I’ve been reflecting upon and reading the #YESALLWOMEN and the #YESALLBIBLICALWOMEN tweets. The conversation highlights not only the historical and current violence and misogyny women experience, but it also reasserts and reclaims feminism as a positive movement. I’ve read and witnessed too many rants against feminists, and as a Christian feminist, I’m doubly judged—not only by misogynists in popular culture but also by the conservative religious community. My evangelical background has shown me that while misogyny and rape culture reigns in popular culture, these issues thrive within religious communities where “biblical gender roles” and “complementarianism” pit gender equality against God’s will. So if you’re a Christian feminist you’re not just “wrong,” you’re “hellfire and brimstone wrong.”
Most horrendously is the way the religious patriarchy has caused and covered up rape and sexual harassment crimes against women. We’ve seen this in the case of Doug Phillips, where his position as the “biblical leader” within his home established a household where his decisions and authority remained unquestioned—allowing him to sexually abuse his children’s nanny. Numerous Bible colleges such as Bob Jones University and Patrick Henry College have lately gained national attention for not taking rape and sexual abuse cases seriously, for blaming the victim, or for demanding the victim “forgive” her abuser.
Then there is the concept of “biblical gender roles” espoused by many conservative evangelical churches. Referred to also as “complementarianism,” the belief upholds that men and women are equal in terms of moral responsibility and in terms of their need for God’s grace and salvation, but they must have different roles within the household where the woman is the nurturing wife and mother and the man is the breadwinner. Although upheld as “biblical,” complementarianism is really nothing less than the Victorian system of separate spheres—where the woman is idealized as the “Angel of the House” while the man maintains his “manly” duties working outside the home.
Complementarianism thrives among many of my conservative religious friends’ families and I have seen intelligent women attend churches where they are forbidden to teach men. I’ve seen women brainwashed by the concept into following their “spiritual leader” even if their leader’s decisions and beliefs harm their family unit—to protest or question their leader would not be practicing “submission.” I respect a woman’s decision to be a full-time mother, but I’ve seen women frustrated and depressed when they desire to work or pursue a degree outside of their home, but they feel too guilty because doing so would be “selfish” or against God’s will. Most disturbingly, I’ve had women fiercely defend their role as the submissive, nurturing partner to me because even though they might not like it, “it’s God’s law” and should not be questioned. They line out an avalanche of carefully chosen verses in the Bible while ignoring other verses upholding women as leaders, as the first witnesses to the Resurrection, as savvy business negotiators. They also ignore the stories in the Bible where “biblical leaders” rape or try to sell their daughters as prostitutes, where a father burns his daughter alive because he believes it’s God’s will. They ignore the fact that the “spiritual leader” in a home can be morally corrupt or brutal, because well…this would disrupt the essential foundation of their “biblically prescribed” ideology.
Biblical patriarchy and complementarianism assert the worst traits of human nature. We all want to be the boss, to have our way—this is part of human nature and why relationships are so difficult. As a Christian feminist, I believe in fundamental gender equality, that as creations of God men and women have equal value when it comes to giving a hundred percent to the economic and domestic well-being of a household. It would be just as wrong for me to try to rule over my husband as it would be for him to try to rule over me, and thisegalitarianism, this complete mutuality, is what makes our relationship and our household work.