With the recent nomination of Sarah Palin for Republican VP, the feminist movement has taken a very unexpected turn.
On the one hand, she’s taking a giant step forward for women. She speaks of breaking the glass ceiling and she’s aspiring to hold a political position that no women has ever before attained.
And in an even more shocking turn of events, we are now hearing Conservatives use language that has traditionally been attributed to feminists. They argue that anyone who questions Palin’s candidacy in light of her family responsibilities is a blatant sexist. Conservatives also point out that no one ever asks Barack Obama that question, so they firmly defend Palin’s equal right to political opportunity.
Yet traditional feminists are befuddled, if not frustrated by Palin. Why? Because she is a new breed of feminist, opposing many of the views that feminism has typically held. She is not pro-choice, and she does not support same-sex marriage. She is a Conservative, and she promotes an ideology that feminists have historically assumed to be inherently anti-woman.
Such a development is fascinating, as well as enlightening. It reveals that the feminist movement has not represented women nearly as holistically as they have claimed. Rather, it has represented a particular brand of women, a brand that excludes a large portion of women in America today.
But how did this come to be? In their quest to further the cause of women, how have feminists divided women? The answer is quite simple–they have done so by committing the same crime that they sought to amend. In response to a brand of womanhood that was seen as narrow and oppressive to women, they sought to redefine womanhood, but they redefined it in just as narrow a category as their predecessors.
Feminism reacted against a school of thought that placed women solely in the home raising the children. Women were not allowed to vote or hold positions of leadership, so they were also discouraged from pursuing higher education. The feminist movement felt that women had more to offer the world, and that the female voice needed to be heard.
As a result, feminists sought equal status and opportunity with men. Yet in this process, some feminists have over-reacted, belittling motherhood and bashing men. Not all feminists have done this, but the movement has digressed enough that it has developed specific, narrow standards by which true feminism is measured. If you do not conform to these standards, then you are, by definition, opposed to the movement itself.
The problem with this development is that it does not account for the diversity of women that we find in the world. Yes, some women are ambitious and aspire to be doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, etc. But some women desire to be stay-at-home moms and that is all they’ve ever wanted to be. Is it somehow less noble that these women want to spend their time pouring into the children who will one day be the leaders of our country? By no means, but it is not a role that has been touted as furthering the cause of women.
In seeking to correct the culture’s understanding of womanhood, feminism has committed the error it sought to correct. Both ends of the spectrum, extreme conservatives and extreme liberals, define womanhood far too narrowly, and thereby exclude other women as somehow being less feminine.
And that is a dangerous game to play. When you make that move, you no longer encourage women to pursue their inherently female strengths, and a woman’s femininity is no longer defined by God. Women are instead pressured to conform to a mold, which will ironically limit them instead of giving them greater freedom.
That is why this new development in feminism is so exciting. The feminist movement is taking on a new texture as more and more voices contribute to its direction. And as Christian women, we shouldn’t miss out. Rather than bite the hand that fed us by condemning the feminist movement which gave us the rights that we have today, we should rise up and add our voices to the conversation. Women constitute a powerful force in our society, so we need to take responsibility for helping to direct it.
We must, however, avoid the pitfalls inherent in the feminist movement. Namely, we must be wary of becoming too woman-centric either. Ultimately, that is where feminism has gone awry, as well any movement that does not have Christ at the center. Feminism has the tendency to focus solely on women (as the name implies), thus leading feminists to occasionally trample other causes that interfere with their own.
That is exactly what has transpired in the pro-life debate–the life of a child becomes an obstacle in the life of a woman, so the child is eliminated.
But we must be Christ-centered feminists. What does such a feminism look like? It is a feminism that values women as being equal to men, just as Genesis describes. It fights for the image of God in woman, defending their role in the Body of Christ, acknowledging that women add a crucial dynamic to the Kingdom of God.
HOWEVER, Christ-centered feminism is a feminism that never subjugates the Gospel to the cause of women. Yes, God can be glorified through women and we should do everything in our power to protect that glory, but sometimes God is glorified in our sacrifice and humility as well. When our cause threatens to override the good and pleasing will of God, then we must cease and desist. But you know, that’s what’s best for women anyway. When we think that the two agendas are at odds, we deceive ourselves. What is good for the Gospel is always good for women. It may not appear to be so at the time, but if God is faithful, and He is, we can trust this to be true. Be a strong woman, but be a strong Christ-centered woman.