One of the subjects that divides America today is feminism. In fact feminism may divide some Christian denominations.
To be clear, by feminism, I mean “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men” (Oxford American Dictionary).
The question then centers on the last phrase: “equality to men.” Are women “equal to men”?
As much as feminists would like this to be other than what it is, women’s bodies are different from men’s, and therefore men can do some things better than women can. Of course, women can do something men can’t do at all—give birth to children. So on the purely physical plain, women and men aren’t “equal” in strength or speed. Or stamina.
The fastest male runners are swifter than the fastest female runners due to innate factors including muscle mass, higher oxygen intake and lower resting heart rates. That said, some studies have indicated that in ultradistance running — beyond 30 miles (48 kilometers) — the fattier female body can keep moving more efficiently than the muscular male frame since the fat represents more lasting, slower-burning energy stores [source: Maharam]. Estrogen may also offer an advantage of protecting against muscle fatigue, although its effects can vary by athlete and running conditions [source: Crowther]. Those biological benefits may help explain women’s sudden surge in Iditarod races, the grueling Alaskan dog sledding competition, bringing home championships four years straight from 1985 through 1988 [source: Library of Congress]. (Health: How Stuff Works)
Despite the differences, feminism has lobbied for women’s inclusion in the military and in jobs that seem more suited for the male body type.
All this is “extra-curricular,” however, since feminism is supposedly concerned with equal rights in the political, social, and economic realms. By application, women should have the right to vote, to run for the same offices men can run for, and be involved in the political process at every level, with no discrimination or prejudice because of their gender.
Economically, women should receive equal pay for equal work, and we should have the same opportunities for advancement, including promotion to the highest level of leadership.
When it comes to social equality, I suppose women are to be treated with the same respect a man receives, but I have to admit, I’m a little confused here. Women now can be sexually aggressive while at the same time holding the line against unwanted sexual advances. So men can’t be as sexually aggressive as women? Be that as it may, women no longer have to wait for men to open their car doors or any door for that matter. Men can enter in front of a woman rather than stand aside and let her go first. Because we’re socially equal. In the office, men can make the coffee, not just the women.
And in church, in a marriage women are . . . what?
Here’s where the Bible speaks directly to the interplay between men and women.
Up to this point, despite what many people think, the Bible paints a picture of women in society doing things that men do. Not in large numbers, but certainly not forbidden from the roles of military leader, city elder, prophetess, merchant, shepherdess, ruling queen, gatherer, tent maker, converts to Christianity, evangelists. Women were first to the empty tomb Jesus had occupied. Women were filled by the Holy Spirit. In short, women held significant place in Jewish history and in the development of the early church.
Then why this perception that the Bible looks down on women?
Two things come to mind. In the Law detailed in Leviticus, women slaves were not worth as much money as were male slaves. Of course children weren’t worth as much either, so it would seem that the amount of money reflected the amount of physical labor the slave could produce. (Slavery in the Bible is a topic for another day).
Second, Paul taught through his letters that husbands were the head of the home and that women were not to speak in the church. In other words, women and men don’t have the same roles.
Paul never said women couldn’t teach. He worked with Priscilla and Aquila on his third missionary journey, and it was this couple that taught the evangelist Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul also included two women in his Philippians letter. Though he corrected them for their lack of harmony, he nevertheless identified them as those who had shared his struggles in the cause of the gospel and as “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).
Paul also commended women, such as Timothy’s grandmother Lois, and greeted them in his letters by name, particularly those who opened their home for a church gathering. In addition, he specifically said there was no difference between male and female:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
The Apostle Peter agreed with this point when he instructed husbands to “show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”
In discussing a different matter, Paul brought home the truth of the equality of women in God’s eyes when he said that an unbelieving husband would be “sanctified” by his believing wife, and conversely that an unbelieving wife would be “sanctified” by her believing husband. (See 1 Cor. 7:14). This sanctifying work needs explanation, to be sure, but for the sake of this discussion, it’s clear there is no difference between what a believing wife and a believing husband can accomplish for their family.
A good understanding of the Bible’s instructions to husbands also helps. Paul says husbands are to love their wives the way Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). There’s no power trip in this instruction, no abuse or bullying or king of the castle. He’s to be the leader, the first one in the trenches, the guy who lays down his life so that his wife can make it.
There’s much more to say about the Bible and women. How did Jesus interact with them, for instance? He healed them, witnessed to them, forgave them, comforted them, commended them, counseled them. But He never belittled them or ignored them or treated them like second class citizens.
There’s one other troublesome discussion about women, though—what Paul said about women not having authority in the church. I’ve looked at that at some length already in an earlier post.
When all is said and studied, it’s clear that the gender issues of Bible times and the ones we experience now are a result of sin—the original sin and the sin nature we now must deal with. The Bible, as opposed to the counsel of our culture, gives us God’s perspective which shows us how to navigate the differences and avoid the clash between men and women.