In a word, yes. But maybe the question should be turned back on itself – can feminism support a woman’s right to choose to stay home?
To read more about this series and find Victoria and Emily’s other conversations, click here.
Emily: Yes! Sort of. Let’s define some things first, starting with the way feminism is understood nowadays.
If you look at the roots of feminism, there are certainly aspects that should give the Christian woman pause. Even Elizabeth Cady Stanton, frequently quoted by pro-life organizations, apparently ceased practicing her faith since organized religion in her view denigrated women. Where I fully break with feminism is the ideologies that came out of the 60s under the name of “women’s liberation.” I recently read The Anti-Mary Exposed, a book by Carrie Gress, that articulates the demonic roots of that movement. *Shudders.*
The modern feminist narrative goes something like this: women needed to be liberated from the tyranny of the home, including husbands and children, therefore any woman who remains there does so not by her own conscious choice but because of the ideological constructs forced on her by the patriarchy and/or religion. Women need to be equal with men in order to make this tyranny cease.
When I say I am a feminist, I mean so rather literally, that I want to celebrate everything that is uniquely woman, that I see authentic femininity as a powerful force for bringing out the best in women, men and children, and as the linchpin for the building up of society! The feminism that is nothing more than chauvinism in a skirt (or well tailored pant-suit), that demands the equality of women at the cost of the blood of children and the emasculation of our male complements, that I utterly denounce.
Let’s look that word equality for a minute, because these days it’s become synonymous with sameness, and any thesaurus will tell you that’s wrong. Equality cannot mean sameness because no one is the same. Science shows us that even identical twins carry completely unique sets of DNA, and our faith reveals that no two souls are alike. Demanding that everyone must be the same would make them fundamentally unequal. True equality means that everyone has the right to become precisely who they were made to be, which will look different in every individual case. Oh hey there, God, with your inexhaustible imagination!
Women, it has been rightfully noted, have been mistreated and abused and marginalized throughout all of history. That’s a grave wrong, no doubt, and fighting for equality is an appropriate step to correct that. But equality will not come by claiming victimhood and depriving the designated perpetrators – men and children – of rights and/or life.
True equality will be achieved when all that is good in women and all that is good in men is celebrated and valued – and lived! I want to live in a world that sees authentic femininity and masculinity not as toxins that must be eradicated, but as treasures and gifts that together build the best society.
Victoria: What you’re saying about feminism is way. too. real. Feminism…ugh. You can talk with twenty people and get twenty different things that “feminism” means. It’s hard for me because sometimes I feel like feminism is a term used in place of, well, selfishness. Feminism somehow has come to mean the ability to choose the most selfish path.
I LOVE feminism when it is understood as 1) the ability to discover who we are as women and what God has planned for us and 2) the strength to live our what we are made to be.
When what we’re truly designed to be is at the center, everything falls into place. God calls us so many directions for so many reasons, and it’s so beautiful that not every call is the same. We’re not shaming moms that are called to work outside the home. If that’s your calling then OWN IT and know we love and support you. At the same time, we want to help those moms who are called to stay at home know that their calling is valuable, essential, and worthy.
Because at the center of good feminism is that working moms and SAHMs are able to do what they’re called to do–through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the practicality of their situation.
I was recently asked by a woman in my life whom I respect and who is very empowered: “Don’t you feel like you’re not living up to your full potential?” And…wow. I don’t disparage her for the question; I celebrate the conversation it started. Because, as a stay-at-home-mom, I’m doing what I was designed and called to do. Do I want whatever flavor of “feminism” led her to ask me that? Yeah, no thanks. I’m good without it.
Emily: Ahhh I can’t! And I hate that phrase, but it’s the only one appropriate here. I just can’t! It’s funny because I literally just wrote an Instagram post about how motherhood has made me feel more comfortable, more creative and more myself than I have my entire life.
If anything, being confined within my home has helped me begin to realize my “full potential”. There is nothing like being around two miniature narcissists day in and day out to make you check your own ego and develop some real character. I’m realizing that my children will learn to behave not so much from what I tell them but from what I show them. Who they will be kind of comes down to how I act. If I want my children to know how to love sacrificially, then I have to be that kind of love to them. It hurts. It’s so uncomfortable. And there’s so many times a day that for all things holy I just want to say no! But what potential should I be trying to achieve other than being a saint?
And maybe that’s really where modern feminism got its (waxed) legs. Maybe at the end of the day what it’s really all about is saying “no” to our individual crosses. That “pain on the front end, glory on the back end” of Christianity is a tough sell, let’s be honest. Sainthood isn’t glamorous till we’re six feet under. All the painstaking work to form people and dedicate your life to making a home, it’s all so hidden and so unsung. It makes mothercraft a pretty unappealing job. It’s so much easier to say: Hey, chuck that cross! It’s ugly and it’s heavy. You should be seen and celebrated!
I can completely understand that because it was such a struggle when I made the decision to stay home. The recognition that I had come to thrive off of in the workplace was suddenly gone. Now I get a new kind of recognition, more rare, but more precious. When people tell me my kids are well behaved and obedient, it fills me with pride because it took so much work – mostly work I’ve had to do on myself.
So back to your friend’s question about living up to your full potential (because I still can’t haha). Neither motherhood nor a career alone would ever be enough for me to reach my “full potential.” Rather, it’s having the freedom to be exactly who God made me to be that is fulfilling. That’s what a feminism worthy of the name should be fighting for.
Victoria: You stated so perfectly that: “It’s having the freedom to be exactly who God made me to be that is fulfilling.”
I’m going to go on a little tangent about that freedom. Back when I was in college studying psychology (my goodness I don’t want to even think about how long ago that was—I’m old), one of my focuses (foci?) of study was Positive Psychology. It is a fascinating field of study, and at its core is a powerful truth. You can’t just remove a negative. You must build a positive to take its place. You can’t just remove an addiction, you must build habits of self care. You can’t just lessen patterns of ruminative thought, you must also practice and develop patterns of positive thinking.
Overall, it is more powerful and life-changing to build positives than it is to tear down negatives. What’s more, if you remove a negative without implementing a positive, you run the risk of having a new negative grow in its place, or having the old negative come back.
Back to freedom. Women have suffered and do suffer injustice. Women were and are limited by controlling, oppressive, evil people and structures. The feminism that has worked to remove these negatives is essential to a just society. As we bring down the negatives (the injustices that women have faced), however, we must be very intentional about what we are building in their place.
When we tear down injustice against women, are we building a culture that truly respects women? Are we building a world that enables them to live out what they were designed to be, that allows them to thrive as professionals, mothers, wives, as they choose or as they’re called to, that respects the responsibilities placed in their lives (work, children, etc.) and empowers them in the sacrifices they make?
I think the fact that we’re having this conversation in the first place suggests that the answer to these questions is no, or at least, a very qualified yes. Women have worked hard to tear down negatives in their lives, for which I am grateful. But I’m afraid that unless we work intentionally to build positives in our lives, were just going to have a different negative, a different oppression pop up in its place.
Example. Many women feel pressured to “be it all” – the perfect professional, mother, wife. I’ve been there. I fall into that all the time. And I can’t help but feel that as I was freed from being confined to the home, I’ve been enslaved to the need to achieve all things. I was freed “for” something that was just as enslaving, if not more so.
I am grateful for the ways that feminism has sought to improve my life as a woman. But I refuse to let it take me away from what I’m called to be.