Book Review: What Is a Girl Worth?
“What is a girl worth?” Is it worth long nights, false accusations, tears, and daily turmoil? Is it worth believing people when they confide in you? Is it worth publicly protecting young girls and women from the powerful people in your spheres of influence? What is a girl worth? As a father of three daughters the question is eminently practical. There is little room for theoretical evaluations of this question that don’t quickly result in hands ready, practical application.
This important question happens to also be the title of Rachael Denhollander’s riveting book in which she describes her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and public advocate for reform—the subtitle of the book being “My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics.” And while it is true that the story itself focuses on the news headlines that gripped the USA and internal media, it moves ever so powerfully into the lives of everyday people in their everyday spheres.
To recap in painful brevity, Rachael Denhollander describes her experience as a survivor of sexual assault as a child in her parents’ church and then again at the hands of Larry Nassar while training in gymnastics. In both instances, Rachael and those around her fought against a system that unknowingly, knowing, unwillingly, and willingly sought to protect the offender. Make no mistake, the story of the Denhollanders is one of trials and tribulations at the hands of the secular world and the church. There are no spheres in which corruption is absent. And there are no spheres in which the battle must not be waged to answer the question “What is a girl worth?”
Throughout Rachael’s book her internal reflection, description of adversity, and the weight of advocating for women removes all attempts to answer the question in a pedantic or propositional manner. The book is immensely private and not unlike sitting before someone as they tell you their story in detail. Sometimes silence is necessary. There are moments of immense sadness and frustration. These emotions don’t answer the question. There is a temptation to close the book and pontificate about how the world and church can go about fixing things. But this is not the answer either. What is a girl worth?
It’s answered with wisdom and emotion. Emotion guided by wisdom. Wisdom directed by emotion. It is answered through exerted defense of the innocent and explicit expression of the failings of our political, religious, and other institutions. At the conclusion of the book, one feels ready to run through a brick wall alongside Rachael. But it is easy to be empowered by the established story and court validated statements of Rachael. Our calling is to find those who have not had the success of Rachael. We’re called to provide the support and belief that fuels Rachael throughout her book. The book concludes with a call to join her in the fight of doing what’s right—not merely jumping emotionally onto the bandwagon of advocates who have had their stories defended and publicly validated. Instead, wherever we find ourselves Rachael’s story and strength encourage advocacy, belief, and support across the spheres of our lives.
Rachael’s story is sobering, jarring, and confronting. At the same time, it is only the beginning of a larger story for us in our time to continue to expose corruption, perversity, and apathy towards what is right and good. What is a girl worth? Everything. But how many of us are emboldened to fight as strongly and endure as many trials as Rachael? How many of us are ready to upset our lives, churches, and comfortable living to believe the oppressed and abused? The proof is in the pudding. Our belief in the worth of girls is judged by our actions.
What is a girl worth?