After finishing their survey and best-selling book The Great Sex Rescue, testing popular Christian teachings about marriage and sex and empirically demonstrating the harm caused by patriarchal messages, co-authors Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky received many inquiries from parents of young girls. These mothers (and fathers) wanted to know how they could avoid passing on these harmful patriarchal teachings to their daughters. In response, Gregoire et al. first set out to write a mother-daughter devotional, but soon realized that they needed to offer something much more substantial. The result was She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic Teachings on Sex, Self, and Speaking Up.
As in their previous book, She Deserves Better began with a survey. Over 7,000 women were asked about their beliefs in high school, their beliefs now, their self-esteem, their marital health, and a multitude of related questions. Sawatsky, the data scientist of the trio, then used these questions to draw statistical correlations. For instance, women who believed in high school that “girls talk too much,” that “boys will struggle with their visual nature in a way girls will never understand,” or that “if you have sex before you are married, you will have ruined your chances of having a good sex life in marriage” were statistically more likely to have low self-esteem in high school and as adults—even if they no longer agreed with those statements. Crucially, these are statistical correlations: survey participants were not asked to give their subjective opinions on how these beliefs affected them.
Divided into ten chapters that all begin with “She Deserves…,” Gregoire and her co-authors explore how different church teachings influence girls’ self-esteem, emotional health, ability to draw healthy boundaries, and identify toxic or predatory people. Confronting all the most common messages of purity culture, they call out harmful messages on dating, sex education, and modesty, emphasizing that the true sign of a Christ-follower is not strict adherence to a set of rules, but the spiritual fruits borne out in a person’s life. They do not hesitate to name the most popular Christian books guilty of spreading these toxic ideas, so that parents can be aware of potential problems when selecting books for themselves or their children.
Over ten chapters, the authors discuss ten topics on which they feel the church has done girls a particular disservice:
- “She Deserves to Be Set Up for Success” – the influence of different types of church teachings on girls’ self-esteem.
- “She Deserves a Big Faith” – differences in scope, focus, and message between the New Testament and popular evangelical books for teen girls.
- “She Deserves to Be Heard” – popular teachings which are harmful—or helpful—to girls’ emotional health.
- “She Deserves to Be Respected” – how to teach girls to draw boundaries.
- “She Deserves the Whole Story about Dating” – the advantages—and disadvantages—of dating as a teen.
- “She Deserves to Be Protected” – teaching girls to spot red flags in the behavior of their peers and leaders.
- “She Deserves to Know about Her Body” – the importance of comprehensive, accurate sex education.
- “She Deserves to Understand Consent” – the need to clearly explain consent and coercion.
- “She Deserves to Exist as a Person, Not a Threat” – the myth that girls are responsible for boys’ thoughts.
- “She Deserves Permission to Be Big” – the myth that girls need to practice submitting to boys.
Each of the ten chapters concludes with a guided discussion for mothers and daughters. The discussions lead with a few paragraphs addressed directly to the daughter, entitled “What You Should Know,” reviewing biblical truths and how they contrast with what is often taught in Christian culture. (For instance, in the chapter on consent, girls are presented with a list of scenarios and asked to identify which are examples of coercion and which are not.) These interludes offer a practical application for their research and a way to correct any harmful beliefs young girls may have picked up.
The authors of She Deserves Better wield their data carefully and effectively to demonstrate the truth of their claims about the harmful effects of popular evangelical teachings. However, readers who are not expecting their data-driven approach may be taken aback by the relatively few scriptural references in the book. While biblical truth is certainly discussed, this book is not a Bible study, and the authors do not attempt to “prove” each of their points with reference to a chapter and verse. Their approach to biblical interpretation requires context, and their approach to data rests on the axiom that all truth is God’s truth.
While She Deserves Better was primarily written to assist parents in raising healthy daughters, anyone who works with older children, tweens, or teens should also read it. Finally, readers without any connection to children may still find it helpful in dismantling harmful beliefs they may have picked up. Discussion questions can be used to revisit old, patriarchal beliefs and interrogate the degree to which they may still be influencing the reader’s mental health today. In the end, however, we as the church body all share the responsibility for making the church a healthier, safer place for women and girls. For that reason, this book is recommended for everyone.
New Eden Identity: Helping Teens Find a Biblical Response to Gender Expectations
Church Leaders and Porn: The Devastating Effects for Women in the Church
Created to Thrive: Exploring the link between views about women’s worth and abuse