If feminism had a poster girl, it could be me. Independent, willful and in love with my work, I could be a prime candidate for the tribe at the forefront of change in the world of women. But even after 10 years in the workforce and involvement in multiple committees and nonprofit interest groups, I don’t call myself a “feminist.”
We are often told, as Christian women, that to be a Christian is to be a feminist. But is this completely true? Truth be told, the feminism of today is a far departure from the feminism that brought us the right to vote, to work and to attend college.
It is important to know the history of the feminist movement in order to understand it in light of the Christian faith. Feminism had its beginnings in a worthy cause: the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought hard for women to have the full rights of citizenship. But as the movement progressed (historically divided into three “waves” throughout the 20th century), it was used as a vehicle for other purposes.
What began with good intentions has been adopted by our secular culture and often twisted to demean purity, family values, children and Christianity itself. In the name of sexual freedom, women are encouraged to find “liberation” by sleeping with multiple partners. Many are discouraged from the idea of marriage because it is “limiting,” and even more are turned off by the idea of having children because they can be an impediment to a successful career. These themes have become increasingly evident in the feminist subculture and associated media. It is not surprising that the secular feminism of today is not the same feminism as Anthony’s and Stanton’s of yesteryear.
So how should Christian women approach the cause of feminism? This brings us to an important question.
Was Jesus a Feminist?
Jesus was radical in his approach to women in ancient culture. Women in Hebrew, Roman and Greek cultures were little more than elevated servants. The Jewish people had so hardened their hearts they had even set up specific laws to allow men to divorce their wives for the smallest of offenses (Matthew 19:8). Women caught in adultery were often stoned, while the male offender could go free with a small punishment. And just as we see in today’s culture, women were viewed and used as sexual objects rather than treasured the way God intended from the beginning.
Jesus did not succumb to these cultural norms. He commanded men to control their eyes and hearts when it came to women (Matthew 5:28). He ministered to women on a regular basis, healing them physically and spiritually (Mark 7:26, Luke 8:2, Matthew 9:18-26). He also accepted the help and affection of his women disciples, including Mary and Martha (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 10:38-42). And perhaps most importantly, God chose the lowliest of women—Mary—to bring Jesus into the world in the first place.
But Jesus’ treatment of women was not because Jesus was a “feminist.” We cannot take modern-day terminologies and movements and expect to fit God into them for the sake of a cultural agenda. Jesus cared about women because Jesus cared about ALL people. This is where secular feminism fails to meet the standard of holiness highlighted throughout Jesus’ ministry.
The problem with modern-day feminism is that in its effort to elevate one population, it can demean another. In shining a spotlight on the needs of women, it often ignores—and even mocks—the needs of men and children (especially in the case of the unborn, with Planned Parenthood acting as a primary vehicle of modern-day secular feminists). The subtle message that women are smarter, better, stronger and more deserving than other people is woven through the magazines, blogs, websites and media perpetuated by secular feminist journalism. It is subtle, often written under the guise of “equality.” But secular feminism is incongruent with the example of Jesus and his treatment of women because Jesus treated men, women and children with the same level of value. He didn’t have to put one down to treasure another.
Our Response to Feminism
Does this mean we ignore the needs of women completely? Certainly not! It means we approach the feminist movement with great discretion and wisdom. It means we are followers of Christ before we are followers of any other movement or cultural agenda. In truth, this is the only way to see true, lasting change in the world of women.
The biblical approach to feminism means imitating the example of Jesus. Jesus valued every person as an individual. In order for women to cultivate lasting change in today’s society, they don’t need to scream louder, break more ceilings or climb more ladders—they need to imitate the radical example of Jesus, who listened to the needy, bent down to the burdened and healed the helpless. Jesus raised women up in a culture that brought them down, but He didn’t do it by adopting the cultural norms of the time—norms that allowed for certain groups of people to be devalued.
So as Christian women, we should be asking ourselves if the movement we align ourselves with is increasing the value of all those we encounter, or if we are in fact perpetuating the very problem we want to defeat. Jesus’ way is the only way to love, honor and respect those around us. Jesus knew the deepest needs of a woman’s heart and showed us how to address those needs. So if we are going to follow a “feminism,” let’s follow the kind Jesus exemplified. His is the kind that changes society—one woman’s heart at a time.