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RetroWomen: The Rise of Gender Fundamentalism

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Earlier this year, I provided a link to a video of a fundamentalist teacher in the UK. His comments about women and what he saw as their God-created role (little more than animals, created to serve and please men) were understandably shocking to many readers. Quite a few of those who responded wondered why I had bothered to draw attention to the perspectives of an isolated extremist. No one could possibly take him seriously. This kind of primitive thinking had been "dealt with" since the ?60s, and there was no reason to spend time and energy on it now. We're well into the new millennium. Now, Christian women believe that if they've been given gifts, they have a divine call to use them, wherever God leads. End of story.

I've mused about those responses the rest of this year. Were they right? Has the perspective that women are made solely for men's pleasure and use truly been relegated to the annals of history?

This fall, The Los Angeles Times ran an article entitled, "Stubborn Stains, Cookie Baking on Syllabus." Its opening lines:

"You hear that a lot (about gender) on the lush green campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. God values men and women equally, any student here will tell you. It's just that he's given them different responsibilities: Men make decisions; women make dinner. This fall, the internationally known seminary - a century-old training ground for Southern Baptists - began reinforcing those traditional gender roles with college classes in homemaking. The academic program, open only to women, includes lectures on laundering stubborn stains and a lab on baking chocolate-chip cookies."

To sophomore, Emily Felts, the new curriculum comes as good news. Instead of studying pre-law, she has something she believes is more hands-on, more in sync with what she believes God had in mind for her in the first place. "My created purpose as a woman is to be a helper," Felts said firmly. "This is a college education that I can use."

Emily isn't the only young woman rethinking what it means to be female in the 21st century. At MarsHill Church in Seattle (a congregation of mostly twenty and thirty-somethings), women are regularly encouraged to leave education and professional careers behind, embrace homemaking, and do their part to repopulate their godless city with Christians. In a recent Salon magazine article, one attendee, Judy, reflects on her choice:

"Judy no longer reads secular books or speaks to her old friends. She is now a deacon at Mars Hill and is responsible for planning the weddings held there, which always include a biblical explanation of marriage and gender roles; each year Mars Hill averages about one hundred marriages between couples within the congregation, all of whom must agree with (the doctrine of wifely submission). Between her marriage ministry, the women's Bible study she runs, her two small children, and taking care of her husband and her home, Judy says she doesn't have time for many relationships anyway, and when she starts to home-school her kids soon, her time will be even tighter. ?It's not what I ever imagined?or even what I ever wanted, but it's my duty now, and I have to learn to live with that.'"

January04, 2008 at 10:37 AM

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