Ross Douthat on Feminism

Ross Douthat writes that a the slew of female primary victors last Tuesday constitutes a victory for feminism—even though they were by and large conservative candidates. He writes:

“What Tuesday’s results demonstrated, convincingly, is that America is now a country where social conservatives are as comfortable as liberals with the idea of women in high office. More strikingly, they’re comfortable voting for working mothers — for women publicly juggling careers and family obligations in ways that would have been unthinkable for the generations of female leaders, from Elizabeth I’s Virgin Queen down to Margaret Thatcher’s Iron Lady, who were expected to unsex themselves before being entrusted with the responsibilities of state…

“Republicans are fielding a crop of female candidates that includes working moms like Haley (who has two kids under 13), Kristi Noem (a 38-year-old mother of three running for South Dakota’s House seat) and Kelly Ayotte (the front-runner in the New Hampshire Senate primary, who has a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old).”

Douthat is right about one thing and wrong about another. He’s right that this is a victory for feminism, even though the feminists don’t see it yet. There has been a massive change in the culture—a change that has transformed the shape of adulthood and families. This is a change largely driven by feminist impulses, and it has made possible these victories.

But I think Douthat is wrong to say this is a “happy” thing. As another report from yesterday’s NY Times discusses, women and men are increasingly viewing marriage and parenthood as a lifestyle options rather than as prerequisites to adulthood. Many women have concluded that “you can have it all” if they simply delay motherhood. Thus there has been a large increase in the number of women older than 35 who are becoming first time mothers. For many, this is simply because career comes first and because children and family are seen as an encumbrance.

These are massive demographic shifts that represent a deleterious trend for families. And this trend is not limited merely to liberals. It is shot through the culture. This is a victory for feminism, but I find it hard to regard it as a good thing.

38 Responses to Ross Douthat on Feminism

  1. Nate June 14, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    This is certainly the Sarah Palin effect as well, for the conservatives anyway. She is the poster-girl for having it all. Regardless of what one thinks of her politics, she is redefining, on the conservative side and probably on the liberal side as well, this notion of how working moms should engage in politics.

    Denny: Isn’t the NY Times article just an affirmation of the 70s feminist movement? Where do you think the roots of delayed marriage and having it all came from? Your statement only affirms what Douthat wrote.

  2. Denny Burk June 14, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Nate, I think that Douthat is correct in his analysis. I think is is wrong to call it a “good” thing. That was my point.

  3. Nate June 14, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Sorry for misunderstanding your point. I agree with you on that!

  4. Denny Burk June 14, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Nate, I just re-read my post and realized that I wasn’t clear. I edited to make it clearer. Sorry!

  5. Donald Johnson June 14, 2010 at 10:43 am #

    I am egal so I had no problem voting for a woman running for VP and would not have a problem with a woman running for any office. If having kids is not a concern for a father running for office, it should not be a concern for a mother. And if some other mother says running for office is NOT for her, that is fine as her choice, and perhaps many will make that choice. Let each family decide for themselves.

    However, those that believe gender roles are specified in the Biblical Origins narratives would seem to be challenged in this area. The more patriarchal non-egals criticized the less patriarchal non-egals for justifying voting for Palin; after all, if there was a God-designed gender hierarchy in the garden before sin, on what basis does a non-egal select when and where it does not apply?

  6. Nathan June 14, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    Nothing “gets my goat” more than saying that marriage and parenthood are prerequisites for adulthood.

    What a load of garbage, Denny. Seriously. I’m a childless, single almost 40-year-old and I’m just as adult as you are.

    With thinking like this running rampant among conservative churches, I wonder why singles find those churches a hostile (even toxic) environment. Seriously…

  7. thefuerstshallbelast June 14, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Good word, Nathan. I was going to raise the same point about that phrase concerning marriage being a prerequisite. I’m married, but apparently I’m more adult than either Paul or Jesus according to this phrase.

  8. Alex Chediak June 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    Nathan,

    I apologize for plugging my own stuff, but I wrote an article dealing largely with your concerns on this matter, and really trying to be even-handed. Here is the link should you find it of interest:

    http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0002123.cfm

    Blessings,
    Alex

  9. Nathan June 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    I read your article (going against my decision never to go to Boundless and read anything ever again). Some of the article I agree with and some I don’t. The biggest thing I think you and your Boundless compadres overlook is singleness is a gift for everyone that has it, not just those meant for lifetime singlness. Also, marriage is a gift for everyone that has it. So, the problems surrounding delaying marriage or getting married too soon deal with wasting a gift by not using singleness & marriage the way God intends.

    IMO, messages/sermons/instruction shouldn’t center on getting married or staying single, but encouraging and equipping people to use their current situation, single or married, to God’s glory.

    I see the immature single guy who only plays video games as sinning by wasting his singleness instead of sinning by not getting married. Those are two vastly different ideas…

  10. Nate June 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Nathan, IMO you are overreaching to state that singleness is a gift for everyone who has it and that marriage is a gift for everyone who has it. At what point is the line crossed? Aren’t all single in adolescence? Do they abuse their gift by desiring to be married and then pursuing that? What Scripture would you base your conclusions on? Furthermore, since the overwhelming majority of individuals will end up marrying, why wouldn’t you expect parents, pastors, and others to train their children to grow up, take responsibility, get married, and raise a family – all for the glory of God. In discussing these issues with them, they should also bring out the idea of singleness for the glory of God, if they believe themselves to be called to that.

    Your statement of encouraging and equipping people to use their current situation, single or married, to God’s glory, makes sense, but only in a context of older adults. While all believers should strive to bring God glory, parents/pastors/leaders should still be training up the young for their adult lives, and 99% will be married.

    To put that off for their own pleasure (whatever that is) brings harm to the people of God.

  11. Nathan June 14, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    Nate, you missed my point entirely.

    From the point of birth to some point after that, EVERYONE is single, so everyone should learn to live a God-honoring single life. And since most will get married, they should learn about living a God-honoring married life. The catch here is the church thinks that these are vastly different lives. I don’t agree.

    Living a God-honoring life means protecting personal purity and giving of oneself to glorifying God. ANY Christian should be others-focused – spending time working in the church and helping others with their own walks with God (both the saved and the unsaved). When a Christian is self-focused it should be regarding their personal growth (prayer, scripture reading, Bible study, etc.), so that they can learn more about helping others.

    A single person and a married person can each do this. There are differences in the way each of these look at each point in time in one’s life (even beyond singleness and married, believe it or not). Those things in the prior paragraph should be the goals of any Christian – notice that if they succeed at these goals, then they are each better equipped to live the life opposite of their current marital status. That’s a good thing because transitions happen in both directions.

    Anyway, I don’t think rejecting singleness flat out is very God honoring. Who is taught to see the goodness in singleness and cherish it and use it while they have it? Nope, supposedly it’s just a time of transition to get through for 99% of people and something “unlucky” that happens to the other 1%.

    Also, it makes me nauseous to think that the people at church consider me to be immature (aka inferior) to them because I’m single.

  12. Sue June 14, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    It is rather odd that one of the roots of feminism is completely overlooked. In the 19th century, only two thirds of women were able to marry, one assumes men also, due to financial considerations.

    While the single men had their own problems, women could be either maids, or prostitutes. Women fought for the right to enter the workplace and earn money in a more honourable way than either official or unofficial prostitution. But here we have Christian men who want to turn back the clock and resubmit women to that kind of social framework.

    I am glad that feminism enables me to have another way to support my children than walk the streets.

  13. Sue June 14, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Actually, it is a good article, allowing feminists to be diverse individuals. Thanks, Denny, good post.

  14. RD June 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    Denny,

    I’ve really enjoyed reading through your blog. I am grateful that you are willing to address some difficult subjects from time to time. Even if we can’t all see eye to eye on everything, at least we can get a better understanding of the variety of viewpoints that exist on any given topic.

    In this post you made the following comment:

    “There has been a massive change in the culture—a change that has transformed the shape of adulthood and families. This is a change largely driven by feminist impulses, and it has made possible these victories.”

    I was wondering if you would elaborate on this statement a bit.

    Thanks much!

  15. Owen June 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Good word, Denny. It was shocking to see how many conservatives–even Christians–supported Sarah Palin’s VP bid a couple of years with seemingly little concern for her five children.

    Reading “Game Change”, the chronicle of the 2008 presidential campaign, one finds that Palin was frequently distressed, distracted, and depressed (she had just given birth). This is a bad development for our society.

  16. Denny Burk June 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    RD,

    One of the tenets of women’s liberation is sexual liberation. Feminists saw that men were able to have sex without the consequence of having to deal with a baby. There was, therefore, a double-standard on promiscuity for men and women. Men could sleep around, and women couldn’t because it might result in a baby. So the pill and elective abortion became fundamental tenets of the women’s lib movement. Women needed a way to sever sex from procreation so that they could have the same freedom that men have. The pill and elective abortion gave that to them.

    The impulse to sever sex from the possibility of procreation has now had a huge impact on the wider culture. It’s not just the feminists who have severed sex from procreation. Almost every person in our culture shares this view without thinking about it. Even married people view having children more as a lifestyle choice than as a natural consequence of married life. It is true that in this fallen world, many couples are infertile and unable to have children. But that sad reality should be viewed as a tragedy, not as a paradigm for understanding God’s design for marriage (Psalm 127:3; Genesis 1:28; 8:17; 9:1, 7).

    Hope that helps.

    Denny

  17. RD June 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    Denny,

    Thanks for the additional thoughts. I appreciate you taking time to shed more light on your original statement.

    I know I must seem to harp on “cultural relevance” in almost every comment I make (I’ve been commenting at some of your other posts), but don’t you think the notion that God has a design for children as a natural consequence of marriage is grounded more in the cultural realities that existed several thousand years ago? When the Israelites were primarily nomadic herders they needed many offspring to assist with the responsibilities of tending herds. Large family=large labor pool.

    You say that choosing to have children has become a lifestyle choice, even among Christians. Well, yes, that’s true. You seem to be making that statement as if it’s a bad thing; as though it’s against God’s will somehow. Am I misreading you here?

  18. RD June 18, 2010 at 6:30 am #

    In the cover story of this weeks Newsweek Magazine, Harvard Divinity School professor, Marie Griffiths says “much of feminism is not only open to religion but has been deeply inspired by it.” The Newsweek story is titled “Saint Sarah: What Palin’s Appeal to Conservative Christian Women Says Abouth Femenism and the Future of the Religious Right”. Has anyone read it? Thoughts?

  19. MW June 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Denny,

    I find myself very concerned about state-ments you made in your June 14th commentary.

    I just learned in my missiology class that the ratio for those going to the foreign mission field is seven women for every one man. Where are the men?? Is there feminism on the foreign mission field, too? Whose fault is this? Why don’t men step up to the plate and be the leaders they are supposed to be?

    Running for political office is a secular event. When Sarah Palin became the running mate of John McCain, Dr. Mohler stated on his radio show that this was biblically acceptable. Please check with him on my accuracy, and I will try to find the recording of the show where he made such statements.

    What about our churches led by male leadership who now enjoy the statistic that more Christians in church divorce at a higher rate than those outside of the church. What about this male leadership example?

    To be clear, I did stay home with my children until they left for college. Also, I do not believe that women should be pastors. But it saddens me to say that many in SBTS like to blame feminism rather than look at the lack of biblical male leadership both inside the church and in the family.

    Perhaps your writing should be more focused on developing men for their assigned leadership roles that God gave them. Focus on the men! By in large, they are not doing the job.

  20. Denny Burk June 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    MW,

    I think your points are valid ones. Feminism blooms best where biblical manhood has withered.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Denny

  21. MW June 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    If “feminism blooms best where biblical manhood has withered,” does this mean that you are going to shift your writings from feminism to communicating in as may ways as you can to help men understand what their biblical leadership role includes? Of course, I do not expect an answer to this question. This is your decision.

    The radio show where Dr. Mohler spoke to the situation previously discussed took place on August 29, 2008, about two thirds through the show.

  22. RD June 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    MW,

    I’m confused about your statment about Dr. Mohler’s comments regarding Sarah Palin. Are you saying that you do or don’t agree with his assessment that her running for VP was Biblically acceptable? Can you clarify?

    As to your statements regarding the role of men and women in the church: the truth is that women, from the very beginning of Church history, have played a very large role in support of the church. Men were in leadership positions within the Church, but as far as congregations went, it was largely the women who made up a large number of the overall participants. Many women who were either well-to-do on their own, or who were married to successful men, were active patrons who financially supported church ministry. That’s why it is so odd to so many of us that women should not be considered worthy to be in leadership roles within the modern church.

  23. MW June 19, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    RD,

    “Running for political office is a secular event. When Sarah Palin became the running mate of John McCain, Dr. Mohler stated on his radio show that this was biblically acceptable.”

    I agree with Dr. Mohler. Hope this clears things up for you.

  24. Donald Johnson June 20, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    If there was a God-designed gender hierarchy in the garden before sin (according to non-egal teaching), on what basis does a non-egal select when and where it does not apply?

  25. MW June 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    DONALD

    The radio show where Dr. Mohler speeks concerning your question would be a good resource for you to investigate in order to gain an answer to your question. On the home page of the Seminary website scroll down and click on “Meet the New American Family . . .” On the next page that will show click on “Radio,” which is found at the top of the page. Type in Sarah Palin in the “Search” area and then find the radio show for August 29, 2008. You are able to move the radio show ahead by starting the show and then clicking in the circle and moving the marker to a little more beyond the half-way point. Or listen to the whole show!

    What I find puzzling is that Dr. Mohler mentions that he has pictures of Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher in his office! Ross Douthat mentions both of these women in his article. Interesting.

    Hope this helps!

  26. Donald Johnson June 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Thanks, the url is

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2008/08/29/making-history-in-the-presidential-race/

    I am chugging thru it and it has only be alluded to up to 26 minutes, but not yet discussed why.

  27. Donald Johnson June 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    I could not find him addressing my specific question. He did assert his non-egal beliefs applied to the family and church (and did not extend them to society). (I did find a lot in the broadcast that I agreed with.)

    As far as I know, all non-egals claim Gen 1-2 teaches non-egalism, while egals claim Gen 1-2 teaches gender equality. So my question seems to stand.

    That is, given the the non-egal claim that Gen 1-2 teaches a gender hierarchy, how can one say it only applies to the family and church and not society?

  28. MW June 20, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

    Donald

    Every Wednesday is “Ask Anything Wednesday” on Dr. Mohler’s radio show.
    Call 1-877-893-8255 on Wednesday and ask your question(s) to Dr. Mohler directly.

  29. Donald Johnson June 20, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    I was asking on this forum, where anyone can answer. I was not asking Dr. Mohler specifically, but he can answer if he reads this.

  30. MW June 20, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    Why are you limiting yourself to one forum?
    There have been just a few people responding on this “forum” so I
    wonder if you truly want an “answer.”

  31. RD June 21, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    Donald,

    I don’t want my response to your question to come off seeming sarcastic or biting. My serious response is that this is just one more example of how Christians pick and choose how closely they are going to adhere to scripture based on their own (or the culture’s) secular views on a given issue. It is why homosexuality is attacked with a much more rigorous attitude than is divorce or even adultery. Conservative Republicans like Sarah Palin (and liked Margaret Thatcher) so they are far less inclined to apply strict biblical interpretation where they are concerned. It is why being a biblical literalist can be so confining. There are times when you have to go through all kinds of theological gymnastics to show that a position is what it is while still conforming to scripture.

  32. Charlton Connett June 21, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    Donald,

    I cannot comment for everyone on my side of the aisle, but to answer your question of why we (non-egals) see a gender distinction that applies to the family but not society requires, I think, a little restructuring of the question.

    For a quick answer, I would say that it would be foolish to argue that what affects the family does not affect society. Thus the hierarchy that applies in the home will necessarily create social constructs that generally agree with that structure. However, the hierarchy of the home does not create social constructs that will agree with the home economy 100% of the time.

    This is also influenced by the fact that what we see in Genesis 1-2 (and through the whole of Scripture, where the Bible is morally prescriptive) is both gender equality and role hierarchy. Gender equality is recognized in that each of the genders, male and female, were made in the likeness of God. Yes, woman is the glory of man (as Paul says) but she is also made, like man, in the image of God. The command to take dominion over all the world was given to men and women. So there is a command that applies to all people, to utilize our gifts, in every station of life, to further the kingdom of God, with no exclusion made on sex.

    However, when it comes to the home role, it was given to the man to lead in the home. But, if man had maintained his sinless state who would have been head of society? Neither men nor women, but God would have been head of society, as each man would have perfectly obeyed God, and each woman as well. In the perfect society the teaching of Scripture is that God is the ruler. Such is the society that I think both non-egals and egals are looking forward to with the coming of Christ, where the God-Man will rule on the throne with his father, and God will dwell with men.

    Thus, all current forms of government are, at best, models pointing us forward to Christ’s return, and at worst are sinful humans attempting to demonstrate their own “godhood” by lording over others with as much power as they are able to muster. The reality is that every government is some cross form of these two. A benevolent monarch who seeks the best for his people and lives sacrificially for them is certainly no more to be condemned in Scripture than a republic by which the citizens seek to limit the authority of government through regulated elections.

    How does all of this answer your question though? Because, the role of governing a nation, or a people, is not given to either man or woman in Genesis, it is given to God. So, after the fall, when human governments are necessary, who should govern? In most situations it will be men, as a reflection of the order given by God in the family. In some situations it will be women, as a reflection of the fact that there is equality between men and women.

    As a non-egal I do not see it contradictory to say that a woman may lead a nation, but not in the church, or in a family (where there is a husband present). Leading in a family was part of God’s original plan, wherein the leadership of the husband was to be an example of the love of Christ for his church. Leading in a church, likewise, is a model of Christ’s leadership, and a reflection of the church-family connection (which many of our churches are sadly missing). Leading in a nation is a recognition of the sinfulness of all people, the fact that we are not willing to follow God and that we need government as an agent appointed by God to exercise authority. Leading in the church, leading in the family, and leading in a nation are not the same thing, though there are close relationships between the family and the church.

  33. Brian Krieger June 21, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Just a general smattering of comments.

    I don’t think there are many Christian folks who claim divorce (or adultery) to be good and God-pleasing (or, rather, the number is exceedingly small that sees things like no-fault as God-honoring). That is not the same for homosexuality. But maybe that tide is changing as well. Regardless, if there were, you would see vehement outcry, I would think.
    I think that complementarianism (don’t know precisely what non-egal is as that could be, technically, anything…also, don’t know what egalism is ;-)) is shown in the garden, pre-fall.

    Order of creation
    Commands going to man
    Naming responsibility, etc., given to man from the beginning.
    Responsibility of fall going to man indicates the responsibility was there prefall.
    Pre-fall complementarianism (order) is subsequently affirmed in NT. More of a point of affirmation.
    The dreaded idea of God making a “helper suitable”
    Woman created “from man”.

    Dr. Ware does a good job of explaining it, if you’re willing to listen.

    That’s why it is so odd to so many of us that women should not be considered worthy….
    It is a decree from scripture that is not based on worth, value or dignity or ability. Though some do see authority as an amount of worth, sadly.

    I agree with MW about Dr. Mohler’s assessment. Also, I think Dr. Mohler had grave reservations about Palin because of her familial responsibilities. But I may be mixing my podcasts.

  34. Nathan June 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Brian, are you kidding? The tolerance for divorce and remarriage after groundless divorces is pretty high. Within in churches and family, I would say that the rate of ACCEPTANCE of divorced people is high and about the same as the rate of REJECTION of homosexuals.

    For my family, the rate of ACCEPTANCE of remarried divored is 100% (2 out of 2), the rate of REJECTION of homosexuals is 100% (1 out of 1).

    My parents would never tell my siblings and their families that they are unwelcome because they are married after a groundless divorce, but I am unwelcome at many levels…

  35. Donald Johnson June 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    There is no explicit gender role order in Gen 1-2, it must be read into it to find it. That is, if you read the text assuming it, voila, you find it; but if you do not read the text assuming it, it is not there.

  36. Brian Krieger June 22, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    Nathan,

    Just to make sure I understand correctly, in your sampling ;-), your parents uplift your siblings’ divorce as God-honoring?

    Part of the issue is that it isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples. A divorce is not an on-going thing (necessarily). Many churches do deny marrying unbiblically-divorced people. I know that churches deny membership (often the only potential impact a church body can have) based on someone denying a sinful divorce. The same goes for discipline and turning away by a church. Also, biblically, practicing homosexuality is categorically called sinful. Divorce is something that has “except” attached to it. Additionally, in many cases, homosexuality is something that externalizes itself. Divorce…not so much.

    All that doesn’t mean that we don’t improperly take a laisser faire attitude toward divorce. We should be involved in others’ lives and strengthening, sharpening, etc. Too often we do avoid the hard questions. We also may not react properly to those dealing with homosexuality. But it doesn’t mean that the bible is suddenly wrong on either of those.

  37. Nathan June 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Brian,

    I didn’t present the values as a statistic sample. I draw my conclusion from who is allowed church membership, what is said from the pulpit and general Christian reaction. Read http://www.dennyburk.com/the-scandal-of-southern-baptist-divorce/ The fact that SBC would do something like this supports my personal experience.

    I admit that my parents would not say that divorce is God honoring, but my parents have two reactions to two different sinful situations both of which are mentioned in Romans 1. (From their perspective, Don.)

    Anyway, I think I misunderstood your previous post as saying that homosexuality is accepted more than divorce.

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