What Is Feminism?

“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” ~ Proverbs 14:1

Pinning feminism down to a single definition is extremely difficult, if not impossible. There are almost as many definitions for feminism today as there are feminists, since many of the men and women involved in feminist issues disagree philosophically, theologically, and over the application of their beliefs. Webster’s dictionary defines feminism thus:


Function: noun

Date: 1895

1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

But many feminists disagree even over this fairly simplistic definition. As the Oxford Companion to Philosophy notes, “The strands of feminist thinking in relation to philosophy have been and continue to be diverse and do not necessarily present a unified point of view.” [1] Even trying to break down these “diverse strands” can be dangerous, since this almost inevitably leads to stereotyping or rubber-stamping. But for the sake of clarity and brevity, I will make an attempt to categorize the various “brands” of feminism in this article and present the most prominent viewpoints of each philosophy and its major subsets. Then I will give LAF’s own definition of feminism and explain why we do not and cannot support any of the forms of feminism that exist today.

The so-called “women’s movement” had its roots in the late 18th century and picked up speed in the 1840s, particularly in New England. By the 1910s, it had become organized and more or less unified around a few key issues, bringing together women of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. These groups fought mainly for prohibition and the 19th-amendment (women’s suffrage), although fringe elements (like those headed by Margaret Sanger) advocated “free love,” forced sterilization of the poor and “unfit,” and the elimination of marriage and the traditional family. Later, these more extremist groups would come to dominate feminism in the 1960s during the sexual revolution. Today’s “Third-Wave” feminists (equity feminists rather than gender feminists) have worked hard to distance themselves from the radical feminists of that time and have disavowed much of their foremothers’ philosophy. But there is still a shared foundation between the radical feminists and their “kinder, gentler” sisters of the 21st century. Today we have essentially four different strands of feministic thought.

First there are the “equity feminists” who do believe there are inherent differences between the sexes but seek to promote specific reforms to address what they perceive as unequal treatment in society (“equal pay for equal work,” etc.). Equity feminists relate most closely to the “first-wave” feminists of the 1840s-1920s who fought for woman’s suffrage, prohibition, and the end of the “living wage” law for men (in order to get more women into the workforce for more pay). Feminists in this camp prefer to distance themselves from the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s and tend to be more conservative in their application of feminism to society.

Next there are the “gender feminists,” who wish to remove any lines of distinction between men and women in all areas of life. As Thomas Gramstad writes, “There are no virtues or psychological characteristics belonging exclusively to males, or to females.” [2] Many of the adherents of gender feminism believe that any psychological or social differences between men and women are rooted in the oppression of a patriarchal structure that seeks to make women lesser persons than men. They seek to end patriarchy and maintain complete egalitarianism between the sexes. One such feminist goes so far as to say, “True equality of the sexes will come when God is universally perceived as androgynous. Then, and only then, will there be true equality of the sexes.” [3] She admits this view is “dangerously blasphemous” and places her beyond the pale of many mainstream feminists, but she proposes a new definition of “feminist” all the same, to wit: “A person who supports the theory that God the Mother is equal to God the Father.” [4] While most gender feminists do not go to this theological extreme, you do find many within this camp who promote the idea of the “goddess within,” advocate gender-neutral translations of the Bible, etc. Gender feminists tend to align themselves with the so-called “second-wave” feminists of the 1960s who are perceived as more “radical” and activist in their pursuits.

Then you have the “third-wave” feminists of today (mainly Generation Xers and younger). They have toned down the more radical tenets of the 1960s women’s movement, but they are generally not as conservative as the equity feminists and tend to advocate liberal causes such as abortion on demand. One third-wave feminist is Amy Richards of feminist.com, who writes,

There are many definitions of what a feminist is–the simplest and probably the best is what is listed in most dictionaries–“a person who believes in the full equality of women and men.” This means anyone–male or female–who supports this idea can be a feminist. As for [the] goal of feminism, [it] is equality–and that means both that women do what men have done (be fire fighters and corporate executives) and that men do what women have done (be stay-at-home fathers and secretaries). [5]

Finally, there’s the new “fourth wave” of feminism, which is the most confused and disjointed of all. It includes women who embrace “raunch culture,” where pole-dancing and stripping are considered just as empowering as voting or serving in high elected office, but it also includes women who reject the “porn-as-empowerment” movement and decry female exploitation. In this last wave, feminism has come to the logical end of its earliest conclusions, when feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Gove Nichols decried marriage and advocated so-called “free love.” With respect for female virtue and freedom from exploitation essentially erased from modern culture by the feminist movement, it is more than a little mind-boggling to read modern feminists who can’t figure out how we got to a point where women willingly strip for strangers, but now want to revolt against what their own hands have wrought. That schizophrenia characterizes the fourth wave of feminism. [6]

There are, of course, feminists of all stripes among these philosophical camps. To further complicate matters, feminists within each camp often differ drastically over the application and practice of their philosophy. The “fringe” elements on both sides have alienated many women, who seek to distance themselves from the more radical elements of feminism. Steve Roby writes about the frustrating difficulty of trying to find a united feminist “voice”:

Maybe it’s time for some organization to claim feminism as its own intellectual property. Patent it, trademark it, license it, but most importantly, clearly define what feminism actually is today. Then we could just look for a feminist seal of approval on any new book about feminism. Unfortunately, there’s no licensing body, no Institute of Professional Feminists. There’s no one true definition of feminism. Does it focus on individual or collective rights? Does it seek a common ground or does it foster division? Does it oppose pornography or does it oppose censorship? Depends who you ask. Put Andrea Dworkin, Nadine Strossen, Susan Faludi, and Christina Hoff Sommers in one room, and wait for a feminist consensus to develop. You may have to wait until two or three of them have died of old age before reaching that consensus. [7]

Radical, liberal feminism is primarily what we address here at LAF — feminism which cries out against a perceived “oppressive patriarchy” and insists men and women are the same in all areas of life, including (as one feminist has noted) in their physical abilities. [7] However, we also oppose any other forms of feminism that seek to redefine womanhood apart from the Word of God. We realize this may immediately cause many readers to dismiss us as “right-wing fundamentalists” or “victims of the patriarchy,” but we ask those readers to extend the same courtesy to us that they demand for their own viewpoints. Believing in the coherence, infallibility, inspiration, and applicability of the Scriptures does not make us women who turn off their brains or blindly follow religious dogmas. Rather, we believe that, without an unchanging Standard of Truth, there can be no consistent logic, coherent thought, or reasoned debate in the first place.

If truth is whatever you make it, then it is pointless to argue at all. Each individual can live in her own little cosmos of self-created logic and must therefore allow all other “truths” to co-exist peacefully. This is a logical and moral impossibility, of course. There is no such thing as a universally “tolerant” individual or society. If we have to tolerate all forms of behavior, then we must welcome the lawbreaker and treat him with the same respect and courtesy we do the law-keeper. After all, law cannot be absolute if we all get to define truth for ourselves. Germaine Greer writes that the “women’s libbers” of the 1970s “sought the world over for clues to what women’s lives could be like if they were free to define their own values, order their own priorities and decide their own fate.” [9] The simple answer is that women’s lives (and men’s!) would be chaotic if each individual were “free” to define her own values. An individual can no more peacefully exist in a self-created law-order than a society can adequately restrain crime when all laws and values are up to individual choice and interpretation. [For more on this topic, please see the articles we have referenced in our Foundations section.] But if there is one unchanging Standard for Truth, Logic, and Reason, we have a moral obligation to study that Standard and conform ourselves to it. Instead of defining ourselves, we can confidently allow the Standard to define us. We here at LAF believe this defining process is lifelong and challenging, but it is also beautiful and ennobling.

With this understanding, LAF defines feminism as any philosophy, teaching, or practice that seeks to conform womanhood to its own (human and therefore fallible) standard. We believe there is one Definer of maleness and femaleness and that His definition (as Creator of the human race) is perfect. Feminism began in the Garden of Eden–not in 18th-century France or 19th-century New England. The tempter invited our first mother to question God’s ability to define her–“Hath God said…?” (Genesis 3:1). This is the heart of feminism today–a constant questioning of anyone else’s ability or right to tell us who we are as women. But with constantly shifting definitions, we do not find happiness, peace, or fulfillment; we find only Eve’s bitterness and the chaos of a fallen world. LAF believes that the more we seek to conform ourselves to God’s will for women–to His unchanging definition–the happier and more at peace we will be as individuals and within the societies we help to build.

This immediately raises questions, of course. “Okay, so we’ll grant that this Standard for womanhood is correct. But how do you know you are correctly interpreting this standard? You’re a fallible human just like the rest of us.” And this is quite true. Christians differ widely over their interpretations of Scripture (thus all the various denominations in existence). There are probably just as many “brands” of Christians as there are strands of feminism. So how do we know we are embracing the right interpretation of the Standard?

Here at LAF, we hold to the orthodox, historical view that we cannot “interpret” God’s Word at all; rather, it must interpret itself. We cannot select favorite passages or commands and pull those out of context to force meanings out of the Word for our own convenience. The Word must be taken as it has been delivered to us–as a complete whole and from cover to cover. Obscure or difficult passages must be interpreted by comparison with other sections of the Bible. We cannot impose our own feelings or even our current social constructs upon God’s Word; it must impose its universal truths and definitions upon us. (For an excellent explanation of contextual interpretation, see “Never Read a Bible Verse” by Gregory Koukl.) Through the help of the Holy Spirit, the believer must approach Scripture with humility, not seeking to “define her own values,” but seeking to be defined by values that reach beyond our times, current trends, popular opinion and fad theology. Is this a difficult task? Yes, of course. As fallen human beings, we do not have the benefit of completely clear minds and unobstructed reason. We are tainted by sin. Even on our best days, we cannot claim perfect understanding of the Scriptures. But we have hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, Who has redeemed us from sin and promises to fill us with His own Spirit, Who will “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). We also have the promise of sanctification–the ongoing, progressive work of Christ in our lives over time, drawing us closer to His beauties and helping us to throw off the “old man” of sin.

Those of us who run LAF do not in any way believe that we have achieved perfection. We do not believe that we are living examples of the excellencies of God-defined womanhood. We are sinners in need of grace. We fail at the very things we strive to uphold through this website. In short, we are human. But our failures do not negate the Standard that calls us to be women according to God’s plan. Part of the Christian walk is getting up again and “pressing on” after a fall, running the race with diligence in spite of setbacks (Hebrews 12:1,2). When we point out the fallacies and foibles of feminism, we do so first by looking in the mirror. There is feminism, staring back at us. Feminism is nothing less than rebellion against God’s created order, and all of us are guilty of that rebellion in some degree. So, does that make us hypocrites? How can we criticize the feminist movement if we are guilty of its errors? The short answer is that we are commanded to do so.

St. Paul tells us that we are to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). In every single area of life, we are to strive to capture all thoughts and bring them under the subjection of Christ’s law-word. We must seek to root out the remnants of the sin nature which is “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20) and “die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31) to our own selfish desires. As we strive in our own lives (through the help of the Holy Spirit–never in our own strength) to conquer sin and obey God’s Word, we are also to admonish others to do the same. St. Paul called himself the “chiefest of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15), yet he rebuked, corrected and exhorted his fellow sinners by the authority and power of God’s Word (not his own authority). God calls older women (sinners all) to “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5). And He calls all of us as Christians to “[cast] down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (II Cor. 10:5).* Christ exhorts us to “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). So we are here first to stand against the feminism that looks back at us from the mirror. We are here to humble ourselves and come into greater conformity with God’s Word. Then, being fully confident in the ability of Scripture to change lives, we are here to proclaim that God’s Standard for womanhood is rich, it is beautiful, it is life-affirming, and it is excellent.

Feminism cannot hope to make whole women out of us. In trying to make women into all things (into its own image), it makes them into caricatures of women. C.S. Lewis, writing about the medieval view of Nature, made this brilliant observation: “There were things above [Nature] and things below. It is precisely this limitation and subordination of Nature which sets her free for her triumphant poetical career. By surrendering the dull claim to be everything, she becomes somebody.” [10]

“By surrendering the dull claim to be everything, she becomes somebody.” What a beautiful, profound statement! When I no longer have to be everything in order to feel “equal,” I am free to be someone–a unique individual with her own sphere in life to make meaningful and lovely. My realm of influence suddenly becomes clear and well-defined, and my authority over that realm becomes something tangible and feasible.

A tee-shirt sold by feminist.org declares, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” But this is no “radical notion” at all, and it is certainly not the brilliant deduction of feministic thinking. Patriarchy does not deny the personhood of women. Adhering to a Biblical vision of womanhood does not make a woman a non-person. Rather, a full-orbed understanding of womanhood as God defines it affirms the uniqueness of the woman and her place as co-regent of the human race. Feminists (in the broadest sense) have claimed for years that they are the sole champions of women’s rights, health, safety, and mental well being. This is simply not true. Look into any area of life, and you will find that God’s Law was already there and already extending protection to women–married, single, widowed, destitute. Property rights? Numbers 27:7 & 8 has that covered, along with Proverbs 31:14 & 16 and Deuteronomy 21:15-17. Inheritance rights for daughters? See Numbers 27:7 & 8 and 36:8, along with Genesis 48:5 & 6. Education for women? The foolish (unwise) woman in Scripture is roundly condemned from cover to cover. The ideal woman is wise (Prov. 31:26), clever (Esther 4:16 & 17), prudent (Prov. 19:14), diplomatic (I Samuel 25), able to make serious decisions capably (Prov. 31:16), able to manage all that is entrusted to her (Prov. 31:15, 27), and able to teach others (Titus 2:4,5). You just don’t find brainless women upheld as models in the Bible. What about protection from bodily harm? Just read all of the legal punishments in Exodus 21 for the abuse of a subordinate, then turn over to Ephesians 5:28 & 29, where husbands are commanded to love their wives exactly as Christ loved the Church. There is no room for abuse (mental or physical) in that picture, and the Church is to serve as a refuge for those fleeing evil. (For more examples of how Scripture protects and exalts women, see our FAQs.)

Women who are against feminism are not against property, inheritance, or educational “rights” for women, nor are we in favor of spousal abuse and “doormat-ism.” We believe that all of the “rights” and privileges we enjoy come straight from the hand of God. Feminism didn’t give them to us, and feminism certainly cannot guarantee them. Only the God Who created us and gave us the laws that make society possible can guarantee justice and peace. Has the Church always perfectly upheld this Standard? By no means. We do not make that claim at all. The Church has failed in times past and will fail again. Where the Church has departed from the Word of God, it has fallen on its face in many areas. Whenever we seek to define ourselves apart from the only unchanging Standard, we will fail. Within ourselves, we do not possess a flawless “moral compass,” nor can we create our own values and truths and hope to live in peaceful coexistence with others.

Ladies Against Feminism stands against “every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (II Cor. 10:5). We stand against the rebellion that confronts us in our own mirrors first, then we seek to refute the rebellion that exalts itself elsewhere over God’s created order. Specifically, we want to strip away the mask from that ancient “father of lies,” who seeks to convince us that we must make ourselves in our own image and disbelieve what the Creator has called “good.” Instead of the insidious “Hath God said?” of the tempter, we invite you to consider the “And God said!” of the Biblical worldview. True freedom and true contentment abide in the unchanging Definer of humanity. Created in His image, our hearts find rest (as Augustine so aptly noted) when they rest in Him.

Coram Deo,
Jennie Chancey


[1] The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press 1995. (http://www.xrefer.com/entry.jsp?xrefid=552044)
[2] Gramstad, Thomas. “What Is Feminism?” (http://folk.uio.no/thomas/po/whatisfeminism.html)
[3] Webster, Genie. “A New Definition of Feminist.” (http://www.geniewebster.com/fem.html)
[4] Ibid.
[5] Richards, Amy. “Ask Amy.” (http://www.feminist.com/askamy/feminism/fem24.html)
[6] Please note that I am not saying feminists in particular are schizophrenic; only that this fourth-wave movement is. Two opposing worldviews (pro-raunch and anti-raunch) now coexist rather confusedly together in this latest version of the “pro-woman” movement.
[7] Roby, Steve. “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, by Christina Hoff Sommers” (book review), 1995 (Revised May 1996). (http://www.well.com/user/sjroby/fem.html)
[8] According to Colette Dowling, “Differences in athletic performance are purely a result of the patriarchy’s ‘hidden agenda of keeping women in their place by keeping them believing in their weakness.’ She insists that ‘studies show gender to be barely relevant as a predictor, or limiter, of athletic performance. What really counts are acquired skills, trained muscles, and movement efficiency that comes from refined technique.’” Quoted in “Why Feminists Aren’t Funny” by Jonah Goldberg. National Review Online, June 12, 2002 (http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg061202.asp).
[9] Greer,Germaine. The Whole Woman. (http://www.ivillage.com/relationships/experts/experts_by_month/articles/0,9632,172420_25817,00.html)
[10] Lewis, Clive Staples, The Discarded Image. Cambridge University Press: 1964, page 39.

* LAF has been labeled “scary” and “dangerous” by detractors. Some folks apparently believe that we are going to encourage women to go on some kind of political campaign to yank working women out of offices by force and burn down daycare centers. This is so ludicrous it is almost amusing. As we note in our FAQs, any “movement” promoting Biblical womanhood cannot be carried off from the top down. That is called tyranny and is not countenanced by Scripture. God’s method of “revolution” is really reformation and always begins in the heart of the individual–not in the courtrooms or on the Senate floor. Only Christ can change hearts, and one of the ways He does this is through the proclamation of His Word (“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” ~ Romans 10:17). We are here simply to affirm what the Bible teaches about God’s role for women and to invite others to submit themselves to that beautiful design. We aren’t doing it at gunpoint or by marching on the halls of Congress. Unfortunately, the radical feminists do not share this understanding. They have been lobbying on behalf of “all women” for years and have done quite a lot of damage with their top-down legislation that forces our families to give our tax dollars to things we cannot in good conscience support (abortion, government education, international sterilization programs, etc.). Why do those wielding such power find women who stay at home with their children and serve their husbands “scary” and “dangerous?” They’ll have to explain their logic themselves. We cannot comprehend it.

Recommended Resources
The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know — and Men Can’t Say
Passionate Housewives Desperate for God
She Shall Be Called Woman: Victoria Botkin’s Study of Practical Wisdom From Scripture for the 21st Century Woman
Let Me Be a Woman

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