Book Review: Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness

By Thursday, September 24, 2015 , ,

Many people get defensive when a man attempts to write about womanhood or a woman tries to write about manhood. Insisting that only men understand men and women understand women, skeptics can hastily dismiss thoughts from the opposite sex because knowledge can now only be experientially based. But in the process, I think they miss treasure troves of wisdom. A large part of being a man or woman involves maneuvering interaction with the opposite sex, does it not? Men and women can therefore offer each other priceless insight that couldn’t be found among one sex or the other. But tackling a writing project of this sort still requires special balance, tenderness, and respect. Eric Metaxas does so astonishingly well in his new book, Seven Women.

This volume is the long-anticipated follow-up to Eric Metaxas' wildly popular book Seven Men, which I've previously written about and highly recommend. He now examines Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. As I read about the lives of these incredible women, I was faintly reminded of Elisabeth Elliot’s book Let Me Be A Woman. In his admirable winsome style, Metaxas argues in his presentation of these women that it is their uniquely feminine qualities that helped them accomplish what they did. In his introduction, he suggests that the men studied in Seven Men were not compared to women, so why should these women be compared to men? And the seven women he examines were respected by men because of their femininity, not in spite of it. In Let Me Be A Woman, Elisabeth Elliot makes a similar argument – why do we think women have to compete with or do the same things as men in order to achieve something great? So she asks simply, “let me be a woman” in the book, arguing that modern feminism actually strips women of what it means to be a woman, thereby demeaning them, not empowering them. Eric Metaxas’ book presents compelling portraits of these seven women because he does “let them be women,” and he extends that same courtesy to his female readers. I walked away from this book deeply encouraged and inspired. It celebrates femininity and shows that these women could not have done all they did were it not for their womanhood. He is wise, informed, respectful, and generous in his analysis.

It’s hard to know where to start when I try to pick favorite parts from Seven Women! I think my favorite women to read about were probably Hannah More, Corrie ten Boom, and Rosa Parks. I knew some about Corrie ten Boom and Rosa Parks, but this book opened my eyes to so much more of who they were and the influence they had. Hannah More recently became a new heroine of mine after I read a biography on her called Fierce Convictions, which I’ve also previously written about and also cannot recommend enough. But I still loved reading about her from a man’s perspective, and her story is worth revisiting many times over. I’ll now leave the details of all the remarkable women in this book for your personal discovery, but here are a few passages from the introduction that resonated with me and are so needed in these times we’re in.

“The stories of these great women show us that men and women are not interchangeable. There are things men can and should do that women cannot, and there are things that women can and should do that men cannot. So comparing men and women is something like comparing apples and oranges, except apples and oranges are actually far more like each other than are men and women. Apples and oranges can exist without each other, but men and women cannot. Men and women were deliberately designed to be different. Indeed we are specifically created as complements to each other, as different halves of a whole, and that whole reflects the glory of God.”

“Whether we like it or not, men and women are inextricably intertwined. Because the Bible says we are made in God’s image…the fortunes of one are so linked to the fortunes of the other that there is no way to lift one without lifting the other and no way to degrade one without degrading the other. So whenever men have used their positions of authority or their power to denigrate women, they have denigrated themselves and have denied themselves the fullness of manhood God intended for them. When women have tried to ape the behavior of power-hungry men, they have degraded themselves and denied themselves the dignity of being above that vulgar fray.” 

“Each era has the fatal hubris to believe that it has once and for all climbed to the top of the mountain and can see everything as it is, from the highest and most objective point vantage point possible. But to assert that ours is the only blinker-less view of things is to blither fatuousness. We need to delve into the past to know that we have not progressed to any point of perfection and objectivity, and in examining the lives of these seven women, we are doing just that. We see that our view of many things, not least our view of how women can be great, is fatally tinged by our own cultural assumptions.” 

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