with the knight/ princess imagery. I’m not a kitten stuck up in a tree somewhere.

  3. …And another thing! This kind of “complementary” role crap is one of the worst offenders when it comes to encouraging co-dependency in relationships! Why does a man NEED to pursue a woman? Why does a woman need to PINE AWAY for a man? WHY DEFINE OUR ROLES BY NEEDING ANOTHER PERSON TO BE COMPLETE?! Far healthier, I believe, to encourage young people to explore their own nature, discover who they really are and their place in the grand scheme. One who can stand independently is far more stable in a relationship than two who depend on each other for support.

    • And again, you are right on. That is exactly what I am saying… my role isn’t defined by anyone else…that’s too dang much pressure to put on someone and too precious a gift for me to give away.

    • I love your thinking, John! Have you ever read Shel Silverstein’s books, “The Missing Piece” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O”? That’s my kind of philosophy.

  4. I’m sure they meant to be encouraging and inspirational. What they encourage and inspire is more of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_policing

    Complementarianism is taking a system crafted by a few people, that works for a few people (and works for the perpetuation of patriarchy), and then convincing everyone that this is the mold that God made for you to fit into — you won’t be fulfilled unless you do. Until you do try, and you aren’t.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that people innately feel gendered in their own way. They don’t need to be told how they feel. It’s my belief that, regardless of our biological sex, we fit somewhere on a spectrum of gender and should be allowed to express that position freely.

    • Thanks for the link on gender policing… very thought provoking! I appreciate your thoughts here… I would align myself very much with your stance on complementariamism…. I find it even more dangerous because it not only legalizes patriarchy, it spiritualizes it. Your idea of gender on a spectrum is one I’ve heard frequently associated with solid research and I appreciate you bringing it up… it seems to lend itself to a much greater degree of individuality and expression.

  5. “I would like to have a daughter one day and if I am given that beautiful honor, [I want to] give her a voice and confidence to use it to love people.”

    Brava! The Greatest Commandment applies to men and women alike.

    The trouble I find with the kind of claims about gender that seem to be in these books is that it seems rather difficult to provide any grounding for them based on scripture (or at least, I haven’t come across one, yet). Sure, there may be some vaguely gendered statements in early Genesis or a couple of the epistles, but not nearly enough to found such a strong normative theory of gender identity as some Christians would like to believe.

    Read more rambling thoughts traceable to this post at: http://cogitorium.blogspot.com/2013/08/thoughts-on-gender-adulthood-identity.html

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael and also for your thoughts. I appreciate hearing that your reference to scripture, which I agree with. I agree that there is not enough evidence to create so strong a gender identity that we often experience from birth and that books, such as these, contribute to that division instead of encouraging individuality of gifts. I loved your blog post; I found myself in agreement multiple times. Appreciate your well-worded reflection.

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