Feminism is not just an idea or feeling of camaraderie, it is an all-encompassing framework for evaluating one’s experience of life. It is an atheistic humanist worldview.
If I am to take feminism seriously, I should regard it as a complete worldview. Inevitably then, feminism will clash with my Christianity because I cannot, logically speaking, hold to two mutually exclusive worldviews, one atheistic and one theistic.
‘I don’t need feminism’ seems to be a way to invite the ire of all women everywhere. If you don’t like feminism, you must also be against voting, education, paid maternity leave for women etc. I believe that I can reasonably reject feminism, and at the same time value these rights for women, and advocate for them, without adopting the feminist banner.
The only reason I can do this is because I can offer an alternative framework. From a secular humanist point of view, feminism is common sense. I can understand why Emma Watson would emphatically state “if you stand for equality then you’re a feminist, sorry to tell you, that’s it” – but I don’t agree with her – because I don’t think she has considered all of the possibilities. The feminist worldview operates without the assumption of a creator, therefore the rights of all people must continually be asserted because the world is made up of forgetful, selfish people who don’t know any better. They must constantly be reminded: women are valuable, women are contributors to society, men cannot function without women. Feminism must (almost necessarily) take up this cause in an atheistic world, but for the Christian, where the gospel is preached faithfully, the equality of men and women quickly becomes apparent.
The root of all evil is sin, not a white supremist capitalist patriarchy.
The definition of feminism that seeks the equality of men and women presupposes that inequality exists. It is this inequality that must be remedied and the cause of this inequality, the root of all evil in this world is the “white supremist capitalist patriarchy” – i.e. rich white people (particularly the men) getting richer and oppressing everyone under them, because we live within societal and economic structures that favour and bolster the success of said white people (read: men). I don’t entirely disagree with this as a prompt to activism and change. However, as a Christian, I know that this is only a superficial diagnosis of a far deeper problem, that the cracks run beyond man made structures to the hearts of human beings themselves. It’s not the system that’s broken, we are broken. Men and women, whatever colour, race, sex or ability we have, we are all broken because of sin. The white supremist capitalist patriarchy is merely symptomatic of the underlying problem of sin. If feminism rejects sin as the ultimate evil, it rejects Jesus and the need for a saviour.
Incorrect diagnosis (of the source of ultimate evil) will lead to inadequate solutions
Some have argued that Christians can reconcile their faith and feminism by viewing feminism as a metanarrative. In this way, it does not necessarily need to function as a competing worldview, thereby allowing one to incorporate feminism into a Christian framework. Even if one could argue for this position successfully, the necessary acceptance of feminist solutions to problems of structural inequality remains a point of contention for the Christian. Endorsement of feminism must entail, for example, a pro-choice stance*. Pro-life feminists are as inconsistent as no-resurrection Christians. It is not a stance that one can hold to and be regarded with integrity. A Christian simply cannot endorse feminism without also endorsing its fierce advocacy for reproductive rights and fluid expressions of sexuality, etc. Furthermore, as feminism has incorrectly diagnosed the source of inequality to begin with, these solutions will not provide the liberation so desperately sought after because they deviate so severely from God’s design.
Gender equality is inherent in Christianity
For those who believe in a creator, the inherent worth and dignity of all people, men and women, is a given. The recognition of a creator and his intentional design for people who were made in his image means that there is not a single person who can be treated as anything other than valuable. This equality in creation extends to our equality in our sinful nature and our equality in being saved by the blood of Jesus. The cross is the very great equalizer. And so Christianity has a very clear measure of equality, a standard upon which we know whether people are being treated as equal or not. Are we valuing this person as God values them? Do we love them as Jesus loved them in dying for them? (This is also part of the basis for the Christian argument against abortion). Are men and women relating to one another in such a way that they reflect the image of God which is only truly visible when they complement each other as was intended? The definition, standard and measure of equality found in the bible is not in question. God has authoritatively established it, and it governs all of our relationships.
Such certainty, ironically, is not found in feminism. As Germaine Greer pointed out during a panel at the All About Women festival in Sydney recently, equality is a slippery subject for the feminist:
“Can we put any meaning into the word equality? What with? With the current state of men? Equality is ok because everybody thinks they understand it, but in fact nobody does understand it.”
Feminism is only effective insofar as it is Christian
As Christians we should not take for granted what God has been affirming to us in his word from the beginning, which the Lord Jesus demonstrated so wonderfully, which the Reformers promoted: women are co-heirs with Christ, fellow humans, citizens, workers, learners. Where feminism has made gains for women, it has done so because it has acknowledged a universal truth designated by God, not people: women are valuable. When feminism gets it right (from the Christian perspective), it is because it manages to fall in line with created order. This is why Christians will feel a sense of solidarity with particular feminist issues, from the education of girls, to women’s suffrage, to rape culture. To afford women these rights is more than feminist, it is profoundly Christian, because they hark back to what God himself has ordained for his people. The goodness we see in valuing women, as they ought to be, is not because feminism has provided the ultimate good, but because of the goodness of God’s design. When we see women being cared for and supported, when we see men in particular treating women with respect and dignity, it strikes us not just as good but right. We are pointed squarely back at who we were born to be, and the glory for that belongs ultimately to God, not to feminism. As a Christian, wherever possible, I want to draw attention to the biblical understanding of this world, which is observable and true. Why would I take the glory that rightly belongs to God for this, and give it to any kind of ‘ism’?
This list is by no means exhaustive. I have far too much to say on this subject, this is a starting point.
* I know there are Christians who will make the argument for pro-life feminism, and while we can hide behind the ‘bad feminist’ label (read: inconsistent) from time to time, I don’t think this can reasonably apply in this instance. Reproductive rights are key for the feminist movement because a woman must have ‘the same reproductive rights as men’ – that is – she must be able to choose whether or not she bears children because a man never finds himself at a disadvantage because of unwanted pregnancy. Until women have full reproductive control, feminists believe they will be unequal to men.