The first wave of feminism at the turn of the century and the early 1900s supported women's equality, wanted to give women the right to vote, and sought to elevate everything feminine. The second wave of feminism around the 1960s pushed forward the plight of women's equality, but there was one very significant divergence from the earlier feminists.
There is a tragically brilliant movie called "Mona Lisa Smile"starring Julia Roberts (2003) that illustrates what I believe is the very crux of this "liberal feminists" divergence. In the movie, Roberts plays a teacher in the 1950s who challenges her female students at a prestigious private college to question "the system. etc.; While watching the film, a woman is moved to rally behind the teacher (even though most of the students in the film resist). And then you see it: the school nurse is giving out the newly created birth control pills to any girl who asks for them. The biggest problem of the feminism of the 1960s is that it happened in the 1960s. The sexual revolution was supposed to free women, to liberate them. (Liberate them from what exactly? Hmmmm We'll get to that.) As much as it saddens my heart to watch, the film perfectly and accurately portrays the reality of what occurred: the fused intertwining between the feminist movement and the sexual revolution. And therein lays the fracture between the first- and second-wave feminists.
Are our bodies really not relevant?
What spurred on this divergence from the earlier feminists was a mindset that our very bodies and our partaking in child birth and child rearing is in itself oppressive to women. They believed (stemming from their own interpretation of Marxist philosophy) that our bodies were not part of our nature. Thinking this way, what you did with the body did not matter. The sexual revolution and birth control pill allowed women to "have sex as men do" and completely disconnect it from any responsibility.
Despite the divergence, the over-arching goal of feminism is the same. "liberal" and "conservative" feminists alike want a society where women are respected as much as men are. It would be a society in which women are highly valued, not objectified (nor used) and are not left to handle the child-rearing alone. Instead, the childrearing would be shared between men and women. It would be a society where women feel free to be themselves and choose any career they wish. The world would praise, support and encourage her to choose her destiny and never block that path nor demean her in any way.
As Christians, we believe that we were made in the image and likeness of God. Instead of our bodies and their sexual expression being irrelevant to who we are, we believe that our bodies are intrinsic to who we are. We are not some vague, non-gender being. We do not want our femininity stripped away from us, but elevated.
We see this truth come to the surface as statistics confirm that "having sex like a man" is unfulfilling to and depressing women. Generally, men experience sex more physically and women experience it more emotionally. Thus, sexual activity for recreation sake without the personal attachment or long commitment slowly eats away at the heart of the woman.
Sexual freedom vs. chastity
Yet, sexual freedom continues to be a rallying cry of liberal feminism. Which scenario is more supportive and honoring of a woman? This first is a young lady who has sexual relationships throughout high school, feels emotionally empty and used, and reaches a point at 18 where she must choose between having a baby or aborting that baby (both options seem horrid to her). The second scenario is a young lady who does not engage in sexual activity and has boyfriends, but retains her chastity, thereby maintaining her self-respect and joy. She meets a boy in college who has waited as well and they get married after they graduate. She is 22 and pregnant. She is overjoyed. She knows she will never have to face parenting alone. She knows that if her husband could control his sexual passion all this time, then he will be able to be faithful to her and love her respectfully and deeply.
The role of marriage in women's liberation
Perhaps when seeking women's liberation, we threw out the baby with the bath water. Marriage and lifelong, monogamous sexual intimacy is not the prison of feminine slavery that it was thought to be. If there was indeed a problem of only allowing women to stay at home, the solution was not to destroy the home. A truly feminist approach would have honored and supported equality whatever choice women chose.
Liberal feminists speak of this ideal society where women are completely respected and men share in child-rearing. Yet, they kick to the curb the one institution that protects women from being exploited and used, and demands men to become responsible: marriage.
Marriage is the key to women's true equality and liberation, not their oppression. Authentic, self-giving marriage creates for her a place of respect, assuring that her sexuality will not merely be used for another's pleasure but will be honored and cherished. This understanding of marriage demands that a man be compelled to participate in child-rearing.
As the state of marriage deteriorates (from the destruction of the nature of marriage as well as the frequency of divorce), woman's true equality lessens. She is objectified and picked apart, judged by her body and her looks, and left alone to raise the next generation. It is common knowledge that single mothers and children disproportionately suffer from poverty in this country. A society without strong marriages is not a place of equality for women, but a place that perpetuates women's degradation.
If we are seeking a society that respects women and demands that men share the burden of child-rearing, self-proclaimed liberal feminists must finally open their eyes. If they do, they will see that the stone they have rejected must become the cornerstone of the ideal society they claim to be promoting.
Wife, mother of four boys, author, artist and New Feminism Rising blogger (newfeminismrising.com). She loves the way God uses family life to stretch her, but also the way good healthy food shrinks her down again. Originally from New Orleans, she's a southern belle bringing a little warmth to Minnesota.