Cassie & Caleb (a critical review)

Moody offered me two copies of Cassie and Caleb Discover God’s Wonderful Design to give away on my blog.  You can enter to win one here, where I summarized the book earlier today.  

I have a few reservations about using this book with my family in our context.  Many of its lessons are good - the idea that obedience should be instant and thorough, for example, is a lesson my children and I need to learn again and again. And I love the idea of helping children understand that all of Scripture fits together as a grand story.  I have to admit, though, that some things about this book left me feeling uncomfortable.  While I do believe in gender distinctiveness - that is to say, I believe that God created men and women “equal but different,” as the authors put it - I also believe that there is very little we ought to say about those differences.  

In Karl Barth’s “Man and Woman,” he argued that though God made man and woman different, like the letters A and B, we ought not to subscribe to any particular human definitions of femininity and masculinity.  Rather than trying to systemize gender differences, we are to learn them through relationships with specific men and women.

“It is not for us to write the text [of man and woman] itself with the help of any such system. It is not for us to write the text at all. For the texts which we write, the definitions and descriptions of male and female being which we might derive from others or attempt ourselves, do not attain what is meant by the command when it requires of [human beings] that here, too, [they]should accept [their] being as[human], as male or female, as it is seen by God.” (“Man and Woman,” 151)

This makes beautiful sense to me.  So many of the things I was taught about “men” and “women” have failed to be true in my personal experience.  Harmful gender stereotypes have at times hindered me from seeing men and women as fully human, unique individuals.

In some ways, Cassie & Caleb Discover God’s Wonderful Design is careful not to be overly prescriptive about gender roles.  On the very first page, we are introduced to Cassie’s group of friends - Kate, who “loves frilly clothes,” Abby, who “never wears pink and loves soccer,” Heather, who is “crazy about books and animals,” etc.  They are “all very different, but...they are all girls.”  In another chapter, Caleb and his father do the dishes while they talk about what it means to be a man, concluding that “being a man or a woman is much bigger than a list of things we do.”

However, there are a few things the book does teach about what it means to be a man or a woman.  Men are to be leaders, protectors, and providers who work outside the home, and women are to be helpers (ezer is given its full, gorgeous meaning) and life-givers.  I don’t fully agree with these teachings (particularly the bit about men working outside the home) or the way Scripture is used to support them.

What worries me more, though, are the descriptive depictions throughout the book of what Cassie and Caleb like, think, and do, and the ways that adults respond.  These seem to follow our culturally instated gender stereotypes quite closely.  Girls make cards and decorate cupcakes, and it is “a very girly afternoon.”  Girls talk a lot, and boys don’t.   Before explaining to Caleb that men and women are equal, his father and grandfather joke that women are “loud” and that men are “better.”  Cassie buys a doll, and Caleb goes to a muscle-car show. When Granny Grace’s laundry room floods, Cassie is in tears because “they don’t have a dad to fix all that stuff.” Boys play baseball, go fishing, and see movies.  Girls shop.  Cassie can hardly wait for her dad to walk her down the aisle because she’ll look like a princess and everyone will be watching her.

Maybe most disturbing is the story where Caleb and his friend, bored, surprise their sisters with buckets of mud.  Wise old Granny Grace laughs it off, explaining to Cassie and Caleb’s mom, “I raised three boys and never did understand what makes them tick, but I know God made males and females to be different so I finally decided the best thing to do is laugh at their adventures -- and make them clean up their mess.”   While I’m all in favor of using humor to disarm, and while I don’t think a mud-attack is a horrible offense, I am concerned by the “boys will be boys” defense of behavior which bothers girls. It’s this very kind of defense that can lead to the kind of rape culture we live in today.

All in all, there is a lot of good theology here and some of the lessons in this book are helpful. For some families, this book will be perfect. But for me, the stereotyped descriptions of boys’ and girls’ behavior is not something I’d prefer to expose my children to in family devotions. If you feel - like the authors - that you live in a culture where gender distinctions have been minimized, then you might appreciate this book.  I, however, feel like the gendered stereotypes offered by Cassie and Caleb are already firmly ingrained in our culture through media representations of masculinity and femininity, so I’ll probably choose other ways of teaching theology to my children.

(Go here to enter the giveaway for this book. Giveaway closes at noon on Friday, May 3.)