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Taking Back God by Leora Tanenbaum (thoughts)

June 14, 2011

This is a journalistic account of precisely what the subtitle describes: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality. It was an impulse grab for me when I was browsing at the library one day, and I was a bit nervous to begin it in case it was one of those faux-feminist books (the kind places like Focus on the Family publish that talk about ’empowering’ women by returning them to their ‘God given’ roles inside the home, as if that’s the only way women can be happy). But my fears were completely unfounded! Tanenbaum herself is an observant Jew who identifies most strongly with the Orthodox branch, although she finds it difficult to reconcile gender aspects of her faith with her feminism. Inspired by this, she interviews various American women from the three Abrahamic traditions, and mixes the results with histories of various US religious feminist movements, as well as an analysis of whether these gender imbalances arise from the holy texts themselves (Torah, Bible, Q’aran) or the way those in power (men) interpreted them. Tanenbaum is a marvelous writer, and her intelligence and passion really shines through; each page was a delight to read. I also loved the way the book was structed: after two general-issues chapters, there’s one each devoted to Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, evangelical/fundamentalist Protestantism, Islam, and Judaism. This is followed by two more general-issues chapters; the combination of big picture with specific details works perfectly. In fact, my only complaint about the book is that’s it’s a mere three hundred pages long! You can bet I’ll be reading Tanenbaum’s other two books now, which are focused on feminism rather than religion (Slut! and Catfight).

Suggested Companion Reads (linked to my thoughts)

22 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 7:02 am

    Ahhh I had the same concern as you when I saw the title and cover, so glad to hear the fears were unfounded. This sounds really interesting and it is definitely going on my wish list!

  2. June 14, 2011 9:47 am

    This sounds like a really fascinating read and one that I will have to see if I can find.

  3. June 14, 2011 10:37 am

    Wonderful review, Eva! I liked very much this observation of yours – ” analysis of whether these gender imbalances arise from the holy texts themselves (Torah, Bible, Q’aran) or the way those in power (men) interpreted them”. I am tempted to read this book now! Thanks for the other recommendations too! Anne Lamott’s books looks quite fascinating – I love the essay structure! I am adding that to my ‘TBR’ list.

  4. June 14, 2011 12:52 pm

    Eva, I’ve been away & so am just catching up on your backlog from the last few weeks, but just wanted to drop in & say that I’m so glad you’re working out a way that you can still blog despite your arm/shoulder/health issues, and that I’ll be glad to read your insights in whatever length or brevity you can write them. :-) You really are a lovely presence in the blogosphere, and I’ve been feeling for you during all your chronic health problems. I’d be sad to lose you.

    As for Tanenbaum, this book sounds very interesting. I’m especially intrigued at the idea of an Orthodox woman who is also strongly feminist, and how that feminism might manifest. Also sounds like a great possibility for one of my best friends, who is a feminist minister (Unitarian), if she hasn’t read it already.

    • June 15, 2011 2:03 am

      Thanks for such a kind comment Emily! And sounds like it’s right up your friend’s alley. :)

  5. June 14, 2011 3:08 pm

    I am very fond of reading about women and organized religion (and like you, loathe the faux feminist). One of my favorite writers is Megan McKenna, who wrote NOT COUNTING THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN – the title, of course, comes from the Biblical account of the feeding of five thousand, “not counting the women and children” – even though it is likely that the women and children outnumbered the men by about 4 to 1.

  6. sshaver permalink
    June 14, 2011 4:46 pm

    Another great companion read: the newest book about how not to be brainwashed about age: Agewise, by Gullette.

  7. June 14, 2011 7:06 pm

    So I was reading this post thinking, Hey, you know what book I’m going to mention in my comment? Not Counting the Women and Children! But Mumsy got there first. Now I have nothing interesting to say and I’m all like HI EVA I LIKE FEMINISM TOO. But anyway, I’m adding this to my list!

    • June 14, 2011 8:18 pm

      Hehe! You’ll have to have a talk with your mother about stealing your book recs! ;)

  8. June 14, 2011 8:53 pm

    I had the same faux feminism problem as you when it comes to books about the environment. Yes, book, your argument that the environment would be better protected if government wasn’t involved makes so much sense because businesses have already done such a superb job! Erg.

    Anyways, adding this particular book to my list. I like reading about conservative religions and how the women in them reconcile that with feminism.

    • June 17, 2011 7:14 am

      Ohhh: I’m glad I haven’t come across an env book like that. I do have to be careful w econ books, since I find rigid neoliberal econ SO frustrating!

  9. June 15, 2011 12:32 pm

    This sounds like a great read, Eva! thanks for sharing about it and also your recommended reading companions. :)

    • June 17, 2011 7:13 am

      Amy, I’d love to see your take on this!

  10. June 16, 2011 11:26 am

    Eva — this looks good, and I’m writing it down. It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve read something (Karen Armstrong, Bruce Fieler) on the differences/similiarities of the three Abrahamic faiths, and this book seems like a interesting perspective.

    • June 17, 2011 7:13 am

      Definitely sounds like it would appeal to you!

  11. June 17, 2011 5:23 pm

    I enjoyed your review of this. Sounds like something that would intrigue me. Years ago I found myself in an evangelical Christian church that didn’t know what to do with me! (I’m an academic who loves to ask hard questions and search for answers and I don’t think this offends God one bit.) The members of that church had all sorts of funny ideas about a womans role and what that should look like; and these ideas didn’t appear to come from any of the church teachings. It is as if the members created a private club and made up rules that had nothing to do with what was offcially taught or with what the Bible actually says. Needless to say, I didn’t fit in and I think I mightily tried the patience of not a few people (usually by asking someone to explain to me their position and scriptural support for it). My husband and I eventually switched churches. Anyway, I obviously have an interest in this area! I especially like your Laurie King suggestion; you took me by surprise with that one :)

  12. June 18, 2011 8:41 am

    Ooh, sounds interesting. I will definitely check this one out.

  13. June 26, 2011 3:30 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting read. I’m an atheist but I’m fascinated with anything on religion and women’s roles within their faith.


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