by Alex Hentschel
Who am I, as a Christian woman?
This is a nuanced question, and a weighty question, and I bet you’re wondering, “Why is that opinion column girl who wrote about dating and fake New Year’s resolutions about to discuss an actual issue with real consequences? She should stick to Buzzfeed-esque listicles.”
I understand your concerns. Don’t worry — this will still be snarky. I’ll still crack some jokes. But I want to focus our attention a little bit on something I’ve been thinking about during Women’s History Month — what it means to be female and a Christian in the 21st century.
What does it mean? Does it mean that we’re ultimately responsible for the fall of mankind, because our ancestor Eve was the first one tempted to take that fruit? (Maybe it was an avocado. That would explain a lot.) Does it mean that we must strive to become the Proverbs 31 woman? (When does that lady find time to sleep?) Does it mean that we have to wait for a man to faithfully lead us to Christ, or can we seek Him on our own? Who are we? Who were we created to be?
On an issue this important, we should ask: How did Jesus treat women? Against the backdrop of first-century Roman and Judaic culture, Jesus’ treatment of women was boundary-smashin’. It was utterly revolutionary. At every opportunity, Jesus lifted women up. He spoke with women in public at a time when this was generally frowned upon (the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:7-26; the adulterous woman in John 8:10-11; the women going to the cross in Luke 23:27).
Jesus had clear regard for the independent value of a woman: he referred to the bent woman in Luke as a “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), and he engaged women’s sins on their own terms and held them personally responsible, such as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 13:16. Jesus was, following the literal definition of the word (not society says it is) — and don’t stop reading here because I said this — a feminist.
I’m not demanding all Christians use the label “feminist.” I understand the hesitations some people have with that term, and we should consider the faults with the movement. Third-wave feminism, while important in how it condemns sexual harassment and assault and raises questions of workplace inequality and harmful stereotypes, is damaging to femininity in several key areas.
Our culture commends “strong, independent women” and cultivates strength, dominance, and assertiveness in our girls. While every woman should be treated with respect, and no woman should be a carpet to walk on, this attitude treats our unique, God-given feminine traits — compassion, empathy, and cooperativeness, for example — as evidence of “weakness.”
Our media promotes strong female characters — Wonder Woman, or Katniss Everdeen, for example — and encourages those masculine traits. The irony is that, with this attitude, society is still upholding masculinity above femininity by demanding that everyone become more masculine! By demanding that women must be aggressive to climb the career ladder, or to be worth something in this world, we devalue what it means to be a woman.
Corrupted by society, historic Church fathers were sometimes misguided on the purpose of a woman and her role. Not so with the writers of Scripture. “Let a woman learn,” Paul insisted in 1 Timothy 2 — at a time when women were not permitted to do so. “There can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal,” he said in Galatians and Ephesians. Paul upheld the equality of men and women. How do we imitate this attitude?
I believe that we need to look to the trend of how our Savior and the apostles treated women and then treat women exactly the same — with radical acceptance for their seat at the proverbial table. We uphold who women are — we call them “daughters” and celebrate their unique femininity. We realize that women have been created as image-bearers to reflect our loving, compassionate, beautiful God. We think through these issues with fear and trembling. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Women’s History Month.
Well, other than going to Starbucks.
Alexandria Hentschel is a sophomore International Studies and Spanish double major and the Off-Campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys old books, strong coffee, and honest debate.