What are Best-Sellers Selling? Part 2 of 2

Trekking though our local Christian bookstore recently (see prior post), I left the “Best Sellers” aisle and meandered into the section marked “Women.” Is anyone besides Joyce Meyer and Beth Moore writing books for this market these days?  I also wondered why:

  • Half a shelf was devoted to books with titles like, The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace, What’s He Really Thinking? and 10 things You Aren’t Telling Him.
  • Six of six shelves in the Women’s section were simply labeled “Women
  • The Men’s section had two shelves labeled Men, three shelves labeled Leadership and the final, bottom shelf was Finance.  What, women aren’t leaders or money managers?

Turning around – the Women and Men sections were separated by an aisle – I saw books in the Men’s section with titles like Game Plan for Life, Beyond Half Time, Championship Fathering and Lead Like Jesus, Everyday Greatness, Leadership Gold, The Executive Calling, The 360’ Leader.

Of the roughly three hundred books in the Women’s section, guess how many focused on leadership (of any kind) or had “leadership” or a related concept in the title?  That’s right.  None.  Zero.

Why are sports, competitiveness, championships, leadership and uh… “everyday greatness” male-only domains?  I know plenty of women who are plenty competitive in contexts like sports, politics, the courtroom, and the corporate boardroom.  But if bookstores stock what sells, and what sells is what’s popular, what does the difference in titles for “Men” and “Women” tell us?

Why Is That?

Many of the “women’s books” were on marriage, men, motherhood, and what I’d loosely dub “emotional/relational/therapeutic issues” such as The True Secret to Happiness, Confident Woman, Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone, So Long, Insecurity, etc.

Why is that?  And why are “historical romance” titles top sellers?  Are we that starved for love and hope?  Are our relationships so shallow, boring or vapid that we have to turn to historical romance to find “what’s missing”?  Some of this is simply a matter of taste and personal preference, but are “best sellers” saying something else about the “Youniverse” state of Christian hearts and minds?

A “Detrimental Practice”?

In Why the Church Needs More Christian Women Scholars, Sarah Flashing of The Center for Women in Faith and Culture writes:

We often think and meditate on a single verse or short passage at a time, a practice which can be detrimental not only to understanding the bigger picture, but can equally undermine our ability to practice what we believe in every area of our lives. We do not want to be fragmented in our approach to living, but that is a real risk if we study the Bible in that same way.

I saw a lot of this evident in the Women’s section of this bookstore.  I’ve seen a lot of this evident in countless “women’s ministry” contexts, where an author or curriculum will take a passage here, a chapter there (typically Proverbs 31)  or yank a few verses out of their historical, cultural, grammatical context and use them to build an entire “study” or worldview and present it is God’s “divine design.”  This can be a hazardous practice, but it’s common in many women’s ministries settings – seminars, retreats, Bible studies, etc.  Flashing continues:

Many women’s Bible studies and gift books encourage this fragmented way of thinking due to the relatively short meditations they contain, or through spoon feeding which generally does not model an appropriate method of interpretation because the work has already been done (and we hope correctly). When the most probing questions direct the student to look within themselves—“how does this make you feel?”—the time has come to assess our discipleship materials.

Seriously now, when  “getting out of that pit,” “overcoming your need to please everyone “and “so long, insecurity,” etc. are hot topics in the women’s aisle, what does that tell us about the culture of  women’s ministry these days?  Flashing offers an observation:

The culture of women’s ministry in evangelical circles has largely been focused on women’s survival….getting enough encouragement to get by. Because of the complexities of today’s world, in the areas of worldview and activism, its becoming more urgent for seminary-level trained women to enter the evangelical community vocationally. The needs of women in church and culture are well beyond the scope of what traditional event-driven women’s ministry can address.

Shaping or Reflecting?

Are the topics “selling like hotcakes” in the Women section those that really interest and energize Christian women – or are they merely reinforcing popular stereotypes and gender myths?  What assumptions regarding gender and gender roles are in play?  Are these titles and resources shaping the culture or reflecting it?  If the latter, what does that say about the state of Christian womanhood in America?  Can we do better?  How?


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