Wednesday 1 June 2022

#bookreview: Buried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call | Susan Harris Howell

Buried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's CallBuried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call by Susan Harris Howell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buried Talents was birthed from the question: If God calls women to pastor, why don't more churches have women leaders? 

And so Susan Harris Howell sets out to tell us why, or in her own words: to expose the subtle forms of socialization that pull women away from, and move men toward, leadership.

The title is tied to the parable of the talents and draws on Kristina LaCelle-Peterson's book, Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, which asks:
"Would the returning master of the household be mollified if the excuse for burying one's talent was, 'I got married', or 'My husband didn't want me to'?"
Chapters 1 to 3 cover what gendered socialization looks like in the different stages of growth from childhood to adulthood, how it affects the development of a child (whether male or female), and simply how pervasive it is even if it is unintentional. Even where parents may proactively reject gendered socialization in the home, by the time a child goes out into the world, they will be exposed to such messaging. It can also be as subtle as what stories get highlighted in the media, where "Men are the norm; women, the exception. Men accomplish in ways that are notable; women, not so much."

One thing I found myself ruminating over in these chapters was the point Howell made about identity and how many women, especially in church settings, do not have an identity of their own--because boys are told that achievement is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but girls are often told that whatever they do, they will need to sacrifice it for their spouse. Why then pursue something only to have to give it up? She ties this back to the Fall, saying that "the imbalance in the husband-wife relationship is the natural consequence of sin", later saying:
"In the light of this interpretation, men feeling good about themselves when they are better than women, and women not using God-given abilities to their fullest in order to please men makes perfect sense. "
That's one interpretation I have not really considered before.

Chapter 4 is a fictional case study of how gendered socialization often plays out in real life. I found it to be very realistic --but felt that a concluding paragraph might have helped me understand what these stories were for. As it is, they just...ended and were never referred to again. And so...?

Chapters 5 to 7 offer suggestions and practical steps on how to overcome gendered socialization starting with the home and our personal lives. It also covers the wider societal spheres of church, work, and businesses, and how one can actively push back against gendered messaging, sometimes by just being persistently present.

I think I expected a little more exposition or teaching on what the Bible says about gender equality, but Howell's target appears to be egalitarian Christians; in talking about building a support network, Howell does advise readers to consider whether [a complementarian] church is the best place to serve, worship, and grow. It's also not written specifically to women--some of the suggestions cover how husbands can support their wives and work towards an equitable arrangement that ultimately allows both of them to live their callings.

While Buried Talents is written for Christians and is published by a Christian press, I felt that it could also be read and appreciated by a general readership that is working towards gender equality at work and in the home. Though there are some sections that are specifically targetted towards Christians and the church (especially in relation to pastoring or church leadership), almost everything else is generally applicable to pursuing gender equality and more women in positions of leadership: just exchange "God's call" for "dreams" or "ambitions".

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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