Molly Aley has hosted a little backstory on the writing of Ruby Slippers. For those of you who haven't read my book and those who have, here are some reasons I wrote...
Will you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how it influenced your thoughts, positive and negative, on what being a woman meant?
I grew up thinking some rather zany thing about what makes a woman feminine. As a child I was always watching and soaking things in. I got pretty good at perfecting my Good Christian Girl resume.
I was raised very, very conservatively, sheltered from so many “evil” influences (like Cabbage Patch Dolls, television, rock music, movies, slumber parties, boyfriends). I didn’t get much exposure to the feminine ways of the world except through watching my grandmothers, my mom, listening to their friends during Bible studies at our house or church events. I watched my friends’ older sisters, how they talked, dressed, flirted. I picked up fairly quickly that femininity meant that a man pursued a woman, that you wore heels and make-up, that you bore children and took care of them. It meant that you cooked the bacon, you did not earn it.
From an early age I picked up that seemingly obvious message that happy women were married with children. I knew single women, but they weren’t really happy. They all wanted to be married, so they were sort of sad, pathetic sorts. I really can’t recall any examples of single, happy females in my narrow experience as a young girl. Well, that’s not exactly true, my grandmother was single. But she didn’t really count in my mind because she had already done the marriage thing and had her obligatory 4 children. When I’d ask her why she didn’t remarry, she would say she wasn’t interested in marriage again. So I guess besides my grandmother, it seemed virtually impossible to be happy and single or happy and childless. Single women often ended up on the mission field, but other than those somewhat sorry examples, you had to get married to be a productive, contented, successful, Christian woman.
So in a pursuit for happiness and godliness I gave men the power to inform my femininity. I developed that all too common prejudice for men over women. Since a good Christian guy would want a chaste, unblemished wife, I made purity and modesty my mottos. In high school I made the vow to never kiss a guy until I was engaged (a commitment I painstakingly kept for over five years and then broke with all the accompanying shame attached).
Leaving my sheltered home in
The break-up shattered my identity and how to succeed in being a good Christian woman.
I realized that God did not need all my scheming, that all my plans weren’t all that useful to him, but that for some crazy, delicious reason God still wanted me near him. I remember feeling helpless, sick, depressed after losing my fiancé, but knowing I wanted by God. I think I needed to lose a lot in order to realize God wanted me without all my contributions and hard work for him.
Not long after the break-up, I was re-introduced to the idea that femininity meant nothing more than your body. I remember a college roommate coming home from a date and telling me she discovered that her date wanted to be a gynecologist.
“Really?!” I didn’t know what to say, not sure if tact dictated pursuing or dropping the topic.
“Yea,” she went on with an awed whisper of delight, “He knows a lot about women.”
I’ve thought for a long while about this. Did all gynecologists really know a lot about women? I felt like even if a doctor could know everything about my body, he still wouldn’t know a lot about me. He couldn’t read my thoughts or dreams. He couldn’t relate to my emotions or desires. Wasn’t there more to a woman than her anatomy, her sex drive, her reproductive organs? I shelved the question for later.
Right after UVA, I headed to
If breaking off my engagement destroyed my preconceived notions of femininity, marrying Dale revealed the freedom I had as a woman. Despite the free advice I received at one bridal shower, “Men want a Martha in the kitchen, a Mary in the living room and a Delilah in the bedroom” Dale wanted me, not me play-acting a role. He wanted my body and soul, not just a flimsy bit of chiffon in bed. He didn’t expect I cook every meal; he enjoyed eating out so he could have my undivided attention in conversation. He wanted my interests to guide my career path; and when he saw I could preach, he made space in his life for me to partner alongside him in traveling, speaking and writing for our non-profit. I had come into marriage prepared to maintain an arsenal of slinky unmentionables, Martha Stewart meals and a brood of children. But Dale pushed me to discover more.
During my graduate years I took a class on the soul from J.P. Moreland that would fan the flames of Ruby Slippers into reality. Lots of work had been done arguing for the existence and content of the soul, mostly by men. My male professors had no interest or intention to learn about the gendered nature of souls, neither did many of my classmates (I was one of only a handful of women in a program that boasted over a hundred men). The question of a woman’s soul drew me into wanting to study and write more than I had ever done at UVA or Biola.
I started to read anything I could find about women’s differences. Were women different all the way into their souls? I titled my project, which was fast becoming a book, Loving God with a Woman’s Soul. I had no agent or publisher and no writing training or experience, just one big idea and a husband cheering me along.
A few months later, I road my husband’s coat-tails and co-signed with his agent. One year of hard work on my proposal and we had a publisher. My editor was this incredible woman at Zondervan who believed in me. She was about my age, but wisely realized I needed time to work out what exactly I was trying to say,
“Just write as much as you need,” she told me. My contract asked for 80,000 words. I turned in 120,000. She couldn’t believe how much I could churn out. It had to be pared down, but I had unearthed my thesis in the process.
In the 3 years of writing, I found that the more research I did the more I became convinced that women were very, very different from each other. There was so much variety that I could not make a neat and tidy list. Women I was meeting in traveling and speaking kept breaking down my feminine schema and so I was constantly revising my main thesis.
In those writing years, the book Captivating came out and stole the spot-light. I realized I did not want to write another book that fit the zeitgeist of Christian femininity: beautiful, romantic, captivating, etc. I wanted to give women a taste of God’s freedom for them.
I remember explaining my dilemma to Dale. How do I define femininity without making it a rigid list of requirements? I want flexibility, but there is no model for it. He recommended I play around with a philosophical concept, Wittgenstein’s family resemblance tool, and see if I could make it work.
Family resemblances became my linchpin. Family resemblances let me define femininity with a flexible list of women’s uniqueness without forcing women to have all the items on the list. The family resemblance concept applied to gender theory is really the major contribution of Ruby Slippers and it was cooked up in a conversation with Dale.
I’ve grown to see that God wanted women on planet earth, not as an ornament, or a crown of creation, or a dependent on Adam, but as the partner in work and pleasure with man. We created for the same planet with men; we were not from Venus and transplanted here. Femininity, like masculinity, is most full-blooded when it is linked to the essential two-ness of humanity. We need one another; women working with men is a good plan whether you’re running a family, a business or a country.
When Dale and I are on the road and we share this flexible model of gender, teens, adults, pastors, mothers love it. It gives us a way to be fully human and fully feminine (or masculine) without feeling we must all look the same. It also begins to help us appreciate the women around us, to notice their unique blend of femininity and valuing their differences.
I still believe femininity is something essential to women, but it is not something we do or a role we play. Femininity is something we are. Femininity is as multi-faceted as our souls. Our femininity is fitted for us, gifted to us as a powerful asset, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
Along the road of writing Ruby Slippers, I found many women like me, women who didn’t realize how femininity could be both powerful and freeing. Embracing the freedom Jesus himself offers women has given me a way to come home to my womanhood. I finally belong in my own skin.