Feminism. Spoken in a crowded room, this word has the power to turn a civil conversation into a passionate debate in the course of four simple syllables. As modern society continues to progress further towards an ideal of equal opportunity, the fight for women’s equality has come to the forefront of the cultural conversation. All this begs the question: What is feminism?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” If we were going to write a definition for Christian feminism, however, it would have to include one additional factor: spiritual equality (which will be a key topic in future blog posts.)
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
The equality of men and women is woven throughout Scripture. Both genders were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and are described as “co-heirs” of Christ’s grace to humanity (Romans 8:17). Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, himself being born of a woman is the ultimate indication of respect, and his ministry to women during his time on earth was one marked by compassionate care and counter-cultural engagement with their lives and struggles.
The need for women’s rights advocacy should also come as no surprise to Christians. When Adam and Eve, the first humans, chose to go their own way instead of obeying God, a process of deterioration began that has continued up until the present day. Sinfulness is, at its root, selfishness, and this has manifested itself in various forms of oppression throughout history, including the oppression of women. The human authors of the Bible were no strangers to grief over the brokenness of mankind. In Ecclesiastes 4:1–3 (NIV), King Solomon laments the injustice that plagues humanity:
“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.”
In Psalm 10:13-14 (NIV), King David calls upon God to advocate for the oppressed as only He can, bringing perfect justice:
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
Sexism is simply one way in which human beings devalue one another, which is simply one way in which we sin – so the need for women’s rights advocacy is far from a shock to a Christian worldview. It’s impossible to deny the influence of sexism in a fallen world.
- Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted; one in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. To put that into perspective, that means every women’s prayer group at my college (Liberty University) probably contains at least one past or future rape victim.
- A wage gap persists in women’s earnings (despite repeated claims that it’s a myth,) and this wage gap widens even further for women of color.
- Women are routinely objectified in the media, reduced purely to objects of sexual appeal rather than autonomous people with value and agency. (I was tempted to refrain from citing a source altogether on this point, since all I have to do is browse a magazine rack, watch a TV episode’s worth of commercials, or just generally go outside to see this principle demonstrated as true, but I’ll cite a source anyway.)
- Stories by and/or about women are still vastly outnumbered by male-driven narratives. While this is demonstrated across various storytelling mediums, one of the clearest demonstrations of this ongoing problem is in cinema (see the Bechdel Test.)
- Domestic violence is an epidemic for women – while it does affect men, it is alarmingly more frequent for women and accounts for an overwhelming majority of female fatalities.
I could go on, but finding all of those sources has already sufficiently depressed me, so I’m going to presume that I’ve made my point. Clearly, sexism is a problem in many, many capacities.
This is the part of the blog where you’re probably expecting me to shout, “We should all be feminists!” But I’m not going to do that.
Personally, I’ve found feminism to be instrumental in educating me about the prevalence of sexism in the modern world and the ways in which we can all actively combat inequality. But feminism, by and large, is a secular movement. We cannot expect sinful people to find holy solutions for problems unless they are looking to Christ. Alongside much positive advocacy and advancement of conversations surrounding women’s equality, feminism has brought with it a new set of toxic ideals contrary to a biblical moral standard.
We cannot expect sinful people to find holy solutions for problems unless they are looking to Christ.
First of all, there’s this thing – you knew it was coming – this thing called abortion. I could (and probably will) dedicate an entire separate blog post to this issue, so I won’t go too deeply into it here, but the essential point is simple. This isn’t simply a moral or religious issue, but a human one, the real question being not “When does life begin?” but “When does life have inherent value?”
The majority of secular feminism has taken a decidedly pro-choice stance. There are those feminists who advocate for the unborn – see New Wave Feminists for a personal favorite of mine – but they are far from the dominant voices in the conversation, and they are routinely dismissed by other feminists as enemies of the larger movement.
The other most prominent feminist fallacy is the idea that sexual promiscuity can be empowering to women. Mainstream secular feminism makes a true proclamation – “my body, my choice” – but perverts it into a moral rubric where all sexual choices are equally good, so long as they are mutually consensual choices. Once again, this is a topic that easily warrants a blog post of its own, but the bottom line is that a biblical ethic necessitates marriage as a prerequisite for sexual involvement. The lie that all sex – casual, committed, or otherwise – is created equal does far more harm to women than secular feminism will ever admit.
And yet, anyone who has ever asked me will tell you that I proudly identify as a feminist.
If we lived in a world where “I’m a Christian” meant “I support women as equal image-bearers of God and am engaged in combating gendered inequality in society,” I would not feel the need to say, “I’m a feminist.” But right now, the church has largely stepped out of the ring instead of finding a better way to fight.
Right now, the church has largely stepped out of the ring instead of finding a better way to fight.
The bullet point list above is only the beginning of a whole host of ways in which women are systematically devalued and disempowered in modern society. Progress has been made, but there is still so far for us to go. Feminism’s premise – the full equality of women – is a noble one, even if its resulting messages are steeped in an ideology of self where whatever feels good and functions practically must be morally permissible. As the church, we cannot afford to dismiss the gender equality conversation outright. The problems that feminism addresses are real problems, that affect my real life, that desperately cry out for real conversations about real issues in order to formulate real, biblical solutions.
Christians, as a whole, are often reluctant to have those conversations.
If you don’t identify as a feminist because you think it does more harm for women than good, I deeply respect that choice. But silence is not a moral high ground, and refusal to accept secular solutions to sexism is not the equivalent of offering alternative solutions. If the extent of your advocacy for women is not identifying as a feminist, you have contributed nothing to the conversation.
If the extent of your advocacy for women is not identifying as a feminist, you have contributed nothing to the conversation.
If we are complicit in inequality, we participate in upholding the status quo. James 4:17 (NIV) says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” Scripture serves a sobering reminder that mere belief in Christian principles of love, justice, and equality is not enough if we do not demonstrate Christlike compassion in the world beyond our stained glass windows. “Show me your faith without deeds,” James writes, “and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18). Jesus told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). He did not say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you tell other groups of people that they are loving ineffectively.” Our love will speak for itself if we truly act like the hands and feet of Christ. It will make the secular response to women’s struggles pale in comparison to the eternal hope we have to offer.
In conclusion, I don’t care what label you use for yourself. Go wild. Invent a new word. Start a new movement. Own society’s issues of sexism on your own terms. You don’t need to be a feminist, but for the sake of half the human race – and half the body of Christ – you cannot afford to be a bystander. Educate. Empower. Engage.
Instead of condemning the secular world’s answer to injustice, let’s all start asking better questions.
Egal Gal will publish new posts on a weekly basis between Fridays and Saturdays. This Friday, I will be traveling back to Liberty University for my sophomore year, so this post was written and published ahead of time. The blog will return between September 2nd and 3rd. Thank you for reading my first post, and I hope you follow along with me in this journey. God bless. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking Christlike answers.