Paris Hilton or Ruth Bell Graham? Two Paths of Womanhood
- Mark Earley Prison Fellowship President
- 2007 14 Jul
Radical feminists have got to be at their wits' end. First, they helped spur the so-called sexual revolution to "empower" women. So what do we see today? Pornography has been mainstreamed. The youngest of girls wear the tawdriest of clothing. Female co-eds settle for meaningless physical "hook-ups" with male students. In essence, the culture has come full circle, where women willingly objectify themselves in the name of so-called "empowerment."
And then there's that other goal: breaking the so-called glass ceiling. Women could have everything they wanted, feminists said, a successful career and whatever marriage and family situation they chose.
Now, in many ways, that ceiling is breaking. Today, we have one woman who has a real chance of becoming the next president; another is the Secretary of State; and yet another is Speaker of the House. Yet our culture obsesses over the tragic lifestyles of hotel-heiress Paris Hilton, actress Lindsay Lohan, and pop-star Britney Spears, to name just a few. What's going on?
Author Naomi Wolf addressed this phenomenon recently in the Washington Post. She says that while the "true situation of American women" today reflects "high levels of competence, idealism, and all-around effectiveness," the media focuses on Paris Hilton wailing in a police car as she's being dragged off to jail. Even Larry King scrambled to have Hilton on his show as soon as she was released.
While women "are surprising themselves and the culture every day by not falling apart as they take on" new challenges, Wolf continues, "the culture seems increasingly obsessed with showcasing images of glamorous young women who are falling apart."
Wolf offers a provocative theory as to why this is: "In the past decade feminists such as Gloria Steinem joked that women could 'have it all' but might also have to 'do it all'" — meaning "do paid labor as well as the lion's share of child care and housework." "Maybe," Wolf concludes, "that's what leads to our fascination with glamorized images of women who apparently can't do any of it."
Contrast those images with that of the late Ruth Bell Graham. Here was a woman who "found a way to be a supportive wife, a good mother, and her own person all at the same time," as Gina Dalfonzo put it at our weblog The Point. She was positively countercultural. "What might seem to many like oppression," wrote Laura Sessions Stepp in the Washington Post, "in fact set her free to shape a life that included, but by no means was limited to, a man she deeply loved." And Billy Graham is the better man for it, in part, writes Stepp, because Ruth kept him from making many decisions that would have negatively shaped the course of his life and the culture he influenced.
As Gina Dalfonzo noted at The Point, Bell "had a deep and rare understanding of what it means to be a Christian servant." She did not define achievement in terms of what she could obtain for herself, but in terms of what she could give in love to others. Glamorous? No. Powerful? Absolutely! But not in a way that most people can understand these days.
I for one can only hope that the culture awakens to the strength found in the selflessness of truly liberated women like Ruth Bell Graham.
Copyright © 2007 Prison Fellowship
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