patriarchy and women’s empowerment

coverThe description on the back of my new book, Less Than a Widow, (shown at left) says:

Kathleen Evenhouse paints a rich picture of the traditions and trials of ancient womanhood as she skillfully brings new life into the ageless account of the biblical Ruth. As the 3000-year-old story unfolds, it becomes clear that today’s women are still affected by many of the same issues. In the patriarchal culture of the ancient Middle East, Ruth was a social castoff—a widow without legal rights. As the title reveals, her inability to conceive a child brought her even lower, to a point where her very existence wasted the limited resources of her people. Deeply affecting, Less than a Widow combines rich historical storytelling with a contemporary voice.

In November,  Less Than a Widow can be purchased in local books stores or on Those who purchase the book will be able to download a free discussion guide to use in book groups, Bible studies, or for personal study and reference. It include discussion of issues with questions and helpful historical information.


The literal meaning of patriarchy is “the rule of the father.” Historically, the term refers to autocratic rule by men. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which men hold the positions of power in organized society and individual relationships. The normal condition for a vast majority of women in a patriarchal culture is subordination to men, with a husband, brother, or son serving as total authority over his wife and children.

The realities of women in patriarchal societies—in ancient times and today—may be very different than the way you were raised. In a TedTalks presentation, Palestinian father and educator Yousafzai Ziauddin describes his daughter’s struggle to be educated, his support and encouragement, and the price of her efforts for empowerment.* Ziauddin explains the expectations of obedience for women and honor for men—precepts which he states “put women in a prison from which there is little chance for escape.” (View at:

The women in Less Than a Widow also struggled for empowerment. Ruth, Rahab, and Tamar were deferential and submissive to their elders at one moment, but they boldly and assertively broke the rules the next. Even within their patriarchal culture, they found ways to redress power imbalances and gain more autonomy to manage their own lives.


  1. Describe a situation in your life where you hold the power over someone else because of your age, position, job, education, status, etc. Describe the opposite situation, where you are in the position of submission rather than authority. In which situation do you feel more comfortable? How do you react to those in authority over you?
  2. Naomi initiated the plan to approach Boaz with a marriage proposal; Ruth submitted but made some subtle alterations. What was the difference? Were both plans a shift toward empowerment?
  3. What was it about Boaz that made both Ruth and Naomi willing to put their lives in his hands?
  4. Do Boaz’s and Ruth’s faith in Yahweh guide their actions?
  5. Did Boaz’s response indicate only permission or did he actively promote Ruth’s efforts?
  6. Could Rahab’s entry into prostitution be viewed as a move toward empowerment? If so, how?

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