I was talking with some friends this week about favorite childhood books (we’re still not over Sheftu. True story.) and I realized that reading good stories with strong female characters built a lot of subconscious mental structure which helped me see women as equal to men, and drove me to be skeptical of the soft patriarchy in complementarianism and question other elements of privilege or inconsistent treatment of people in the church.

I just needed to have the lights flipped on in my head to bring these two parts of my mind together and see how they didn’t line up. But before I realized that I was a feminist, I was the girl who ate up stories about strong women and female warriors and brilliant females from history.

Maybe my first awareness of feminism came from my fierce, academic grandmother, who halted me mid-sentence one day when I was 6 or 7 (and probably prattling on about how “we” didn’t like something as a family because dad didn’t like it), and looked me in the eye and said, “well, you’re entitled to your own opinion.” That idea stuck with me — I remember yelling it in fights with my sister when I was in middle school. “I’m entitled to my own opinion! Shut up!” (Sorry, Heidi.)

That idea gave me permission to enjoy the host of strong female characters in YA historical fiction, in the books on the Sonlight reading list, in the literary classics I gobbled up, despite my mother’s concerns about attitudes in books like Ella Enchanted. (Was I the only one who had to write a book report about that one with the expectation that I’d be critical about the negative portrayal of obedience to parents?)

But books were my gateway to feminism. Before I even knew the term “slut-shaming” and what it meant, I read The Scarlet Letter and I realized how inappropriate it is for the church to treat a woman like Hester was treated.

I read fairy tales and I learned how hard life is and how it’s possible for a woman overcome terrible fates if she’s quick with her mind.

I read Till We Have Faces and I learned that the agony of a woman’s soul can be beautiful. That a woman’s spiritual journey is deep and intense and full of meaning.

I read biographies of Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael, and I delighted in how fierce and true they were, and wanted to be like them.

I read The Scarlet Pimpernel and realized how destructive a marriage can be if there’s no intellectual equality, honesty, or companionship.

I read the Anne books and learned that making mistakes and learning by experience is a valid way to live (and not everything has to be dominated by principles and ideals), that women in the “olden days” went off to college and were the better for it.

I read Little Women and felt a kinship to Jo and her misfit spunk and how she embraces her own huge personality, and most of all, I related to her as she grew into her writerly self and took courage from her confidence.

I read the Little House books and every time Pa called Laura “strong as a little French horse,” I wanted to be like that, too.

I read the Brontës and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, not so much for their stories and poems (though I adored them), but for their ability to do what they loved with their lives, despite gender norms.

I read The Ordinary Princess and loved Amy for her communion with nature and her spiteful attitude toward an arranged marriage.

I read Lord of the Rings and wanted to be Eowyn.

I read everything I could find by Madeleine L’Engle and coveted the intelligence and bravery of her heroines.

I read stories of women who disguised themselves as men and fought or spied or traveled. I read all the books I could find about female heads of state throughout history, and read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for more stories of brave women who defied cultural standards. I wanted to be Joan of Arc, Hatsheput, Boadicea, Sacajawea, Margaret of Austria, etc., etc.

And I never wanted to be a feminist, because feminists hated men and were selfish.

But then I went to college and two things happened while this English major was just a baby English major.

1) My scary-wonderful-smart Brit Lit prof asked us: Could we name a book where a male author succeeded in creating an authentic and rich inner life for a female character?

And we couldn’t give her a single title. [She retorted that it was just as well, since the only one she knew of was Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.]

2) I met feminist literary theory, in particular: I learned to read the absent female narrative in a text, starting with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar on the madwoman in the attic (and damn, there was a lot of female silence in literature), and I became acquainted with the concept of semiotics and the works of Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous.

And I barely scratched the surface with those authors and theories before the light switch in my head flipped on after reading A Handmaid’s Tale.

I was a feminist. There were voices missing. Feminism wasn’t the feminism my parents had grown up with — it was much more mature, nuanced, thoughtful than the second wave feminists who scared them into complementarianism. This was a feminism that was intellectual and observant and, I began to realize, compatible with my Christianity in a way that didn’t just complement it, but reinforced it and made it more holistic and loving and thoughtful.

Then I went back and I reread the four gospels. And I sat on my bed and cried over how Jesus treated women, because it was so beautiful and tender and respectful. Because it was so very, very different from what I had seen presented for women in the church as I grew up.

And then I realized: I’m entitled to an opinion of my own. I’m a feminist.

[linking up for FemFest here!]


Since graduation, I’ve been trying to keep reading works in the canon of great Western literature (likely an unattainable dream). Last week I finished Brideshead Revisited (which mostly made me more annoyed at Downton Abbey for existing and also wishing that every Catholic author had the clairvoyance of Walker Percy). This week I’m reading Lord of the Flies for the first time.

I’m not sure what I expected, but so far, I’m profoundly disappointed. Maybe it gets brilliant after chapter 9, but up till now this book has been lazy writing and I don’t think it’s to prove a subversive Faulknerian purpose. I miss having lit class discussions, and I wish that my English major gang would bat this around with me a bit.

I read The Spire a couple years back and really enjoyed it, despite some psycedelic confusion (the character/narrative voice, not me). It was well-written and memorable and I would like to reread it and turn it over in my mind after a second reading. It merits it–there’s a lot going on in it.

So when I picked up Lord of the Flies, I hoped for something as provocative and difficult and memorable. But I feel like Golding let me down. So far, the narrative voice has been inconsistent, and the physical descriptions are lazy and inattentive. He’ll start describing something, interrupt himself, and then reintroduce the description, with new elements that he assumes and doesn’t describe. It’s all very confusing. I could forgive him the sloppy dialog (seriously, you couldn’t make a satisfying argument for who is speaking a quarter of the time), if only he would be willing to describe the island and scenes with a bit of care and attention. (That said, perhaps it’s a ploy to suggest the placelessness of human depravity! Even so, he could have done a better job at creating a placeless disorientation.)

However, his worse sin is that his character definition is spotty. The conflicts between the boys are hard to follow because he hasn’t created enough distinctions and individuality to cause such conflicts. Again, if this was to emphasize the everyman element of the story, he failed. These aren’t everyboys, they’re boring boys.

And I’ll forgive his weird juvenile homoerotic moments because he was writing in a different era and writing about childish affections. There’s enough true innocent loyalty in these moments to almost make this modern reader accept the heart palpitations and dizzy fondness as archaic norms. But could he at least give us enough character for each boy to let these interludes be believable? I guess I’d accept them more if I knew enough about Ralph’s personality to understand why he and Jack get along so well.  I don’t want them to be predictable, but this is an excess of character flat-lining on the other extreme.

I’m not going to give up on Golding, for the sake of The Spire. I’ll finish this book and I suppose I’ll read more of his work eventually. Maybe I’ll like Lord of the Flies better when I’ve finished it. To be determined.

For those of you who’ve read Lord of the Flies, what did you think? (Hold the spoilers for now!) Am I being too picky? What’s the brilliance of this? Couldn’t we just read Homer to pick up on the depravity of man left to himself?

This has been “Really? Really??” with Hännah.

Note: I’m aware that I’m significantly under-read in great literature outside of the Western canon. Now accepting suggestions!


I think I avoid writing because I’m not comfortable talking about what really matters to me. And I’m not comfortable talking about it because I’m afraid of the criticism and friendly “heart checks” I’ll get from my parents and the good people who knew me mostly during 2000 – 2008.

I am happy to either 1) let them think I haven’t changed that much and am a happy newlywed making home and love and reading her Bible and working a little and having a beautiful life, or 2) simply bulldoze them with long arguments against the tenets of conservative fundydom and leave them reeling.

There is no comfort in vulnerability for me. I want to be happily ignored or a force of reason to be respected.

And when I don’t have happy housewife blog posts to write (and really, I should just let the gushy poetic types with good cameras, etsy shops, and cute kids have that genre) or a new tour de force about feminism & grace or some such thing, I hide. I bury my need to write in absorbing a never-ending stream of information, blog posts, essays, and piquant news articles.

Upon reflection, I’ve realized that this is an addiction in the truest sense of the word: I self-medicate against my intense need to write (journal, blog, ponder) by numbing my mind with an overflow of words and ideas from others.

In high school, I used to think that I could be a good writer if I wrote regularly. But then I realized that I needed to read good books in order to write well, and I “took a break” from writing, which turned into a 3 year self-directed course of reading all the “classics” I could get my hands on (being in a conservative environment, this meant reading anything written before 1940 and the post-war cynicism of true 20th century literature), and eventually a degree in English.  I still wrote, but it was a strange mixture of half-baked jabs at hard questions, platitudes, and detailed evaluation of little moments. I was sure I hadn’t lived enough or read enough to write well. (I’m still convinced that the good writer is a regular reader of good writing)

But I think this discipline-turned-habit has become a way to avoid writing, now. And I think I do have some things I can say better than I could before, but I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m too much of a people-pleaser.

This year for Lent, my husband and I stopped drinking alcohol. We do this every year (or have for the last three) and it’s a good idea, especially as we have family history of alcoholism and mothers who are concerned for us because of the simple reality that we think alcohol tastes good.

In retrospect, though, I think I should have given up reading my rss reader feed and keeping up with the various news outlets and social media hotspots I have on my browser’s bookmarks. I don’t think I’ll give it up completely, now that I realize this about myself, or that I’ll suddenly start writing honestly instead of finding something to distract me.

But maybe I can open up a little more, and be okay with the fact that I’m not really the goody-two-shoes who kept her parents and church friends satisfied with her behavior throughout high school and [most of] college. Maybe I’ll admit that I am normal and that’s okay. That I liked Hangover II and I like reading The Bloggess. That I write better when I drink whiskey. That yes, mom, I wear a bikini to the pool and that’s just fine. That I have an anger problem which is tied to anxiety which is tied to not being okay with letting go and not having control over everything in my life. And sometimes I like to use strong language, because I feel strongly. That I’m using birth control pills and think that’s an acceptable moral thing for a Christian to do, if it’s a careful, educated decision. That I really respect stay-at-home homeschooling moms with 9, 10, 11 kids, if that’s a careful, educated choice. That I’m afraid of being a mom someday, but I’m also really at peace with having a family with Kevin because he’s a good man. And so forth.

The funny thing is, none of that is “shocking.” I just tie myself up in lies, thinking that it is and trying to ignore it or laugh it off.  I’m going to try to stop being an internet voyeur in order to ignore real life. And perhaps I’ll try to write more frequently (in general, not necessarily here).