Women, do you know who you are?
“The men don’t get it,” scream the women.
Men are perpetually being blamed for not understanding women, their needs, their wants and their identities.
My question to my fellow-genders: Do you know who you are? Or are you just dictated by worldly influences?
During the Victorian age (1867- 1901), men and women supposedly know their marital and parental roles. The Doctrine of Separate Spheres popular in those days asserts that men and women possess totally different nature, functions, and purposes. Hence, there is a need to separate men’s spheres from that of the women’s. Specifically, women are indoctrinated with aspirations to become homemakers—good wives and good mothers. Along with the roles, society also dictates that women should be pious, pure, domestic, and submissive. These are virtues that make up “True Womanhood”.
A part of the Bible that is often quoted to describe the ideal wife-material is Proverb 31. Proverb 31:10-31 throws a divine challenge to womanhood: a hardworking homemaker who sets about her days even before the crack of dawn, a nurturing mother, and an indispensable helper. At first glance, the concept of the Victorian Age seems to be in sync with what the Bible teaches; but is it?
The Victorian age resurfaced sometime in the 1950s and people living in that generation hailed the movement as being the ideal scenario of how Christian women should conduct themselves.
I grew up in a time when the feminist movement propagated ideas that were championed and touted as the answers to how a woman should behave and act.
The feminists tell the women, “Abandon your family. Stand up against your husband. Go for that career that you want. Always insist on equality. Equal pay, equal promotion system, equal opportunity, equal suffrage rights, equal everything…”
So, being young and impressionable, I grew up digesting all those ideas without ever questioning whether all these ideas are true. Whenever my mother expressed her disagreements on this way of thinking, I would dismiss her as being old-fashioned.
One salient point that is often a sore point among the feminists concerns the order of creation. The Bible describes how Eve is taken out of Adam’s ribs, so that she may be called the “the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh”, where “my” refers to Adam’s (Genesis 2:23). In addition, the Bible also addresses the reason for Eve’s creation. It says, “… for Adam no suitable helper was found.” (Genesis 2:18) God thus sees it imperative that Eve is created in order to help Adam.
As I ponder on the word “helper”, as used in Genesis 2:18, I learn the implications it carries. In whatever a helper does, she is doing it for the benefit of the person that she is helping (ie. her man). Furthermore, the word “helper” also suggests submission to the will of her man (Ephesians 5:22-23).
“Surely God does not expect any modern girl to submit to anyone’s wishes, right?” argue the feminists. They persuasively argue that such is not the time for women to bow down to anyone anymore. No educated women of this modern age would believe the absurdity of being a help after pursuing tertiary education.
A Christian Woman’s Response
The world has its own definition on what it means to be a woman. To the world, being a woman may mean being chic and glamorous, being flawlessly attired with not a single strand of hair out of place, or it may also mean putting your apron on to whip up some exotic cuisines worthy for a king while skillfully and lovingly attending to a bunch of unruly kids.
It is very important for Christians to recognise such influences as what they are—worldly influences that is not the way of our Father in Heaven. I am not saying that a lady cannot choose her profession, neither am I saying that she cannot stay home to be a full-time homemaker. What I am saying is that Christian women need to be able sieve out what is merely a fad from what our Heavenly Father desires of us.
So, with that in mind, let’s examine what is so wrong about both of these eras:
Firstly, the Victorian Age. Despite its seemingly well-founded virtues, “True Womanhood” in the Victorian age is far from the concept that the Bible teaches us. It is thus dangerous to shape our concept of a Christian lady based on what goes on during the Victorian era.
One of the shortfalls of such a system is that along with the role of a nurturer, women are also tasked with the role of guardians of morality and religion. Christianity becomes a sphere that is assigned specifically to women, making them a morally superior gender. Surely this is against the biblical idea of women being helper of men, for how can the helper be someone greater than her man?
(Ada ayat pendukungnya. Mengapa Kristus lahir laki2 dan menjadi standar moral semua manusia?)
Another shortfall of the system is that the separation of men’s and women’s spheres is done as a mere phenomenon. Historian Barbara Welter says, “If anyone, male or female, dared to tamper with the complex of virtues which made up True Womanhood, he was damned immediately as an enemy of God, of civilization, and of the Republic. It was a fearful obligation, a solemn responsibility… to uphold the pillars of the temple of True Womanhood.” Without a true understanding of what the Bible teaches, mere fear of punishments is not a good enough reason. History then proves how the Victorian age got swept away by other phenomena.
Secondly, the Feminist Movement. The feminists’ propaganda against women’s submission stems from the argument that women are getting the short end of the stick: There is no equality in expecting a woman to help her man because the very notion is so offensive in that it suggests that men and women are of different status.
Again, such is not what the Bible teaches. Genesis 2:23 gives us a better clue as to the status of men and women originally intended by God. In the human anatomy, flesh and bones span the entire structure of our body, from the top of our head to the bottom of our feet. A woman being “the flesh of (a man’s) flesh and bone of (the man’s) bones” suggests the idea of man and woman being one. Would it then be correct to say that a woman is of a different status from a man when they are but one?
Furthermore, Ephesians 5 may be misunderstood by the feminists and potentially a lot of other people who do not fully consider Paul’s intention in writing this passage. Far from putting the women down, this passage is really, in its essence, a call to live a life in reverence for Christ, as mentioned in Ephesians 5:21.
Here, the passage from the Bible teaches us that two different entities can be ontologically (in nature or essence) the same and yet be functionally different. In spite of God the Father and God the Son being ontologically the same, 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, “… God (the Father) is the head of Christ (God the Son).” Similarly, in spite of a woman being “the flesh of a man’s flesh and the bone of the man’s bones,” the same passage also says that the husband is the head of his wife. Isn’t it a wonder how an entity finds it possible to submit to another entity of the same essence? It may sound impossible but God has shown us how. That a woman can live out her life in submission to her man is the reverence for Christ that the Bible teaches.
In addition, Ephesians 5:25-33 points out that His church is called to submit to the Lord while Christ is called to lay down His life for His church. Similarly, women are called to submit to her man just as men are called to love and nurture. However, such biblical concept should not be misinterpreted as a mere quid pro quo or an equal exchange, where a woman should only submit to her man after the latter has proven his sacrificial love by laying down his life. Such misinterpretation is an absurdity!
So, going back to the question of whether “…God expect(s) a modern girl to submit to anyone’s wishes…”, a repentant feminist who has not known Christ would merely point out the necessity of a compromise (even to the point of submission) in a long-lasting marriage.
In response to the same question, a repentant feminist who has accepted Christ would regret the arrogance of her words because her standing as a modern girl is not the reason for God’s salvation. In fact, it was through no deeds of hers that she received her salvation. Such question thus stands invalid.
One valuable lesson that I have learnt and will carry with me through this search to define the Christian women is that there will be plenty of phenomena that tell us who a woman is and how she is supposed to carry herself. Such phenomena often disguise themselves as having biblical roots. Our challenge is to be able to sieve out the fallacies and misrepresentations and to strengthen or reinforce our belief in the definition and role of a true Christian woman. This is where gaining a true understanding of the words of the Lord and applying them in our life becomes an essential part of a Christian’s walk.
So, can you, as a Christian woman, discern the true from the false? Do you now know who you are?
1. Birkett, Kristy; Dowe, Joanne. God and Women. The Briefing. Issue #55. 19 Sep 1990.
2. Elliot, Elisabeth, 1984. Passion & Purity.
3. Ferguson, Sinclair B., 1982. Menemukan Kehendak Allah.
4. MacDonald, Hope, 1990. Traditional Values for Today’s New Women.
5. Mathews, Alice; Hubbard, M. Gay, 2004. Marriage Made in Eden: A Pre-Modern Perspective for a Post-Christian World.
6. Woodhouse, John. Side by Side: God’s Purposes and Our Partnership. The Briefing. Issue #219. 6 May 1998.