Saturday, February 1, 2014

Feminism in Christianity History of Feminism Part 1

Isaiah 1:17 “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause”.

I wanted to take the time to discuss and analyze the ideology of feminism especially in the Christian society because this term is often viewed negatively among Christians as whole.  Often times, I've read anti-feminist arguments in Christian sermons, articles, blogs and other websites, where feminism is blamed and condemned for destroying the society from the nuclear family unit, marriages, loose attitudes and gender lines being blurred.  Feminism, for many Christians, is looked upon as an evil threat to Christianity altogether.  

I myself am not a feminist any more than I’m a traditionalist and have acknowledged the hindrance that the extreme radical feminism caused in the past several decades.  However, I don’t share the anti-feminist attitudes that many Christians share.  In fact, some of the ideals of feminism I agree with, while others I don’t.  I also recognize the positive effects on society due to the feminist movement which is why I feel compelled to defend it when others quickly condemn feminism altogether.  Even in the secular society, many tend to separate themselves from feminism, mainly because of what the stereotypes of what modern feminism represents and use it as a scapegoat to blame on many of society’s problems.  Mainly when people think of feminism, they convey the stereotype of the over zealous anti-male, anti-marriage, that doesn't see a real difference between the two sexes other than biological, views any traditional gender roles as sexist and demeaning.  Maybe to understand feminism better, we should understand its origins and how historically it impacted society.  

Historically, feminism was an ideology that supported equal status for women regarding political, economical, social and individual rights in an era when women were denied these rights and treated like second-class citizens.  The first feminist movement began in 19th century, regarded as the first-wave feminism or better known as the women’s suffrage which existed in all the continents in many countries. This movement began to ensure women have the basic rights to vote, own and control her property, earnings and inheritance, the right to hold public office and a few other legal rights to protect them under the law.  Around this time period, women could not only vote, but if she married her husband would inherit her property and money even if these things were inherited to her.  Many times, education was also denied to women as some universities were closed off to women as they were expected to get married young anyway.  Divorce laws favored men(in contrast to today’s society) as woman couldn't divorce a man on grounds of adultery alone, she had to prove abandonment while it was opposite for men and child custody was more likely to be awarded to the man.  In the U.S., numerous women’s organizations were formed and there were famous suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns who all help pave the way for women to have more equal status in society.  

By the late 19th century women in all the states gained right to have control of her own property, inheritance and money.  Some states even gave women the right to vote until the 19th Amendment in 1920 that gained women in all the states voting rights.  Education also improved for some women as women’s organizations were formed to support women to pursue certain fields that were denied to her.  Some women even became politicians including being elected in congress.  Between the first and second world wars, women were involved in the military and war efforts as women’s military corps were formed and plenty served overseas.  The 1960s brought about the second wave feminism popularly known as the women’s movement.  This movement of women’s rights was expanded included equal employment, salaries, education, more legal rights and for more opportunities that closed off to them.  Women were breaking barriers and entering into male-dominated fields that were once denied to them that included the workforce, politics, sports, military etc.  They also fought for more protection under the law that included domestic violence, sexual harassment, marital rape and even the right to have bank account or a credit card without their husbands’ permission.  

Women were also changing roles in the family life as well.  More women with families were encouraged to enter the workforce or further their education in order to expand their roles beyond that of housewives.  Plus, changing old marriage model that had the husband being the dominant role and the wife being a subordinate into a marriage of equal partnership was also encouraged.  The women’s movement continued throughout 1970s as women gained more rights, freedom and independence than before and allowed to contribute more to society and be in charge of their own lives.  They also broke down rigid gender stereotypes and other chauvinist misconceptions that once prevailed.  Helen Reddy sang the empowering song “I am Woman” in 1972.  In 1973 Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at Tennis match in Houston, paving the way for more female athletes.  These were all good, well meaning necessary changes indeed.  However, despite its many positive aspects, there were also downsides as well that caused more damage than good.  

Somewhere in the middle of the women’s movement was a more radical and militant type of feminism.  This type of feminism held extremist philosophies which could be misandristic, anti-marriage, anti-family and viewed traditional roles such as housewives as oppressive, chivalrous gestures and any form of male protection as sexists and a threat to women’s independence.  Feminist Betty Friedan published her famous book “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 which helped sparked the second wave feminist movement.  Other more radical feminists included Valerie Solonas published the 1967 book “Scum Manifesto”.  Gloria Steinem quoted that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.  Other radical feminist attitudes were that gender was a social construct and there were no real differences between the sexes except for different male and female anatomy.  Roles like men being gentlemen and women being ladies were suddenly considered restrictive, outdated and unnecessary.  More women starting to use the freedom of sexual equality to engage in negative behavior once dominated by men, including promiscuity, binge drinking, very physically aggressive and loutish behavior etc.  During the 1980s and 1990s, attitudes followed that women had to be more like men to be equal especially in the workforce, being “one of the boys” was the goal.  Plus women bought into the myth that they can have it all and do it all, since men seemed able to.  In the aftermath, so much more confusion and chaos occurred.  

Men began to feel threatened by feminism and view it as attack upon them and society, sometimes justifiable so, as men were rebuffed for the simplest chivalrous gestures as opening a door for a lady, and treated as the enemy by the more radical man-hating feminists. In today’s society, the aftermath continues to cause effect as gender lines have blurred, some men no longer no what their roles are or feel society as feminized them. Women began to realize that they can’t do it all, at least not at all at once.  Both genders began to complain about the other women are frustrated with the lack of gallantry and gentlemen behavior of men, and men complain of the lack of appreciation of such gestures and ladylike behavior of women.  Feminism and equality has been distorted, misinterpreted and misused to justify lazy, ungallant and other unsuitable behavior or other ignorant logic in both of the sexes. It has also been used to ignore some natural and logical distinct gender differences that include physical strength and certain other capabilities.  

Today many people are squeamish about the word feminism because of what it usually conjures up usually the ideals of the radical feminist zealots of the second wave feminist movement.  For Christians and seculars, alike view feminism as dirty word, a harmful ideology that is attack on men or a once better way of life and to blame for many of the problems of today.  It’s understandable that both genders are frustrated with the problems of today that were created in the aftermath of radical feminism of the second wave movement.  However, I don’t believe viewing feminism as a whole as evil, an attack on society and a scapegoat for all of today’s problems are the answer nor is going back completely the traditional way of life.  Let’s not forget plenty of the traditional ideals of the by gone era, had many disadvantage as well especially for women and feminism at that time as necessary to combat these disadvantages.  Maybe, today there should be balance of respecting equality that includes the workforce, education and basically constitutional rights for all citizens.  Yet still revive and embrace some of the good traditional morals and ideals of the past that are beneficial for both the sexes.  

Understanding that equal doesn't mean identical and respecting some gender distinctions that may include different strengths and weaknesses.  More for Christians there should be godly and biblical principals that should be the first and foremost priority and over the feminist agenda.  Hopefully, for Christians this can be accomplished.  I will discuss more about feminist ideologies in another post.


  1. Great post! I agree with you...there are things about the feminist movement I agree with and disagree with. Its basis for starting was a good one, but like most movements...sometimes ideas get in the mix that can take the vision off course. I'll stick to the Word...In Christ, there is neither male NOR female, as far as promoting His Kingdom is concerned. Thanks for your insight! Blessings!

    1. Thank you for your reply I'm glad you liked my post