Defining feminism is particularly difficult because the word has been used to mean many things to different people at different times.
Feminism’s first wave is usually dated back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and focused particularly on establishing a woman’s right to vote. Interestingly, before this time, some women, who used their special abilities to improve the circumstances of disadvantaged people, have retrospectively and wrongly been given the label of ‘feminist’. Notable examples are Hannah More (1745 – 1833), who founded Sunday schools for children who were in work all week, and Elizabeth Fry (1780 – 1845), a prison reformer.
The so-called second wave feminists were initially more concerned with women’s rights: issues like equal pay, the opening up of more jobs to women and the right of women to serve on juries. But by the 1960’s, feminists increasingly saw women as victims who were oppressed by men and imprisoned in so-called domestic drudgery. Some began to devalue femininity, love, marriage and motherhood. Many feminists joined the sexual revolution and went on to promote sexual permissiveness, increasingly aggressive behaviour and radical independence. Some modern feminists have demanded the end of the traditional family. Some radical feminists have even despised the idea of a woman having a romantic relationship with a man; it is seen as male domination.
It is quite confusing, isn’t it? Some good and some bad ideas have been labelled as feminism. Christians are required by God to ‘test everything’ . We are required to show discernment by measuring everything against the Bible.
God made men and women and knows best how they function, how they relate to each other and how they best work together. This includes romantic relationships between men and women.
It is helpful to remember that any ‘going out’ relationship has a specific purpose, which is to test if marriage is a possibility in the future. So, to learn something of how a man and woman relate in a romantic relationship, we need to look at what the Bible says about how a man and woman relate in marriage. They are to relate as equals, but with different roles which act together for the good of both – this is termed complementarity.
The first romantic relationship we see in the Bible is between Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:18-25). Their relationship shows us how God intended our relationships to be: devoted, affectionate and committed. This can be seen in what Adam says when he first sees Eve . We also see the pattern for marriage in verse 24:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh
In these verses we see equality in their unity: Eve is part of Adam (bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh), not less or greater than Adam, both are made in the image of God. And they become one flesh and so live as a unit. They are no longer two people making independent decisions but rather they make decisions and choices as one. This is still the pattern for marriage today.
It may seem a paradox, but although the husband and wife work together as a single unit, in this relationship there are still two individuals. They will have their own ambitions, projects, work and roles. God calls the husband and wife to different purposes and different roles. Masculine qualities, including strength, enable the man to lead, provide and protect (Ephesians 5:23, Genesis 3:17-19, 1 Peter 1:3-7). God designed women to be able to conceive and nurture new life, and equipped them physically, emotionally and psychologically for this . Women are particularly gifted with a ‘helper design’  – a relational capacity to enable them to care in a variety of ways.
Love in marriage – equal and complementary in practice
Paul in Ephesians tells husbands and wives how they must interact with one another:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…
God has designed marriage to be a unit within which the husband is head and the wife has a submissive role. This does not mean that the wife is less valuable or important in the relationship or that she should be oppressed; in fact, the opposite is true! The wife is so valuable that God instructs husbands to love their wives with the same deep, compassionate, patient, sacrificial love that Christ loves the church.
Loving relationships are not about power, but about sharing, supporting and thinking about another before oneself. We are all imperfect and will fail to some extent, so forgiveness is important too. Marriage, and romantic relationships with the prospect of marriage in view, should not be self-seeking or self-promoting. Marriage is inherently an ‘other person centred’ relationship. It would be hard to match up much of modern feminism with the Biblical standards for marriage.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “… but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
- Genesis 2:23 “Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
- 1 Timothy 2:15 ” Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
- Genesis 2:20-22 “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”