The pursuit of women's rights in America began with the suffrage movement in the early 19th century. In addition to pursuing the right to vote, women sought to own property and gain access to education. Passage of the 19th Amendment led to many improvements for women, as well as the demand for equality of rights and eventually, anti-discrimination laws that forbid distinctions between women and men.
Sadly, battles that pit women against men in a fight for equal treatment under the law have been twisted into the idea that anything men can do, women can do better. Some women have gone from seeking equality to seeking domination. This is not the way it was supposed to be.
Understanding Women's Rights
In the Beginning
When God made mankind, he "created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). Adam and Eve were equal in worth and dignity.
But equal does not mean the same. Only Eve could give birth to children. Only Adam was tasked with naming the creatures. Different roles. Both important.
Adam was given charge over creation and Eve was made as "a helper uniquely suited" to him. Adam needed help not because he was weak, but because his burden was great. Eve wasn’t called a "helper" because she was lower in rank, but because she was Adam's gifted partner. Together they were to take dominion over all that God had made. Theirs was a shared rule, but their roles were not interchangeable.
And in the beginning, all was well. God said it was "very good." But then came the fall. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, everything that had been very good was marred by sin, including their relationship with one another. Suddenly Eve's strong protector would be tempted to abuse or abdicate his power. And Adam's gifted helper would be tempted to mock or manipulate him, resenting rather than flourishing under his leadership. Sadly, these temptations would not end when they died. We inherited their sin nature, along with all of humanity (Rom. 5:12).
It's been a battle ever since.
After the fall it was clear that our first parents were equals in another way too: they were equally damaged and equally in need of salvation (Rom 3:23-24).
Male and female are equally called to repent of their sin and trust in Christ. The offer of salvation is made to all, male and female, without distinction. Writing in an age where gender, racial, and socio-economic differences were even more pronounced than they are in our day, Paul said, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-28).
This scripture doesn't mean we are all androgynous once we become Christians, or that visible characteristics of skin tone and facial features will disappear in heaven. It means that salvation is available to everyone, regardless of their ethnic background, economic status, or sex.
In the New Testament, we read about how Jesus went against the cultural grain, reaching out to women to heal them, to talk to them, and calling them to follow him as Lord and Savior. He was a friend not only of Lazarus, but also of his sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus cared for his mother from the cross. After the resurrection, he showed himself to women first entrusting them to inform the disciples in a time when women were not considered credible witnesses.
This pattern continued when the Apostle Paul, writing to the early church, said that all who are in Christ Jesus are "sons of God, through faith" (Gal. 3:26). That doesn’t mean we leave behind our gender distinctions, but that male and female together have the inheritance rights of sons. This was unheard of in the ancient world, where sons inherited everything upon the death of their fathers. Yet this scripture describes men and women together inheriting the kingdom of God. Centuries before women earned property rights in the west, they were granted kingdom rights by the living God.
In short, from the very start, Christianity has challenged norms to elevate, protect, and honor women, rather than suppress, abuse, or demean them.
The Ultimate Right
Men and women have benefited greatly from legal advances to cultural advances that have secured a woman's right to vote, own property, attend university, and pursue a career. But everyone is harmed when we erase distinctions that make women feel they are only valued if they act like men and when we change laws that disproportionately harm women, such as no-fault divorce laws, in the name of equality.
For all its gains, the women's rights movement is limited in how much good it can do. That's because it can't remedy the source of all the trouble: sin. But we are not without hope.
Every human right pales in comparison to the right God gives us, male and female, in Christ Jesus:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12).