In the wake of the last election, women’s issues seem to have come to the forefront of all mainstream media. After the first woman to run for president lost and a man who seems to have misogynistic tendencies toward women won instead, there were a lot of loud voices ready to respond. More than just respond in fact — ready to take action. On January 21, just a day after the inauguration of President Trump, over 5 million worldwide marched in their cities for women’s rights. Needless to say, this can’t be ignored.
But all politics aside, what is this about? Many have a hard time separating words like “feminism” and “liberal”, or “misogyny” and “conservative”. Yet I consider myself a woman that does not fit neatly into any of the stereotypical categories that popular culture is defining for us. We should be able to see this isn’t simply an issue of politics, but something much bigger. And if you are a Christian, I encourage you to think about women’s issues more deeply than what you see on Facebook and CNN.
What Exactly Is Feminism?
By definition, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”. Clear enough, and a worthy cause I might add. But in asking Christians of different ages and genders how they would define feminism, here are some of the statements I got:
“My first reaction is negative. It can be militant and combatant”
“Belief that men and women are capable of completing the same quality of work for any given task. But society takes it way further than that.”
“The movement of women who stand up for being equal to men in career paths as well as outside the workplace”
“Feminism is the fight for equal rights for everyone”
“A movement fighting for equal rights, but has veered too far in the other direction to where any difference in gender is no longer celebrated but seen as an oppressive constraint”
Eh. We’re kind of getting it. But I think that even if we can come close to defining it, we’re not sure where we stand or what to do with it. And the reality is that the most extreme in any camp will get the attention, which has left a bad taste in many Christian’s mouths when it comes to this subject. Because just as it’s hard to separate the words “feminism” and “liberal”, it’s also hard to separate “feminism” from “pro-choice” and “gay rights” and all those derogatory words for female anatomy plastered on posters at the women’s march. Right or wrong, that’s just how most of the people sitting next to you in church on Sunday morning are perceiving it. And in many cases, that’s genuinely what the feminist movement is becoming.
But here are some more realities we must consider: It is not uncommon for women to still be paid less than men for the same work. They are typically underrepresented in government, business, and even among church and parachurch leadership I would argue. If you are a woman, you have roughly a 25% chance of becoming a victim of domestic abuse, and between a 15-20% chance of becoming a victim of sexual assault. Globally, women are being oppressed — they make up the overwhelming majority of refugees and displaced people, and are being trafficked at astoundingly higher rates than men.
This stuff matters, and by definition, this is what a feminist should be fighting for. But can this fight of feminism, on an individual level, become a pursuit of our own glory and power? Shrugging off biblical femininity and justifying it with a worthy fight for equal rights? How can I — a Christian woman undeniably committed to the sole inerrant authority of scripture as well as the fair and equal rights of women around the world — glorify Christ in this?
Did We Get Here Because Of Sin?
Frankly, yes. Sin has led us here, and we shouldn’t be surprised when a broken world produces broken systems. It’s sinful to marginalize women (or any other people group for that matter). Any oppression or abuse of women is radically against God’s design, and it is this that has led women to fight for themselves.
But, I want to go deeper and venture to make a statement that may be unpopular — particularly coming from the mouth of a woman. While it is sin that brought about the need for the feminist movement, the movement itself can also lead us to sin. There is a need to fight for equality, but let’s check our hearts as believers standing on the sidelines wondering where our place in the fight is. Scripturally, this struggle began at the first sign of sin, and we can see this in Genesis 3:16 when God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you”. While I don’t want to dismiss that this verse has real contextual implications that pertain specifically to marriage, I do think it is the first allusion to the disparity that will come between men and women. A wife will desire her husband yet is called to submit to his Christlike leadership. Women will desire to be equal with men — to lead and control — yet apart from the Gospel, men will oppress, and women will do what they can to usurp men’s power. And at the root of it is a misplaced hope, longing, and fulfillment in our hearts.
I can see this sin tendency deeply rooted in me. I confess that when I see men get opportunities that I don’t get — especially in the world of ministry where there’s a delicate yet necessary balance of gender roles — it stirs up a gut reaction that the prevailing reason for the disparity must be that he is a man and I am a woman. I feel a need to push back and prove myself. I so quickly disregard the unique gifts that that man possesses and what the Lord may be calling him to, as well as the biblical mandates for male and female leadership, in order to find an objective justification as to why it wasn’t me that was chosen.
This is sin in my heart, and I believe this is often a desire of our flesh as women. We seek to have control and attention, to make sure our voice is equally as loud at all times as that of our male peers. But when I remember my identity is in Christ… when I remember His infinite grace and kindness to uniquely design me as a woman – possessing qualities of His character and image that only women can – and when this remembrance pushes me toward a greater love and appreciation for my Christian brothers, my selfish need to be heard and seen and to have my way can be put to death, along with the rest of my sin.
So while we must fight against the oppression and violence that women are experiencing around the world, we must be careful not to venture beyond that into a realm of self-exalting and unbiblical femininity.
So Should You Become A Christian Feminist?
Seek to shine a light on the true definition of feminism and what really should be the cry of this movement. Don’t become combative and don’t seek to simply be the loudest voice. Be careful of the words you choose to use when you advocate for your rights and know that you are first and foremost an ambassador of Christ to the world. And please remember that any type of “feminism” that seeks to malign men is hypocritical to its core. Pray and advocate for the equality of women, and honor and encourage your brothers.
But at the risk of over-simplifying, the label of a Christian Feminist seems redundant to me. It shouldn’t be necessary. To be a Christian is to be unwaveringly committed to the equal treatment of women just as much as men — as well as the equal treatment of the unborn just as much as those with their own voice. The equal treatment of black lives just as much as white. The equal treatment of the foreigner and refugee just as much as the one who was born here.
Under Christ, we don’t pick and choose what to care about. God did not create men superior to women, but all are one in Christ Jesus. The church really doesn’t need political agendas or radical campaigns, it needs day-in, day-out, Gospel adherence. Because of this, I do not place the label of feminist on myself, though I am without a doubt an advocate of what it is by definition. But I will unashamedly call myself a Christian, which in turn means that I must advocate for what is good and true. If I do not care about the fair treatment of all people, walking in continual love and truth and mercy and justice, then am I really caring about the things that Christ cares about?
Let us be a people who care more deeply for the hurting than about the volume of our own voices. Let us continually be passionate about what the Lord has called us to rather than just jumping onto the latest trending hashtag without considering it from a biblical perspective. May we adhere to only one agenda: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kristina Shiddell is on staff with Lightbearers Ministries International and serves as the children’s ministry director at The Hill Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.