Last week, I read a post “If I Had a Million Dollars (Why I’m Not a Feminist)” by Shannon Popkin. It’s an article written in response to another post, “If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist)” by Anna Fonte. Both women wrote about their experiences: growing up, fathers, mothers, daughters, families, men, fulfillment as a woman. Both articles make some interesting points, but each falls short of getting to the heart of what feminism is and why it should be embraced or rejected.
The terms “feminist” and “feminism” are used often but the meaning is variable. Most historians consider there to have been three waves of feminism. First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was mainly concerned with legal rights. Most people are familiar with the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote. But there were other legal rights that the first wave feminists sought. These include: the right to inherit property, shared ownership of their children, the right to own property, the ability to execute wills and make legal decisions for their children, and the ability to be a legal witness in a court case. The first wave feminists also wanted to improve opportunities for women in education and in the workplace.
While some may argue with me about this, these goals were admirable ones. Before this time women were truly at the mercy of others and often unprotected. A woman whose husband died or left her might find herself with no money, no shelter, and very few good options for employment.
In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism began. While these feminists were also concerned about inequalities in the workplace and in the laws, many were pushing for what would be called “reproductive rights.” Abortion, contraception, and less restrictions on sexuality were part of what this wave is known for. Not all women agreed, however. Many women who were for “equal pay for equal work” were not in favor of abortion. There is still a significant group of feminists who are pro-life.
Other goals from the 1960s-1980s include ending discrimination in the workplace and courts, awareness of domestic violence, and confronting the objectification and exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography.
Second wave feminism is more of a mixed bag when considering the good and bad of the movement’s goals. Abortion and “casual sex” have, and continue to, hurt many women. No fault divorce, along with these, has allowed many men to abandon women and children with little responsibility for their welfare.
Interestingly enough, it was a disagreement among some feminists over issues such as prostitution and pornography that lead to a distinct third wave. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and has been well-known for it’s focus on gender and sexuality. Many third wave feminists embrace a very fluid definition of gender and an unrestrained and open sexuality. There is nothing that I can commend in these goals.
Considering the three waves of feminism, there are some good things that have come from the first and second waves. If you are a single woman who lives on her own, owns her own home, and has a good job you have these women to thank for much of that. If you have never been asked in a job interview when your last period was (they wanted to know if you might be pregnant and likely to leave the job) you owe that to these women. If you are a woman who has an education and job opportunities for decent employment, you are benefiting from the work of these women.
But it isn’t all good. As I pointed out above, there are some really awful things that have been brought about by the various waves of feminism. Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.
There is also a very ugly side to the modern feminist movement: the demeaning and devaluing of men. It is very common today to hear women say that men are worthless, that women don’t need men, that women are better than men. Men are often the butt of jokes as clueless or useless. This is very ugly and completely wrong.
Back to the two articles I mentioned at the start. I believe that both articles are weak because they focus mainly on experiences and on stereotypes. Anna (why I am a feminist) explains how men have hurt her and her mother. She chooses abortion because of what was happening in her life at the time. She uses her life history to show that she doesn’t need a man because from her history men are not to be trusted.
Shannon (why I am not a feminist) explains from her own history how her dad and her husband have cared and provided for her and her family. She and her mother embraced traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. She feels happy and fulfilled because being a mother and homemaker is better and more fulfilling than any career or other way of life. She sees feminists as angry and less happy. She uses her life history to show what it means to be “not a feminist.”
Anna’s piece is very sad to me. She has been hurt by men and lied to by those who told her abortion was the answer. She has scars from her childhood and needs desperately to be loved and forgiven as only Christ can. She’s wrong about men. Some men are wicked and untrustworthy. But that’s not the way it should be.
Shannon’s article is frustrating to me. She’s had a good life. She has a husband and children. Her husband has been able to provide in such a way that she is able to be at home and care for her family. But I’m concerned that her emphasis on fulfillment through husband and children will hurt women who do not have the same experiences.
Is this the only way or even the best way for Christian women to find fulfillment? There are many single women around, godly women who would love to be married and have a family. But God has not provided that for them. Are they less fulfilled? Do they have less value if they serve God through their career and friendships? What about women who help to provide for their families through their work? Are they less worthy of praise? Are they “feminists” because they work outside their homes? And what about the barren women? Are they less fulfilled because God hasn’t filled their arms with children?
While I think it’s very important to stand for good things life family, homes, marriages, and child-rearing, we should not created a checklist of what it means to be a good woman beyond what Scripture teaches. The Proverbs 31 woman, among other examples, was a woman of many talents who was busy providing for her home as well as caring for her household.
So as far as feminism goes, I’m thankful for the good, and I reject the bad. Would I call myself a feminist? No, especially not given the modern feminist movement. My life experiences, both good and bad, are not the reason I’m “not a feminist.” My reasons are based not on stereotypes, but on objective truth.
My own list would look like this:
- Men and women are both created in the image of God and equal in Christ
- Husbands and wives are different and need each other
- Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and wives are called to submit to that leadership
- Ordained leaders in the church should be men
- Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually
- What that looks like will be different for each man and woman
- Abortion is always to be rejected.
- Sexuality is to be expressed in marriage.
- Marriage is between one man and one woman.
- Divorce should only be the result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse.
When we move past experience and stereotypes to biblical truth, we find that there are some things that are absolutes on which we should not budge. And there are other things that are matters of discernment and liberty. We should be kind but firm on the one, and gracious and flexible on the other. May we build each other up in Christ.