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We've come a long way, baby

This week I saw several faces of feminism at a community lunch held up the road. Taryn*, a quiet and sweet unmarried mother of two, told me she was six weeks pregnant. Taryn hopes the pregnancy will get off to a better start this time. She was "on contraception" when she conceived her prior two children, and found out about the pregnancies later. The director of the community center were I met Taryn was also at the lunch, a forty-something mother of pre-schoolers who has her kids in care while she works four days a week. She also has a teen son, and was a single Mum of one for many years after an early divorce. The politician seated one place down from me is also a Mummy, but working from seven in the morning till late at night never leaves her with time to pick the kids up from school. Judy, across the table, is there with her "partner", a friendly-sounding guy with a building business. Once you look feminism in the face, you begin to see her everywhere.

In 2001 I was deeply grieved to see women rallying to make abortion freely available. This was the catalyst for a long journey of thought about feminism and what it means to be a woman. At university I studied a Bachelor of Arts, and feminism was taught in every subject area. So when I came to the chapter on feminism in Voices of the True Woman Movement, "We've come a long way, baby", I didn't think I would learn much. However, I was refreshed in my understanding of the impact of feminism. I was reminded that prior to the 1970s, it was rare for a woman to get divorced, have children out of wedlock, work outside the home when she had children, remain unmarried into her late 20s, or have an abortion. Homemakers were considered essential. Imagine a society where "living together" before marriage was so rare that statistics for this phenomenon were not recorded! Now Christian women, like the wider culture, reflect the dominance of feminism in their life choices.

Since the time when I was confronted with and rejected feminist thought, I've sought to act in an opposite spirit. Feminism "liberated" women to pursue careers and have young children. Post-feminist society has deemed the role of a full-time homemaker irrelevant and unnecessary. I've taken delight in calling myself a housewife, with no excuses. Feminism presents children as a threat to a woman's life, and planning them as a necessity. I have longed to welcome children as God's gifts, whenever and in whatever numbers they come. Often, I have been confronted with my sin. Submission does not come easily. Pride, rather than love for God, has sometimes been a motivation. At times I have desperately hated what feminism has done to our society, culture, and family life, especially as I see its effects in the lives of my friends. "We've come a long way, baby" was a helpful reminder that we must allow God to define us as women. While it is good to reject feminist influenced choices, that is not the essence of true womanhood. Rather, "The heart of true womanhood is to understand and agree with the purposes of our Creator".

 *All names have been changed.

Sethals  – (July 29, 2010 at 7:45 PM)  

Some interesting thoughts here Sherrin. Throughout my university studies particularly my English classes there was also Queer theory as well as Feminist Theory saturating every text we looked at, sometimes the lecturers really 'scraping the barrel' to find it where there really wasn't Feminism portrayed. However while I agree with you in part, I think there are valid expressions of Christian parenting that don't fit the pre-feminist model. And in fact if you track back far enough: per-industrial revolution, you'll find a very different model to the 'wife at home, husband at work' model.

I believe if the wife in a relationship better suited to working in terms of her skills, character, personal drive (or God's calling), type of career, etc then there should be no reason why she shouldn't fulfill her God given gifts, whether that is at work, or in the home.

Likewise if a husband is better at managing the home, enjoys many hours of interactions with his children, is skilled in cooking, mending ironing etc, then there is no reason for him not to be able to lead his family from the home and 'lay down his life' (in keeping with Eph 5) in that context.

What are your thoughts on this?

Faith  – (July 29, 2010 at 11:27 PM)  

This was so interesting! I really need to get that book! As for me, I like to call my self a Christian feminist. What I mean by this is that I believe in equal work equal pay. Things like voting, church ministry (other than pastor...I believe Biblically speaking that the head of a church, the pastor, should be a man not a woman), misisons, etc. however, I also believe that our society, especially here in the USA, has really made it difficult to be a Christian woman living life out loud for the Lord. We are looked on as "odd" if we choose to be at home with the children, particularly if we have higher education! As for my self, personally, I have been a stay at home mom for 6 full years when my oldest was a baby/preschooler. It was definitely where the Lord wanted me. And it was the best thing for my babies. Once my youngest got to 2nd grade, I took a part time job doing what the Lord gifted me to do (teaching special needs students) and I have been blessed by it. I also have a husband who believes we should be seeking the Lord for our various roles in the family, church, and personal life. We are passing those beliefs down to our daughters. We take it one year at a time. We also have our children in public school because we live in a school district that is academically superior to other NY school district so we are blessed in that way. And we cannot afford private schools since I only work part time. I am home every day about 2 hours before my daughters get home. I have all summer with them and every school vacation. God has shown me that we need to seek out what HIS will is for our lives.....based on Scripture. Sometimes that might mean a woman needs to work (like if her hubby loses the job, or if they decide to go into full time missions and need to raise the support money). But I firmly believe that God will answer the desires of our hearts. I so much wanted to be at home with my babies and young children. And yet I didn't want to "waste" my Masters degree.....I just needed to put my career on hold for awhile....and that's ok! I love how the Lord has answered my husband's prayer: I have the best of both worlds. And yet...if God called me to stop teaching part time and just be home, I would do that too. It is all about HIS will for us. We are all different! We are made in His Image but we are all unique.

Sherrin  – (July 30, 2010 at 12:50 PM)  

Hello Seth,

Yes, those were the days! Feminism had to be uncovered everywhere, no matter what!

My understanding of the pre-industrial revolution period is that both husband and wife were more home centered. Business, subsistence agriculture etc. tended to be centered around a home and lands where both husband and wife worked. Is that your understanding also?

My view of the Bible's teaching on women and homemaking is that they have been given a unique responsibility that is not interchangeable with that of a man. How this worked itself out in individual scenarios is not something I'd want to comment on unless a friend asked me for my opinion about decisions they were contemplating (either face to face or via email). I would, in that case, talk with them about specific applications of the truths I have found central to my own decisions. At some point, I may do a blog post about the Biblical principles that influence me.

Hello Faith, thank you for giving glory to God for your circumstances! You are right that it is all about seeking God's will and applying his word to our lives.

I would also have called myself a Christian feminist at times. However, after thinking about it more I am not happy to identify with the movement in that way. Even issues like "equal pay for equal work" are not as simple as they appear to be. If society deems homemaking to be essential (rather than optional) to healthy family life, it may be legitimate to choose to pay more to people with dependents.

Anonymous –   – (July 30, 2010 at 1:47 PM)  

Hi Sherrin,
I enjoyed this post. I am blessed to be able to stay home with my four children and enjoy it. My husband has a secure well paying job, we don't live luxuriously, but are not worried about necessities of life. I suppose you can be grateful for a similar circumstance - particularly a husband who values your being at home, it is so tempting to look at working, but it needs to be carefully assessed re the needs of children, household, family.
I need to be so careful not to judge others who do not have the same advantages as me in family life. I feel that feminism has been good for society in that a young unmarried mother or divorcee is not socially and financially ostracised (as much), but we need so much to promote family life (two parents, one working, one at home is best) as for the benefit of our children. I agree with the previous comment that sometimes the dad is better suited to staying home (not usually!)
Our politicians aren't there. I am disappointed to see "both sides" of Aust politics supporting paid parental leave, which I can only see as facilitating the return of mothers to work much too early.
Sorry for the waffling,
thanks,
Jenny

Sethals  – (August 1, 2010 at 9:13 PM)  

Hi Sherrin,

Yes, pre-industrial revolution saw both parents actively involved in the home and work. And I'm sure Christians in that time would've had no issue with this model of family, as I'm sure it would've met their physical and spiritual needs.

From a Biblical perspective I do agree that men and women are given slightly different instructions on relationships, however I don't believe it is to be taken as literally as to say women should be at home, and there are Biblical examples that certainly contradict the notion of the female as solely a 'homemaker' (Take Prov 31 for example, where the woman is running the family business). I am of the belief that raising a family and running a home is a shared role. I think restricting the 'homemaker' role to mother only is a narrow understanding of the Bible, and restricts the potential God given gifts of the mother.

Em and I have an excellent arrangement that draws on both our strengths and allows us to both share the care of our daughter and the running of our home. For example: Em is extremely skilled in her medical career and I believe God is using her to impact on many people's lives! In the same way God has given me great skills and passions for working with children, and a heart for young people. This has meant that I have happily taken on the role of house-dad and can use my gifts in the home, and thus serve my wife as I am called to do (As per Eph 5).

So I think its great that you have worked out a way for you and your husband to raise your family in a Biblical way. But I am sorry I can't agree that mother as homemaker is the only Biblical model.

Thanks again for your great posts!
Seth

Sherrin  – (August 4, 2010 at 9:58 AM)  

Hello Jenny,

Thanks for the reminder to apply God's word to own lives but avoid judging others who may not be as blessed. I agree that I am very blessed to have a husband who values my contribution at home - unfortunately the dominance of feminist thought has made that a whole lot rarer.

Hi Seth,

I trust that God will lead you as you seek to apply his word to your lives.

I don't see any way in which the Proverbs 31 woman or the pre-industrial working arrangements are the slightest bit in conflict with a woman being home-centered.

I hope that God will bless all your efforts to live for Him and further His kingdom as a family.

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