Desiring God has a new ebook out about gender relations. It’s called “Good: the Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood.’ You can download it for free. It’s written by a new generation of complementarians (not to be confused with the new wave of complementarians!). John Piper writes the foreword to this book and he and Wayne Grudem are quoted, but it’s a younger generation of complementarians who have authored this compilation of essays.
In some ways, it’s a winsome version of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The chapters are short and generally stick to theory, so gone are some of the more jarring examples from the Piper/Grudem tome. However, the defensive stance is still present. This is still about culture wars, and nowhere is that clearer than in Courtney Reissig’s chapter on feminism, entitled ‘My Recovery from Feminism’.
Feminism began as a push for equality and has, in many ways, become a push beyond equality. It wasn’t enough to be equal with a man; now women want to be better than a man.
I’ll limit myself to two problems with this statement:
- First, the assumption that equality with men was or has been accomplished. Are men and women equally catcalled on the street? Is (middle) aging equally shameful for men and women? Does the display of their bodies earn equal TV ratings? Are there equal numbers of them dying as a result of domestic violence? Is their parenting equally scrutinised? We don’t even need to talk about gender pay gaps and representation in parliament to see the inequality.
- Second, the notion that feminism is about women wanting to be better than men. This is a tired stereotype that conservatives continue to throw at feminists but which is pretty difficult to sustain once you actually start talking to feminists!
It’s no surprise Reissig makes such a wildly inaccurate statement, considering how out of date her framework is and the fact that the chapter is completely unreferenced. She makes no mention of the fourth wave of feminism, an evolution of feminism which highlights the every day sexism women face, and argues that for men to continue treating women in such a way is dehumanising for men as well. In other words, equality hasn’t been reached, and that’s bad for men as well as women.
However, for Reissig, cultural analysis or engagement are peripheral, because feminism is rooted in Eve’s desire for autonomy from God which led to the Fall. Reissig says:
What we must understand about feminism is that it did not originate in the wake of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s… Feminism started in a garden somewhere in the Middle East thousands of years ago. [The mother of feminism] was Eve. Feminism is at the very heart of our fallen nature.
Every time you feel frustration with a man in your life, that’s your rebellion against rightful authority; that’s feminism according to Reissig. She sees this frustration as completely unnecessary anyway, because God decreed men and women equal. That stands and, in Reissig’s world, hasn’t been disordered by the Fall. It’s as though in Reissig’s world, all the Fall did was make women rebellious. There’s no sense that because of the Fall, women are disadvantaged or maltreated. Thus, the antidote is not to advocate for women’s wholeness; instead, wholeness is to be found in Christ taking away that rebellious impulse. The example she gives in the second last paragraph is of a woman who joyfully chooses marriage and family over a college degree.
Reissig claims that the battle of the sexes continues and she implies that the instigator of this conflict is women. Reading this chapter, I felt like her solution for those of us who see a problem was simply to calm down and stop making a fuss. Reissig’s hope is in the completion Christ will bring on the last day, when the distortions of the Fall will be no more, but she misdiagnoses the issue. She sees feminism as a great enemy that will be defeated on that final day. Her stance is antagonistic (perhaps she would see it as defensive) which prevents her from engaging with anything but a caricature of feminism. If the complementarian case is to be compelling, we’ve got to do better than this. Approaching feminism with fairness and a level head would be a good start. We may even find that some of feminism’s ethical principles cohere with a biblical vision of gender and flourishing.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.