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Living like a good Bible woman was 'complicated,' says author

Oct. 22, 2012 at 10:48 AM ET

Rachel Held Evans has spent the past year sewing her own clothes, cooking for her husband, doing penance on her roof, foregoing hair cuts and occasionally sleeping outside in a tent — all in the name of adhering to the Bible’s definition of a good woman.

Evans wrote about her radical life experiment of living “A year of Biblical Womanhood” in a new book that examines the Bible’s rules for how women should behave, and how those tenets might apply in today’s society.

“People were throwing around this phrase, biblical womanhood, as if that’s something any of us are really practicing,” she told TODAY’s Natalie Morales on Monday. “That’s the challenge, looking for any person of faith who loves the Bible, trying to figure out what parts of this book apply and should that be followed literally, and which parts may be culturally influenced, and how do we decide.”

Evan said the term “biblical womanhood” has created a popular movement, but also confusion over its true meaning. She said she hopes the lessons she learned from the past year will help shatter some of the unrealistic expectations the term has built up for conservative Christian women.

“All women can relate to the feeling like they’re falling short of some sort of ideal and, growing up in the conservative evangelical subculture, that ideal for me had always been biblical womanhood,” she said. “I wanted to playfully challenge that idea and challenge the idea that any of us are actually practicing biblical womanhood all the way.”

She hoped her experiment would “liberate women from that fear that they’re falling short and remind everyone that (in) the Bible, women are much more complex than just following a set of roles or rules.”

Read an excerpt from "A Year of Biblical Womanhood"

Evans approached her task in various ways. To keep from becoming contentious, she kept a “swear jar” and spent a minute on her rooftop in public penance for every penny she contributed.

TODAY /
Rachel Held Evans slept in a tent during her period every month as part of her year-long project.

Because Proverbs 31:23 describes a virtuous woman as praising her husband, Evans took to the streets with a sign about her own spouse, declaring, “Dan is awesome.”

To adhere to specific rules about femininity, Evans wore flowing skirts and skipped haircuts. And when she got her period every month, she avoided hugs and even handshakes from her husband and slept outside in a tent.

But Evans also got to do many fun things, like cook for her family, including during Jewish holidays for the first time.

“I tried to defer to Jesus, because I’m a Christian and love the Lord, with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, and that’s how I tried to decide which parts I’m going to practice,” she said. “Does this help me love God better, does this make me love my neighbors better? So the stuff I wanted to keep after the year related to that.”

Her husband, Dan, said he found the experiment difficult at times, particularly after seven years of marriage, because it imposed “this hierarchy on our relationship that wasn’t there.”

He said it got especially uncomfortable the week Evans called him “master.”

“You’d think it would be a turn-on but … it just wasn’t,” he said. “You live in a small town, rumors can get started if she’s out in public calling you master.”

Evans acknowledged that some critics feel she is making a mockery of the Bible. She said she is doing just the opposite.

“As a person of faith, I love the Bible and I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective, and that’s one of the reasons why I did this,” she said. “The biblical woman is much more complicated than we try to make it.”

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