The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life's In-Betweens to Remake the World

The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life's In-Betweens to Remake the World

For every woman, from the young to those in midlife and beyond, who has ever been told, "You can't" and thought, "Oh, I definitely will!"--this book is for you.

Women are expected to be many things. They should be young enough, but not too young; old enough, but not too old; creative, but not crazy; passionate, but not angry. They should be fertile and feminine and self-reliant, not barren or butch or solitary. Women, in other words, are caught between social expectations and a much more complicated reality.

Women who don't fit in, whether during life transitions or because of changes in their body, mind, or gender identity, are carving out new ways of being in and remaking the world. But this is nothing new: they have been doing so for thousands of years, often at the margins of the same religious traditions and cultures that created these limited ways of being for women in the first place.

In The Defiant Middle, Kaya Oakes draws on the wisdom of women mystics and explores how transitional eras or living in marginalized female identities can be both spiritually challenging and wonderfully freeing, ultimately resulting in a reinvented way of seeing the world and changing it. "Change, after all," Oakes writes, "always comes from the margins."

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  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506467689
  • eBook ISBN 9781506467696
  • Age/Grade Range Adult
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 200
  • Publication Date November 30, 2021


"This is a wonderful, wonderful book. While excavating and illuminating the everyday and profound in-betweens that women traverse, it is also an insightful meditation on the liminal realities of religion, and of life writ large. And it is so beautifully, winsomely written! I plan to give this book to every woman I know, beginning with my mother and my daughter."

Krista Tippett, founder and CEO of the On Being Project

"The Defiant Middle is the book I didn't know I needed to read. An enlightening rumination on spirituality and embodiment, on the constraints women face, and also on the possibilities available to women as they navigate their own journeys."

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne

"Kaya Oakes is a guide and companion to the parts of female life and spirituality that are neglected, dismissed, erased, and ignored. For anyone who has ever felt too much, they are bound to feel both seen and known in these pages--and learn to wonder at the complicated stories we have flattened in our history and theology books. Kaya Oakes continues to stand out as one of the best writers of our time, bringing both her Catholic and Gen-X imagination into these thoughtful, complicated pages."

D. L. Mayfield, author of The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power

"This book is vulnerable and real. For those of us who live in the liminal space known as middle age, The Defiant Middle will change and challenge how we navigate this stage of life. With wit and clarity, Kaya Oakes invites you to reconsider and reevaluate what you think you know by offering her own brilliant insights and the tested wisdom of the saints who've gone before us. In a world of polarities, Oakes speaks to the women in the middle with nuance and dimension. This is a book that will sit by my bedside because it's filled with words I don't want to forget."

Karen González, author of The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong


"Journalist Kaya Oakes offers stories of trailblazing women and thought-provoking insights on how to defy society's expectations."

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