2012 saw the birth of Fourth Wave Feminism, a renewed engrossment with the rights of women, particularly in opposition to sexual harassment and violence. With it have come many prominent campaigns, including ‘No More Page 3 Girls’, which successfully stopped The Sun newspaper printing pictures of glamour models, and the #MeToo movement, which Time magazine named 2017 Person of the Year for its work in raising awareness of the magnitude and severity of sexual harassment in workplace environments .
This increase in awareness and interest around equal rights and opportunities has had many positive effects, and benefits society in numerous ways. Women are more empowered now than ever before to speak out against abuse and intolerance, and as a society we are far more willing to take steps to improve treatment of women, and to level it with that of their male counterparts. In a society in which gender is not a constraint, we are far better able to maximise the skills and assets of individuals. But is it all good news?
Before I answer that, let me make it very clear that I wish in no way to undermine women. I am a fierce believer in equality between the sexes, and as the eldest of four sisters I have always been a firm advocate of ‘girl power’, so hear me out.
In my own life, I can see how I am prone to defensiveness in my interactions with men. I remember once snapping at a man who offered to carry my bags up a busy staircase, not for fear that he might run off with them but rather because I felt he was judging me as weaker than he (which, to be fair, I probably was). But why should I curl my lip at this attempt to assist me? Why does chivalry make me shudder? Why am I scared of admitting anything that would mark me as weaker in some way than a man? If this fear is born of the desire to match men in every way possible—mentally, physically, and professionally—is it achievable, or even rational?
Again, I am not saying that equality isn’t rational. Equality is completely sensible and, indeed, a necessary good. The global Sustainable Development Goals of 2017 stressed the essentiality of gender equality to the future of our planet through the incorporation of gender into each of its objectives, which span education, poverty and ending hunger . But is it rational as a woman to wish to erase all differences between oneself and a man?
In our society, we both prize equality and celebrate individuality more than ever before; we’re happy for them to coexist. Until it comes to the characteristics of the genders, that is. Men and women are different, but we are so keen to not undermine women that any stereotyped ideas of manhood and womanhood have become taboo and even feared, regardless of their veracity. For some reason ‘different’ when it refers to women in relation to men has become synonymous in our minds with ‘less’.
This has become so entrenched in our culture that many people are falling prey to a complete loss of reason in their attempts to be politically correct. Take, for example, the infamous interview between Cathy Newman and Jordan Peterson, which aired near the beginning of this year . Newman is a highly intelligent woman, with a degree from Oxford, however as she interviewed Peterson the cultural brainwashing she had been subject to surfaced in her questions, which were loaded with contradictions and ironies.
At one point, for instance, Peterson stated that women are generally more agreeable than men, meaning they are less likely to reach the top in jobs that require a cut-throat culture. At this, Newman became extremely defensive. She took his pointing out this observable difference between men and women as him saying that women are inferior to men, not what he actually said: that women are different to men. It’s not just Peterson claiming this, there has been extensive neurological research around this, which has demonstrated decisively the ‘inherent differences’ in the wiring of the male and female brain . There is no reason to view this difference as a weakness; conversely, being more agreeable should be taken for what it truly is—strength!
Feminism did – and does – seek to solve a genuine problem: that women are still far too often perceived and treated as inferior to men. However, in attempting to redress the balance, many feminists have fallen into the trap of agreeing with men about what ‘success’ looks like. Rather than helping men to honour all women, wherever they are on the career ladder, feminism forces women to shun their femininity and become just like men. As a woman, you should feel just as successful whether you choose to be a stay-at-home mum, or to focus on your career, or to do both at once!
Christianity is often accused of being particularly oppressive to women, with its idea of femininity portrayed as something like the 1950s housewife caricature. However, this is not a concept set out anywhere in the Bible. The book of Proverbs, for example, paints a picture of femininity quite different to the stereotypical woman of the house who cooks, cleans, and is forbidden from independent thought . The woman described is a savvy businesswoman, who makes and sells goods, working diligently and providing food and clothes for her servants and children. Not only this, but she cares for those in need and speaks with wisdom. She is capable. She is strong. She is feminine. She does not fulfil the same role as her husband, but in no way is she less than him. She is inspiring, a true picture of how wonderful being feminine is.
Embracing our true selves, rather than trying to conform to society’s view of what a woman ‘should’ be like, should empower women to live our fullest lives—it is liberation not restriction! The outworking of our femininity will differ from person to person, for me it is in serving as army officer, for my three sisters it is in pursuing a medical career, longing for children, and riding horses respectively! We are told in the Bible “God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” , and it is the knowledge that I am made by a creator God, and that he deliberately chose how to craft me—gender included—that forms the basis of my identity. This allows me to accept my gender and my natural tendencies because of it.
So, women, I urge you to seize hold of your femininity, and find yourself liberated from conforming to whom society says you must be, to be whom you are created to be.