Favale’s Journey and What She’s Learned
Dr. Abigail Favale is an outstanding writer and she focuses her sparkling prose intensely on the issues of feminism and the gender paradigm. Dr. Favale is also a fellow Bruin: she earned her B.A. in Philosophy from Geoge Fox University only to return many years later to teach in the Humanities Department. A conversion from a conservative Evangelical upbringing to Roman Catholicism catapulted her to the University of Notre Dame where she currently teaches and writes.
She begins her 2022 book, The Genesis of Gender, with a re-telling of her journey. This proved worthwhile because the academic and spiritual odyssey she has traveled sheds light on how she arrived at her strong opinions of the feminist movement and the Christian faith. Her undergraduate college experience transformed her into a feisty feminist, “I wanted to construct a new Christianity, fully purged of sexism” (p. 22). Then graduate school sealed the deal—although doubts started creeping in as she finished her Ph.D. studies at St. Andrews in Scotland. Her story is an interesting one and it held my attention. Chapter two and three were extremely helpful to me because she does a great job of explaining the historical arc of Feminism and how we ended up where we are today. There are many streams that feed into the Feminist movement: philosophical, political, religious–and she skillfully navigates everyone one of them. As one of the uninitiated, I was thankful for the history lesson.
She won me over early with her interpretation of Genesis one and two: the creation story, man and women, God and his children who bear his image. She says, “This is the true purpose of the human being: to become a reciprocal gift, to give love and receive it in turn” (p. 42). This is no angry feminist devoid of self-acceptance, resenting her church upbringing, and raising a clenched fist towards God. She has come a long way in her journey and by the end of the book she shares her faith with a beauty and depth (and clarity of expression) that can only be attributed to Christ working faithfully—and patiently—in her life.
Chapter four focusing on sex, birth control, and the women’s body. It is a powerful polemic against casual sex that has happened, in part, due to the revolution of birth control. Says Favale: “Sex is not just a bodily activity, but a union of whole persons” (p. 109). The dignity of both men and woman, along with the virtue of restraint, should not be pushed aside, but rather kept front in center so we do not become “pawns of our own appetites” (p. 105).
Chapter five discusses the biological plane of sex at great length in hopes to counter postmodern myths that have hurt woman. She ends the chapter by saying, “Each body is an icon of Christ; each body is a sacrament, revealing to us the sacred and unrepeatable mystery of the person” (p. 139).
Chapter six digs into what the idea of gender means to gender paradigm followers and what gender means from a Christian perspective. In short, Favale says, “In a nutshell, we are deeply confused about what it means to be a body” (p. 141). She’s patient and empathetic to the confused teen or twenty-something who thinks she might be a lesbian or contemplating transition. She sketches out their motivations and desires thoughtfully. But then she counters their assumptions and arguments with her own thoughtful insights and her arguments always seem to be an invitation to think deeper about these—and to leave room for God and faith. Invite God into your struggles and don’t push him aside. Chapter seven builds on chapter six and takes a hard look at the stakes involved in these choices. “Here is a difficult truth: we are living in an era when our young women are increasingly deciding they would be better off as a man” (p. 169). Favale emphatically states that we can not be identified separately from our bodies. Our bodies and our souls are intertwined and personhood consists of both–and both should be celebrated as sacrament. She explains how this truth is at odds with the current gender paradigm. Supporters of gender paradigm are too quick to divorce themselves from their bodies, or want to alter it in order to make themselves acceptable or to live out their “true selves.” Favale says that is a lie: “The lie—I have to force my body to reveal my true self—supplants the truth: the body I am is always already revealing my personhood” (p. 199). Favale affirms all women’s bodies because they are created by God and they are good.
The last chapter is entitled Wholeness and Favale brings together all her ideas under the umbrella of faith and a God who has revealed himself in Christ. She affirms, “I believe that Christianity holds the truth about human sexuality, and I’ve structured my life around that truth” (p. 201).
Favale’s book is unique in the codex of literature we’ve read so far in this program. This history she traces has passing similarity to Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain due to the succinct tracing of the historical arc and how we arrived at the place where we are today. Shelby Stele’s offering, Shame, talks about the depth of polarization in our country and there are echoes of this dynamic with Favale. But the book that has the most similarities is The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman. “Modern culture is obsessed with identity,” says Trueman—and the same can be said with thinkers in the Feminist and gender paradigm movements. As Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.” An individual becomes a woman by choosing her own identity and living that identity out without consideration to what God has to say about the matter. An individual is their own creator and that is the essence of the modern self. Favale insists we should leave room for God’s opinion of who we are.
7 responses to “Favale’s Journey and What She’s Learned”
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That is an excellent summary of the book.
You raised the point of a “Christian definition of gender.” Do you believe religion has the authority to define certain things? If so, where do we draw these definitions? Is the Bible intended to be an ancient dictionary or an anthropological encyclopedia? If not, where do we hold in tension the purpose of the sacred scriptures with our scientific developments?
Troy, you express a great deal of agreement with Favale in this week’s book. Is there something you disagree with? Or, if there was a question you could ask Dr. Favale, what would that be?
Roy: It would be interesting to talk to her about her Catholicism. I grew up Catholic and had a great experience with the church. I have a brother, sister, niece, nephew, and about 5 five friends who went to Notre Dame–it’s a special place. Roman Catholicism gets in your DNA for life and I still feel a closeness to the Catholic church.
Troy, another great summary of the reading. I am curious, after reading this book how has it informed, shaped, solidified your own thoughts on gender and identity?
Troy: I appreciate the connections you made to previous works as I struggled this week connecting some dots. I too found the historical recap of feminism to be helpful in crafting a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.
Excellent summary. The conclusion was very well done by tying into previous work. Good job. I’m with you on this one Troy. I believe Genesis one and two build for us a framework to understand the world. It seems to me that God is a God of order, not chaos. . I fear that polarization of any issues in this country is contrary to the heart of God. How do we hold true to these principles and convictions, yet engage in the spirit of love and humility?
Forgive any typos 🙂 using my phone!
Ty for your execellent summary and highlights of the book. What insights would you personally add into her conclusion?