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?