“Feminism” is a dirty word to many good Christian folks. I was reminded of this last summer, when I watched a paragraph depicting feminism in a slightly positive light throw most people in my church discussion group into a tizzy. Talk about a hot topic.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m late to the girl party, but I’ve spent a good portion of my 32 years avoiding the subject entirely. In fact, I’ve learned that there are many sub-definitions of the word, “feminism”, so it is easy to see why it can be somewhat tricky to navigate the conversation, with everyone starting from a different understanding. I have read a lot of books and articles pertaining to women’s issues in my life, but it has only been in the last couple of years that some pieces have started to come together into coherent thoughts. Accordingly, this article reflects a small segment of my ever-expanding thoughts on the issue of feminism.
It all started with Mad Men. I mean, it started way before that, but it finally clicked when I watched the show, Mad Men (set in the ’60s) on which women are treated with the respect of a snail and are happily relegated to housewife or secretary roles, with the occasional breakout role of extra-marital affair. It horrified me and escalated from there. The Stepford Wives made sense. That over-the-top feminist prof in college, I get her now. The suffragettes on Mary Poppins. The rape of Tamar (2 Sam. 13) infuriated and destroyed me. Call the Midwife, birth control options and pro-choice arguments, they made more sense now (still don’t fundamentally agree with killing a baby, but I understand and have compassion on those faced with that decision, which is miles from where I once stood). It didn’t stop there. Sexual abuse statistics, gender-related language, roles of women within the church, models of dating and courtship, submission and authority philosophy, everything was up for grabs.
Call me naive (it wouldn’t be the first time), but honestly, what surprised me the most was that there was, in fact, something to be protesting. It hit me like a flaming bra: The feminist movement was warranted. Again, not that I necessarily agree with all the outcomes or methods of the movement, but there were (and still are) legitimate concerns about injustices, atrocities, and disrespect at such a base level against women throughout the ages and across racial divides.
After this revelation, I bought a book called Mommy Wars at a thrift store for a dollar, and boy did that throw a wrench in everything. These were high-level (empowered) women writing short essays on their decision to either become stay-at-home moms or to enter the work force. Obviously, these are incredibly hard decisions, and the best answer is not the same for every woman and family. Many of the essays were filled with depression, anxiety, and restlessness. Some were heartfelt and reduced me to tears. Almost all of them invoked use of the phrase “having it all”.
What surprises me most about this phrase is the welfare mentality latent within it, as though it is possible to “have it all” and not pay a price for it. High powered women “have it all” by employing nannies and/or housekeepers to steward their children and household for them. These workers are frequently underpaid and often have to give up mothering their own children in order to make ends meet. Each woman, each child, each house, each family pays the price of someone trying to “have it all”. I’m not saying it’s wrong, and I’m not saying that you can’t be a good mother and also be a career mom. I’m simply stating the obvious, that it is impossible to be two places at once, and something always has to give. For every decision, there is a cost (except with grace, which blows my mind and which is a different article entirely).
I have turned this phrase over and over in my mind: “You can have it all.” Who told us this? Where did it come from? Is this possible, for a woman to “have it all”? Is it good? Based on the essays I read, I gather that “all” includes being a mother and being a woman laborer. One thing that didn’t seem to factor into the conversation much is how the husband fits into this equation.
Speaking of men, let’s all take a quick break to peruse these entertaining pictures. Meet you back here in five.
As I mentioned in my previous article, clothing is often a voice to what is happening in our times. This series of photos is really interesting to me because, while most men look awkward and uncomely in a women’s garb, most of the women look pretty close to normal in their male counterpart’s clothing. It strikes me that in our attempts to “have it all”, we have inherited not only equal pay wages and voting rights, but also equal levels of what once were typically male struggles–detachment, control, greed and lust for power, to name a few.
This is one of the areas where I see us getting it wrong. Healthy feminism doesn’t require a woman to morph into a man, it allows her to bring all of her self–strength, intuition, beauty and femininity into each situation. Androgynous dress is a slap in the face to humankind. And I really don’t care if you’re a woman who wears trousers and a slim tie or a Mennonite dress and head covering to work, the point is that we are brilliantly diverse and I refuse to accept the newest cookie cutter mold that demands that we ALL–man and woman–fit into it.
This is the part where we have to separate feminist ideals from Christian realities. God created all people to be equal, but we are very different in our design, and with good reason. The truth is that we need each other, always have, and it is to our detriment that we abandon our design for some other green grass. Women, let’s not refute our giftings to receive man’s curse. Men, how about you use your natural power and leadership to propel overlooked individuals into places of influence.
See, this is where traditional feminism and God’s idea of godliness really have to diverge paths, because I don’t see much in Scripture about seizing our rights for ourselves, but about sacrificing our own rights in favor of each other. And this actually does means sacrifice, a loss of something we have taken for granted for a very long time. This is why the phrase “you can have it all” trips me up so badly, because it has a familiar ring to it in the form of the devil’s offer to Jesus in the desert (“All this I will give you… if you will bow down and worship me). Or how about going back a little farther and thinking through Eve’s temptation. The serpent offered her the ability to be like God and not pay the consequences for it (“You shall not certainly die”)–a repackaged “you can have it all” speech. I certainly am not trying to infer that women who are career moms are in league with the devil, just the opposite, I believe that there are women who are called to be CEOs, just as there are men. But a thirst for power or wealth and a do-what-it-takes mentality do not belong in a Christian’s life. We are called to follow Christ, and he laid aside his rights as the Son of God to become subject to death in order to raise us (men and women) with Him.
My husband, who is as much a feminist as I am, was sitting across from me at our kitchen table yesterday, coffee cup in hand. He said, “We don’t have to use the word ‘feminism’ in the context of our marriage because you are valued and respected; it’s a non-issue.” He was right. The problem with -isms (feminism, racism, sexism, classism, etc.) is that they reflect a prejudice either for or against someone. They exist because there is a deprivation. I look forward to the day when there will be no more -isms because the need for those words will evaporate. The day when husband and wife can work together as a team to see each person’s strengths capitalized, to make sacrifices for and with one another. The day when a fully qualified white male will choose to make room for another fully qualified minority female to wield influence, even if it means he loses some of his prestige. I believe this can happen, but not without some real sacrifice, and a felt punch to our privileges that we have enjoyed for so long, and, above all, a propagation of God’s heart and design for humanity.