Few things get people more up in arms than when we talk about gender and God’s design for women. Even those within the Christian community bring a lot of baggage to how we view manhood and womanhood according to the Bible’s creation account.
I understand the frustration and fear regarding gender. Since sin entered the world, men and women have been in conflict. We have experienced appalling distortions of God’s design on multiple fronts—rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other evils. In the past, some men have even quoted the Bible to justify injustices. No wonder emotions run high.
Feminism arose to address these wrongs, and I’m thankful for that. I’m glad I can vote, own property, and get paid the same as a man. Yet my support for change doesn’t mean I support feminists’ underlying views. Indeed, feminism itself has become another one of those distortions of God’s design for gender.
Feminism promised to give women equality and freedom from injustices, but it sought answers in the wrong places. In turn feminist ideology slowly redefined manhood, womanhood, and even personhood contrary to God’s Word. While you might think feminism is some soapbox limited to liberals and women who hate men, feminism has left its mark on all of us.
So how should Christians respond to feminism and its influence? Are some aspects okay? How can you discern if feminism has affected you?
What Is Feminism?
Before we get into the biblical view, we need a working definition of feminism. It is usually equated with “equality.” And that’s where it gets dicey.
In our culture, equality takes on a variety of meanings. In its most basic form, it is “the quality or state of being equal: the quality or state of having the same rights, social status” (Merriam-Webster). Today, equality can mean anything from freedom from judgment over personal choices (such as homosexuality, same-sex “marriage,” and transgender rights) to being paid the same wage regardless of gender.
We Christians see equality between the sexes as a declaration of our equal worth and value as image bearers. We are equal before God in salvation, sinfulness, and our personhood.
In my book, The Accidental Feminist, I show how feminism has a different meaning for equality: equality equals sameness. In other words, men and women are created equal, not only in personhood and worth but in role and function.
That definition isn’t exhaustive, but it captures what feminism has sought in the last century. It asserts that if men and women are equal (which they are), they should have the same options for what they can do with their lives. According to feminism, gender is merely biological (and even then, it is a little fluid).
We can all sympathize with this independent spirit. Who has a right to tell me what to do? Yet therein lies the dangerous roots of feminism—it opposes all authority, even the authority of our Maker.
A Crash Course in Feminist History
While feminist ideology is not biblical, some of its goals are good and very much needed. Feminism is traditionally divided into three waves: first, second, and third.
First-wave feminists in the 1800s were primarily concerned about voting rights. This in turn would allow women to protect their children from harsh factories, protect themselves from unfaithful husbands who could divorce them on a whim, and provide more options for work. At that time women really were voiceless and powerless. And while some early feminists rejected God’s Word (such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton), the problems were real and needed a biblical response.
Fast forward a hundred years. Betty Friedan (second wave) challenged women to recognize that their identity goes beyond being a wife and mother, which again is not a bad thing. We do not ultimately find our identity in our home, work, body, or marital status, but in the God who made us.
Today’s third-wave feminists take it a step further and tell women to forget restraint and flaunt their sexuality freely.
Feminism responded to a real problem—inequality and injustice. But it didn’t give the right answer because it was missing a crucial component—God’s Word. God gave us equality from the very beginning, an equal opportunity to enjoy full life in Him (2 Peter 1:3). We didn’t need a modern movement to tell us that.
Rejecting the words of the Creator who knows what is best for us, feminism has morphed into the sexuality-laden version we have today. Without a belief in the Bible’s sufficiency to guide our lives, we end up just like those who have gone before—thrown about by every new idea and problem that comes our way.
It can be tempting, especially if you reject feminism, to hear all of this talk and think it doesn’t apply to you. But the reality is we have all adopted this notion of self-defining rebellion in some way. The root of feminism, while sometimes grounded in the best of intentions, is about taking matters into our own hands, rather than going back to God’s Word.
Feminism actually runs much deeper in our psyches than we realize, from the woman who scoffs at the man who opens the door for her, to the woman who finds ways to bash the men in her life in every conversation. Feminism has sunk its teeth into men, too, as it strips them of their natural bent to protect and lead women, thus opening the door to passivity or aggression. Feminism isn’t to blame for all the world’s problems, but it has impacted us in ways we often don’t realize.
The Christian Response to Feminism
“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” While this famous line from the poem “Invictus” is not unique to feminism, it is a common theme. It expresses the spirit of every heart.
We are the created; God is the Creator, and He defines us. To understand God’s design for women, we need to go back to the beginning.
Feminists, once they won the right to vote and own their identity, began claiming the right to define themselves sexually. But none of us, man or woman, has that right. We are the created; God is the Creator, and He defines us. To understand God’s design for women, we have to go back to the beginning. Let’s allow Scripture to be our guide as we think through God’s definition of us.
In Genesis 1:26–27 the first thing we see about the creation of Adam and Eve is that they were created in God’s image:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” . . . So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
To be human—whether a man or a woman—is to bear the image of the Creator, the one who made you. Bearing God’s image means we represent God on this earth. It also means that because you, as a woman, were created in His image, you have incredible worth and value. You are equal to men, not because feminism says so, but because God says so.
We also see in Genesis 1:26–27 that part of being an image bearer is being either male or female. It’s not random that we have men and women. It’s a basic quality of being made in the image of God. The fact that we have been given a gender is important and helps us understand how we are made in God’s image. For women, God’s image is seen in two key ways: as a life giver and as a helper.
Adam named his wife Eve because she was to become the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). Biologically we know this to be true because women are uniquely equipped to bring life into the world. But it’s more than that. Author Jen Wilkin describes it as “life giving in the face of death.” Death is all around us. As women, we can be a means of bringing life into a broken, death-afflicted world. Whether single or married, we all are life givers because God has uniquely equipped us as His image bearers to nurture life in a broken world.
God also defines the woman by calling her a helper. After surveying His creation, God declared that among all of His creation there was not a helper suitable for Adam (Genesis 2:20). So He made the woman. That word helper can give us a lot of trouble unless we appreciate its rich meaning.
The Lord stated His purpose for woman: “
It is not good
that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Adam needed
a complement. He needed someone to fulfill what was
missing. He needed someone to help him with the task of
ruling over God’s creation—so God made the woman out
of his side.
When we hear the word helper, we can think that it’s a demeaning role, a position beneath us. But helper is actually used to describe God, too. He is our helper in times of trouble, in salvation, and in sanctification (Psalm 46:1; Isaiah 49:8; John 14:16).
Whether you are single or married, God created you to strengthen, encourage, shape, and serve the relationships in your life. Married women, this is seen most evidently in your marriage. But single women can live this out in their relationships as well. Helper is no more beneath us than it is beneath God Himself.
The Fall and Restoration
Feminism responded to some very real problems but in the wrong ways. So many battles of the sexes stem from failing to go back to what God says. While He created men and women equal, He also told us that strife would be part of our daily lives. When we forget that and seek to remedy our problems on our own terms (through male chauvinism or feminism), we make matters worse.
All of the battles we face as men and women can be traced back to that fateful day in the Garden when sin broke our perfect harmony. But so can all of our hope. The Fall wasn’t the final word on feminism, injustice, or unbelief in God and His Word. God promised a “seed” that would bring restoration (Genesis 3:15).
The Creator knew that our only hope to restore joy would be a restored relationship with Him, accomplished through the humble, obedient life and sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Our efforts to turn from feminism are ultimately in vain if they aren’t rooted in God’s promised seed, Jesus. He is our hope for putting the past behind us. He is our hope for obeying His Word. And He is our hope for restoring our delight in His design for us.
I wish I could say that I’ve got this whole thing down, but that would be a lie. The truth is I still see the old seeds of feminism rise up in me, from how I listen to my husband when he leads to how I view the authority of my pastors. Like Eve before me, I want to be the master of my own destiny.
But like Eve, I can look to Christ, who crushes every sin that so easily entangles us—including feminism. I won’t fully be free from my anti-authoritarian heart until that final day. Yet I take great hope because the God who gave me life in Christ will continue remaking me in His image until I get home.
Feminism in a Gender-Confused Culture
Perhaps one of the most talked-about stories of 2015 was the transformation of Olympic star Bruce Jenner to Vanity Fair’s cover woman Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner, who identifies as transgender, switched from male to female to the praise of the mainstream media. But not everyone in the feminist movement was thrilled.
An opinion piece in The New York Times posed the important and unlikely question (coming from a feminist)—what makes a woman a woman? Does Caitlyn Jenner have the right to declare himself female simply because he feels trapped in the wrong body?
The feminist logic (“I define myself”), when taken to its logical conclusion, says so. But not all feminists are ready to go this far. The fact that Jenner lived his life as a man means he can’t begin to understand the struggles women face, the author argues. So while he may identify as trans, he can’t identify truly as a woman.
And this is where the ideas of our increasingly confused times must prove themselves. Feminism supposedly bought women the right to define themselves. Homosexuality buys the right to define love. And transgender buys the right to define gender.
But when the ideologies overlap, who is right? Is gender really just a construct, or is it rooted in something bigger?
This shows why a biblical understanding of God’s design is so important. God created Adam and Eve, called them man and woman, and that was that. You don’t get to change your anatomy, remove an Adam’s apple, add some long hair, and call yourself a woman.
In an increasingly genderless world, we will see more of this tension between individual freedom and ideology. But at the end of the day, feminists are going to have to wrestle with the very thing they have been proclaiming all along. If gender is a construct—more a human invention than an unchanging truth—then anyone can be a man or woman if they define themselves as such.
But if gender is rooted in a person’s essential nature, then it’s another discussion entirely. If gender is rooted in how God created us from the beginning, then we have a winning argument against feminists who say it doesn’t matter and against transgender people who say it can be changed.
A biblical understanding of God’s good design for men and women has teeth to it. No cultural winds of change can budge the rock-solid truth that God made us male and female; in His image He created us. And that is something that even feminists are now forced to confront.