The New Evangelical Feminists

Lisa Miller, at WaPo, examines a new form of feminism among politically conservative women:

In evangelical Christian circles, “feminist” has traditionally been a dirty word. The three short syllables have done heavy work, telegraphing all the things the “Christian right” loves to hate about the “secular left.”

A feminist, according to this definition, favors “abortion on demand, government-funded abortion, redistribution of wealth, same-sex marriage and is antiwar, anti-defense,” says Penny Nance, the CEO of Concerned Women for America, the antiabortion group. In this most pejorative view, a feminist puts her personal ambition ahead of the needs of her children.

Now, in a reversal, some conservative Christian women are tentatively claiming the feminist label for themselves. In the reframing, feminism has nothing to do with a woman’s right to choose an abortion or with government programs for the poor.

Instead, a “feminist” is a fiscally conservative, pro-life butt-kicker in public, a cooperative helpmate at home, and a Christian wife and mother, above all. Rep. Michele Bachmann is Exhibit A. With her relentless attacks on big government and a widely circulated 2006 video in which she credits her professional success to the submission of her will to Jesus and her husband, Bachmann represents “a new definition of feminism,” says Stephen Bannon, director of “Fire From the Heartland,” a 2010 movie about the female leaders of the tea party.

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  • A rather Foucaultian move. 🙂

  • Jeff

    Interesting article, though I think the author changes the meaning of the term “feminist,” and then makes Michelle Bachman one by her new re-definition of it.

  • Laura

    Interesting. In her feminist definition, it is unfortunate that Lisa Miller didn’t include those of us who submit their wills to only to Jesus Christ. It appears that her new feminist definition is only including those who take a male “headship” view from scripture. In my marriage, both my husband and I submit to the headship of Jesus. He is our authority. In mutuality and respect we look to one another for guidance, leadership, etc. Also, the whole “family first” stuff is so odd. God first, family second, career, third. How about God over all, responding to family, career, etc in a fluid manner? Sometimes I have to tell my kids to “hang on” while I attend to something at work. On other days, it’s the opposite. It’s called living by the Spirit. Abiding.
    I wish this kind of Christian feminism was addressed by Lisa Miller as well.

  • DRL

    Neither feminist nor Evangelical.

  • Amos Paul

    Feminism has lacked a widely agreed upon definition for a long time. If anything, its become even more confusingly generic of a term over the years. ‘They’ seem to embrace almost any category as ‘feminist’ as long as some woman out there appears to powerfully argue for it.

    In reality, advocates of these many variants often appear to fundamentally disagree with each other on essential tenets.

  • John

    Let me say open by saying that I am whole-heartedly an egalitarian.

    That said, it is interesting to read Bachman’s comments attributing her success to the submission of her will to Jesus and her husband and to then contrast them to her statement last Thursday about how it’s not her husband (or their counseling business) who is running for presidency.

    How can she expect people to not have some concerns about her husband’s personal and professional behavior if she thinks it is her submission to him that has made her successful?

    In my view, it’s a little too close to “Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!”

  • Jeff

    To Laura, I think it is great that you take a scriptural view of your life. I have no doubt that you can be a great witness and lover of Jesus Christ and defender of woman’s rights. But none of those things would make you a feminist, which I think has a particular meaning that describes a belief system that is founded on critique of patriarchy. However, this seems hard to harmonize with understanding your marriage in patriarchal terms. Don’t get me wrong, I think certian forms of patriarchy are good, such as in marital relationships, and I think you are actually being faithful to the bible by submitting to your husband. However, this is hard to see as “feminist,” and I think it is a little misleading for Lisa Miller to use that term specifically. That doesn’t mean she isn’t staunchly in favor of woman’s rights. But my point is that feminism and being and independent woman in favor of woman’s rights are not identical.

  • Don’t know if evangelical and feminist are the right monikers but I have been intrigued by the rise fiscally and politically conservative Gen-X women from Evangelical circles. There was a Tea Party rally in my neighborhood in Kansas City a couple of years ago so I walked over to check it out. What struck me then was that the event, in terms of visible leaders, was dominated by these women. I have noticed similar things in the Tea Party at a national level.

    William Strauss and Neil Howe, writing 15 years ago, said that if generational cycles hold, that Gen X folks (born 1961-1980) would do a great reversal as they entered their forties (they are now 30-50 years old.) This generation was notoriously indifferent, if not hostile, to institutions. They were also the latch-key kids who grew up determined to raise their children well and create a better world for them. S & H suggested that Gen-X would make a noticeably sharp turn to the political right (if not reactionary), particularly in the area of fiscal responsibility. They would begin to energize their efforts toward the reformation of institutions that their Millennial and younger generations of children will inhabit, using their generational aptitude toward innovation and pragmatic solutions.

    Seems to me S&H have been largely correct. It may be the backdrop to this more specific phenom of conservative Gen-X women coming on the scene.

  • Jeff

    – Laura, I realize I totally misrepresented your position. My apologies. I consider you just as much a Christian as someone who would hold the imaginary position I imputed to you and then responded to.

  • Patrick

    Dictionary says feminism is the movement to achieve total = under the law for both sexes. I don’t know of a single public personality who opposes that.

  • My thoughts would be more in line with Marie Griffith

  • Dana Ames

    Michael @8,

    perhaps in getting involved politically, these women are finding an outlet for their gifts and talents which they do not have in their churches, and which is not critiqued by most churches (Is it assumed that husbands must have “given the ok” for the women to be doing this?). There are such women in my community; interestingly, the ones I know are older than Gen-X.


  • P.

    I’ve always believed that a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are equal in value and champions equal opportunity for all. BTW, I need to read that article by Marie Griffith because I went to high school with her!

  • Diane


    I understand women’s dominance in the Tea Party movement as a function of the movement’s youth and lack of control. Women often get openings in such situations–and when the dust settled, they are ushered out the door. The Biblical Miriam is perhaps one of the first examples of this, disenfranchised once the Israelites were safely across the Red Sea.

    Neither of the definitions of feminism given above address the core issues: women gaining economic and political parity with men, and women being treated not as “lesser men,” but as fully human in their own right.

  • Rob

    This reappropriation of the term feminism by conserviative christian women is at best confusing and at worst dishonest. Why do women that hold to a “male headship” model of relationship want to be identified with feminism? It seems to me that it further undermines the patriarchal model by mudding the waters as to when and how women should and must “submit” to their husbands/men (full disclosure: I am an egalitarian).

  • Thanks for all these egalitarian views. Good thinking, Laura, and Diane. Someday the word “feminist” will die a natural death or become so misused that we will have to kill it. It is my hope that someday, submission to Christ will far outshine submission to any human being. I know that God will continue to work in and through women, and we will be called according to his purposes. Some leaders are born women.