To me, "WHY NOT?" evoked a challenge to dream big and work hard to reach my potential, and I enthusiastically distributed pamphlets and lapel buttons advertising the slogan. But somewhere along the way, feminism began to betray its noble ideals and turned divisive and destructive. Rather than extolling women's abilities and opportunities, feminism began promoting women as helpless victims of an evil male conspiracy. Instead of encouraging partnership between men and women, feminism began pitting the sexes against each other in an ever-escalating gender war.
Now, most women refuse to identify themselves with the feminist movement. While supporting the ideals of classical feminism, they want nothing to do with today's movement.
All this has created a vacuum of purpose in North America. Classical feminism earned women the right to achieve. Now women are longing for it all to mean something.
The Secularization of Feminism
Feminism's earliest roots were rooted in biblical principles. Many 19th century feminists were Christians, whose concern about human suffering and oppression inspired their passionate crusade for equality and justice.
Eventually the efforts of the founding mothers of feminism won changes for women such as the rights to vote and own property. Laws regarding marriage, divorce and child custody were made more equitable.
Feminism was revitalized in the 1960's and 1970's in North America, attracting young women like me. As baby boomers who entered adulthood at a time of unprecedented prosperity, we were granted far more opportunities than those available to our mothers a generation earlier. Feminism resonated with this generation of young women.
During the 1970s, the movement focused mainly on promoting more opportunities for women. However, the movement's philosophical foundation was no longer based on biblical principles. Unfortunately, the church had never taken on a very active role in addressing injustices concerning women, and in the midst of this spiritual vacuum, feminism became completely secularized.
As the psalmist said, "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1).
It didn't take long for the seeds of secularism to bear fruit. By the 1980s, the majority of feminist leaders and writers were insisting that for women to be truly free, they must emancipate themselves from marriage and motherhood. They promoted the idea that there is something intrinsically evil in masculinity that causes men to enjoy oppressing women. Antagonism escalated towards the Christian and Jewish faiths, and goddess worship became popular in feminist circles.
Though feminism is often promoted as the bastion of liberty and self-fulfillment, in recent years the movement has fostered bondage, emptiness and brokenness.
Filling the Vacuum
Disillusioned with feminism yet still longing for the sense of purpose that attracted them to the movement in the past, many women have turned to New Age spirituality and self-help gurus to fill the spiritual vacuum.
A survey of 2500 women, published in the August 2002 issue of Redbook Magazine, found that 61% said they believe the key to happiness is "spirituality."
The fact that women are searching is encouraging. The fact they are searching for truth in all the wrong places challenges Christians to become more relevant in communicating the gospel.
I believe there are two key reasons why many women shun Christianity. First, many mistakenly equate Christianity with dead religion, having grown up in homes where religion was merely a Sunday ritual. That was my experience. I was raised in a church-going family, but never understood that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
In my college years - hungry to connect with God but believing I had already "tried" Christianity - I became immersed in New Age philosophy. Then, at the age of 24, I met a young couple who explained how I could know God personally through Jesus Christ. Instantly, I knew this the truth I had been searching for during my unsatisfying sojourn through New Age spirituality.
The second reason why many women shun Christianity is because of real or perceived injustices concerning the church's treatment of women. Some denominations still perpetrate the idea that women are created to be little more than a domestic appendage to their husbands. In many churches, no place is made for the expression of women's spiritual and leadership gifts. Some even teach that biblical submission includes accepting abuse.
Several years ago my co-worker, Sharon, said, "I could never accept Christianity because it advocates the abuse of women." She shared how her ex-husband quoted scripture to her while beating her. No wonder Sharon believed that Christianity was a "repressive, anti-female religion."
I gave Sharon a Bible and said, "The Jesus Christ I know would never advocate the abuse of women. But why don't you read about him in the gospels and decide for yourself?" She accepted the challenge, and within a few months Sharon embraced Jesus Christ as her own personal Savior.
Jesus' words pierce through veils of legalism, lies and counterfeit religion. The simple gospel message of forgiveness, healing, and destiny is what spiritually hungry, post-feminist women long to hear.
Much has been said about women's roles. Jesus, however, never put women in boxes. Each of us has different gifts, talents, hopes, dreams and callings. Whether we are doctors, stay-at-home mothers, lawyers, ministers, housewives, secretaries, or artists - I believe that women from all walks of life share two basic heart longings. We long to be free from inner oppression. And we long to discern and embrace our purpose for living.
Jesus is the answer to both these longings. In the gospel of Luke, he said he came "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed..." For those who embrace his gift of salvation, Jesus brings freedom from the inner chains that bind us.
God also promises that those who embrace Christ will find the purpose they long for. One of my favorite scriptures is Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). As we grow in our relationship with Christ, we are also released into a destiny that is far greater than anything we could dream or imagine.Feminism offers a counterfeit freedom that eventually leads to bondage, bitterness and despair. Jesus is the true Liberator, the one who satisfies our heart longings, releases our potential, and empowers us to become the women we were created to be.
Judy Rushfeldt is an author, speaker, and online magazine publisher who has been writing for 25 years. Her passion is to inspire and equip women to reach their dreams. Reprinted with permission from LifeToolsForWomen.com. Answers © 2007 AnswersForMe.org. Click here for content usage information.