She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic Teachings on Sex, Self, and Speaking Up
Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenback, and Joanna Sawatsky
Published April 18, 2023
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About She Deserves Better
You want your daughter to thrive–to be strong, confident, and equipped to step into the life God has for her.
But what if the church is setting your daughter up to be small?
Armed with data from an all-new survey of over 7,000 women, the authors of THE GREAT SEX RESCUE reveal how experiences in church as teens affect women’s self-esteem and relationships today. They expose common evangelical teachings that can backfire–the purity emphasis that can cause shame rather than good choices, the dating rules that can prime your daughter for abuse, and the one overarching belief that can keep her from setting healthy boundaries.
Instead, the authors advocate biblically grounded, freeing messages that are more about the dos and less about the don’ts. By reframing (and sometimes replacing) common evangelical messages to teen girls, this book will equip you to raise a daughter who can navigate the tumultuous teenage years while still clinging tightly to Jesus.
You can raise your daughter with the discernment to resist toxic teachings. Because she deserves better than a faith that keeps her small.
“Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna are an all-star team, confronting the harm done to our daughters in both the church and the world. The title says it all. Full stop. Our daughters deserve better! This book is full of thorough research, refreshingly commonsense biblical wisdom, and practical help on how to talk with our daughters and prepare them for confidence and maturity.”–Aimee Byrd, author of The Sexual Reformation –This text refers to the paperback edition.
Why I’m Reviewing She Deserves Better
I’m finding writing up my review to be a bit overwhelming, so I’m going to break it down into sections to help me focus my thoughts. First, let’s talk about why I decided to review this book.
I was raised in what would now probably be identified as a fundamentalist/evangelical church. To be honest, I had some good and bad experiences there. That complexity sometimes makes it hard for me to sort out my feelings about certain faith-based things. Though I am still myself a Christian, I am not part of the evangelical community. I once heard someone describe her family as Liberal Christians, and I would say that’s a label that’s closer to accurate for me.
Periodically, I dip my toes into the Christian literary market to try to find books and resources that resonate with me and are things I can confidently promote. Sometimes I regret it. But other times I find books that deeply energize me and encourage me in my faith journey.
I first heard about SHE DESERVES BETTER on one of the authors’ Twitter pages during some discourse about church scandals and the treatment of women in the church. As I read more of the posts on the author’s page, I found I agreed with several of her statements. When I noticed she was part of a team of three women who had a book for moms and daughters coming out, I decided to try to get a copy for review.
Rejecting Purity Culture But Replacing It with… What?
My home growing up didn’t adhere to some fundamentalist ideas, (my mom has always been an assertive person who expresses her views, for example) but we were part of a church community that absolutely preached the values and ideas of purity culture.
While I’ve rejected… most? all? I’m not thoroughly sure here… of those ideas, I’ve struggled to find healthier/more reasonable ways to express what I do believe about some of these issues. For example, I recently had a conversation with a family member about the way my daughter dresses. I don’t have a problem with the way she dresses, but this family member had some concerns and related those concerns in the language of purity culture. “She needs to remember there are boys in the house while she’s wearing those things,” etc.
I defended my daughter (the problem seemed to be that she’s young and curvy) and pretty plainly said that I would not make the burden of someone else’s possible thoughts her responsibility. But I struggled to explain my parental boundaries for her clothing choices. I do have them. But they’re about how she feels about herself and what she thinks about her body, not what someone else thinks. Still, I found myself wishing for a resource to help me quantify this and help me reassure my daughter. I also handle wanted better tools to handle people coming at me with purity culture complaints so I can respond in a way I find satisfying.
My Review of She Deserves Better
Lemme give you the nutshell version first. While I didn’t agree 100% with everything the authors said and how they said it, I came pretty close. I loved the premise of the book. I loved the consistent calls to do what is healthy and loving. The authors also state multiple times the importance of being in a church community that is itself healthy and supportive of young women. They go so far as to counsel families to leave churches with toxic teaching because of the potential damage it can cause. I recommend this book to anyone raised in purity culture and/or anyone raising girls in the church today.
Essentially, they studied the effects of the purity culture movement and other teachings that young women in evangelical churches are often still being taught today. A bible verse warns us to look at the outcomes of behavior using the metaphor of trees producing fruit. If a tree produces bad fruit, the tree should be cut down and tossed in the fire. So the authors break down different teachings and looks at the outcomes. For example, they look at the effects of teaching a girl that her outfit choice can cause a man to sin. Does this make her more likely to end up in an abusive marriage? Does it make her more likely to have low self-esteem? To report problems in her sexual relationship? (Yes to all these.) Things like that.
Tools to Process My Own Experiences and Teach My Daughter a Healthier Way
There were certain chapters that read like pages out of my own life. It was honestly pretty eerie. I’ve known for a long time that some things I believed in high school and shortly afterward were wrong and dangerous, but those beliefs absolutely cost me. They left me vulnerable to situations in which bad stuff happened. They left me feeling as though I didn’t have choices in things that happened, and that I didn’t have any allies to whom I could turn for support.
So. Yeah. I don’t want to pass any of that on to my daughter. We’ve done a lot of learning about consent and a lot of teaching about personal boundaries and expectations. All of the things I’ve learned about those topics lined up with what the authors were saying here in SHE DESERVES BETTER.
I loved that again and again the book comes back to asking the question, “what happens to girls who were raised with these teachings?” That’s so important. We know that some of these things are really harmful, and it’s time to stop teaching them, and to push back in spaces where they are still being taught.
Topics Explored in She Deserves Better
Here’s a list of some of the topics/teachings explored in the book:
- How teachings regarding feelings, especially anxiety and depression, can impact a girl’s health and life.
- How teachings on boundaries impact girls and the importance of teaching girls they can set personal boundaries and expect them to be respected.
- How dating and dating rules impact a girl’s lifelong relationships.
- Learning to and teaching girls to identify red flags for toxic or dangerous people.
- How a comprehensive sex education empowers girls to be safer and happier longterm.
- How teachings about consent impact girls (and boys).
- How teachings about modesty or clothing choices impacts how girls see themselves and others.
- How teachings about leadership and submission impact girls.
Each chapter gives examples from the authors’ research supporting their assertions. They also offer conversations topics and exercises that moms and daughters could work through together.
Recommended for Ages 16 up.
Doesn’t specify race details in any of the text or example stories. The intended audience is evangelical Christians.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
The authors use a metaphor about a candy that tasted delicious but caused explosive diarrhea to describe the harmfulness of teaching that looks or seems biblical at first but is not and causes harm.
A fair amount of the book focuses on the way parents and church leaders teach girls about sex and relationships. It discusses how those teachings impact the likelihood of good or bad outcomes (happy marriages versus abusive relationships, etc).
The authors talk about the damage caused by rejecting a child or their feelings if they come to you to reveal their gender or sexual identity. Essentially the authors point out that being a part of a faith community generally lowers a child’s chance of experiencing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide unless they are LGBTQIA+. Then, participation in a church community actually increases the likelihood they’ll have those thoughts or attempts.
Later on, the authors refer to an LGBTQIA+ identity as an “unwanted identity”. I’m not sure from the context if they’re intending to speak globally or referring to the feelings of homophobic parents.
The authors very plainly ask parents to choose to validate and love their kids no matter the feelings they have. They emphasize the importance of support from within their faith community.
The core premise of the book is to approach teachings about sex and modesty in the church and look at their effect on specifically women’s lives. Do those teachings bear good fruit, as described in Matthew 7:17-18?
Brief mentions of domestic violence, assault and abusive relationships.
Mentions of teens drinking alcohol and using drugs (as a negative behavior).
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of SHE DESERVES BETTER in exchange for my honest review.
I love your book reviews – they are super helpful for a mom trying to keep up with my youngest, a 12YO voracious reader.
I don’t know if you’re looking for more titles related to the one above (for yourself &/or to review), but I found them both excellent:
THROUGH A MAN’S EYES by Shaunti Feldhan (author of many bks, some co-authored w/ her husband) – eye-opening, based on research.
THEOLOGY OF HER BODY/THEOLOGY OF HIS BODY by Jason Evert (also author of many bks, his wife has written some as well, and they’ve co-authored some). This is the most profound and beautiful bk I’ve ever read on the whole subject.
Thank you, Eileen! I am glad The Story Sanctuary has been a helpful resource. I’ll look into those books. I’m not sure about the one by Feldhan… I think the research that showed that men were more visual than women has been largely debunked (there was a section of SHE DESERVES BETTER about that, actually). I’ll do a little more research into both books, though. I appreciate you bringing them to my attention. 🙂