What does it mean to be a woman? Is feminism the answer for Christian women? Who defines you and gives you your identity?
I believe many women today find themselves confused, just like I was as an early Christian. Part of my rebellion against things that I deemed too domestic or feminine was rooted in my misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian woman. What exactly does it look like to be a Christian wife? Is it baking cookies, keeping an immaculate home, and being a mom to five kids? What about the woman who is a baking novice or, like me, a baking failure? Is womanhood only about the quiet and sensitive types? What about the woman who has a career? The woman who can’t have kids or simply doesn’t want a “quiverful”? What about the woman who doesn’t feel gifted to teach in her local church? Is there a place for her? What about the woman who does? Does she fit? What about the vast number of single women in our churches today? Is there room for these sisters?
Caricatures of womanhood are what get us into trouble. When we reduce womanhood to the tasks we accomplish, or cultural expectations, or talents and personality traits, we are doing a disservice to women everywhere. Recovering from feminism and embracing God’s idea of womanhood is far more than a throwback to a 1950s television show.
Before I grasped the gospel and clung to Christ as my Savior, I was the stereotypical, secular millennial feminist. Marriage was low on my priority list. I thought marriage would only interfere with my desire to do what I wanted, which was to be a big city writer who dated around and dressed fashionably. Children definitely didn’t factor into my equation. In my college literary theory class, I devoured feminist thought, fully believing that every story had an angle dealing with the oppression of women. While I enjoyed dating men, I didn’t have much respect for them apart from the companionship and attention they provided me. The thought of being barefoot, pregnant, and permanently joined to a man scared me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like kids. I actually loved them. And I really liked boys (too much, in fact). My fear was that I would be defined by something other than myself. I wanted freedom and independence. I wanted to have a career. I wanted to do something big with my life. Maybe later I would think about kids and a husband. But in my early twenties, I was focused on me and my goals. I wanted to set the pace for my life, and in my mind a husband and children would only slow me down.
You see, I thought freedom meant independence. Independence from men, the burden of children (when I wasn’t ready for them), and ultimately from authority. I didn’t want anyone else calling the shots in my life, especially if that someone was a man. I thought I could be free only if I was the one who made the decisions for my life. I wanted choices and options. If I chose marriage and children, fine. But I didn’t want another person choosing for me. Lack of independence was akin to being trapped. And I knew I didn’t want that for the rest of my life.
What I failed to understand was that true freedom cannot be found in independence from authority at all. True freedom is found in understanding our Creator and how he wants us to live. True freedom is knowing that this world has meaning, and we are created for a purpose. True freedom is knowing that God had a good design when he created us male and female. But it took me a little while to get to the point where I was truly free.
You might hear this part of my story and think, What’s wrong with having goals and wanting to do something with your life? If that’s feminism, what’s the problem? I hope you will hang with me.
Feminism started as a movement that aimed to give women options. Good options. At the turn of the twentieth century women couldn’t vote, own property, or make independent decisions that many of us take for granted today. It began as a rising up against male authority and male oppression of women. Many of those early feminists were truly oppressed by unfair labor practices and having a limited voice in society. But the movement wasn’t just about true oppression, as Carolyn McCulley helpfully asserts in her book, Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World. The first wave of feminism, also known as the suffragist movement, cared about additional issues, like the reformation of Christianity and a woman’s property rights in marriage. For many first-wave feminists, men were a problem. This attitude led to rebellion.
Christians know that men aren’t the real problem behind injustices women face. Sin is. What feminism attempted to do was fix the problems of injustice, but in all of the wrong ways—by trading one identity (husband and children) for another (self and self-fulfillment). Feminism spoke to real injustice, Christians must speak to it as well. But we have a better answer than feminism, we have a more ancient answer than feminism—the good news of Jesus Christ. Who was more radical in his approach to women than Jesus, right? He restored dignity to women. He healed them and conversed with them. He included women in his ministry, all because God has always been about the value women bring to the table because he created us as image bearers, equal in worth and value to men. This is where our identity lies. When we deviate from this, and reduce womanhood to cultural constructs, then we get into trouble.
Feminism sought to address the identity question that plagued women, but God’s word tells us that question has already been answered in his word.