By: Jonathan Harris
In an earlier post entitled Woman's Wrongs: When Eve Took a Second Bite I critiqued the early feminist's religious and social views coming to the conclusion that they were in essence wrong. Most conservative Christians today will grant that the feminism of the 1960s to the present (characterized by lesbianism and abortion) is unequivocally wrong, yet they will try to level their criticism by pointing back to the "original feminists" such as Susan B. Anthony, who apparently was pro-life. In the previously mentioned post, I showed why this cannot be honestly done. The pioneers of feminism, even if they all weren't as radical as modern feminists, did in fact lay the ground work for what we see today. Their goal was to obliterate gender roles, dispense with the Bible as the primary authority, and for many to usher in socialism. I still stand by these remarks, and maintain even if some of their causes were noble, their basic motivations weren't.
That being said, It is understandable that I was greatly criticized by many friends and other readers for making such claims. I in a sense, had gone where no conservative Christian had (or at least not many in quite some time) by questioning the "noble" progressive changes of the mid to late 19th century. Though I as a mere sinner am capable of stating things too harshly and illogically, I am nonetheless afraid that many of my critics fail to understand something rather basic about Biblical authority. I fear that many (not all) have been privatized. They fail to see the reason for why the majority of Christians in the mid-1800s took the position I advocate, and for good reason. They perhaps view religion as one type of truth, and morality as another. Religion becomes a personal and private truth subjective to the individual, whereas morality (for conservative Christians) is an objective transcendent truth. Sure, there are points at which both may complement, verify, or overlap each other, but some issues, such as women in leadership for instance, are objectively right without having Biblical support. This is worrisome, because wherever the Bible does speak on the issue it does so usually in a negative light (the position that women can lead women, but shouldn't- not that it's necessarily a sin- lead men).
In this follow-up to the previous article I would like to do two things. Number one, I would like to in a more gentle and insightful manner provide the reasons that the feminist movement came to be in the first place. Secondly, I would like to provoke my readers to find Biblical solutions for how to restore gender roles to their rightful place whatever that might be. My information will be taken from Nancy Pearcy's book Total Truth which everyone should read.
In Pearcy's chapter How Women Started the Culture War , she starts off with the assertion that in our day and age the perception is that church is basically for women. In fact, statistically speaking, there are a majority of women as opposed to men attending evangelical churches. Why is this? In other religions such as Judaism and Islam there are actually more men, so we can't say that men are by nature less religious. What conclusion should we draw about this, especially upon the realizing that it hasn't always been this way? Let's take a walk through history to find out what happened, and how it relates to feminism.
In colonial times- and generally for the entire history of the world- men and women have worked side by side. There was an integration of family life and social life. If you needed to go to a particular store, you would end up walking into the "business" portion of someone's home. Sometimes the clerk would be the wife nursing her baby with her children eating a meal in the next room. Sometimes it would be the father right after scolding one of his children for intemperance or some kind of foolishness. Generally, whatever business venture the man was involved in, so was the woman, and the children generally helped out. Call it a "small town" culture, call it an "agricultural" culture, whatever it was, it was an integrated way to make a livelihood. Pearcey writes:
What did the colonial integration of work and life mean for a family relationships? It meant that husband and wife worked side by side on a daily basis, sharing in the same economic enterprise. For a colonial woman, one historian writes, marriage "meant to become a co-worker beside a husband . . . learning new skills in butchering, silversmith work, printing, or upholstering - whatever special skills the husband's work required."
This isn't to say that the wife and husband functioned without gender distinctions. The man was considered the head and headship had a highly specific definition. "It was defined as a divinely sanctioned office that conferred a duty to represent not his own individual interests but those of the entire household." So yes, there were distinct roles, but they were not unconnected. So what changed? Why is it not the same way in our time?
The new perception was that the home was a nostalgic traditional oasis of morality and the finer things in life, whereas the cruel raw world of industry came to represent coarseness and hardship. A man had to be "tough" to endure the vile pleasures and cold mechanism of the "machine," which did not take into account such things as ethical concerns but only the "bottom line." Isn't it ironic that today instead of wanting the men to come home and behave like decent human beings, the women want to go out and prove they're as tough as men? Inevitably, religion fell into the domain of the home and thus became a feminine institution.
Since the home now represented "enduring values and ideals that people desperately wanted to maintain in the face of modernity . . . laws were passed limiting the participation of women and children in the factories." Work and family were now separate spheres. Men's physical presence around the home dropped, child-rearing manuals left out the father, home "ceased being the locus of production and became a locus of consumption" (women became the consumers), household industries were replaced by factories, and "women's tasks were reduced to housekeeping and early child care." Women as a result, became socially isolated and experienced a drastic decrease in the work available to them at home while remaining solely responsible for the limited range of tasks of which they were responsible. "Printers, blacksmiths, arms-makers, proprietors, and small business owners" now became the sole domain of men. Women were now charity cases if their husband's died, being unable to take over the family business.
Whilst the societal ideal woman changed so did the ideal man. A man went from being a dutiful male who kept his passions in check to being a competitor. No longer was he the spiritual leader. Instead he was expected to be naturally crude, and the woman was to teach him morality for now she was the spiritual leader (remind anyone of every sitcom out there portraying a man as a crude competitive foolish hypocritical glutton, while the children and mother are viewed as morally favorable?). So the new male was a tough, competitive, pragmatic brute. This was the beginning of the end for chivalry.
It wasn't long before the churches started making their pitch to women and releasing men from their religious responsibilities. It was up to the women, who came from the gentle virtuous home, to show benevolence to the world. Charity and civic duty belonged to them because they were the ones capable of understanding what true love really was.
Some women objected to their new sphere. How come men got to participate in natural selection by competing in the real world of business, while the women stayed home? Were women less evolved. Naturally, women became upset at what had happened to their economic worth. They were mere appendages to the man in society. Why not follow man into his world and compete in the same way? Some of the more "conservative feminists" saw this as an opportunity to "re-moralize" the public sphere with the morality of the private sphere. This is why you have feminists like Sarah Palin (a re-moralizer) and Hillary Clinton (a "let's beat the boys at their own game" attitude).
Women are now fed up with being the moral conscience to their husbands. While he's off having affairs and doing what's expected by society, she has to sit home and twiddle her thumbs. If she doesn't regulate his sexual behavior properly, she feels as though she's the one to blame. This fed up attitude is partially what has led to women becoming as course as men. They are tired of being moral guardians of the family.
The youth of the 1960s suffered from a "father hunger" and have unfortunately followed their father's example of being the tough brute. Sadly, the daughters have done the same. This is the root of why there is a family breakdown. I'd like to suggest that the church has missed the boat on this one. We rail against the symptoms and forget the root cause: the abandonment of vocation. This is why Pearcey concludes by saying:
Christians must not fall into the trap of assuming that paid employment is the only thing that will give women a sense of dignity. That's a mistake secular feminists often make. Instead Christians need to challenge the prevailing ideology of success by insisting that individuals are most fulfilled when they enjoy a sense of calling.
I hope that now you can see how the Industrial Revolution and society's reaction to it led to the feminist movement, but I also hope you can see that restoring a "traditional role" view is not the solution, since such a view of gender comes from a post-Industrial Revolution conception. Instead, we must invoke a timeless standard.