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Buried Talents

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Buried Talents was birthed from the question: If God calls women to pastor, why don't more churches have women leaders? 

And so Susan Harris Howell sets out to tell us why, or in her own words: to expose the subtle forms of socialization that pull women away from, and move men toward, leadership.

The title is tied to the parable of the talents and draws on Kristina LaCelle-Peterson's book, Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, which asks: "Would the returning master of the household be mollified if the excuse for burying one's talent was, 'I got married', or 'My husband didn't want me to'?"

Chapters 1 to 3 cover what gendered socialization looks like in the different stages of growth from childhood to adulthood, how it affects the development of a child (whether male or female), and simply how pervasive it is even if it is unintentional. Even where parents may proactively reject gendered socialization in the home, by the time a child goes out into the world, they will be exposed to such messaging. It can also be as subtle as what stories get highlighted in the media, where "Men are the norm; women, the exception. Men accomplish in ways that are notable; women, not so much."

One thing I found myself ruminating over in these chapters was the point Howell made about identity and how many women, especially in church settings, do not have an identity of their own--because boys are told that achievement is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but girls are often told that whatever they do, they will need to sacrifice it for their spouse. Why then pursue something only to have to give it up? She ties this back to the Fall, saying that "the imbalance in the husband-wife relationship is the natural consequence of sin", later saying:
"In the light of this interpretation, men feeling good about themselves when they are better than women, and women not using God-given abilities to their fullest in order to please men makes perfect sense. "
That's one interpretation I have not really considered before.

Chapter 4 is a fictional case study of how gendered socialization often plays out in real life. I found it to be very realistic --but felt that a concluding paragraph might have helped me understand what these stories were for. As it is, they just...ended and were never referred to again. And so...?

Chapters 5 to 7 offer suggestions and practical steps on how to overcome gendered socialization starting with the home and our personal lives. It also covers the wider societal spheres of church, work, and businesses, and how one can actively push back against gendered messaging, sometimes by just being persistently present.

I think I expected a little more exposition or teaching on what the Bible says about gender equality, but Howell's target appears to be egalitarian Christians; in talking about building a support network, Howell does advise readers to consider whether [a complementarian] church is the best place to serve, worship, and grow. It's also not written specifically to women--some of the suggestions cover how husbands can support their wives and work towards an equitable arrangement that ultimately allows both of them to live their callings.

While Buried Talents is written for Christians and is published by a Christian press, I felt that it could also be read and appreciated by a general readership that is working towards gender equality at work and in the home. Though there are some sections that are specifically targetted towards Christians and the church (especially in relation to pastoring or church leadership), almost everything else is generally applicable to pursuing gender equality and more women in positions of leadership: just exchange "God's call" for "dreams" or "ambitions".
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Susan Harris Howell writes a fantastic analysis of the ways we socialize boys and girls differently--and the outcomes in adulthood. A psychologist and professor of gender studies, Howell deftly applies psychological research on gender socialization with therapeutic techniques to help readers overcome the stereotyped messages they received. 

Howell writes that "the purpose of this book [is] to expose the subtle forms of socialization that pull women away from, and move men toward, leadership". Christian readers will appreciate the attention to how women are discouraged from pursuing leadership in ministry and how the Bible supports women's gifting and leadership in all spheres. "All institutions, the church included, will be better served if all people, women and men, bring the best of who we are to God's service."

As a psychologist myself, I appreciated Howell's chapter on creating more accurate self-perceptions. She applies cognitive behavioral theory (CBT) to help readers challenge their limiting beliefs, examine the evidence for these beliefs, and develop new beliefs. The book provides simple techniques from CBT that readers can apply for self-help. Howell ends the book by encouraging readers to build a support system congruent with their egalitarian beliefs and to pay it forward to mentoring and empowering the next generation.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in overcoming gendered messages and breaking free from constraining beliefs about gender. Parents, teachers, pastors, and professionals will all find helpful and applicable tools. Like a biblically-based Lean In, Buried Talents challenged me to continue raising my children free of gender stereotypes, to pursue leadership opportunities in my work, and to encourage other egalitarian women and men in my life.

Disclaimer: I was given an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher. The author is a personal colleague of mine and I was interviewed for this book.
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Buried Talents
Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call
by Susan Harris Howell
Pub Date 26 Apr 2022 
 InterVarsity Press,  IVP Academic
 Christian  |  Nonfiction (Adult)  |  Religion & Spirituality 

I am reviewing a copy of Buried Talents through InterVarsity Press, IVP Academic and Netgalley:

If a woman is being called to lead what's holding them back? For years Susan Harris Howell has helped students investigate this question.

In Buried Talents, she makes clear how gender disparity in leadership is directly connected to a larger, less overt issue: gendered socialization. Howell examines gendered messages people encounter inside and outside the church in each stage of life, showing how they often create misconceptions about who women are, what they're capable of, and how they fit into God's work. As these messages pull men toward leadership, they push women away from it.  

This book reminds us that God’s call to leadership doesn't come in a vacuum.  It comes to particular people who have, from childhood through adulthood, been shaped by subtle forms of socialization. Using social science research and interviews to explain these forces, Howell offers psychological and practical tools for both women and men to make more balanced vocational decisions. 

I give Buried Talents five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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Susan Harris Howell has been a professor for many years, teaching gender studies. Her lessons in the classroom inspired her to write this book, to reach a larger audience. Buried Talents explores the subtle forms of socialization that encourage men into leadership positions, but discourage women- specifically looking at church leadership. 

The first section of the book examines stages of life and how from childhood through adulthood the messages that one receives socialize us in gender-spcific ways. Howell looks at examples of gifts children receive, vocabulary used, and academic praise given by parents and teachers and how such things impact one’s life choices and career. I found much of Howell’s research and reflections very interesting, especially from a teacher’s perspective. How do I praise my students? Do I encourage their efforts, assuring them that their hard work is paying off— or do I praise the student’s intellect? Do I convey that one gender is inherently smarter than another (at math for example)? 

The second section of the book helps the reader to reflect on how to create more accurate self-perceptions, how to build a support system, and how to help others.
I think this book provides a good starting point for conversations and reflections about women and men’s roles, especially in a church setting. Each chapter includes reflection/discussion questions to help the reader individually or in a group setting. This book seems important and helpful especially for university students or young adults in serious relationships— to reflect on beliefs and expectations regarding gender roles—Questions such as: how will their household run? Who will pursue a masters degree? For whose job will the family relocate? And how does God’s calling relate to all of this?

While the reader may or may not personally agree with everything Howell writes, Buried Talents is an important book for the church.

”If God calls women to pastor, why don’t more churches have women leaders?” A student from one of Howell’s gender studies classes asked her one day. That question sparked studies that led to this book. Read the book to learn more.
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Howell takes a well researched, biblical, Christian approach to the issue of sexism and female socialization. The  book is full of comprehensive examples that are all backed up by data. I found this to be an approachable and easy read for such a complex subject. So many times this topic is taken advantage of on "both sides of the isle" politically and Howell does a wonderful job of showing how sexism hurts all sides. Howell also provides solutions to counteract sexism. I absolutely think that those in Christian leadership, Christian parents, and Christian women should read this book. I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley and will be recommending it to others.
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Absolutely loved this book! It gave insights into social views of gender that were fascinating. Highly recommend!
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As I read this book, I found myself nodding along and yelling “yes!” as I read the examples. Howell deftly explains the basics and impacts of female socialization. It does come from a biblical, Christian perspective, but I would genuinely recommend this to anyone because it is so well-researched. The examples in this book are comprehensive and backed up by data, but easy to understand. So many left leaning people love to treat female socialization as if it’s trivial or something easy to get over/reverse and right wingers seem to celebrate it. Buried Talents shows how sexism and gendered socialization hurts everyone AND gives solutions to counteract it.. I also love how the author didn’t attempt to address every single issue of oppression as a feminist issue and just focused on sexism. This is one of those ARCs that I am absolutely going to preorder myself and give to my friends!
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