Feminism is now an accepted part of our society. It is the status quo. Those who might want to question some of its benefits or doctrines are questioning an ideology that is no longer up for query. The idea of 'each to their own' is thrown around liberally, with the belief that people are free to believe whatever they want to and that an individual's beliefs should not be questioned by others. Any critique of feminism is dismissed as revealing more about the person undertaking the critique, rather than about feminisms true merits.
A brief History of feminism
History shows us that feminism has had three 'waves.' The first wave came out of the Enlightenment period during the 18th century. The key principles were freedom and human autonomy (especially from God and religious belief); the power and supremacy of human reason; and government of the people by the people and for the people (feminism.eserver.org).
The second wave of feminism was in the 60's and 70's, when the women's liberation movement was a major headline in the media. Television and newspapers displayed women filling the streets in huge protests, burning their bras, waving posters, and going up against suited men in hostile public debates.
At its most benevolent, the objective of feminism was equality with men, but that often meant freedom and independence from men. At the extreme end of second wave feminism, men were held responsible for the world's problems, and it was not equality with men that was sought after but a reversal of order so that women would rule where men once did.
In the 1990's third wave feminism began. It has many expressions and contradictions, as do other 'isms' currently shaping our cultural landscape (relativism, post modernism and pluralism). For example, from the perspective of some third wave thinkers it is empowering for women to be sex workers and involved in pornography, while others see it as the commodification of women for the pleasure of men, destroying the rights and dignity of women (I think they're correct!).
Importantly, the third wave is more about the ambiguity of sexuality and gender, the rights and or identity of either sex, and it consciously seeks to embrace marginalised groups like men and women of colour, bisexual women, lesbians, women from the majority world, and so on (feminism.eserver.org).
Approaching a feminist society from a biblical perspective
Given the pervasive and complex nature of feminism, and the huge impact it has on society, it is no wonder that trying to accept and understand God's purposes for men and women requires a great deal of thought. It is like trying to read a serious book when the television is blaring. There is just too much noise going on for us to hear clearly what God is saying - noise which is often personal and cultural.
To complicate things even further, sometimes this noise comes from Christian leaders who at other times have been reliable and beloved teachers in their books and sermons. But now they tell us that these words no longer apply today, or cannot be taken literally, or that the evangelistic ramifications of these texts is baggage the church cannot afford to carry and that we should move with the times and try to fit in with our culture.
Some of these arguments are persuasive. Who among us has not been the target of jibes and jokes about the church's (many churches at least) view on women? It would be nice to have an easy escape. If even the great leaders cannot agree on whether and how these texts apply today, then perhaps the texts are unclear, and the whole issue is one of wisdom and not godliness - a case of each person doing what is right in their own eyes, and giving up on ever finding the truth.
However, the problem is not really with God or his word. The problem is with us. We can expect God's word to speak clearly. And it does. When God says, "For the heaven are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55 verse 9), he is not telling us that knowing his ways and thoughts is impossible. On the contrary, it is our task and privilege to know his will and to do it!
This is why he has given us his word. God's words are not just on paper but also living words inspired and spoken by him and not to read on our own, but with help of his spirit to lead us into all truth.
With such resources at our fingertips and in our hearts, our duty is to sit under God's word and have it critique our relationships, our culture, our lives, our prejudices and our fears. Not vice versa. And when we do that we find it speaks truthfully and clearly- even about the heated issue of gender relationships which our world has got so messed up. If we want to know the truth of God's will for the relationships and roles of women and men, we must first see and study it.
Mercy Cornish (21) lives in Christchurch and studies at Canterbury University. Mercy has completed a Bachelor of Arts degree studying Media and Communications and Political Science. This year Mercy is undertaking honours in Media and Communications.
Mercy Cornish' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mercy-cornish.html