The feminist movement has accomplished much in our country. Apart from the abortion carnage, I suspect the most unfortunate accomplishment is that it has destroyed the idea of achieving excellence as a woman.
That may seem counterintuitive. After all, aren’t feminists fighting so that we women can have whole worlds of opportunities opening up before us — that we might be able to soar, chase our dreams, achieve, excel? Well, as a matter of fact, no.
If you ask average people what the feminist cause is about, they will tell you that it’s about women being equal with men — about ensuring that we not be treated as inferior, second-class citizens. And of course, if you put it that way, what sane person would disagree, right? But there’s actually some sneaky, behind-the-scenes, pea-and-thimble work happening when the feminist position is summarized that way.
The Fruit of Feminine Equality
The idea that women are equal to men is not a feminist idea; it’s a Christian idea. The apostle Paul said it long before Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Gloria Steinem when he taught us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). And he said it nearly two millennia before the women’s rights people came along.
The feminists try to take credit for something that is the fruit of the gospel, working its way into culture like yeast through a loaf. We need to stop letting the feminists act as if they somehow achieved our equality. Unconverted societies never treat women well, and that is extraordinarily easy to document. Women being treated with respect is fruit that grows on one kind of tree, and that tree is a cross.
Of course we Christians believe that women are equal to men. Not only is this belief not a compromise with the feminists, or something we learned from the feminists, it’s actually one of our distinctives. We have verses for this conviction and we always have.
What Is Equality?
So, what’s wrong with feminism? Honestly, much of it comes down to a fight over definitions. What does “equal” really mean? Does it mean “the same”? A Christian believes that women are different than men — with different strengths, different abilities, and different tasks. We don’t believe that this difference implies inequality. A feminist, on the other hand, believes that true equality cannot be achieved without sameness.
But a rolling pin is different than a measuring cup, and we can acknowledge that without saying one is better than the other. And what a weird thing it would be if we did! Imagine showing someone your kitchen tools and having them indignantly accuse you of believing the measuring cup was better than the rolling pin. Better at what? If you want to measure some flour, you’ll have a hard time with a rolling pin, and you’ll have similar problems trying to roll out a pie crust with a measuring cup. A rolling pin has to be evaluated according to the standards of what makes a good rolling pin, and measuring cups have to be judged on their own terms. (As a sidenote, if you cringe at the domestic analogy, then it shows you’re doing exactly what I’m talking about.)
Women’s Potential for Excellence
We believe that women are different than men, and therefore have to be held up to the standards of what makes an excellent woman, judged on our own terms. A high-achieving, admirable woman looks different than a high-achieving, admirable man, and she is going to accomplish different things.
That’s really at the heart of our disagreement with the feminists. They want the standards, categories, and judging to look exactly the same for both men and women. Here’s the kicker though: the standards they want to apply to everyone are the ones that have always been applied to the men. “Breaking the glass ceiling” is shorthand for the insistence that masculine standards for achievement now be imposed on women.
Far from liberating women, we have actually removed the potential for true excellence.
Throw Like a Girl
A woman who achieves truly feminine excellence is deemed by our society to be embarrassing and regressive. And the very few women who manage to achieve success in the masculine world get a pat on the head and a participant ribbon. It’s horribly patronizing.
Think of the way our society cheers for the women who make it into the Navy Seals, or anything similar to that. It’s honestly the same reaction as when the really, really slow kid finally chugs across the finish line of the race, twelve minutes behind everyone else. We women need to stop being so easily flattered by that kind of admiration. If you pay any attention at all, you realize it’s not really a compliment.
We Christians, particularly Christian women, need to fight harder to recapture the idea of feminine excellence. Too often, in the name of conservatism, we have bought into the stereotype and embraced the “helpless, soft, little woman” persona, thinking that’s what it looks like to be feminine. But we need to study our Bibles and learn to embody virtue like women, obedience like women, ambition like women, wisdom like women, courage like women, faithfulness like women, strength like women.