“Would you consider yourself a feminist?” No doubt, many individuals reading this article have been asked this question at some point by a teacher, friend, or family member. Americans live in a #MeToo and #ChurchToo world where more abuses against women are coming into focus, from harrassment in Hollywood to exploitation in our churches. In light of these heinous offenses, the world wants to know where Christians stand on women and their rights. To enter this conversation well, we should start by defining terms.
WHAT IS FEMINISM?
Hundreds of years worth of history supercharged by intense emotion are wrapped up in this one tiny word. The dictionary offers little clarity, defining feminism as “the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” What does it mean to support “equal rights” for men and women? Do I have to support the “right” to abortion in order to be considered a real advocate for women? Can I be pro-life and pro-women? In instances such as these, it is easy for people to talk past one another. Two people can identify as feminists yet adhere to two totally different belief systems. This type of tension is even seen among America’s most prominent feminists; most historians deem Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem “feminists,” yet the two held profoundly different views on the movement’s major issues, including abortion, marriage, and family.
Christians shouldn’t be scared of the word “feminist.” We serve a God who not only created women but desires their flourishing more than anyone on earth. He is unequivocally, unashamedly, wholeheartedly pro-woman. He never stops thinking about them (Psalm 139:17), understands their deepest hopes and fears (Psalm 144:3), died for them (John 3:16), and adopts them as His own daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). He loves every single one of them: the elderly widow, the young mother, and the unborn baby girl. Sadly, many women’s rights activists have been misled and manipulated by the abortion industry. Though most have nothing but the best intentions for women, they’ve traded God’s good plan for a destructive alternative. Rather than an evil to be rejected, abortion has become a tool of female empowerment. Consequently, some leaders in the feminist movement have abandoned many of society’s most vulnerable girls: those growing in the womb. It has not always been this way, however. To better understand today’s cultural landscape, we must start with the past.
A (VERY SHORT) HISTORY OF FEMINISM
The “first-wave” feminists (those active in the late 1800s and early 1900s) believed women possessed unique abilities that were to be celebrated, not suppressed. Victoria Woodhull, the first woman ever to run for president, declared that “pregnancy is not a disease, but a beautiful office of nature.” Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree, rejected abortion as well, writing that “the gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism.” Anna Howard Shaw, another leader in the women's suffrage movement, recalled a comical encounter she had with a man that asserted “women have never produced anything of any value to the world,” to which she replied that “ the chief product of the women had been the men, and left it to him to decide whether the product was of any value.”
Alice Paul, the most prominent advocate of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which gave women the right to vote), was also the primary author of the original Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed 1923 constitutional amendment that stated “men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” For Paul, these “equal rights” were to extend to the unborn. When asked what she thought about abortion, she replied that it was “the ultimate exploitation of women.” According to one of Paul’s closest friends, Paul even once referred to abortion as “killing unborn women.” Our country’s early feminists saw abortion for what it was – a misogynistic and patriarchal tool that made the male body the ideal body.
“Second-wave” feminism (occurring in the 1950s–1970s) focused heavily on issues such as political and social representation, job discrimination, and the “domesticity” of women. While birth control and sexuality had certainly been part of the conversation, most major feminist groups did not make abortion a key part of their message. Even Betty Friedan, perhaps the most notable leader of second-wave feminism and founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), did not believe the issue should be made the centerpiece of the movement. Published in 1963 and totaling nearly 600 pages, Friedan’s landmark work, The Feminine Mystique, did not mention abortion once.
It was two men—Lawrence Lader and Bernard Nathanson—that thrust abortion onto the center stage of the feminist movement. The duo co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in 1969. According to Subverted author Sue Ellen Browder, “Lader scorned pregnancy as ‘the ultimate punishment of sex’ and idolized abortion as the ultimate way for a man and woman to enjoy ‘the pleasure of sex for its own sake’ without having children.” Through deceit and manipulation, they sought to convince leaders like Friedan that abortion was the only way that women could realize their goals. Sadly, Friedan and others would come to accept the lies told by Lader and Nathanson and change the feminist agenda accordingly.
THE ULTIMATE EXPLOITATION OF WOMEN
Abortion-choice advocates may believe they’re serving women well, but the opposite is true. It allows men to satisfy their sexual desires without making any kind of commitment to the women involved. It absolves them of the responsibilities associated with marriage and fatherhood. It reduces the female body to an exploitable commodity for the purpose of male pleasure. Rather than freeing women, it places a crushing burden upon those that desire to keep their unborn children. As long as abortion is made freely available, society will encourage women to take the “easy” way out – the path that frees the community from any obligation to provide or care for her. As attorney Erika Bachiochi observes,
Abortion expects nothing more of men, nothing more of medicine, and nothing more of society at large…[I]f we are poor, overwhelmed or abandoned by the child's father, or if medical expenses would be too great for us or for our child, social "responsibility" requires us to rid ourselves of our own offspring...Men can have sex and walk away, and with the right Roe gave them, they increasingly do.
There is perhaps no better example of the commoditization of women than Playboy. Hugh Hefner, the company’s founder, was among the most passionate advocates for abortion. In a 2010 interview with Vanity Fair, he talked about the role his foundation played in the abortion movement. When told that “feminists still oppose [him] for treating women as objects” by the interviewer, Hefner responded, “They are objects! Playboy fought for what became women’s issues, including birth control. We were the amicus curiae, friend of the court, in Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose…”
“Some believe you have a prurient [excessively sexual] interest in them,” the interviewer responded, to which Hefner replied, “I certainly hope so!”
There are no two ways about it: abortion choice disproportionately benefits men at the expense of vulnerable women. Terminating unwanted pregnancies, Browder observes, allows men to “escape paternity suits, years of child support, social embarrassment, and the wrath of betrayed wives” (p.93). It is bondage masked as liberation, oppression disguised as freedom.
Jesus perfectly lived out gospel feminism. Consider the story of the Samaritan woman. The way Jesus approaches this woman shows that He did not see her the same way the men in her culture did (John 4:27). Despite the many societal barriers that could have given Jesus a reason to dismiss or ignore her, He engaged in a conversation with a woman considered unclean and unworthy. He knew He would be judged, but that didn’t matter to Him. He had the divine conviction that this woman was necessary to God’s kingdom and to the world knowing who He was. He didn’t label her, categorize her, or assume her position in life was a direct result of her being a temptress. In this, Jesus is unlike many of us (men and women alike) today. We see certain women in society as people to dismiss or villainize. Not Jesus.
We should be honest about how most women (even Christian women) are entering this conversation. Many are confused, hurt, angry, and tempted to take the world’s path to securing perceived equality. Abortion promises a 5-minute procedure to “eliminate” a problem. It whispers lies to women about themselves and their unborn children. This is just health care. Your future is in jeopardy. Think about how hard this journey will be all by yourself. This is your way out. This is your reproductive right. Satan desires nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy women God so thoughtfully and lovingly made to carry His image into the world. He takes pleasure in the killing of babies and relishes the guilt and shame pregnant and post-abortive women experience. “[W]omen are being lied to, and their consciences are under assault under the accusations of the Deceiver both leading up to and following an abortion,” writes author Russell Moore. “No one is more pro-choice than Satan during the drive to the abortion clinic, and nobody is more pro-life than Satan during the drive home.”
Our pro-life, pro-women God offers infinitely more to His daughters. He provides light in the midst of darkness, forgiveness in the deepest depths of sin, and hope in seas of despair. Though He made both men and women in His likeness, He intentionally made them distinct in design. When He knit girls together inside their mothers, He gave them different reproductive organs along with brains unique in structure, chemistry, processing, and activity. He created them to complement the functions of the male body, to work with them to populate His world, bring order to it, and increase flourishing for all. Women are not second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. They are equally honored, celebrated, and loved in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
This is what it looks like to be pro-woman. Pro-life is pro-woman. It sees women as equal to men in God’s likeness and aligns our definitions of her dignity, identity, and purpose with His. God’s high view of women is why the pro-life dialogue must include a conversation about unborn babies and the women who are carrying them.
A BETTER WAY
Gospel feminists understand that women are not just “nice helpers” but absolutely necessary for our world to flourish. We need women in the boardroom, in hospitals, in Congress, in classrooms, and in the home just as much as we need men in those places. However, real equality will not be achieved by making women look and behave like men. “We can pretend sex differences do not exist,” writes Bachiochi, “but it is women who bear the burden when we do so.” Abortion is held up as a simple guarantee to fix complicated problems. But abortion rights will never fix the root problems that brought a woman to her decision. It doesn’t fix the abusive relationship, the broken sexual ethic, or the complex injustices in the workplace. It doesn’t provide financial help or childcare. The woman facing these obstacles needs more than a legalized option to terminate the product of “the problem”. She needs better answers from her family, community, church, and government.
We need women who are mature in the faith, who have learned to walk in their God-given dignity to disciple younger women into true womanhood. We need men to imitate Jesus in how He actively pursued marginalized, hurting, and broken women. The assurances of abortion are empty, and it will always fail to provide the freedom it promises. God made women for more.