Reviewed by Aimee Byrd
This is one of those books that got me making noises while I read it. Like a good meal, where you are just compelled to express “mmm’s,” and comments about the flavors and combinations of food, I read Subverted with both gasps and chuckles. This book is an eye-opener. Sue Ellen Browder kicks off her book apologizing that she has no good justification for the role she played in promoting the sexual revolution, as we know it today. She was duped herself, and yet takes responsibility for believing in propaganda over actual truth. And so she explains, “In the beginning, the women’s movement and the sexual revolution were distinctly separate cultural phenomena” (11).
Then Browder tells the story of how a movement that began with the wonderful goals to provide equality for women in the workplace, education, and domestic rites was subverted by another movement that deceptively promotes liberation by means of sexual promiscuity and abortion. Browder basically perpetuated this sabotage as a writer for Cosmopolitan Magazine in the 70’s–80’s. I have to say, even being the cynic that I am, I was shocked to hear about how Browder graduated from journalism school with all the idealistic fervor to be a good investigative reporter, landed her dream job to work for the glitzy Cosmo culture, and was immediately taught to make up sources and stories, complete with fictitious experts, creating the illusion of the life of the “Cosmo girl” persona. They flaunted the life of single, sexually uninhibited, aggressive, career women who supposedly were living the dream that was to be sold to all the so-called enslaved women out there.
Most of us are familiar with the name Betty Friedan as a leader of the women’s movement, made popular by her infamous book, The Feminine Mystique. And I would say many conservative Christians place much of the blame on her for feminism gone wrong. But Browder elaborately demonstrates how it isn’t that black and white. Freidan wasn’t originally a supporter of the sexual revolution and was repulsed by the images and messages Cosmo promoted. So how did a woman who valued motherhood, wanting to pave a way for moms to not be discriminated against in the workplace, end up becoming such a pivotal person in the sexual revolution? Why would she add a clause that is opposed to motherhood, the repeal of anti-abortion laws, in the National Organization of Women’s package of “women’s rights”?
Browder demonstrates how the behind the scenes manipulation and influence of a name that we are not familiar with plotted the course that Freidan foolishly helped to pave. “What happened between the closed doors between Larry Lader and Betty Friedan would misguide my thinking in such a way that it would change my whole life and the lives of millions of other Americans” (48). With all his pleas of persuasion over the years in his friendship with Friedan, it was his book Abortion that gained her support. In this book, Lader presented “truths” about abortion and abortion laws that were as falsified as the counterfeit stories that Cosmo regularly published. But his manipulative propaganda deceived a wide audience of readers, including Justice Harry Blackmum, who quoted from it seven times in his report of abortion opinions for the Supreme Court. Apparently neither regular civilians nor professionals felt the need for fact checking. Browder explains, “Propaganda is high-tech communication at its most dehumanizing: it steals away a person’s freedom to make decisions based on the truth without his even knowing it happened” (58).
And even more unfortunate, the author learns through experience that the rhetoric that abortion will “set you free” is an evil lie. She beautifully weaves her own story as a girl from a small town with big dreams, meeting her caring husband in college, and struggling to make a living as writers while raising a family, within the culture of these pivotal movements. Her story is a page-turner, engagingly sharing the strange tension between her lovely treasured marriage relationship, the joy of motherhood, and the hard times they persevered through, with the opposite values that she held onto and perpetuated in the Cosmo culture of immediate self-gratification. All the while Browder is pursuing answers to the questions all woman ask, “How can a woman find her true identity? What is the connection between a woman’s work and her life? What will promote her genuine freedom and happiness? What does a woman’s personhood mean?” (15). In that pursuit, Browder shares her darkest hour, led by fear, aborting her newly conceived child and the consequences that brought in its wake.
But she does find the answers to those questions and the forgiveness that she so desperately needed. Browder finds Christ and all her questions answered in him. Throughout the book, the reader gets glimpses of this Christian worldview in the backdrop of the lies and deceit in which she was so immersed. At the end of her story, she and her husband join the Roman Catholic Church. I knew that I was going to disagree with some of her conclusions there, but I was a bit surprised by how perplexing Browder’s apologetic was to convert to Catholicism.
First of all, it is a shame that much of her and her husband’s experience of Protestantism was in liberal Episcopalian churches that didn’t believe in the miracles of Christ or the reliability of Old Testament accounts. She was right to ask, “If He wasn’t able to perform miracles, how is He going to raise me from the dead?” (176). In response to her husband’s suggestion to try the Catholic Church nearby, Browder, the investigative journalist who just wrote a whole book about propaganda, deception, and fact-checking, only uses one source, written by a Catholic, to “research” the Reformation. From this one source, Browder concludes that Luther was unloving and “despised educated women” (177). I was shocked that she didn’t take into consideration the time period in which the Reformation took place and the radical influence that it had on women both in the home and the public sphere. I wished she had looked into Luther’s marriage in other sources to see the respect, playful friendship, and freedoms that he gave his wife, whom he affectionately called “Lord Katie,” and who was a major figure herself in the Reformation. But more than that, I wish Browder would have engaged the reason the church needed reforming in the first place, as the hierarchical magistrate of the Roman Catholic Church had subverted the authority of Christ and his Word, and our salvation in him by faith alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone!
Browder also seemed to discover catechisms for the first time in the Catholic Church, to which she finally saw an articulated system of Christian worldview and thinking. I wished she would have been exposed to the Westminster Confession and read that alongside the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Where was her investigative training when it came to finding a church?
Nonetheless, this is a book I highly recommend and hope it is read widely by both men and women. Her story is well written, fascinating, and endearing. Her exposing of the intent and methods of propaganda is a call for us all to be discerning. Her presentation of how the sexual revolution hijacked the women’s movement is insightful, nuanced, and eye opening. Browder doesn’t just present the history and facts, but the questions that were trying to be answered, the waywardness of those following lies, and the emptiness in the pursuit of the illusion it created. She shows that things are not as they seem, even now as we are being sold this same false message of salvation. And Browder does point us to our Creator and Savior, who is our treasure, the One who values our personhood and redeems it.
Aimee Byrd is the resident Housewife Theologian here at Books At a Glance. She also blogs at Mortification of Spin.
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