Feminism is one of those words that evokes intense emotions whenever it is brought up. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t have strong feelings about it one way or another. I’ve especially noticed this (typically in a negative context) within the evangelical Christian community. People seem to believe that there is no room for feminism in Christianity; the two are in direct conflict. However, in every conversation I’ve had about feminism, I’ve also noticed two things: the core values of feminism are largely misunderstood, and the term feminism has a slightly different meaning for everyone. Thus, it is hard for anyone to fairly dismiss feminism as a whole because there is not one singular definition that encapsulates what it means to every individual. So, is it then possible for there to be a definition of feminism that can coexist with Christianity without one negating the other?
The underlying ideas of feminism have existed in American culture since before the term “feminism” even existed. Writers like Judith Sargent Murray and Abigail Adams questioned the status quo for women in the 1700s and challenged their designated roles. At the time, women were not even truly seen as intellectual equals to men by nature, much less in the family or workforce. These women’s brand of equality was simply to be seen as worthy of an education and freedom beyond the household.
In the 1840s, first-wave feminism began to champion the women’s suffrage movement and the ability for women to own property and have possessions that they didn’t have to turn over to their husbands became a chief concern. The 1960s brought second-wave feminism and the idea that women should have roles outside of the home and be able to earn equal wages and work the same jobs as men. Third-wave feminism in the 90s sought freedom from traditional female roles that were still a binding factor for women in society. Each wave was centered around women’s battle for basic human rights and equal treatment. We have feminists to thank for things like the 19th amendment and the Equal Opportunity Act. Never were the radical acts we typically attribute to feminism the very foundation of the movement. The problem with our perception of feminism comes from the modern media. The imagery we have of violent protests and bra burnings are not the center of feminism, those are merely expressions of it. We only see those things because they are news worthy, but they are not the entirety of feminism.
Within the Christian worldview, Feminism can still work when the original core facets of feminism (fairness and equality) are the foundation, along with being scripturally-based. Feminism doesn’t have to be about abortion or misandry (the female equivalent of misogyny). While some feminists may hold those beliefs, a person can still believe in equality for women without supporting those things. The true foundation for feminism is egalitarianism – the idea that men and women are equals and complementary partners, and that can look different depending on the context.
Biblical feminism, or what Christian author Sarah Bessey refers to as Jesus Feminism, is about abolishing the stereotypes about both men and women and creating an environment and a culture where both are free to be who they are in Christ, expressing the gifts He has given them in whatever way works best for them. It means relishing in the freedom God has given us without restricting each other to the limited roles and qualities that early cultures dictated for each gender.
My goal in writing this article is not to persuade everyone to become a feminist because I think it is important to respect differing beliefs and support diversity of opinion. However, I do think it is just as important to fully understand something before passing judgement on it, and feminism seems to be a topic that people are largely undereducated on. I want this article to facilitate conversation by explaining the basic core of feminist beliefs so that people become interested in the topic and share ideas in an open and informed way. And, so that we can hopefully move towards a place where the negative attitudes and stereotypes about both men and women are replaced by respect and dignity, no matter what you believe in.
What are your views on feminism? Do you agree or disagree with the definitions expressed here? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below!!
Guest post written by Taylor Hayden, author of “Writer Under the Microscope.”