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Review of Abigail Favale: “The Genesis of Gender”

June 18, 2024
By Scott Corbin

Editor’s Note: The following book review appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Eikon.

Abigail Favale has written a book that does many things at once. Formerly a professor in feminist theory, Favale’s book is some parts memoir, other parts historical survey; some parts polemic against the cultural revolution, other parts invitation into the mystery of Christianity. It’s difficult to review a book like this. One could focus on Favale’s stinging critique of the so-called “gender paradigm” — that is, the “radically constructivist view of reality, then reifies it as truth, demanding that others assent to its veracity and adopt its language.” Or one could focus on her stimulating diagnoses of transgenderism, or still more. She not only explains concepts that are often befuddling to lay readers not well-versed in the talmudic textual world of gender theory, but gives her readers the feel for why these things are so compelling in the first place. 

I write this review as a convictional evangelical Protestant, writing to other evangelicals like myself. The Genesis of Gender is a wonderful book that I hope gains a wide readership among evangelical co-belligerents. Favale understands that the Christian vision of man and woman is not only true, but compelling when seen on the inside. If the Christian witness is going to be compelling to a lost and dying world, Christians must testify to the internal coherence and beauty of the Christian life.


The Genesis of Gender joins the litany of conversion narratives in the Roman Catholic tradition, from classics like John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, to contemporary accounts like Sohrab Ahmari’s From Fire by Water. At its heart, it’s a memoir about conversion — an exitus-reditus from cultural evangelicalism to radical feminism and finally to rest in the arms of the Roman Catholic Church. This may sound loathsome to the evangelical readers of this review, and no doubt for some this will be a bridge too far. But if one is patient to hear Favale’s story, it can serve evangelical readers as a twin encouragement and rebuke. 

The encouragement for an evangelical readership is the hope that Christians can have for the lost, especially those bewitched by graven ideologies. Favale does not mince words about the bankruptcy of feminism and the “gender paradigm” — the “radically constructivist view of reality, then reifies it as truth, demanding that others assent to its veracity and adopt its language” (30). She has been to the edge of the abyss and has lived to tell the tale. 

Favale understands that every ideology, like every lie, contains something of the truth. The problem is the admixture of error. “Like most things in this world, especially most philosophies, there is in feminist thought a mixture of good and bad, truth and falsehood. It’s overlooking that mix that can get one into trouble” (28). If sin is the privation of the good, the work of the Christian is to identify the privation in every lie, while affirming that which is good. This was as true in the Garden as it is of feminism today.

If Favale’s narrative serves as an encouragement for an evangelical readership, it also serves as a rebuke for the deficient ways in which evangelicals have sometimes taught on sex, gender, and bodily reality. Her story about going to a Christian undergrad, dipping her toes into the feminist literature, and then adopting the “Christian feminist” moniker is pitifully familiar and all too common. Right or wrong, many evangelicals who desire to revere the Bible as the principle of knowing, confuse theological method with attaching a Bible verse to every truth claim. Instead of viewing the world through the Bible, many earnest evangelicals proof-text life and suffer blind spots on issues which Scripture and the light of nature speak clearly.

Consider the current issues in the Southern Baptist Convention about who can serve as a pastor. The Bible puts forward a vision that gender is a good gift from God, an embodied reality that is true for every man or woman, and that the book of Genesis, along with Scripture, “affirms a balance of sameness and difference between the sexes,” a difference that is “asymmetrical but complementary” (39). Too often gender discussions in evangelical churches boil down to crude generalizations, or discussions about the limiting principles for women in ministry. Throw in the pragmatic impulse and anti-authoritarianism of evangelicalism, and gender difference seems capricious at best, and malicious at worst. With such a thin biblical world-and-life view, it’s no wonder that many young evangelicals flee their churches for something with more substance. And so it is with the many young adults who fill the classes of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at the local Roman Catholic parish. 


One of those blind spots for evangelicals is the dehumanizing potential of technology — the human effort to dominate reality. 

There has been a spate of books in recent years that have explored the intellectual conditions that gave rise to modernity. One thinks of Charles Taylor’s magisterial, if abstruse, A Secular Age, or more recently Carl Trueman’s surprise bestseller The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, or Joseph Minich’s Bulwarks of Unbelief, which specifically explores the technoculture that gives rise to modern atheism. With each book, the genealogy the author puts forward helps to map modernity. They help us understand where we’re standing and why. 

The most uncomfortable truth readers are likely to encounter in The Genesis of Gender is Favale’s genealogy of the medicalization of sex. In short: you don’t get transgenderism without the Pill. 

Starting with Margaret Sanger and the modern birth control movement, Favale highlights the eugenicist-tinged motivations of those, like Sanger, who viewed female fecundity as a pathology that needs fixing. Women are oppressed by their own bodies, and they need liberation. “Female fecundity thus becomes the scapegoat for woman’s oppression, as well as everything wrong with the world” (89). The ultimate aim is control, no longer subjecting a woman’s body to the horror of childbearing. 

By marketing contraception as “reproductive health,” Sanger’s vision has won the day: a “clever term that sounds pro-woman but actually pathologizes natural biological realities that are unique to women, namely fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth” (p. 91). This is all made possible by things like hormonal contraceptives. We all live in Margaret Sanger’s world now. 

This vision firmly embedded in society means that the crucial link between sex and procreation has been severed. The Pill, and other hormonal contraceptives, depersonalize sex. And this revolution is not good for women, nor society: 

We now live in a state of perpetual dissonance. Our shared cultural imagination, as well as the norms and expectations shaped by that understanding, is at odds with reality. We now think of sex as a recreational, rather than procreational activity. The connection between sex and the possibility of new life has been severed. We think of women, and women think of themselves, as naturally sterile beings. Pregnancy is often seen as a sexual mishap, a case of sex-gone-wrong, rather than the very outcome that sexual intercourse is designed to bring about. The procreational potential of sex is viewed as a switch that can be flipped, if desired, but whose default setting is “off” (101). 

Sadly, evangelical engagement historically has been shallow on the revolutions that technology ushers and the ways those technologies often dehumanize and depersonalize. When I have conversations with young couples pursuing marriage, I find that the assumption is often that they approach the topic of hormonal contraceptives from the assumption that they will and are coming to me to receive counsel to convince them why they shouldn’t. They haven’t stopped to consider that the world that the Pill promises is not the world God created. 


The world that God created is good. There is a givenness in creation that speaks to the deeply profound fecundity of the triune God who alone is life in himself, is good, and does good. All of creation testifies to the beauty of this God and the fabric of the world he’s called his creatures to inhabit. 

Marriage, as an institution given by God, goes with the grain of this created world. In marriage, passions are subdued and directed; the couple learns to give themselves sacrificially; the partners nourish the other as they would their own bodies, “for,” the Apostle Paul writes, “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:29).

The problem with the gender paradigm is that it goes against the grain of creation. The creation, in the gender paradigm, is not something good, but rather something to be dominated. Biological realities do not speak to any deeper realities about the human person — e.g. the potential of woman to bear a child and become a mother — but rather are mere accidents of nature. 

The fundamental issue, which cuts like a knife to the heart of the question, is metaphysical: what is reality? Is it given to us? Or is it something that one needs to subject to our domination? 

This is at the heart of Favale’s return to Christianity. Her coming face-to-face with the child in her womb, and the fruitful potencies that her womanhood supplied her, are an encounter with reality that theory cannot eliminate. And not only hers, but others, including her transgender friend Daisy, who discovered Christianity in the midst of her detransitioning. 

What I see happening in the convergence of Daisy’s metamorphoses is not about rule-breaking and reproof, but rather entering into a different way of seeing. The first and most significant shift happens when Daisy began to see herself as a creation of God. Considering oneself as a being who is created moves the discussion of identity to new ground, setting the frame of a transcendent order — an order beyond the natural that sustains its existence and safeguards its meaning. To be a creature, rather than an accident, establishes the human person as a being-in-relation with the divine. We are not alone in the cosmos; always, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we are aware or not, we live and move and have our being in God (224). 

Christianity is an invitation to see the world as it is. It’s an invitation to live with, rather than against, the grain of creation. It’s an opportunity for creatures who are made in God’s image to learn his ways and walk in his steps. Christianity dignifies human nature and causes wayward sinners to run to the good whence they came. Faithful witness requires not dignifying a lie (as is the case with so-called “pronoun hospitality”), but inviting sinners to see God, the world, and themselves as they truly are. It is to understand and embrace the reality of things. 


What are we to make of Favale’s brilliant apologia pro genus sua? As I hope is evident from this review, I think this book should be read widely by evangelicals and Roman Catholics alike. Evangelicals can, and should, see writers like Favale as fellow travelers in the world the gender paradigm built. I have already recommended this book to people in my church, and cited it approvingly in a Sunday school class.

Yet I must confess that I had a tinge of sadness while reading this book. One is left with the conclusion that the rebuttal to the gender paradigm is not the arms of the church, but the Roman Catholic Church. I am sincerely thankful for Abigail Favale’s conversion from the pit of gender theory, as well as the wisdom from papal documents like Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Yet I can’t shake the nagging feeling that there are sufficient resources within our own magisterial Protestant tradition that can combat the lies of our day — especially in the Scriptures our tradition is rooted in. Just as one should not neglect the helpful writings of Roman Catholic writers because of the papacy, so also should one not assume that to embrace truly catholic Christianity means submitting to the Bishop of Rome. 

Evangelical Protestants should not look longingly to Rome for tradition, stability, and a body of moral teaching when our own tradition, rooted firmly in Scripture, supplies us with all that we need to understand and respond to the sturm und drang at the heart of our cultural decay. May we bring them to bear for the crises we face. 

Scott Corbin is a lay pastor at Trinity River Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX.

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