One of the most common critiques of Biblical Christianity is the complaint that the Bible champions the oppression of women. On the surface, this seems to be an easy complaint to make when you read a passage like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 where Paul instructs Timothy to have women “learn quietly with all submissiveness” and that he doesn’t “permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” When most modern, secular women read this they point the finger and say “Oh what an awful primitive idea! This is why I’ll never believe in the God of the Bible. He’s clearly patriarchal and has no concept of women’s rights. This is oppressive to women and has kept us from our potential for ages!”
Now, I could go and explain why these verses don’t carry the tone that you are imposing upon them, but let me present a different problem. When you look at that passage and claim that it is oppressive to women, you are implying that the culture and the beliefs that you subscribe to do not oppress women. Sure, there are still obstacles to overcome, like the fact that men generally make more money than women and still hold jobs higher up the ladder. But we have made leaps and bounds in the last few hundred years.
You may think that the three pinnacles of womanhood are a high-paying job, physical attraction, and sexual freedom. In light of that, let me explain three things our culture holds to that collectively oppress and marginalize women today.
1. Homemakers as Inferiors
The modern practice of devaluing the woman who wants to be monogamous, raise kids, and take care of her home is incredibly oppressive to a large portion of American women. There are plenty of women who have no ambition to work themselves up the corporate ladder, but want to raise a family, hold down the household, and love their husband. That ambition is no less respectable than a woman who wants to be successful in business. The minute that you feel superior to a homemaker, you have begun to passively oppress them.
2. Physical Beauty as Paramount
Many women in our culture are indirectly and even directly oppressed by magazines, cosmetic companies, gyms, fad diets, and plastic surgeons. They continually promise that if you’ll take their bait, you’ll finally feel self-confident, important, and respectable. First off, how many of those products actually deliver what they promise? And secondly, even if you get washboard abs, implants, and a face-lift, how does that make you feel any better? Typically, people who buy into any of those things never feel satisfied. There is always someone prettier than you, younger than you, and more interesting than you. It’ll never be enough. Someone is always breathing down your neck, telling you what to do to finally find self-satisfaction through physical appearance. They are stealing your money and your joy because of all the pressure our cultural norms put on you.
3. Sexuality as a Means of Self-Expression
I doubt anyone would disagree with me if I said that monogamy is going out of style. The traditional view favors monogamy instead of sexual prowess and sexual experience. Women (and men), in our culture, who haven’t had sexual experiences with multiple partners are somewhat disdained, either as unattractive or boring and rigid. Cohabitation is on the rise making couples who don’t live together before marriage an anomaly. How is this oppressive to women you ask? Well, what does sex represent? Engaging in sex with someone is the most intimate physical act that one can commit. When you expose yourself in that manner to somebody, you aren’t simply “expressing yourself”, you’re giving that person a part of you. You’re letting them see you at your most vulnerable moment. So our culture, by encouraging women to sexual promiscuity, isn’t merely liberating them to sexual freedom. Instead, the culture is refusing them the ability to ever have a unique, intimate, love relationship.
My purpose in this so far has been to show you that our modern culture oppresses women. The way in which our culture claims to liberate women from primitive, traditional values is actually enslaving them. This happens because the natural tendency of humans is to oppress. When we think we’ve got the superior knowledge, we treat those who have a “primitive” or “unenlightened” view of things as less than us. So what’s the answer? How shall we cease to oppress women?
I’m convinced that the answer is found in the Christian gospel. I’ll explore that in the next blog post entitled The Christian Liberation of Women. Stay tuned.
Grace and peace,