- What is “Difference Feminism”?
- Male and Female: Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism
A friend in India sent me a number of articles on the issue of the relationship between men and women to explain why he holds an egalitarian position (men and women are equal in being and in function).
One of the articles, “Differences between Complementarian and Egalitarian Positions,” describes the distinction between the two views. I am thankful for this engagement and have spent some time reviewing the documents.
In this response I’m seeking clarity rather than agreement. Once we have clarity we can see where agreement is possible. Agreement without clarity is hollow.
I have had interest in this subject for years. My heart has been broken over the way women and girls are treated around the world. It is important that the church engages, and important how the church engages.
First, in the spirit of openness, after years of Bible study and vigorous discussion I have concluded that the complementarian position best reflects biology as well as the biblical revelation.
As we have written elsewhere, First Wave Feminism (AKA Maternal Feminism) in the 19th century and extended into the 1920s. It was born out of the conviction or memory of the biblical worldview and the Trinitarian culture.
Second Wave Feminism (AKA Modern Feminism) began to manifest itself in the 1960s as a challenge to the global sexist culture rooted in the lie that men are superior to women. This perverse and cruel sexism is born of pagan culture. It demeans women and destroys the natural family.
Modern feminism blessed the world by challenging the sexist culture. Feminists did what the church should have been doing; they had the courage to challenge the stranglehold of this pagan idea on the culture.
But modern feminism was not operating from the biblical worldview which recognizes men and women as equal and different per the unity and diversity of God Himself. Rather, this feminist challenge came from the worldview of modernism, a system which denies any transcendent feminine and masculine. The only differences are biological.
Now, driven by postmodernism, feminism has morphed into Third Wave Feminism characterized by Social Justice language and action.
Early in the rise of modern feminism, 1970-1980, a group promoted what was called Difference Feminism (AKA Essential Feminism). These feminists acknowledge biological and physiological differences between men and women. For example, women are essentially more nurturing then men. While acknowledging these differences, these feminists argued that no value judgment could be placed on the differences and that, in fact, both genders have equal moral status as persons.
This concept of feminism is a natural bridge to the biblical concept of complementarianism: men and women are similar in many ways, essentially different in other ways, and yet are equal in dignity, value and moral status.
Difference Feminism lost the debate
If Christians concerned about the dignity of women had engaged in the fight they would have found natural allies in the Difference Feminism movement. The tide of modern feminism may have turned at this point. But as the feminism rooted in atheistic materialistic culture grew in power and influence in the 1980s, the movement split into two branches: the “equality feminists” versus the difference feminists. The latter lost the debate, and equality feminism took hold.
Equality feminism is a subset of Second Wave Feminism. It focuses on the basic similarities between men and women. Its ultimate goal is the equality and interchangeability of women and men in all domains of life, including the political and economic arenas. They wanted equal opportunity within the workplace and freedom from oppressive gender stereotyping. The more women out of the home and into the workplace the better.
Postmodern culture, manifested in the Social Justice movement that bridged the 20th and 21st centuries, challenged binary reasoning and reality, and, for that matter, reason and science in general. This marks the transition from Second Wave Feminism, which denied any transcendent masculine and feminine, to Third Wave Feminism, which abandoned biology and physiology altogether. Science was discarded in favor of an irrational and illusionary world which rejected male and female binary categories for androgynous gender identity.
The church and feminism
The church was leading the way when Maternal Feminism emerged. More recently the church has been reactive. We did not confront pagan sexist culture by explaining the beauty and wonder of the Trinitarian God. We did not actively proclaim the beauty of binary relationship in male and female covenant marriage. Christians finally joined the party as the debate between Essential Feminists and Equality Feminists was ending.
As radical feminism roared in the 1980s, the church began to examine the sexist culture rooted in the church. As the church engaged the debate, division arose between those who sided with the Equality Feminists and those who joined, late, with the Difference Feminists.
Mary Pride writes,
At every turn Christian women found that their biological, economic, and social roles were considered worthless. Men’s ministry, men’s money, men’s building and programs – these were the areas that mattered.
In 1984, a group of Christians in England formed the organization Men, Women and God, to advocate for the egalitarian position in the church. Three years later, in the United States, a sister organization was founded, Christians for Biblical Equality. In the same year, in the United States, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was formed. The CBMW is in basic agreement with the Essential/Different Feminists movement. These complementarians argued that men and women have essential and important differences which complemented each other and yet are equal in dignity and honor.
It is the arguments that these two groups represent that we will address in the next post.
- Darrow Miller