Jump directly to the content

Apr 9 2014
Betty Friedan did not start the “woman movement;” Christians did.

Editor's note: Today's post concludes our (extended) Women's History Month series, connecting our contemporary efforts for justice with the Christian women who came before us.

Some evangelicals teach that women were content with their lot in life until Betty Friedan came along and started the feminist movement. Then, women became angry, defensive, and demanded more rights. Indeed, the way the story often gets told, Betty Friedan started the women's movement both outside the church and within it.

The only thing wrong with this version of history is that it's inaccurate. And if we believe Jesus is the Truth, we need to tell the story as it actually happened.

A few years ago, Stephanie Coontz published an article in the New York Times titled "When We Hated Mom." She referenced the tendency to misread American history by blaming Betty Friedan for inaugurating an attitude of decreased respect for the job of stay-at-home mothers and a resulting exodus of women from homemaking as a primary job.

At one time I would have challenged Coontz's view, but having spent the past few years reading primary historical sources, including those by godly people, I find I now agree with her timeline. Such thinking began much earlier. And so did another phenomenon we usually say Friedan sparked—the push for women's legal and social equality with men both in and outside of the church.

Unfortunately, evangelicals have been part of the group misreading this part of our history. Thus, we have generally connected the more visible involvement of women in the church with a perceived capitulation to a culture influenced by Friedan's thinking.

That is, we've said women's increased involvement in leadership goes back only as far as the inauguration of second-wave feminism. Yet long before the publication of Friedan's classic, The Feminine Mystique, men and women of faith argued for and enjoyed women's greater involvement in society and the church.

Because Protestants do not celebrate saints' days, we miss out on learning about many great women in Christian history. One such example is Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, the 7th-century woman celebrated every November 17. She led a large community of men and women studying for God's service, five of whom went on to become bishops. She brought the gospel to ordinary people, but kings and scholars also sought her counsel. A missionary, teacher, and educator, she led an abbey that became one of the great religious centers of North Eastern England.

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Comments

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

orSubscribeor
More from Her.menutics
Q+A: Why Letting the Dishes Go Can Save Your Soul

Q+A: Why Letting the Dishes Go Can Save Your Soul

In her latest book, Shauna Niequist trades “competition, comparison, and exhaustion for meaning, connection, and unconditional love."
After Childhood Abuse, How Can I Trust Others with My Kids?

After Childhood Abuse, How Can I Trust Others with My Kids?

I equip my daughters to protect themselves and their bodies in ways I didn’t learn to.
Too Many Transitions Can Traumatize Our Kids

Too Many Transitions Can Traumatize Our Kids

I know from experience what happens when children face moving, divorce, or other stressful life change—and how we can help them.
The 5 Truths Stay-at-Home and Working Moms Can Agree On

The 5 Truths Stay-at-Home and Working Moms Can Agree On

After interviewing 120 women, I saw glimmers of a truce in the Mommy Wars.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

The Truth About Living with an Invisible Illness

God sees me and my pain even when others cannot.

Follow Us

Twitter

  • Shauna Niequist opens up about 201cthe most rewarding change201d of her adult life https://t.co/sXsy7n5Sjb
  • Mmm... @Rachel_M_Stone takes us back with some church snack memories d83cdf6a https://t.co/P4cabltG2w
  • If you like your movies wonky, feminist, and a little preachy, Equity proves a compelling choice @alissamarie https://t.co/BZCN8fi2OE
  • RT @Jenpmichel: "Faith grows with strain and tension, even from the furnace of our own heart2019s fear." https://t.co/RENugj0bHR
  • @Jenna_DeWitt @sniequist Thanks for reading and sharing, Jenna! d83ddc95


What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies

Christianity Today
The Feminists We Forgot