Book Review: A Woman’s Place

Why I picked up this book:

I’ve written for Christianity Today since 2010, specifically focusing on leadership, reconciliation, culture and the church, and challenges facing women. Therefore, I eagerly awaited the release of the former managing editor of CT magazine, Katelyn Beaty’s leadership book for women.

Who Should Read A Woman’s Place:

This book is clearly for the CT audience. I would recommend it for single Christian women, and Christian women who work.

a-womans-place-book-cover

What’s in Store for You:

When I attended seminary, one of my professors stated, “The leadership books written by Christian authors all say the same things as ‘secular’ authors, accept the Christian authors have thrown in a few scriptures.” While there is some examples of this observation, I don’t agree with his overall conclusion. This is, however, the thought that came to mind when I began reading A Woman’s Place. I sense that the author wrestled through these same sacred and secular challenges. She worked hard to clarify the message of work, family, and relationships given her Christian worldview.

Before I started reading, I glanced at the cover and thought to myself, “This is going to be the Christian version of Sheryl Sandberg’s national best seller, Lean In.” While the author does acknowledge this comparison and pushes against it, it is hard to deny the similarities.

What Beaty, a professional, Christian, single woman with aspirations for marriage, does uniquely is present a theology of work. That is the benefit of this book. This is her definition of work:

Work is what happens when humans interact with the created world for their own sustenance and benefit.

At the end of each chapter, she features the stories of women who work and their personal struggles to come to grips with who God is, how he has created them, the choices they make, and the impact those choices make on all they love. Throughout the book, Beaty also shares the names and stories of many Christian women from history whom we all need to study and know.

She concludes with a strong assessment:

“Our ability to speak meaningfully into women’s professional lives comes down to effective evangelism. If you want to know what the church could look like in a hundred years, find out where the women are.”

Those who are “single and waiting” will find this book quite encouraging.

My personal take-aways?

My favorite chapter in this book is entitled, “Embracing Ambition.” It’s honest and redemptive.

I also appreciate how she advocates for a pro-family agenda in the work place. It has been disturbing to me over the years of how few ministries and Christian organizations either haven’t thought deeply or have policy about simple provisions like a nursing room, sufficient and affordable family health care, or paid maternal/paternal leave at the birth of a new child. At this point in history, those are basic places to start. For people who advocate so much for the protection of children and the championing of marriage, we sure do a poor job of practically supporting the overall health and wellness of families.

The one major flaw in this work, and it is one the author shares with Sandberg, is the oversight of the inclusion of women of color in the conversation. Beaty is clearly aware and acknowledges that “to work or not to work” is indeed a privileged conversation. She also addresses this when assessing Sandberg’s work. Beaty writes:

“Sandberg’s manifesto seemed focused on getting the already enormously well-off and elites members of society into even higher echelons of personal fulfillment. She rightly pointed out the way that privilege—the status and power conferred by society on someone because of race, class, education—intersects with our approach to work, convincing us that our own advancement is always the highest goal.”

I would agree with this assessment of Sandberg’s work, and would submit that on some level this same pyramid (howbeit on a lower economic threshold) is at work in Beaty’s resource. If things are bad for white Christian women who work, it is always worse—both in and outside of the church—for women of color.

As early as the introduction, Beaty assures readers that this is a book for “all women” but reveals that the research for the book included a conversation of nine groups of over 100 woman collectively, and “they tended to be at least middle class, have a college degree, live in or just outside urban areas, and be white.” Therefore, my initial thought was, “This book is not for me, it’s primarily for white women.”

In all fairness, Beaty does have some cultural awareness and sensitivities. She does mention statistics and briefly considers some historical context and challenges of ethnically diverse groups. However, the lack of inclusion in the research sample means that the challenges Women of Color (WOC) face were not equally considered. This is the problem some WOC leaders have with feminists from the dominant people group. Is the interest to speak into the needs of all women, or just the women from your people group? For Sandberg and Beaty, committing to the latter without considering the former is all too easy. That is privilege at work, especially when the power, organizations, and positions of both Sandbery and Beaty gave them access to pools of WOC to better inform their research and writing.

Recommended Reading: When Black Women in the Workplace Talk

Twitter-worthy:

“There was nothing passive or happenstance about Jesus’ ministry.” – @KatelynBeaty

“Oriented toward God, ambition is the setting of the will to accomplish the desire of the heart.” @KatelynBeaty

Quotable:

“Work, it seems, is a fundamental way to preserve the dignity of all people, regardless of how much is in their bank account.” – Katelyn Beaty

“We were meant to work so that flourishing, wholeness, and delight would spread to the furthest reaches of creation.” – Katelyn Beaty

“Behind every working man is a working woman. The difference is just that one of them is getting paid.” – Katelyn Beaty

“I was and am responsible for making the most of the time God has given me in this life, with or without a spouse.” – Katelyn Beaty

“We discover the deep meaning of our work only when it is placed within the larger story of God’s work in the world.” – Katelyn Beaty

Next Up on This Topic:

“Made to Lead: Empowering Women for Ministry” by Dr. Nicole Massie Martin

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2016

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