I love history! It fascinates me – not just because it’s a study of past events but rather because of its insights into human nature. As German author Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel put it back in the 1800s, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” I get his point, but one of the things that I’ve learned from history is that you can only oppress a people group for so long. Eventually a champion will arise to be a voice that says, “Enough is enough.” And so the struggle begins. History is littered with examples:
Think of the abolitionist movement in Britain educating the public and rallying against slavery. Champions like William Wilberforce MP, an evangelical Christian with a passion for social reform, and Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who campaigned for abolition and settled in England. Plus the many slave revolts on the plantations themselves.
Jesus was the ultimate champion who spoke up for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcasts who are often referred to in the Bible as “tax collectors and sinners.” And He got into a lot of trouble for it. He spoke up for lepers, for Samaritans, for prostitutes, for the poor and for women. But it would be many centuries later when women would gradually begin to be emancipated from patriarchal oppression.
Enter Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK to push for the right to vote, run for public office and work for equal civil rights for women. Britain’s Daily Mail called them the “Suffragettes” – a derogatory term but one the women adopted and wore with pride (much like the word “Christian”). From these humble beginnings in 1903 the Suffrage (or feminist) movement spread all around the world. This was not an issue in Australia which was the first country to give women the right to vote and run for public office in 1895. Women are still not allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia or Vatican City.
The feminist movement has largely been a reaction to male chauvinism – the belittling of women and discriminating against them based on the belief that men are superior. Women then are deserving of less than equal treatment, value or advantage. History gives us many examples of this:
Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, regarded females as “imperfect males”
Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian, believed “the woman is inferior to the man in every way.”
A Jewish male in morning prayer would thank God that he was not made “a gentile, a slave or a woman”.
The Islamic Koran states (Quran 4:34): “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.”
According to Gandhi, “A Hindu husband regards himself as Lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon him.”
John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement, wrote this in a letter to his wife on July 15, 1774: “Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me … of what importance is your character to mankind, if you were buried just now or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?” I bet it was a quiet night in the Wesley Household after that .
As far as Christians go, Martin Luther would have to be the greatest chauvinist of all time: “Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” (Works 20.84). “God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.” He goes on to say “We may well lie with what seems to be a woman of flesh and blood, and yet all the time it is only a devil in the shape of a woman.”
History shows us that an extreme is usually corrected by an extreme. There’s no doubt that this is the case with the feminist movement, but it’s an understandable reaction to male chauvinism in an attempt to bring equality between the sexes. There’s obviously still a long way to go, even in Australia, where women are often paid less than men for doing the same job, under represented in politics, business and on boards – and in church leadership.
The Bible teaches that God created men and women equal. Theologian Matthew Henry put it this way, “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.” This is neither chauvinism nor feminism but rather a mutual love and respect for one another that leads to the emancipation of both to be all that we were created to be.