The History of Feminism
By Wayne Wells
The "First Wave" of Feminism
The feminist movement of the nineteenth century effectively began July 19-20,1848, at a women’s convention that was held in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. About 300 attended.
Elizabeth Stanton wrote the "Declaration on Women’s Rights," and it was signed by 68 women and 32 men. The Declaration began as a parody of the Declaration of Independence and said,
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal."
1. Two weeks later, a second convention was held in Rochester, New York, during which the movement began to be more formally organized.
2. The third meeting was in 1850 at Worcester, Massachusetts. It was the first to claim to be a national women’s rights convention, having delegates from nine states.
3. Except for 1857, conventions were held each year up to 1860.
4. In 1852, Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony joined forces. They remained a team for nearly fifty years, with Anthony managing the business affairs and Stanton doing most of the writing.
The Early Feminist Leaders and the Bible
The early feminists viewed the Bible to be degrading to women because of what it teaches concerning the sin of Eve and the role assigned to women in both the Old and New Testaments. In their response to the Bible, three different views developed.
1. The Moderate View: The moderate view did not consider the problem to be the Bible itself, but rather the acceptance of perverted and sexist interpretations of the Bible. Once the Bible is properly interpreted, it can be seen as not being hostile to women. Many who took this view were adherents of metaphysical or "New Thought" religions (such as Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science.), which believed that the Bible must be interpreted symbolically or mystically. These agreed that the Bible is harmful to women if taken literally, but when understood according to its inner or mystical meaning it affirms the equality of women with men.
2. The Liberal View: The liberal view accepted the theory of evolution to be the answer of culture and religion. It viewed the Bible as a purely human book which records the history of one of the world’s many religious traditions, and which has no special divine authority and no more relevance for today than scores of other such books. As such the Bible should just be ignored.
3. The Radical View: The radical view agreed with the liberal
understanding of the nature of the Bible as a purely human book with no divine
authority, but it did not agree that it could simply be ignored. As long as the
Bible is being distributed in mass quantities, and large numbers of people still
believe that it is God’s inspired Word, they will believe that provides a
divinely given mandate to keep women in subjection. Thus some positive action
with regard to the Bible must be taken. Whether it is just a matter of wrong
interpretation or a false view of its nature, either way the influence of the
Bible must be neutralized.
This was Elizabeth Stanton’s view. She believed that the Bible must be destroyed if women were to be free.
In order to neutralize the influence of the Bible, Elizabeth Stanton and other women wrote "The Woman’s Bible" to show the world what the Bible is really like.
While Stanton allowed the moderate members of the project to express their ideas and to present the "correct" interpretations of various Bible passages as they saw them, she repudiated the moderate approach. She wrote,
"In plain English, the Bible itself is simply degrading to women. No mystical symbolism can enable one to twist out of the Old or New Testaments a message of justice, liberty or equality from God to the women of the nineteenth century."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, I:61, II:66
The Woman ‘s Bible is actually a commentary rather than a translation. It is not a commentary on the whole Bible, but only on texts referring to women
Excerpts From "The Woman’s Bible"
"The Bible, with its fables, allegories and endless contradictions, has been the great block in the way of civilization."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, II:9
"From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation the Bible has been used to hold her in the ‘divinely ordained sphere,’ prescribed in the Old and New Testaments.
The wonder is that women . . . make a fetich [sic] of the very book which is responsible for their civil and social degradation."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, pg. 7, II:12
"The Bible has been of service in some respects; but the time has come for us to point out the evil of many of its teachings."
Clara Neyman, The Woman’s Bible, II:17
"The Bible always has been, and is at present, one of the greatest obstacles in the way of the emancipation and the advancement of the sex... This book has been of more injury to [woman] than has any other which has ever been written in the history of the world."
E.M., The Woman’s Bible, II:201, 203
"No institution in modern civilization is so tyrannical and so unjust to woman as is the Christian Church."
Josephine Henry, The Woman’s Bible, II:205
"All the religions on the face of the earth [including Christianity] degrade women; and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, I:12
Writing about the account of the widow’s mite in Mark 12:41-44, Stanton criticizes the church for promoting self-sacrifice instead of self-development on the part of women.
"But when women learn the higher duty of self-development, they will not so readily expend all their forces in serving others.... ‘Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice,’ should be woman’s motto henceforward."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, II:131
"I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked with God, I do not believe that God inspired the Mosaic code, or told the historians what they say he did about woman."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, I:12
"Does any one at this stage of civilization think the Bible was written by the finger of God, that the Old and New Testaments emanated from the highest divine thought in the universe? Do they think that all the men who wrote the different books were specially inspired?...
It is full of contradictions, absurdities and impossibilities, and bears the strongest evidence in every line of its human origin...
We have made a fetich [sic] of the Bible long enough. The time has come to read it as we do all other books, accepting the good and rejecting the evil it teaches."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, I:61, II:213, 8
The final statement in the Woman’s Bible:
"The real difficulty in woman’s case is that the whole foundation of the Christian religion rests on her temptation and man’s fall, hence the necessity of a Redeemer and a plan of salvation. As the chief cause of this dire calamity, woman’s degradation and subordination were made a necessity. If, however, we accept the Darwinian theory, that the race has been a gradual growth from the lower to a higher form of life, and that the story of the fall is a myth, we can exonerate the snake, emancipate the woman, and reconstruct a more rational religion for the nineteenth century, and thus escape all the perplexities of the Jewish mythology as of no more importance than those of the Greek, Persian and Egyptian."
Elizabeth Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, II:214
(The Bible does not hold Eve responsible . In
Adam all die 1Cor.
As the head, the man is held responsible)
Not all of the early feminists accepted the views taught in the Woman’s Bible. There was open debate over it at the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in of 1896. During this debate, Susan B. Anthony was one of Stanton’s strongest supporters.
The first wave of feminism ended in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which recognized the right of women to vote. This right had already been won on the state level in nearly 20 states, beginning with Wyoming in 1890. An amendment on the federal level, called the "Anthony Amendment," had been submitted since 1878 but was defeated by both the House and the Senate up through World War I. The active role of women in the war effort turned the tide in their favor, and the renewed influence of the National American Woman Suffrage Alliance (with over two million members in 1917) made a difference.
The amendment was passed by the House in January 1918 and by the Senate in June 1919.
In August 1920 Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it, making it a part of the Constitution.
Once the vote was won, the original feminist movement fragmented and lost momentum.
The "Second Wave" of Feminism
The next push for feminism began in 1960’s and continues strong into the 1990’s
Two of the most influential leaders of this new movement are Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.
Betty Friedan has been called the "Mother Superior to Women’s Lib."
1. She is credited with launching the women’s liberation movement with the publication of her book, "The Feminine Mystique", in 1963.
2. She also founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), on June 29, 1966. She was one of its chief organizers and its first president.
3. She also initiated the Women’s March for Equality in August 1970 and the National Women’s Political Caucus in March 1971.
4. She was also a signer of the Humanist Manifesto II in 1973.
Excerpts From The Humanist Manifesto II
"We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species... But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.
Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices."
"We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction."
"In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized."
"We deplore the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. Thus we look to the development of a system of world law and a world order based upon transnational federal government."
1. Gloria Steinem is also recognized as one of the leaders of the feminist movement in America. She was on the cover of the August 16, 1971, issue of Newsweek as, "the personification of women’s liberation."
2. In January 1972, McCall’s named her, "Woman of the Year."
3. She started Ms. magazine in 1971 and remained its editor until 1987. Through it, the message of feminism was made available on a monthly basis at newsstands everywhere.
"By the year 2000 we will, I hope, raise our children to believe in human potential, not God." -Gloria Steinem, in Saturday Review of Education, cited in the pamphlet, "Do These Women Speak For You?"
The women’s liberation movement, is almost altogether the product of women who reject the divine origin and absolute authority of the Bible, and usually the very existence of the God who reveals Himself in the Bible.
Not all feminists follow the extreme ideas as many of the leaders. Some have tried to blend the goals of feminism (elimination of the roles of the sexes) with the Bible. This will not work.
Just as the general theory of evolution and the Bible cannot be blended together.
It is true that there is special evolution, that is, there is change within kinds. The Bible even gives example of this type of evolution taking place. But the general theory of evolution, that is, the gradual development of all life form rising out of simple organisms completely contradicts what Genesis teaches and these two views cannot be harmonized.
In the same way, there is some truth recognized by feminists. The Bible teaches that God made men and women equal. As long as we recognize that both are in the image of God, both have dominion over the earth, and both share in the inheritance in Christ, there is no conflict.
But, when feminists want to eliminate all roles the Bible give for men and women, there can be no harmonizing of feminism and the Bible.
Many who claim to believe in the Bible have tried to make the Bible fit the teachings of the feminists. Women preachers are becoming more common. Women are taking leadership positions more than ever. This cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Bible, just as the general theory of evolution cannot be harmonized with the Bible.
1 Timothy 2:11-14
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
There Is a Problem In Churches Today!
"We the women of Cross City Church of Christ…"
"That is Judy’s church"
Julian Snell’s experience