- Defining Feminism
- First Wave Feminism
- Complaints of Women in 1848
- Resolutions of 1848
- The Beginning of the Racial Rift
- Major Accomplishment
- Second Wave Feminism
- More Rifting
- Third Wave Feminism
- Compared to the Bible
- Biblical Arguments Against Feminism
- Views on Sex
- Biblical Arguments For Feminism
- Equality of Men and Women
- A Working, Independent Woman
- Gender Roles (for more see @Gender Roles: Traditional, Biblical, or Both?)
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
There have been a lot of conversations surrounding feminism due to the rise of people like Kevin Samuels. Many have expressed the sentiment that feminism is what’s wrong with the world, particularly those within the church. So naturally, the question to ask is if feminism aligns with Biblical principles.
In order to answer the titular question, we have to first define feminism.
If I haven’t learned anything else in the three decades I’ve been alive, I learned that what God did at the Tower of Babel was truly amazing. Most people teach it as though this was merely the introduction of language, but I submit that His fracturing of language was actually a lot more. You can speak the language and use words both parties know, but we define our words differently!
For some, feminism is synonymous with man hating. For others it’s about women’s rights. As with everything, there is a dictionary defined definition—an ideal of what feminism is supposed to be—along with connotations which can vary from person to person based on their experiences, worldview, and societal practices. The fact that people have very different experiences and interact within different social circles makes it very difficult to ascertain what any given person actually means when they say feminism. For that reason, I’m going to stick pretty close to the dictionary definition.
Cambridge dictionary defines feminism as “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.”
Merriam-Webster says feminism is the “belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.”
Encyclopedia Britannica says, “At its core, feminism is the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for women. Feminism largely arose in response to Western traditions that restricted the rights of women, but feminist thought has global manifestations and variations.”
Historically, feminism is divided into 3 waves.
First Wave Feminism
The first recorded traces of feminist thought (according to sources online) appeared in the writings of Christine de Pisan in the late 14th century and early 15th century. Pisan was calling for the education of women. This led to a series of conversations dealing with women’s issues of the time and eventually blossomed into the suffrage movement in the mid 19th century. The first women’s rights convention was actually held in July of 1848. At the convention, they penned the Declaration of Sentiments (a letter inspired by the declaration of Independence), which listed out the issues women faced. They also unanimously ratified 11 resolutions. The document was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
Complaints of Women in 1848
Below, I am summarizing the complaints made by the attendees at the conference. The original text is listed in the references below.
- Women were not allowed to vote
- Women were forced to obey laws that they have had no voice in creating
- Women had less rights than the lowest and most ignorant men, whether native or foreign
- Women were oppressed because they did not have the rights of a citizen, could not vote, and did not have representation
- Married women were civilly dead in the eyes of the law
- Women did not have the right to property or the wages they earned
- Women were morally irresponsible in that they can commit crimes if done in the presence of their husband because she is compelled to obey him; he is her master
- Women were unfairly treated in the case of divorce (at this time, guardianship of children was always given to the man)
- Single women who owned property were taxed without representation, as they could not vote
- Women were not allowed to work jobs that were actually profitable
- Women were not allowed to follow paths that lead to wealth or distinction
- Women were not allowed to receive an educations (college is specifically called out)
- Women were excluded from public participation in the affairs of the Church and are only allowed subordinate positions
- Women lived under a different code of morals than men—things that excluded women from society were deemed tolerable or of little consequence for a man
- Women have been separated from YHWH, with men being the ones deciding their actions, leaving no places for direct communication with God
- Women’s confidence were destroyed, their self-respect lessened, and they were forced to lead dependent and abject lives.
Resolutions of 1848
There were 12 resolutions, 11 of which were unanimously agree upon. I would argue these are the true pillars of feminism, or at the very least, the initial concept of what feminism was mean to support. Below is the original wording of the resolutions.
Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.
Resolved, That woman is man's equal - was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.
Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.
Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.
Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.
Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill-grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of circus.
Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.
Resolved, That it is the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.
Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to women an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.
Resolved, therefore, That, being invested by the creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self - evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self - evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.
The Beginning of the Racial Rift
An issue that has existed within the feminist community since it’s inception is that of intersectionality. Intersectionality, though a relatively new term, describes the interplay or intersection of identities, usually marginalized, and how that changes the experience of both. During the onset of first wave feminism, majority of the women fighting for women’s rights were white women. Sojourner Truth is the lone voice of black women recorded at the time, because in 1848, most black women in the US were equally enslaved with black men. Famous for her speech “Ain’t I A Woman,” Sojourner Truth points out that many of the experiences the white women have—such as being helped in and out of carriages, or having things carried for them (chivalry in general)—are never afforded to her. As such, Sojourner Truth’s main focus in life was not women’s rights, but civil rights for black people and the abolition of slavery. A major clash actually occurred after the Civil War; many feminists wanted women’s rights included in the 15th amendment (which prohibits disenfranchisement on the basis of race). Due to the fact that there are still nuances to the female experience based on race, even today, this divide is still present in modern feminism.
The major focus and accomplishment of first wave feminism was the suffrage movement, or the right to vote. The 19th amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote, was ratified in late summer of 1920, 72 years after the first women’s rights convention.
Second Wave Feminism
The 1960’s and 70’s brought forth what is known as second wave feminism. At this point in history, women have the right to vote and many women are college educated, with more and more women working outside the home. This leads to new concerns such as unequal pay, resources for working mothers, and discrimination in the workforce. During this time, women began to push against gender-based stereotypes and titles that were dependent on marital status (Miss, Ms., and Mrs.). It was during this wave that the rise of women’s studies began. This is also the time in which discussions on rape, sexual freedom, reproductive rights, etc. entered the feminist conversation.
Now that abolition and the civil rights movement had experienced some measure of success, more black women began to think about and discuss feminist ideology. (I assume people of other minority backgrounds also began to join the movement at this time as well, but I have not seen any discussion on this and am not knowledgable enough in the area to say so with certainty.) Authors like Mary Ann Weathers, Alice Walker, and bell hooks, wrote about the troubles of getting black men to understand gender issues and white women to understand racial issues.
In addition to black feminist voices, there was now actually different experiences a woman could have. Some of the women in the movement were college educated, while others may have only finished high school. Some of the women were housewives and some had careers. This naturally leads to a division of thought. If you think of it as an organization, you would have separate “chapters” of the overall organization across the country. Some chapters may be all white, or all black, while others might be racially diverse. Some chapters might consist mostly of housewives, while others might cater to career women. The mission statement of the organization as a whole might remain the same, but the goals, focus, and ideology of any local group might vary. Some ideology during this time was deemed “radical feminism” or “liberal feminism.”
I believe that there are just some issues we won’t all agree on because of our varied experiences. As more women were placed in positions (e.g., financially, intellectually, etc.) to participate in the movement, the diversity of thought naturally skyrocketed. There are pros and cons to this. The pro is that experiences previously overlooked were now brought in to the conversation. The con is that this is likely what contributes rise to the fractured view of feminism in society today, because it is no longer one singular target (i.e., voting rights), but many different targets and not all unanimously agreed upon.
During the second wave, feminism also started to look outside of the Western world. Topics that do not concern women in the West, but are a part of everyday life in other countries, such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, etc., became topics of discussion in feminist circles. Since these topics were still dominated by white women and Western women, there was some tension surrounding this. Nonetheless, by including these topics in the discourse, the concept of empowerment and equality did begin to spread into non-Westernized countries.
Third Wave Feminism
Third wave feminism consisted of, quite literally, the daughters of second wave feminism and is essentially where we are in feminism today (some are arguing that there is a fourth wave which focuses on rape culture and the Me Too movement). This era called for reclaiming the narrative. Words and symbols, that had previously been used to denigrate women were taken back and used in the way members of this movement defined. It is also during this wave that bring up discussions on gender identity and the spectrum of masculine versus feminine. Most notably, however, third wave feminism is where the idea of sexual liberation really took flight. It is during this wave that celebrities such as Madonna redefine how women are portrayed in the media.
Criticism around third wave feminism is mainly centered around what it actually means to be sexually liberated. While some view overtly sexual artistry such as the “Dirrty” phase of Christina Aguilera, the “Bangerz” phase of Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion’s “WAP,” etc. as a sign that women have reclaimed their sexuality and are embracing it, others argue it is still a form of oppression and exploitation.
Compared to the Bible
Biblical Arguments Against Feminism
Views on Sex
As mentioned above, there is no one real definition of feminism and its focus has shifted over time. During the 1848 convention, the attendees said “the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.” So, the resolution was that neither men nor women should be able to curse people out, behave violently, or be promiscuous. However, the modern notion is closer to, “if men can be promiscuous, so can women; if men can curse people out, so can women.” This is problematic.
Biblical Arguments For Feminism
Equality of Men and Women
Although many interpret women to be inferior to men based on the punishment given to Eve at the fall, the Bible actually supports the idea that God created the genders to be of equal value. In the beginning God creates man and woman, and although it says He creates “man” or “Adam” in His image, it follows that He created both male and female in His image.
We get into trouble when we just use the word “equal” because at its core it means the same, but men and women are not “the same”—men are men and women are women. However, men are not more valuable than women, nor are women more valuable than men.
For starters, Eve is created from Adam’s rib—not his heel, not his hind parts, not his head, but his side… In addition, we are told in Genesis 2:18 that Adam needed a companion suitable for him, i.e., on his level. As a pet-person, I understand and relate to the situation Adam was in before Eve was created. A dog or cat, for instance, can give you love and keep you entertained, but you can’t have deep and meaningful conversations with an animal. My cat will not tell me the tone I took on the phone with the customer service rep was not Godly. My dog can’t help me reason through a problem. My guinea pig isn’t going to celebrate a milestone with me. My fish can’t pray with me. My horse can haul a cart and buggy to make life easier, but she can’t help me build anything. My cows can pull a plow to help me set up my garden, but they can’t help me plant, water, tend, or harvest it. Adam needed someone who could stand beside him, so God created Eve.
Confirmation that Eve was not created to be “below” or “lower” than Adam comes in Genesis 3:16. Eve’s punishment for the forbidden fruit incident includes Adam ruling over her. This means that prior to the event, Adam did not rule over Eve, which leaves only two possibilities for God’s original design: they were equal or she ruled over him.
In the New Testament, it says we are “neither male nor female, neither free or bond, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.” The statement says that we are all in it together and no one is above or below. Free Jewish men do not have more power than enslaved non-Jewish women.
A Working, Independent Woman
One of the points made by the convention in 1848 was that women were not allowed to take jobs that could actually support them and that they were denied the right to own property. In the US, women were not given the right to own property until 1862. Despite TD Jakes’ recent inference that there is something “wrong” with a woman buying property, God supported women property owners in at least two Bible passages (and the Word says a thing is established by the witness of two or more).
Numbers 27 tells the story of five sisters who are asking to inherit their father’s property, since he had no sons. The matter is taken to Moses, who then submits the issue to God. God sides with the sisters and contends that they have every right to inherit their father’s land. While the ruling does support that sons inherit first, it still codifies a right for women to own property. If it were improper for women to have property, God would not have granted their request.
The confirmation that women can and perhaps should own property is given in Proverbs 31—the gold standard itself of what a Godly woman looks like. In verse 16 it says “she considers a field, then buys it.” There are quite a few takeaways from this short statement:
- She is able to make a decision independent of her husband.
- She doesn’t pick just any field at random, but is knowledgable enough to choose a field that is right for her and her family.
- She is able to conduct business on her own.
- She has the finances to make such a purchase.
- It is legal for her to buy property.
- It is normal for a woman to buy property (notice it doesn’t say anything about her having to finesse her way through the deal, so people must be used to selling to women).
Proverbs 31 doesn’t just imply that a woman can have a career (or business), earn money, and spend the money as she pleases; it explicitly tells us. We are told that she has earnings, that she is able to plant an entire vineyard with these earnings, that her business is going well, and she burns the midnight oil working in her craft. None of this diminishes her husband, who we are told is well known at the city gates (i.e., a man of importance and influence).
Gender Roles (for more see Gender Roles: Traditional, Biblical, or Both?)
That brings us to the topic of gender roles. One of the points of feminism is to tear down the stereotypes that say women can be nurses but men are doctors, or more broadly that men are to be the breadwinners and women are to be homemakers. I have heard a number of people argue that not only is that the natural order of things, but also that it is Biblical. However, the Bible says no such thing. There are verses calling for a man to make his wife happy (Deuteronomy 24:5), to love his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33), and to lead and protect his wife (Ephesians 5:23), but none suggest he is to be the sole provider in the house nor that there are certain types of work appropriate by gender.
In fact, if pay close attention you will see quite the opposite of what you’ve been taught to expect in the Bible.
The first example I can think of is in Genesis 24. In this passage, Rebekah is out getting water. The servant of Abraham expects women to be the ones getting water, and we see several examples of women at wells throughout the Bible. Rachel is tending sheep when Jacob arrives and does the watering for her (Genesis 29:9-10). Moses meets Zipporah at a well and also assists with the watering (Exodus 2:15-17). In the New Testament, Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman when she goes to the well (John 4). This may be the only role distinctly given to women, but a consequence of this being a woman’s job is that she has to pull the water up from the well. This requires a good bit of strength! There are two kind of wells, the kind you have to pump and the kind you drop a bucket down then wind a crank to pull the bucket back up. Either way, these women would have had to be strong (a trait usually attributed to men in the gender roles conversation).
What’s more, when Rebekah encounters the servant of Abraham (Genesis 24), she invites him to their home. However, when she tells her family, it is her brother who goes to prepare the house for the guest (Genesis 24:31). We don’t see any evidence of Rebekah or her mother being the ones to prepare a room, make dinner, clean, or any other task associated with hosting a guest that is usually attributed to women. (I will note her that it is likely that the household had servants, so Rebekah’s brother probably didn’t physically carry out the tasks himself.)
Another example is with cooking. In Genesis 25:29, when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob, it’s for stew that Jacob has cooked. Later, in Genesis 27:1-4, Isaac requests Esau to cook for him. This tells us that both sons were able to and expected to cook. We then see Rebekah cooking (Genesis 27:5-9), which tells us both men and women cooked.
Another case were we blurring of gender roles is spiritually! We know that kings sought out prophets like Daniel and Isaiah to inform them of God’s plan or to interpret visions, but in 2 Kings 22 the king of Israel consults Huldah, a female prophet. Miriam, the sister of Moses, is still a prophetess and seen leading the group at times (Exodus 15:20). Women are included when it is said that in the last days people will receive visions from the Lord (Joel 3:1; Acts 2:17). In the New Testament, there are four unmarried women prophesying (Acts 21:9).
If God intended specific jobs and qualities based on gender roles, don’t you think He would have expounded on that? Along with “wives submit to your husband,” it would have said “and wash the dishes, and take care of the children, etc.” Yet, nowhere in the Bible does God give a list of “women’s work” or “men’s work.” When discussing traits, Proverbs doesn’t say it’s ok for men to be quick to anger but women should be slow to anger; the same command to be slow to anger is given to both genders.
References and Footnotes
- “Feminism”. Cambridge Dictionary; visited July 2022
- “Feminism”. Merriam-Webster; visited July 2022
- “Feminism”. Encyclopedia Britannica. visited July 2022
- Reading this reminded me of the scene in The Handmaid’s Tale where the main character’s card is declined and after speaking to the bank she learns that women have lost their right to hold money and every woman’s bank account has been transferred to their husband or closest next of kin who is male.
- “Declaration of Sentiments”. Women’s History. 1848; visited July 2022
- I dissected the original Hebrew and agree with the translations that render it as mankind or humankind. A deeper discussion of that analysis can be found in.
- Gender Roles: Traditional, Biblical, or Both?