A little over a year ago, self-described feminist Samantha Johnson penned an editorial for the Huffington Post titled When I Became A Mother, Feminism Let Me Down. In it, she writes:
We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept. We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home.
As we turn to discuss how Christianity fits with the modern idea of feminism — arguably a topic that covers a lot of territory — I wish to zero in on those three words I have bolded above for emphasis, for the purpose of this essay.But first, it is probably appropriate to define what we mean by feminism. Johnson’s does so for us. She opens with the statement: “I am a feminist. I believe women should have equal opportunities to men.” This is one definition of feminism. But as Johnson makes clear but perhaps does not fully identify with, feminism has come to mean much more than this.
In classrooms on university campuses across the world, feminism has come to mean — as Merriam-Webster puts it — “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” And that theory is the belief that gender roles are a social construct propagated by patriarchal society to oppress women. Said differently, women in traditional roles are the very manifestation of male oppression.
Feminism has come to mean more than the belief that women should have equal opportunities to men. It is the belief that gender roles are the very manifestation of male oppression.
No wonder Johnson laments that many women today view homemaking as an “outdated, misogynistic concept.” But it is not, I would argue, simply because modern society has “promoted professional progression as markers of success.” Rather, women today view homemaking as outdated and misogynistic because they have flatly been told that it is.
It may come as no surprise then that Christianity today is often accused of patriarchal oppression. And, to a degree, the accusation is warranted — that is, based on how Christianity is practiced in some parts of the church. A recent open letter by prominent evangelical teacher Beth Moore has shed light not only on sexist attitudes by church leaders in her sphere of influence but also on the question of what the Bible has to say about women holding teaching and leadership positions in the church.
Now in response, many leading voices in Christian thought have done an excellent job outlining what the Bible really has to say about women, as Amy Orr-Ewing does here. For example, Orr-Ewing dispels the notion that the Bible prohibits women from holding leadership positions. (And in case you are wondering, I am with Orr-Ewing’s on this.)
Christianity today is often accused of patriarchal oppression. And, to a degree, the accusation is warranted — that is, based on how Christianity is practiced in some parts of the church.
But I wish to return to the observation Johnson makes, for here is where we find the real difference between Christian thought and modern feminism. This difference does not rest on the question of equal opportunity but rather on the more foundational question of what it means to be a woman.
We have spent time recently discussing moral values. One thing we have not touched upon is the fact that every moral statement is a statement about who we fundamentally are. For example, if I say, “People should be compassionate to one another,” I am not only saying something about God; I am also saying something about us — namely, that we are created to be compassionate people. Doing otherwise is to violate our true purpose and function.
The real difference between Christian thought and modern feminism does not rest on the question of equal opportunity but rather on the more foundational question of what it means to be a woman.
In the same way, when feminism makes the statement that traditional roles are a product of patriarchal oppression, it is making more than just a statement about men; it is also making a statement about what it means to be a woman. It is saying that to have children and raise a family is unnatural to a woman — that to engage in this activity is in fact to be complicit in evil.
But Christianity would go further than this. It would affirm that women are uniquely different from men — not just biologically or psychologically but fundamentally. That is, women do not simply happen to be different; they should be different. They are created to be different, and believing otherwise is to violate their true purpose and function.
Christianity affirms that women are uniquely different from men — not just biologically or psychologically but fundamentally. Women do not simply happen to be different; they should be different.
None of this by the way violates the principle Johnson opens her editorial with: That women should have equal opportunities to men. They absolutely should. But for many modern-day feminists, the mere acknowledgment of the possibility of differences between men and women is too much for them: It is absolutely necessary that the message that women are just like men in every way be kept firmly in place.
Why is this? Has feminism tapped into some transcendent realm and discovered that men and women are exactly alike, even to the point of being interchangeable? Has feminism come face to face with a Moral Authority that has revealed to them the true nature and purpose of both men and women, and they happen to be identical?
The reason feminism must not admit any differences between the sexes is because if they do, this information may be used against them. If they admit women are uniquely made with unique needs and functions, they may be exploited and oppressed.
No. I would suggest the answer is far less transcendent: The reason feminism must not admit any differences between the sexes is because if they do, this information may be used against them. If they admit women are uniquely made with unique needs and functions, they may be exploited and oppressed. But as Johnson points out, I am not sure that their own fear of oppression has not resulted in them oppressing themselves. After all, if women have learned to despise themselves for desiring to have children and raising a family, how free can they be?
Christianity of course has a different solution to the problem of exploitation: It is called love. Where love is present, exploitation is not possible. Love allows for differences: It acknowledges them, affirms them, and even treats as sacred. Love lays down one’s life for the object of its affection, giving every opportunity for us to succeed.
And where we find such love, who we fundamentally are cannot help but come to life.