One of the most famously deceptive rhetorical moves is known as the straw man argument. You know the drill: misquote your opponent as saying something really silly, and then debunk the silly idea that nobody ever believed in the first place.
If allowed to stand, straw man arguments can quickly turn any discussion sour and unproductive, so it's a good thing that people tend to be on guard against them.
But this can lead to a bizarre dilemma.
Sometimes people really do say silly things.
Sometimes people try to say perfectly sensible things, but end up saying silly things anyway. (I do this one all the time!)
And sometimes people say things that sound perfectly sensible and even obvious in one context, but start to sound pretty silly when you put them in a different context.
All of these situations deserve (demand!) serious dialogue. Silliness needs to be refuted, misunderstandings need to be cleared up, and ideas need to be examined in all their relevant contexts.
But in each of these cases, anything you say can be instantly dismissed as a straw man argument. And that's a problem.
Mary Kassian's review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood
is a good case in point. Kassian laughs at the selection of books from which Evans quotes, but whether or not she happens to agree with them, each of those books has been very influential. Not all of the books cited were silly or extreme, either. It's been a long time, but I seem to remember getting a lot of good encouragement and insight out of The Hidden Art of Homemaking. Agree with her or disagree with her, Edith Schaeffer is not made of straw. She is a real woman, and her work has had an important influence on today's complementarian thinkers.
I think that Evans' selection of source material is quite defensible, but be that as it may, the book did not depend upon those particular choices. She could have written her (sweet, winsome, and uproarously funny) chapter on domesticity just fine without quoting from anyone but Mary Kassian.
Of course not all complementarians believe the ideas that Evans plays with. It's quite possible to affirm every word of the True Woman Manifesto without believing that "God gave women a unique responsibility to create and maintain a welcoming, nurturing home environment."
But Mary Kassian does believe that. She doesn't hold to the more extreme views, but that much she does affirm.
And Rachel Held Evans disagrees with her.
So let's pull out our Bibles and examine the issues carefully, diligently seeking after truth. And leave the straw (wo)men out in the cornfields where they belong.
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