Is it Possible to Be a Christian and a Modern Feminist?
- Catherine Segars Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 11 Feb
The word lays like a time bomb, ticking away. It could explode at any moment.
It is divisive and polarizing.
It has both political origins and religious connotations, making it a double-jeopardy topic to steer clear of at social gatherings.
To some, it is a label that advances righteous causes and promises to liberate. To others, it attacks righteous causes and implements dangerous agendas.
What Is Feminism?
The definition of feminism can be different based not just on who you are, but what time period is being discussed. This is partially due to the fact that what feminism was at its outset—is not what it is now.
The first feminists stood up for women as cherished equals to men—something the Bible certainly agrees with. But over time, feminism became corrupted and fell farther from God’s truth. What path do modern feminists need to walk to get back to God’s beautiful intentions for women?
Let’s take a closer look at this movement to better understand its origin, its successes, its failures, and its future from a Biblical perspective.
The History of Feminism from the Beginning
The first wave of feminism officially began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention, originally known as the Women’s Rights Convention, in Seneca Falls, New York. Spearheaded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and later by Susan B. Anthony, this movement was populated by ardent anti-slavery activists.
In fact, Stanton and Mott met 8 years prior at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Despite traveling around the world with their husbands to fight for the liberation of slaves, these women were denied admittance to the convention based solely on their sex.
The irony is palpable. While fighting discrimination, these women were discriminated against.
It was at the 1840 all-male world convention to liberate slaves that this pair of female crusaders resolved to hold a convention of their own—a convention to liberate women.
At that first convention, Stanton delivered an impassioned speech mirroring the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal!”
This discourse, known as “The Declaration of Sentiments,” began with 19 abuses and usurpations of women which included denying women the right to vote, to own property, to pursue higher education, to obtain profitable employment and equal pay, and to retain custody of children in the case of separation or divorce.
Many of these grievances were rooted in the claim of a religious persecution, not just a civil one. In fact, most of feminism’s founding mothers were deeply religious women. These abuses made a woman physically alive but “civilly dead,” according to the first feminist manifesto.
The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, signed by one hundred attendees (68 women and 32 men), was ratified, and the women’s rights movement was born.
How Biblical Was the Early Women’s Movement?
The most conservative of Christians today would be hard-pressed to disagree with every item on the list of grievances. Indeed, many Christians would agree with them all.
When you consider the ideal woman espoused in Proverbs 31, we see that she had many liberties that the 1800’s woman did not. This virtuous woman in Scripture:
- Operates a business. (vs. 24)
- Has her own income and the prerogative to use that income as she sees fit. (vs. 16)
- Is a property owner. (vs. 16)
- Is the CEO of a vineyard. (vs. 16)
It would seem that many if not all of the original abuses that the founding mothers of feminism fought are abuses that Scripture does not condone.
It is not surprising that the abolitionists and early women’s rights activists found a common cause with one other.
The Successes of the Early Women’s Movement
By 1890, 42 years after the first women’s rights convention, “Many states had enacted laws granting married women property rights, equal guardianship over children, and the legal standing to make contracts and bring suit. Nearly one-third of college students were female… In two western territories–Wyoming and Utah–women voted on an equal basis with men. But full suffrage nationwide remained stubbornly out of reach.”
It took another 29 years, but women were finally granted the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1919.
The first wave of feminism influenced society in a very positive and Biblical way.
Where Did Early Feminism Go Wrong?
Despite moving society in a righteous direction, the most serious overstep of early feminism was perpetrated by its strongest driving force, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In 1895, Stanton published The Woman’s Bible, a heretical anthology challenging the authority of Scripture in all things gender related.
This was a bridge too far for her early feminist sisters, who fought for the proper application of Scripture, not an overhaul of Scripture.
During the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), both Stanton and her book were publicly censured.
What began as a righteous fight for the first feminist, consumed her. The rights of women became all-encompassing to Stanton, and her zealousness caused her to enshrine womanhood as a deity—an idolization that would, unfortunately, be fully realized in subsequent waves of this movement.
The seeds of a dangerous extreme were there from the beginning, and they were poised to bloom.
Today’s Feminism from a Biblical Point of View
With some critical areas of liberation left undone from the first wave of the women’s movement, modern feminists could have returned to the Biblically sound voices of founding mothers like Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony.
But they didn’t.
Instead, they have followed in the footsteps of their most strident mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Subsequent waves of feminism have departed from its Christian underpinnings, challenging Scripture in four key areas:
1. Modern Feminism Is Anti-Male.
An anti-male shift has been brewing for decades in the feminist camp, but this mentality has come to the forefront recently.
Dr. Philip Carl Salzman, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, tells us what modern feminism is really about:
“Contemporary feminism is not a liberation from sexism. It is true that feminism rejects anti-female sexism. But in place of anti-female sexism, it does not advocate gender-blind standards; it does not advocate treating individuals as complex human beings; it does not reject reducing people to their sex/gender. On the contrary, feminism, as indicated by its name, is a movement that sees people as defined by their gender, and lobbies for the interests of females. In short, feminism does not reject sexism, but advocates anti-male sexism.”
Modern feminism furthers the divide between the sexes. It elevates women at the expense of men, which is, ironically, the very type of injustice the early feminists fought against.
Now, they are creating this injustice themselves.
2. Modern Feminism Is Anti-Family.
Feminism has waged war with the family.
In a shocking new book, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, Sophie Lewis declares, “Where pregnancy is concerned, let every pregnancy be for everyone. Let us overthrow, in short, the ‘family’.”
Why would Lewis want to destroy the bedrock institution of every healthy society since the dawn of humanity?
She claims that the family is the headquarters of “discomfort, coercion, molestation, abuse, humiliation, depression, battery, murder, mutilation, loneliness, blackmail, exhaustion, psychosis, gender-straitjacketing, racial programming, and embourgeoisement.”
That—is quite a list.
Lewis is not alone in her condemnation of the family as the source of all evil. In an essay included in Frontline Feminism, Ellen Herman identifies “the family—especially, the western patriarchal, bourgeois, and child-centered, nuclear family—as the most important source of women’s oppression.”
Women are oppressed by the very relationships that birth and raise them, according to modern feminism.
These thoughts are extreme, but they are not new. Simone de Beauvoir, a radical second wave feminist, expressed the same ideas almost fifty years ago:
“As long as the family and the myth of the family and the myth of maternity and the maternal instinct are not destroyed, women will still be oppressed.”
According to militant modern feminism, family is a myth. The maternal bond is a fiction. These illusions are the source of women’s oppression. The haven that God created to nurture mothers, fathers, and children—is destroying women.
So, feminists like Lewis, Herman, and Beauvoir are engaged in an all-out war on the family, which is an all-out war on the very institution God created to nurture and protect women.
3. Modern Feminism Is Anti-Mother.
Betty Friedan is credited for ushering in the second wave of feminism with her 1963 game-changer for gals, The Feminine Mystique. The Washington Post said that with this book, Friedan “almost single-handedly” launched the second wave of feminism.
And yet the mother of modern feminism had a very low opinion of motherhood.
She compared women who embrace motherhood fulltime to concentration camp victims.
“The women who 'adjust' as housewives, who grow up wanting to be 'just a housewife,' are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps… They have become dependent, passive, childlike; they have given up their adult frame of reference to live at the lower human level of food and things. The work they do does not require adult capabilities; it is endless, monotonous, unrewarding. American women are not, of course, being readied for mass extermination, but they are suffering a slow death of mind and spirit.” (The Feminine Mystique, pgs. 367 & 369)
The work of the mother is unfulfilling, mundane, and remedial. It causes a woman’s mind and spirit to die a slow and painful death—according to the mother of modern feminism. And she birthed a movement that has marginalized the mother ever since—claiming that her work is mindless and her accomplishments are insignificant.
Now, a chorus of austere voices join Friedan from the modern feminist movement, with Simone de Beauvoir insisting, “No woman should be authorized to stay home to care for her children,” and Sarrah Le Marquand demanding, “It should be illegal to be a stay-at-home-mum.”
God validates the struggle of women to become mothers in the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. And He validates the arduous work we do in Proverbs 31.
Modern feminism does not.
4. Modern Feminism is Anti-Life.
You will find feminists today who do not tow the strident party line of being anti-male, anti-family, and anti-mother. But there is one area that is non-negotiable.
“Reproductive rights” are enshrined at the center of the modern feminist platform. The right to end life in the womb throughout all 40 weeks of pregnancy is sacrosanct. You cannot waiver on this issue and be a feminist today.
Well, you can try, as some feminist groups have—but they won’t let you.
Headlines were made in 2017 when several pro-life women’s groups tried to join the Women’s March in Washington D.C. Three such groups were listed as partners of the event at one point. All were subsequently removed when pro-abortion groups complained.
Bustle, a massive online women’s magazine, stated the position of modern feminism succinctly in an article titled, “Why You Can’t Be Pro-Life & A Feminist”:
“You can’t be pro-life and a feminist because the pro-life movement inherently advocates for the subjugation of women, and there's no way to get around that fact.”
If there is no way to be pro-life and be a feminist today, then many Christians face a dilemma when considering the demands of the modern women’s movement.
There is no way to get around that fact.
So, Can You Be a Christian and a Feminist?
That depends on how you define feminism.
If you align yourself with the original goals of feminism and want to see them fully realized, then there is a case to be made.
But feminism is not what it used to be. The loudest voices in this movement today say that in order to be for women, you must be against men, against families, against mothers, and against life in the womb.
You must be against what God is for.
It’s hard to be a Christian when you stand with those who oppose God.
But, before we judge…
We must seek God’s perspective, not our own.
Can I just say, in a moment of complete transparency, that I wanted to end this article by proving all the ways that modern feminism is wrong, dropping the mic, and walking away.
As a woman who left behind a graduate degree and a career that I loved to homeschool five kids, I’ve had quite a few nasty names hurled at me by feminists for leaving the workforce. I’ve studied this topic intently and written about it for years. I authored an ebook describing all the ways modern feminism marginalizes and attacks women like me.
So yes, indicting modern feminism, dropping the mic, and walking away is pretty enticing.
But I can’t. God won’t let me.
Because the second I hammer the gavel, God reminds me that only He is qualified to judge the condition of someone’s heart. Only He is qualified to determine the status of someone’s soul. We can judge the fruit, and we should—but only God knows what is at the root. And at the root of many unrighteous political positions are wounded people, in this case, women.
Society treats women much better than it did when the first wave of feminism began, but women are still silenced, marginalized, belittled, and abused. Women still encounter prejudice in society and in the church.
If you can’t see what women face today, I encourage you to look harder in a sincere spirit of humility.
The injustice that created the bitter roots of modern feminism does not excuse the unrighteous fruit, but understanding the injustice does foster empathy and compassion. And these are necessary ingredients for healing.
God’s Priority for Modern Feminism
As Christians, we must realize that God’s priority is not to indict the modern feminist. His priority is to heal her. In order for her to heal, we must look through God’s lens and see the wounds, past and present, that create and sustain her.
Deep-seated wounds can fester for generations. Only a balm from our Heavenly Father can heal such wounds.
“For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored? (Jer. 8:21-22).
God wants to heal his daughters. He wants to heal the bitter root feeding modern feminism. And He wants to use His children to apply the balm.
That isn’t an easy task, especially when the wounded daughters lash out at us and try to destroy what we love, what God loves.
But we must remember that God loves all of his daughters, even the wounded ones. Especially the wounded ones.
We must love them too.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, blogger, and motherhood apologist. She launched the Mere Mother website in October 2019, which delves into critical issues that marginalize mothers in our culture. This homeschooling mama of five is dedicated to helping mothers see their worth in a season when they often feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/robeo
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, blogger, and motherhood apologist. She is matron of the Mere Mother website, which delves into critical cultural issues that affect families and marginalize mothers. This homeschooling mama of five is dedicated to helping mothers see their worth in a season when they often feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.