Byrd’s book is a welcome addition to the current conversations on the importance of women in the life of the church. We need to be aware of the yellow wallpaper in our churches, and we need to peel away these extra-biblical beliefs that obscure the beauty of the Scriptures. The world around us needs to hear the truth of who we are as men and women made in His image, and it needs men and women as witnesses to the truth of the gospel.
A review of Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose by Aimee Byrd.
I’ve always loved to read. When I was in college, I took literature classes for fun. In one of those classes, we read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. If you’ve ever read it, chances are you still remember the disturbing and compelling story. If you haven’t read it, it’s a short story about a young Victorian woman suffering from postpartum depression whose physician husband prescribes a “rest cure” to treat her.
In the late 1800s, doctors often prescribed a “rest cure” for anxiety or depression. The treatment centered on a long period of mental, physical, and emotional inactivity. The young woman in the story is supposed to stay in her room by herself and do nothing. She’s not allowed to care for her child or read or do anything. The story describes her descent into madness as she stares at the oppressive yellow wallpaper in her room day in and day out.
Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” after her own experiences with postpartum depression and “rest cure” treatment. The story is meant to draw attention to the way doctors and Victorian society mistreated and undervalued women. While such treatment was intended to help women, the cure was worse than the “disease.”
So, what does this 19th Century story have to do with a 21st Century book on Christian women and men? In her latest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, Aimee Byrd uses the motif of the yellow wallpaper to illustrate how certain beliefs about biblical manhood and womanhood have hidden and obscured what the Bible teaches about men and women in the church. Byrd wants to equip us to recognize the yellow wallpaper in the church and to peel it away to “reveal the beauty and unity in God’s Word.” Her concern is that “we don’t often see the yellow wallpaper because it was established as a hedge against real threats to God’s people.”
What are some examples of the church’s yellow wallpaper? To counteract the sexual revolution and aspects of second-wave feminism, some conservative Christians formed organizations such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. These groups attempted to create Biblical definitions for masculinity and femininity. Unfortunately, these definitions often relied more on Victorian stereotypes of masculinity and femininity than the Scriptures.
Consequently, masculine and feminine were defined in terms of authority and submission. Masculinity is authority, leadership, initiative, and strength. In contrast, femininity is submission, responsiveness, deference, and softness. Authority and submission became the lens through which Biblical manhood and womanhood, and consequently all of Scripture, are viewed. As a result, women are often overlooked and undervalued in our churches.
It’s important to note that Byrd doesn’t deny the genuine challenges that the church faces. Our secular society continues to attack what the Bible teaches about gender, sexuality, marriage, family, and church leadership. Byrd affirms the orthodox, confessional, Biblical teaching on these issues. She writes:
God made man and woman: he instituted marriage to be a unity between one man and one woman; sex is a fruit of this unifying bond; and life is a gift from God. Men and women are not androgynous. Gender is not fluid … Men and women are very much alike. And yet they are also distinct.
She also writes, “I am not denying the order needed in both my personal household and in the household of God … I uphold distinction between the sexes without reduction, as Scripture does.”
 Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 19. (Page numbers from Advanced Reader Copy)
 Byrd, 19
 Byrd, 19
 Byrd, 105