I have watched with growing concern as girls have been molded, influenced, and, in many cases, damaged by a false worldview that has permeated western society at every level. As a teacher on playground duty in the 1990s I saw little sevenand eight-year-old girls forsaking their skipping ropes for the opportunity to sing and dance along to the latest Spice Girls song. They knew the lyrics by heart, and the dance routines were copied exactly as their pop idols had modelled them on the television. The fact that the girl-power lyrics were beyond their understanding and that the sexualized dance routines were performed in all innocence by these little children did not take away from the fact that they were being given a view of womanhood that would affect them deeply and influence their behavior and attitudes in untold ways as they grew up. Even secular commentators are now concerned about what is happening to girls and women in our culture. Maggie Hamilton writes,
Alongside the fragmentation of family and community due to relationship breakdowns, greater mobility, long working hours and time deprivation, we have seen the rise in the power of the media and the new technologies. These forces are exposing girls to concepts way beyond their years. They make it easy for girls to lead lives that their parents know nothing about. What was once the domain of adults has become part of the lives of our children. The need to appear “out there” helps to explain why girls are pushing the sexual boundaries so young, why pornography has so much appeal to girls, and why there has been an alarming increase in sexually transmitted diseases amongst our teenagers.3
There is obviously more to the decline of womanhood than simply the imbibing of unhelpful lyrics in a pop song. There is an alternate worldview working against what the Bible teaches about womanhood.
A worldview is a way of interpreting the world. It seeks to explain events and set life in a context. Every worldview has its own narrative that can be broken down into 3 parts: (1) Creation—origins/how things began; (2) Fall—how things have gone wrong/obstacles to progress; (3) Redemption—how things can be put right/the way forward. A person’s worldview can be discovered in the answers he or she gives to 4 key questions:4 (1) Who am I? (2) Where am I? (3) What’s wrong? (4) What is the solution? A worldview, therefore, sets forth a “truth”—articles of faith according to its own set of assumptions. Consumerism, secularism, feminism and every other “ism” has a “gospel” of its own.
We will follow a creation, fall, redemption structure in exploring how to raise girls to be godly women in a confused and conflicted culture.
Creation: God’s Good Order
Genesis 1 opens with the words of the Creator God who dispels darkness, emptiness, and chaos and brings light, fullness, and order. The eternal relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit spills over into the creation of the cosmos. The sheer power, drama, and exuberance of the event display the greatness of this God. In Genesis 2 he is called the Lord God—Yahweh Elohim—the covenant God. This Creator is not remote. Relationship is core to all that he is. The Trinity will be reflected in the world he has made. There is purpose and there is promise in Yahweh Elohim. And so he makes a man.
In Gen 2:18 God says that it is not good for the man to be alone, but it is not until all the animals have been brought to Adam and named that woman is formed and brought to him. Adam is made to feel his need before the promise of a “helper” is fulfilled by God.
Eve, like Adam, was created by God to be an image bearer and together they shared the Creation Mandate and the Cultural Mandate—God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and to rule and subdue the earth. God’s benevolent rule and order were established in this creation mandate and in the words of God himself, “It was very good.” The picture, then, is of creation existing in perfect harmony with itself and its creator. Within this context, total transparency and trust characterized the relationship between God and the first family and was reflected perfectly in the way Adam and Eve related with each other and the creatures they ruled. There was order in these relationships. We will return to that later, but for now we note the following:
Adam and Eve are given “dominion”—kingly rule over the earth. Their own relationship is that of equals. Their origins, gifts, characteristics and callings, however, are not the same. There are important differences. This relationship is based on complementarity (different but equal) not egalitarianism (equal because of sameness). Just as in the Trinity, there is order but total equality—so it is with these perfect human beings in a perfect world. Sharon James writes, “Adam was incapable of fulfilling the creation mandate alone, and, even more profoundly, he was in need of a relationship with another human being. But although woman was one ‘of the same kind’ as himself and perfectly equal in dignity, she was gloriously different. They fitted together.”5
Fall: Conflict and Confusion
When Eve was deceived and ate the forbidden fruit, her role of “helper” was corrupted. She and Adam turned their back on the true Word of God and followed a lie. Instead of “being like God” when they ate the fruit, they became separated from God and divided from one another. God’s created order had been deliberately and cunningly overturned by the Enemy in the form of a serpent. A member of the animal kingdom speaks a word (a lie) that is acted upon by the woman. The man then has to give account to God. The catastrophic consequences of sin and rebellion against God’s commands radically altered the nature of all relationships, and the Creator’s order was reversed. After judgement is passed, God restores His original order. He begins with Adam, then Eve, then the serpent. The effects of sin on the man and the woman will be distinctive. Man has been formed from the earth, and it is from the earth that he will feel the full effects of the curse. The woman had been formed from the man. It is in the area of relationships, especially with men that she will most feel the effects of the curse. In every age and every culture we find evidence of the tensions this created. From now on, men and women will not live in perfect harmony in a perfect world and in perfect relationship with their God. Until the end of time there will be suffering, pain, and death—physically, spiritually, and relationally.
This conflict introduced at the Fall must frame our thinking about the feminist movement in our own day. We need to understand, moreover, the dominant worldview in our culture so that we can equip our girls to stand for Christ in this generation, discerning truth from falsehood and growing into godly women.
The Industrial Revolution
The upheaval of the Industrial Revolution had untold consequences for the developed world. Before that time, family and community life had continued in much the same way for millennia. According to Nancy Pearcey, “The vast majority of people lived on farms or in peasant villages. Productive work was done not by lone individuals but by families and households…. [T]he boundary between home and world was highly permeable…. It meant that husband and wife worked side by side in the same economic enterprise.”6“With production centred on the family hearth husbands and fathers were ‘a visible presence, year after year, day after day’ as they trained their children to work alongside them. Being a father was not a separate activity to come home to after a day at work; rather, it was an integral part of a man’s daily routine.”7
Within a generation the advent of the industrial age and mass production shifted the economic base, from the home to the factory and the office. Mass migration from the countryside to the towns and cities followed with unforeseen consequences, particularly within the family. As men left their homes to work in the new industries the following things happened:
- Wage earning and domestic duties became separated. A public/private divide began to operate in society.
- Men spent far less time with their families, and the home became the woman’s domain.
- Skills and attitudes to work that had been handed down from father to son for generations were lost as new and specialised practices were demanded in the new workforce.
- Women were denied the opportunity to develop their skills and make their contribution to the productivity of the extended family. Previously, they had worked alongside their husbands and families in farming or trade, now they gradually moved from being producers to being consumers.
- Social interaction became more limited for women who were confined to home. They were isolated with their children. As opportunities to participate in the wider world decreased for women, so their responsibilities within the family increased—often without the support of extended family around them.
- The workplace became competitive—the place where a man proved his worth and individual advancement was the reward. The ground had shifted. In the colonial period husbands and fathers viewed themselves as the head of the household in order to provide for and protect the whole family and community. It was, at its best, a self sacrificing model of leadership, but now self-interest and personal ambition were promoted in the workplace so that the wheels of industry would turn for profit. Individualism overtook communal manhood.
- The requirement for men to take the moral lead was eroding. Increased pressure came upon women to maintain moral values in the home. They now had the primary role of raising the children in the virtues that were necessary for civilized society—communal responsibility, religion and self-sacrifice, as well as creating a “haven” for the husband—to balance the temptations of the world outside. Religion and social reform came to be seen as predominantly feminine interests. Women were expected to take the lead in maintaining moral standards in the family and in society whilst men were to be the rugged individualists who proved their worth through success in the workplace and whose input to family life was secondary to that of his wife.
The increased pressures that industrialization brought to bear on social structures in general and the family unit in particular were enormous. Some kind of reaction was inevitable.
Liberal feminism began, as a movement, in the late eighteenth century and eventually saw the granting of the vote, property rights, access to education and to the professions at the beginning of the twentieth century. The radical feminism that replaced it and reached its zenith in the 1960s was very different, as we shall see.
The Righting of Wrongs
There is no doubt that many women have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of ungodly male leadership. It is not difficult to find examples of injustice against women, from the wife and mother who feels isolated and taken for granted on the one hand to the victim of domestic abuse, on the other. The oppression of women by men is well documented: “[T]hroughout history men have tyrannised women, whether by wife-beating, polygamy, rape or forced prostitution. There are records through the ages of women being raped by conquering armies, but the worst instances have probably taken place this [twentieth] century.”8
Equality and justice are important concepts to us, as human beings. The problem lies in the definitions of those two concepts and the remedies that were offered in order to restore them. The Women’s Movement’s focus on legitimate grievances became the tool for an attack on the traditional roles of men and women, and then for women to attempt to displace men altogether.
According to Sharon James,
A small number of thinkers aimed, in effect, to liberate women from their womanhood. The very things that were of central importance for so many (marriage, motherhood, homemaking) were derided as being fit only for those who were mentally subnormal or emotionally weak. These ideas could not have insulted women more…. [T]he adoption of these ideas led to misery and frustration. Far from being liberated by modern feminism, women have been betrayed.9
The Corruption of Good Intentions
The sincere feminist then was concerned to see an end to injustice and oppression in the world. Their cause was about the welfare of women and children, and social justice. This was to be achieved through protest, petition, and persuasion, leading to a change in public policy.
But then “equality” became the watchword. The politics that surround this idea and the egalitarian belief system that developed from it are clearly identified in much of the revolutionary rhetoric that found its way into the women’s movement. Let’s take a closer look at its appeal.
What meaning does the word equality convey to us?
It has long been a strategy in debate to disprove or discredit your opponent’s argument by taking it to extremes or aligning it with the unacceptable. We would want to align ourselves with the list on the left. These are good ideals. (In fact, the only category we might argue with is “sameness,” and that is the nub of the issue. The misguided idea that equality must mean “sameness,” has now grown deep roots in popular thinking. To be equal but different is seen as contradictory. For the modern feminist, women have to be the same as men, socially, economically, and politically, in order to be equal with them.
“Ours is the age of modernism, with a great emphasis on egalitarianism and on sexuality,” writes Paul Vitz.
These two elements have combined to create the modern emphasis on androgyny. Androgyny or unisex is the notion that sexuality, male and female, is not fundamental to our nature, that all forms of sexuality are equivalent and basically arbitrary. From an androgynous perspective, male and female are not part of the nature of reality—much less of the nature of who each person is.10
Social Upheaval and Power Games
Early Feminists concluded that the only way for women to gain recognition and engage in the public sphere again was to leave the private sphere of the home—which to them had become oppressive—and join the men in the workplace. This meant that the training and discipline of the next generation was passed from mothers to “professionals”—child care workers and teachers. The public sphere was increasingly secular in its philosophy and practice. Within two generations parental responsibility for the spiritual and moral development of their children passed from fathers to mothers to “experts.” The family link was severed. Girls would now become influenced by a wide range of people who have little or no contact with their family. The media and education would influence girls in ways that were totally new.
Since the publication of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949 in French, 1953 in English) the history of the female sex has been rewritten. As Sharon James has observed, “Women are the Second Sex, argued Beauvoir, because they are always defined in relation to men, and exist for their good. This injustice is perpetuated in the institution of marriage. For women, marriage is no better than slavery. de Beauvoir was equally hostile to motherhood.”11
This publication along with The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidman (1963), The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer, and others, reached popularconsciousness in the 1960s. Women were told that they must be “liberated” from the shackles of patriarchal rule, male expectations and the burden ofdomesticity. It was agued that men had held power for quite long enough. Women should claim the privileges that men had always enjoyed. The powerof men was used abusively. The world would be a better place if women took the lead. The “culture of dependency” had to be broken. The dawning of thetwentieth century saw a trickle of female assertiveness become a flood during the 1960s and result in a tsunami of legislation in the 1980s and 1990s.12 The process is still ongoing. It was not long before equality with men turned into independence from men. The first casualty of this approach, of course, was the institution of marriage. It is here that the objectives of some in the feminist movement, and followers of Marxist ideas found a unity of purpose.
The Consequences for Marriage, Family, and Society
The attack on marriage was astonishingly successful. The popularizing of the ideas that married women were an oppressed minority, that domesticity was degrading, that motherhood was a burden, and that all men were “users” took root and grew. Women were persuaded that the way out of this depressing life was to find their worth in the same place as men-the workplace. This would give them, not only real status and a stimulating social life but also provide financial independence from men. As James Tooley says,
The feminists on Closing the Gender Gap—representative of a broad swathe of opinion in feminist education circles and influential on government policy—are pleased that girls, and workingclass girls in particular, are leaving the domestic sphere of home and hearth and becoming increasingly independent of men through work. The education feminists think that this is the only way girls can gain status. It is only in the world of men—work, the public sphere—that women can find fulfilment and happiness, the same as it is for boys and men.13
We are all well aware of the social consequences when women across society began to exercise their right to self fulfilment: dramatic rises in the divorce rate, family break-up, cohabitation, illegitimacy, absent fathers, the acceptance of casual sex as a leisure activity, the epidemic of STDs, juvenile crime rates, violence, insecurity, and mental illness including self-harm and depression in young girls, to name but a few.
Divide and Rule
In the decades since its inception, feminist ideology has, of course, developed and changed. Clashes of emphasis and personality have produced many “brands” of feminism. However, according to James Tooley, they largely fall within two groupings: Equality (rationalist) feminism and Liberal (celebratory) feminism. “Whether it be old feminism, new feminism, radical feminism, cultural feminism, post-modern feminism, post-structuralist feminism, gender feminism or lesbian feminism, to name but a few—one’s feminist ideas may be usefully categorised as falling into one of these two categories.”14
What relevance does all this have for us today? You may feel that this is rather a tired subject—that things have settled down after the extremes of the initial debate in the 60s and 70s and that it is time we moved on. Sharon James suggests that
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the movement known as feminism had fragmented. The dream of a united sisterhood had never come to pass; indeed the tabloids were able to revel in vicious infighting between supposed “sisters”. The so-called sameness feminism of the 1960s was soon taken over by the difference feminism of the 1980s (women are the superior sex!) and there was now a major backlash against feminist ideas in the 1990s. It is now said that we live in a post-feminist era.15
The reason we need to understand what has happened in the past is that it has shaped the way that girls and women think about themselves in the present. James goes on to say, “Popular thinking is still conditioned by the discredited notion that men and women are basically the same. People are nervous of comments about men and women that might be construed as sexist. It is still said that any differences between the sexes are probably only the result of societal conditioning.”16
The belief that “societal conditioning” was the only basis for differences between the sexes meant that traditional views of the roles of men and women had to be changed. The education system was one obvious means of achieving such change.
The State Takes Over
The advocates of feminism were not content with winning over the intellectual elite and chattering classes; nothing less than the liberation of the ordinary woman in the street would fulfil their ambitions. The best place to accomplish this was in the schools. State schooling became saturated with feminist ideals and the gender neutral curriculum took shape. James Tooley observes,
It is the themes of the early Greer, Steinem and Friedan—that independence and career are what are most important to a girl, that marriage, children and family are just so much domestic drudgery—that match the curriculum and emphasis of schooling for girls today…. Just as Betty Friedan realised in The Feminine Mystique, it is mainly through their schooling that women and girls can escape the limitations of discrimination and reach their full potential.17
Referring to the American sex discrimination law, Title IX (1972), Tooley says,
The prejudices of the early Betty Friedan, of the early Gloria Steinem, they are all there, spelled out in legislative detail to ensure gender neutrality that emphasizes over and over again that the only way to success and fulfilment for women is through achievement in the worlds of business, science sport and politics. The family does not get a look in here.18
Why is this important?
The feminist message has been absorbed into our western culture. Its assumptions are reflected in magazines, films, TV, books, music, and classrooms where gender-neutral curriculum has pervaded all subjects. It is impossible to avoid it. The subliminal nature of its assumptions makes it very difficult to resist. In arguing against equality feminism we are in danger of appearing to support oppression and injustice. Christian girls who want to resist the feminist worldview find themselves swamped and cannot keep their guard up all the time. Eventually they may struggle to think biblically about men and their leadership.
The ground, however, is shifting. Some feminist writers have reviewed their earlier rants against traditional female roles. Friedan, Greer, and others have retracted some of their earlier statements, especially about motherhood and homemaking, and lamented the loss of things they despised and undermined. Even Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex has been reread and reinterpreted:
Betty Friedan moved on from her ideas in the Second Stage, recognising that women need families, indeed, could find the fulfilment of their need for power and security within the family. de Beauvoir was torn between denigrating domesticity—which seemed she had to do, perhaps for ulterior motives—and delighting in it…. Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman seemed to fit neatly into this camp too. The alternative women’s voices raised wonder why we need, through education, to create women who are restless and questing, and whether it might not be better to create a society in which women are happy and fulfilled.19
They now lean towards celebrating the differences between the sexes and the unique role that women can fulfill. But it is too late for regrets. Laws are not that easily repealed. Two generations of girls have marched to a different tune.
Independence from men has led to dependence on the state. The “freedom” to pursue a career has led to exhaustion and emptiness. There has been rise in violence and drinking among young girls who are behaving like boys. Casual sex has encouraged men to use women and then leave them—with no guilt attached.
Some commentators are now saying that feminism has not only been bad for men and children but disastrous for women: “By celebrating their independence from men, and pooh-poohing men’s romanticization of gender roles as a throwback to something women have long abandoned, perhaps the feminist educators are themselves engaging in creating injustice for women, the injustice that follows when women are deprived of reliable men to depend upon.”20
The ignoring of sexual differences has led to confusion and frustration—for both sexes. The trail of destruction left in the wake of the feminist juggernaut is endless. Anne Moir and David Jessel comment in Brainsex, “Men are different from Women. They are equal only in their common membership of the same species, humankind. To maintain that they are the same is to build a society based on a biological and scientific lie.”21
In her book Sex Change Society Melanie Phillips concludes,
Men need work, women need choice (i.e. whether to work outside the home or not), children need both their parents. Government policies should not promote a sex-change society. They should support the sensitive and complex networks of interdependence between men and women. Without such reinforcement, a serious hole will remain at the heart of any welfare reform, and of society itself.22
The feminist worldview continues to hold sway, even as it crumbles under its own weight.
Ever since sin entered God’s creation there has been tension in the relationships between men and women. The twentieth century feminist movement only amplified these tensions. Western culture became “feminized” with disastrous results for both sexes. It is impossible for girls to avoid totally the influence of feminist thinking. It is all pervasive in our culture.23
So, what is our God-given identity as girls and women? What does true womanhood look like? How are we to teach the next generation of girls to live God-centered, Christ-exalting, Biblesaturated lives?
Redemption: Restoring God’s Design
In turning our attention to a biblical understanding of this issue I want to make clear that I am not just advocating a return to “traditional” roles for men and women. I say this for two reasons. First, “traditional” roles differ from culture to culture. Moreover, any one culture’s norm varies through the passage of time. To which culture would we look for the tradition? How far back would we go? Which historical era would we choose? Second, in one sense our culture’s “tradition” has resulted in the mess we now observe. The actions and reactions of our forebears have brought us to this state of confusion. Advocating that we reinvent the social structures or moral environment of another time—even if that were possible—could lead to the repetition of the same mistakes. We would look in vain for a culture or time where male/female relationships reflect God’s intentions perfectly. Since the Fall there has always been abuse of one sort or another. That is why our only sure footing is God’s pre-Fall design for male and female as it is revealed in Genesis 1-2.
We must return to God’s Design in Genesis because it is pre-Fall.24 As John Piper argues,
When the Bible teaches that men and women fulfil different roles in relation to each other, charging man with a unique leadership role, it bases this differentiation not on temporary cultural norms but on permanent facts of creation….[T]he foundation of this differentiation is traced back to the way things were in Eden before sin warped our relationships. Differentiated roles were corrupted, by the fall. They were created by God.25
Principles and Practice
There are several practical steps we can take to train-up young girls with a biblical worldview while guarding their consciences from feminist influences.
(1) Teach a biblical worldview
A biblical worldview begins with God at its center and with God radiating out at every point. Thus, knowledge of God is the starting point. This means that, from the earliest age, our girls must be taught theology. The study of doctrine is not just for ministers and scholars. Whenever we speak of God to a little girl, we are teaching theology! This needs to be accurate. She must not be given the impression that the world centers on her (much loved as she is) or on other people, but on God. She has been made to know, worship, and enjoy him. The character and attributes of God are foundational to a biblical understanding of life. As girls and women we will only begin to understand our place in God’s purposes if we begin with God himself: God as three in one (Father, Son, and Spirit—all involved in creation), Creator, Promise-Keeper, Holy, Sovereign, Compassionate, and Wise.
(2) Teach that God has spoken and given us everything we need to live life with joy in him
The Bible must be taught as the written word of God and as the final authority on all matters. We then need to teach from a view based in biblical understanding. Before we listen to historians, sociologists, educationalists, psychologists, biologists, anthropologists, or anyone else, we will stop to ponder the Maker’s Instructions. The Bible must be our foundation.
(3) Teach that everything in life relates to God, including our identity as girls/women
All goodness, beauty and truth come from him. We live in relationship with him through Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord. There is no area of life outside of his Lordship. There is no spiritual/secular divide. All our heart attitudes, character, choices, priorities, behaviour and circumstances are under his rule and we are being transformed by the work of the Spirit in our lives so that we are no longer controlled by the false messages of the world but can engage with the world to transform it as he changes us to be more like Jesus. We will then desire to bring glory to Christ by reflecting his glorious design for men and women until the new creation.
(4) Give definitions and demonstrations
The biblical definition of womanhood will need to be broken down and explained as girls grow up, but it will also need to be demonstrated or modelled so that they see a compelling picture presented to them. We need to be real about the heart issues involved in living like this, especially with teens, so that they know that such a spirit can only develop in total dependence on God.26
(5) Teach that this is a heart issue
If women have been deceived by promises of freedom, liberation, and independence, it is because it finds an echo in our fallen hearts. Just like Eve, we have a desire to take things into our own hands and corrupt God’s order. The voices that call to us from our culture only have power over us because they appeal to the desires of our fallen hearts. It is the condition of the human heart that is at issue here. To present our girls and young adults with a list of do’s and don’ts or a well organized program outlining the role of women will not suffice. Piper argues that, in winning people over to a vision of manhood and womanhood,
Not only must there be thorough exegesis, there must also be a portrayal of the vision that satisfies the heart as well as the head. Or to put it another way: we must commend the beauty as well as the truth of the vision. We must show that something is not only right but also good. It is not merely valid but also valuable, not only accurate but also admirable.27
Presenting a biblical worldview is not enough. It is possible to affirm statements of truth but not engage with them. There must be a heart response and transformation that leads to joy, wonder and worship of God. To leave worldly ways of thinking and behaving and to embrace God’s way is to know true freedom and liberty in Christ. When we apply this to the way we live as men and women we will begin to worship him in all our relationships with the opposite sex. The question that we have to answer, therefore, is “How does the Bible describe womanhood?”
Proverbs 31: The Ideal Woman.
Dorothy Patterson has described Proverbs 31 as “a full length portrait of a godly heroine finished in fine detail.”28 What kind of woman do we have here? She is a teacher and an accomplished business woman. She organizes the food, the estate, the clothes, the furnishings, and the moral education of the household. She is loyal and faithful, respectful and dependable, and brings glory to her husband. As Doug Wilson has put it, “This passage denies that a woman’s place is in the home. It affirms that her priority is the home.”29
The picture here is more akin to pre-industrial western society than that of the culture we now experience. The exuberant description of this woman carries with it a sense of fulfilment and joy. She is blessed by God and is a blessing to others. His goodness fills her heart and spills over to impact not only her household but all who encounter her.
The fact that she is the ideal woman should not discourage us. This portrait is beautiful and something to which we would want to aspire and to encourage our girls to emulate. This woman is not a downtrodden, oppressed, unhappy doormat but a joyous and energetic life-giver. She is confident but not overbearing. She is organized but not obsessive. She is generous but not self-referencing, She is beautiful but not vain, intelligent but not boastful, busy but not self-important. She is respected and respectful.
This woman seems to have avoided two particular dangers that are warned against later in the scriptures (although examples of failure in these areas can be found throughout the Old Testament as well). They are lack of submission (disrespect, complaint, taking authority) and lack of modesty (showiness, vanity).
Submission and Modesty: Contentious Issues
Titus 2 shows where feminine beauty comes from. It is from within. It is the overflow of a heart that trusts God—totally. This shows itself in submission. All the gifts and attributes that are listed are to be exercised in the context of this particular attribute. It is highlighted again and again throughout the New Testament and demonstrated repeatedly in the Old Testament (Gen 3:16; Eph 5:22; 24; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1, 5). Even though this biblical mindset is misinterpreted, misunderstood, and totally alien to our twenty-first century sensibilities, it appears to be very important to God. Girls need to know not only the biblical definition of womanhood, but also of manhood as well. Girls need to be able to recognize the characteristics of a “worthy man.” It is this kind of man to look for in a husband, elder, brother in Christ. This is the kind of man who is safe to be with.
God’s purpose for husbands is to lead with love and integrity. His purpose for wives is to willingly submit to this leadership and to use their gifts and abilities to enhance it. Both of these roles take enormous strength and self-control if they are to be fulfilled in the way God intends. It is fair to say that this is the antithesis of modern thinking about womanhood.
How then can we raise it with girls? We can do so in the following ways:
Inspire them to live godly lives by pointing them to women of faith, both past and present. Study the lives of female Bible characters who were obedient to God. Read and tell the stories of female missionaries past and present. Encourage them to read Christian biographies for themselves. Introduce them to Joni Eareckson Tada’s books (there are children’s versions of her story as well as adult/ teen level).
Also, point them to Noel Piper’s Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God.30 One way to overturn the “doormat” image of Christian women and to expose the confusion between submission and oppression is to see the way that God has used intelligent, creative, energetic, determined, submissivewomen to accomplish great things in his kingdom—married or single. We copy the people we most admire. Let us point them to godly examples.
Help them to understand what the Bible means by “submission” so that they see the beauty of God’s design. This will be done by teaching and example.How do we relate to men? Do we encourage and enable worthy leadership or do we undermine them (with humor). What should be our response when faced with ungodly behaviour in men? This is a big issue for girls and women. Some reactions are self-protective because of past hurts. How should we deal with that? Which scriptures help us in this situation?
Teach them to say no to a complaining or grumbling heart. I am not saying that girls should not share difficult times or puzzling circumstances with a trusted friend. Nor am I saying that girls will never have those times when they pour out their hearts before God in an agony of spirit (cf. 1 Samuel 1). No, by this I mean avoid the development of a discontented disposition.
In her book Calm my Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow introduces us to Ella—a missionary wife, and mother to one of Linda’s friends.
Ella worked as a missionary with the pygmies in Africa for fifty-two years. She had left her country, her family, and all that was familiar. Primitive does not even begin to describe her living conditions in the scorching heat and the humidity of the African bush. But Ella found no relief because electricity, air conditioning, and other modern conveniences were only a dream. Some days it was so unbearably hot that she had to bring the thermometer inside because it couldn’t register past 120 degrees without breaking. Ella’s daughter wondered how her mother had done it—how she had lived a life of contentment when her circumstances would have caused the hardiest to complain. Recently she unearthed a treasure, a much more significant find than gold or silver. In an old diary of her mother’s, she discovered Ella’s prescription for contentment:
- Never allow yourself to complain about anything—not even the weather.
- Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
- Never compare your lot with others
- Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
- Never dwell on tomorrow—remember that tomorrow is God’s, not yours.
Ella’s eyes were fixed on eternity. Her tomorrows belonged to God. She had given them to Him. And because all her tomorrows were nestled in God’s strong arms, she was free to live today.31
The key to submission to worthy men is submission to God. He superintends our circumstances. He has ordered our days before any of them came to be. He is sovereign. His sovereignty and goodness are at issue when we will not accept the circumstances.
This will inform the way we talk about our own circumstances as well as how we will react when girls bring a complaint or a moan. We will acknowledge their problem but not leave them with it. Even very young girls can be encouraged to think in this way, “Yes, that’s very hard. I wonder what God wants you to do / or to learn in this.” Encourage them to put their hope and trust in God. They will meet suffering, injustice, and unfairness in many situations in their lives. The way we help them to deal with difficulty now will either help or hinder them in the future.
Teach them about the beauty that lasts. In our culture girls need to learn about modesty. Purity and propriety are considered to be outdated concepts. We need to resurrect and remarket them. They are very positive attributes and very attractive when properly understood and lived out.
Teach them and show them that the development of character is more important than their appearance. This starts early. Comment more on good character than good clothes—even with toddlers! Work diligently to press 1 Pet 3:1-6 upon the consciences of teenagers. Study it, apply it, live it even though this is set in a marriage context. Godly character and attitudes are not learned at the altar. It’s best to start young. In a culture that defines us by how we look, this is powerfully countercultural. “A gracious, unselfish, generous woman is truly beautiful in God’s sight. Others will find her attractive, even if naturally speaking she is plain, for her expression and demeanour will be warm and giving.”32
Teach them to develop feminine qualities: purity, self-control, kindness, submission, contentment, good deeds, a gentle and quiet spirit. This instruction is not geared towards a particular personality type. It is about heart attitudes. Whether we are extrovert or introvert, chatty or quiet, these verses apply.
Getting Practical: The What, When, Where, How, Who, and Why?
What should we teach?
(1) The Genesis 1 “helper” design is an exalted design.
(2) The value of purity, modesty, and chastity.
(3) The value of a submissive attitude-at present to parents. The limits to submission (not to submit to sin or abuse).
(4) The value of a meaningful career-to glorify God and serve others by properly using gifts (not as a means to self-fulfilment; not making career a god).
(5) The value of marriage, motherhood, homemaking; older women to teach younger women (but all for the glory of God, not making god out of marriage/ family/home).
(6) The value of the great number of ministries that women can and should fulfill.
(7) The value of inner beauty that lasts forever.
(8) Positive female role models (from Bible and church history) who lived out godly womanhood.33
In teaching these things, here is one trap to be avoided. One reaction to feminism is romanticism. This may be a greater danger for some girls-not the rejection of men but the idolizing of them to give what only God can. The romantic image of the ideal man is not helpful. The Jane Austin School of Romance does not encourage dependence on God for our well-being. If we make this mistake we will not be enabling women. Not even the closest relationship will meet needs that should only be met in God. To attempt to do so will put unbearable strain on a man and hinder his ministry. The same mistake can be made by looking to friends to meet our deepest needs. No human relationship can bear the weight of this expectation. We must constantly point girls to God, to put their hope in Him.
When and where should we teach the next generation?
(1) At every opportunity.
(2) Wherever we are (Deut 6:7).
(3) At planned times and places.
(4) In the family and in the church.
How should we teach the next generation?
(1) By explicit teaching; by being intentional and repetitive. Children are immersed in equality-feminist ideas very early. They need to hear God’s voice clearly and often on this subject.
(2) By example.
(3) In dependence on God.
Who should teach the next generation?
(1) It is primarily the privilege of fathers and mothers to teach their daughters about manhood and womanhood. Children’s workers and youth workers and the church family support and reinforce this teaching.
(2) For children of families unattached to the church—children and youth workers, pastors, and church members will be their teachers and examples. The great hope, of course, is that these families will be reached for Christ and transformed by the gospel so that parents can train their own children in righteousness. In the meantime members of the church family will teach them and pray for them and their families.
Why should we teach the next generation?
(1) Because they are bombarded with a godless world view that can have disastrous consequences if it is lived out.
(2) Because without the truth they will follow lies.
(3) To keep them from sin.
(4) To help them see that all of life is under God’s rule.
(5) To raise their eyes to Christ, enlarge their hearts with love for him and broaden their horizons with an appreciation of his truth so that they live their lives to the glory of God.
This is an impossible task. But when did God ever ask us to do something that is possible? He asks us to do the impossible because it is his work and will only be done in total dependence on Christ. In this way, we experience the joy of living and working in relationship with Christ, and he gets the glory. There will be trial, failure, and pain along the way but “with God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1: 37).
May he deepen our joy in him as we seek to equip and encourage the girls of this generation to be godly women who in turn equip and encourage the next generation until the Lord returns and we live with him forever in the new creation.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Prov 31:30).
1 This essay is based on a message delivered at the Children Desiring God Conference, Minneapolis, MN, April 2009.
2 Anne Moir and David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference between Men and Women (Mandarin, 1989), 149.
3 Maggie Hamilton, What’s Happening to Our Girls? (New York: Penguin/Viking, 2008), 2.
4 James Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 115.
5 Sharon James, God’s Design for Women: Biblical Womanhood for Today(Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2002), 54.
6 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity(Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 327.
7 Ibid., 20.
8 James, God’s Design for Women, 67.
9 Ibid., 20.
10 Paul Vitz, “The Father Almighty, Maker of Male and Female, (Support from Psychology for the Fatherhood of God),” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (Feb 1997).
11 James, God’s Design for Women, 20.
12 See Past and Present: Key Dates in Equality, UK Equal Opportunities Commission, 2006.
13 James Tooley, The Miseducation of Women (London: Continuum, 2002), 92.
14 Ibid., 41.
15 James, God’s Design for Women, 17.
17 Tooley, The Miseducation of Women, 54.
18 Ibid., 55.
19 Ibid., 119.
20 Ibid., 118.
21 Moir and Jessel, Brain Sex, 5.
22 Melanie Phillips, The Sex-Change Society: Feminised Britain and Neutered Male (London: The Social Market Foundation, 1999), 360.
23 John Piper (“A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined according to the Bible,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism [Crossway Wheaton, 1991], 26-27) writes,
The tendency today is to stress the equality of men and women by minimizing the unique significance of our maleness or femaleness. But this deprecation of male and female personhood is a great loss. It is taking a tremendous toll on generations of young men and women who do not know what it means to be a man or woman. Confusion over the meaning of sexual personhood today is epidemic. The consequence of this confusion is not free and happy harmony among gender-free persons relating on the basis of abstract competencies. The consequence rather is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.
24 Douglas Wilson writes, “The woman reflects the glory of God by reflecting the glory of man, whose glory she is. However much modern egalitarians do not like it, God did not make the world according to their specifications” (Future Men [Moscow, ID: Cannon Press, 2004], 17).
25 Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity,” 28.
26 Piper offers this definition: “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships” (ibid., 37).
27 Ibid., 26.
28 Dorothy Patterson, “The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 373.
29 Wilson, Future Men, 150.
30 Noël Piper, Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005).
31 Linda Dillow, Calm My Anxious Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 11-12.
32 James, God’s Design for Women, 276.
33 Sharon James, “Manhood and Womanhood in Biblical Perspective,” a seminar delivered at Chessington Evangelical Church.
Article from The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood