Language fascinates me. I love nuances and connotations and colors and tones in words. That concrete things can be made conceptual through letters and metaphors just delights the poetry in our intellects. And English is great for this. English is alive and thriving, so meanings change as culture morphs over time. Of course, there is gain and loss in this. Sometimes words lose their meanings altogether. Instead of gaining texture and layer, some words become pale and lifeless. It didn't take long for the word "awesome" to lose almost all its weight. But even this is not devastating. There are a lot of adjectives that can replace "awesome" and words will be invented that will work even better. There is something more dangerous than losing a word. That is misapplying it. Because instead of the word taking on a new meaning, it begins to change other things to fit it, even if those things do not fit. If the color "red" still means red, but I go around applying the word "red" to everything from fuchsia to peach, I've begun to change the way I look at things. I've lost distinctions. And this is dangerous.
This is what's happening with the word "feminist" in conservative Christianity.
The word feminist has always referred to (and still currently refers to) a person who rejects traditional gender role distinctions. Feminists typically find identity in education and careers. They live to match or top men in every possible area. They try to prove that they are at least equal to men in every way and better than men in most ways. That is a feminist. "Woman, know your place. You belong in the workforce. You belong at the top."
Of course, feminism was a reaction to patriarchal ism. Feminism reacted to the "Woman, go make me a sandwich while I stay here in the man cave" mentality that has prevailed in many cultures since the Fall. In patriarchal ism women are slaves of men. The purpose of the woman is to marry and bear children and obey the man's every whim. "Woman, know your place. Your place is not to be educated or to find a job you enjoy. Your place is in the kitchen and the nursery." And feminism rejected this because they felt, rightfully, dissatisfied with this ancient idea.
But then conservative Christianity reacted against feminism. Shocked by the arrogance of the women who dared to leave home and family to pursue a career, one branch of Christianity (think Jack Hyles) began to yell about women submitting and the need for mothers and wives, not secretaries and feminine CEO's. So this branch of Christianity kept their daughters in dresses and discouraged them from going to college. They taught them to cook and clean and sew. "Woman, know your place. You are to complete a man. You are a 'helpmeet.' You are meant to be a wife and mother."
What is the place of the woman? If we agree with feminism, then a woman who stays home with her children is wasting her life by not reaching her full potential. If we agree with some parts of Christianity, then a woman who has a job is in sin by failing to "look well to the ways of her household." What does God have to say about this?
The Bible does not ever say that the place of the woman is the home.
The Bible does not ever say that women in general need to submit to men in general.
The Bible does not ever say that a woman can't hold a job outside the home.
The Bible DOES say that a woman is the perfect completer to man. Man apparently needs help.
The Bible DOES say that a woman submits to her husband specifically. He is to love her by sacrificing for her and serving her in a Philippians 2 Christlike way so that this submission is not a burden for her.
The Bible DOES say that a woman is to care for her family, if she has one. Though she doesn't have to have one to be accepted by God.
The woman's place is not the kitchen or the classroom. It is not next to her husband or at his feet. It is not over the Church or under a man.
A woman's place is in Christ.
If we understood this, we wouldn't apply the label "feminist" so quickly. A woman "in Christ" may be gifted in many areas. She may be single or married. She may have a job or have less than a high school diploma. And she can still fulfill her calling in Christ. She may love cooking and she may love parsing Greek words. She might be able to have an intelligent conversation about theology. She might want to write a novel.
But we don't seem to be upset by a woman who stays at home and doesn't get an education, do we? We seem to think it fine if she doesn't want to expand her intellect. We think she's more spiritual if she "just wants to be a wife and mother." We love those type. They are easy to categorize. "Not feminist."
It's the other girls we don't know what to make of. They are the ones who think for themselves. They want to do something other than have a family, though they are also open to that idea if God would bring a man into their lives. They don't want to be better than men, in fact, they don't think of life in terms of a contest at all. They just know that in the gospel, they are equal with men (yes, equal...see Paul's writings in the New Testament) and have a responsibility to do something with the gospel to which they were called. They also know that there are different functions of the two genders. They don't want to be men. But they want to be completely woman for the glory of God; this means that they cannot exclude cultivating their minds for His glory. They want to serve the church with their other gifts and talents. They are okay being single. What do we do with them? We don't know what to call them, so we use the only other term available to us. "Feminist."
Let me clarify a few things.
Being intelligent doesn't make a woman a feminist.
Being opinionated doesn't make a woman a feminist.
Being educated doesn't make a woman a feminist.
Even if you are those three things and single, you're STILL not a feminist.
If you are all those things and HAPPY about it, you're still not a feminist.
Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7, that singleness is a gift of God. If a single woman wants to serve the Church by pursuing an education, then she should be supported and encouraged. If God gave her a desire to stay single, then let her!
It is a question of identity. If a woman finds her identity in education, she will be unsatisfied But if she finds her identity in marriage and homemaking, she will be equally unsatisfied.
Because a woman was meant to find her satisfaction in Christ, just as men were meant to find their satisfaction in Christ.
Is marriage and motherhood a high and holy calling? YES!
Is singleness as a woman a high and holy calling? YES!
Woman, know your place.
At the foot of the cross.
Secure in the gospel.
Now go live like it's true.
You're free to be single or married. It doesn't matter. You can serve God and fulfill your purpose either way. You're free to discern whether He wants you to go to college or not. You're free to read and write and paint and draw. You can be a childcare provider or a nuclear physicist. Just do it for the glory of God in the grace of Christ. And don't worry. You're not a feminist.