Why Christian Feminism Hurts Christian Feminists Most—9 Proposals
We live in an age of Christian feminism. This has produced two cultural scripts that popular female-oriented blogs give to young women who want to get married. These scripts can be summarized like this:
1. “You’re beautiful no matter what you look like.”
2. “The more you talk about your own victimhood,
the more you empower yourself to overcome that victimhood.”
Both of these scripts communicate truth claims about reality which are not only untrue and impractical, but harmful to those women who adopt them. Here, we are going to unpack the inferences of these statements, the harm it causes to those who hold them, and the practical ways that young women can overcome the untruth and self-sabotage that they perpetuate.
A Quick Note on the Term “Feminism”
Women who adopt these scripts usually self-identify as Christian feminists. Whether or not they identify as Christian feminists is less significant than whether they believe the scripts themselves. It will be helpful initially to remark that the term feminism, in its modern form, at the very least connotes intersectional assumptions that focuses on so-called “marginalized” groups which seek to rectify the power imbalance caused by the majority population—in this case, white men, as the story goes—who, in this theory, normalize systems which facilitate the fulfillment of their own interests at the expense of women.
The term “feminism,” like any term, doesn’t have to be helpful or unhelpful—but since the term highlights the plight of women, the very obstacle these scripts with which I disagree seek to overcome, I’d like to advocate that those seeking an ideology that facilitates true equality replace the term “feminist” with the term “classical liberalism.” Classical liberalism is rooted in political thinkers like Immanuel Kant, John Locke, Adam Smith. Classical liberalism advocates the inalienable rights of the individual, free speech, free trade, and relied upon the mutual self-interest society’s individuals to publicly debate and cooperate with one another without compulsion or force.
TIP: This obscure festschrift is the best primer on classical liberalism I’ve read.
This framework sets the historical precedent within which the liberation of women could be conceived in the 19th and 20th centuries. And it is in those most oppressive, hierarchical nations that favor compelled speech and redistribution that women often do the worst. So, as a semantic point, it is important to point out that I do not consider myself a feminist because the very term assumes that females are disempowered and disadvantaged by a patriarchal system and are therefore entitled to superior and superfluous benefits due to their sex in order to achieve an equality of outcome.
I disagree with this idea, and I proceed with my engagement with these cultural scripts, neither as a feminist nor a chauvinist, but as a classical liberal who believes that the great middling power of respect for human dignity rooted in Judeo-Christian values is the system in which both women and men most greatly flourish.
“The Male Gaze”
Christian feminism infers that male physical attraction toward women is objectification of the female body that perpetuates rape culture. This idea has been encapsulated in the moniker “The Male Gaze,” which has been the whipping boy of modern Christian feminists.
The fact is that most beautiful women do not buy this script. They recognize their own beauty. This notion is self-destructive insofar as it has allied itself with the so-called “fat positive” movement, which champions the argument that obese individuals are both beautiful and healthy, and that the notion “obese is ugly” is a socially constructed fetish that has normalized itself and marginalized the obese (for example here, and for academics here, and here).
Of course, this is all absurd. Beauty is not simply in the eye of the beholder. We all know this, and yet intersectionality pushes Christian feminists to insist that you not trust your lying eyes—obese and unkempt women really are just as beautiful as women who stay in shape and practice self-care.
Now, the Christian feminist will object at this point at well, and insist that the issue isn’t with the beauty of women per se, but with “The Male Gaze” which prioritizes physical beauty over the beauties inherent in godliness, personality, and care. The problem is that most Christian feminist women come off as both ugly and bitter, and never more so than when they rebuke men for the sin of being men, which is to say that they are attracted to physical beauty.
Christian feminists will also object that the male preference for small, petite, skinny women places an unattainable physical requirement on women which compels them to become anorexic, and thereby to develop self-harming mental illnesses.
I’d like here to respond to all of these points.
1. Women, Stay in Shape
Women ought to stay in shape. This initial point has nothing to do with men. Every person should stay in shape. They should be strong. They should be fit. It is at this point established medical fact in the arthritis community that being lighter means your joints will last longer (see also, this). An article in the Springer journal Age found that being stronger means you will live longer. Women who are in shape are better able to defend themselves from an attacker. A recent article in the journal Frontiers in Public Health found that women who eat healthier are more fertile. Women should regularly lift weights, build strength, gain muscle, perform cardiovascular exercise, and maintain a body fat percentage of between 20-25%. There is not a single legitimate argument to be made against the statement: “Single Christian women should stay in shape. And if they’re not in shape, they should get in shape as soon as possible.” Ladies, it’s your body. Make it as strong, able, and lean as you can. Practice the best physical self-care you can possibly practice.
2. Men Don’t Want Anorexic Women
We have officially evolved out of the “anorexic models are attractive” stage of American culture. That time is over. All of the anti-anorexia, pro-fat Christian feminist women out there need to stop saying that physical requirements on women produce eating disorders. Have you been on Instagram lately? We live in the age of the booty. We live in an age where the newest, hottest models on Instagram are crossfitters who are strong. In terms of what the male gaze is looking for, strong is the new hot. And it has taken a long time for our culture to arrive at this place, but it’s here now.
The male preference and female health have never been so aligned—but in our cultural moment, they are completely aligned. Men want healthy, strong, capable, fast, physically able women. Men want women that they can work out with. Men want women who act and look healthy. So the whole anorexia critique of the male gaze has no basis. Young girls who want to become the ideal physical specimen for a man should be eating lots of good food and performing lots of squats.
3. Men Prefer Beautiful Women—This Will Never Stop Being True
Men will never stop being attracted to beautiful women. More than that, they will never stop not being attracted to unattractive women. This phenomenon is self-correcting insofar as every man’s expectations will adjust for his potential to find a mate. There is this movement in Christian feminism that encourages women to remain obese and overweight in order to spite male preference. That is so stupid. That is the way that you will guarantee your search for a husband will become much, much harder. You will never curtail male nature. Men are more naturally physically oriented beings. It’s biology. Stop complaining about it, and start eating a healthy diet and performing a healthy exercise program. I’m not saying you should starve yourself. I’m saying you should conform to the physical ideal which most predictably attracts men.
4. Physical Preference Doesn’t Indicate Shallowness
Just because a man is attracted to your physical body, that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in other elements as well. Men want to be connected physically, emotionally, and mentally to their potential spouses. If a man is disinterested in you because of your physical appearance, that doesn’t mean he’s shallow. He might have expectations that reach outside his own capacity—he might have too high a standard for himself. But a man has not committed a moral wrong for being disinterested in a woman. A man does not owe a woman his love or attraction. Just because he asked you on a date, that doesn’t mean he owes you a second date. Just because he took you on a second date, that doesn’t mean he owes you a third date. And just because you went on a couple dates, that doesn’t mean he owes you an hour-long conversation explaining his disinterest.
5. The “Male Gaze” Is Not Evil, and it Does Not Perpetuate Rape Culture
Men are not evil for working the way that they do. God created male and female—male levels of testosterone biologically compel him to consider physical appearance more than the “female gaze.” God created male and female (Gen. 1:27). There are ideals for the female body and mind that would be unfitting for the male to embody. For example, if a man never took charge and asked a girl out—but rather waited for girls to express interest in him—that would be a tragic man. In the same way that it is fitting for men to initiate romantic encounters (and it’s not unfitting for women to express romantic interest—but it is particularly unmasculine for a man to be deferential when he is interested), it is also fitting that they be attracted to the ideals of the female body.
The “male gaze” is not evil. It is not oppressive. It is simply male—and in that regard, it is simply human. You may never understand it. But if you never accept or appreciate it, you will never find a loving husband—and if you do, he will be resentful toward you, and you will be resentful toward him. The male gaze does not perpetuate rape culture. Male attractiveness to the female body is an opportunity for him to restrain himself, practice chastity until marriage, and defend women from men evil men whose sin turned them into predators.
The male gaze is every man’s opportunity to find the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with—and it is every woman’s opportunity to meet that gaze, and to participate with him through marriage in erotic love. That is a beautiful thing, and the construal of it as evil, which Christian feminism has done, is heinous. If you view male preference for the ideal female physical form as evil, you have bought into Christian dating a Marxist script that that has led you to believe that you are entitled to something to which you are not entitled.
6. The Average, Honest Woman Will Admit She Desires to be Desired
Christian feminists convey the very thing that they want by rejecting it. Everyone in high school hated the popular kids because they wanted to be them. Christian feminists are composed largely of women who want to be the object of male gaze, but haven’t yet been its object. Yes, the pornification and objectification of women by secular culture is evil. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the male preference for healthy women—this is good. If you want to find yourself within that preference, then be a healthy woman.
In this regard, Christian feminism is exactly what it sounds like—a Marxist redistributionist approach to dating that guarantees equality of outcome for ugly girls and pretty girls alike, which co-opts the language of “grace” and “godliness” in the hope of guilting red-blooded men into finding unattractive and bitter women attractive and pleasant. Like real Marxism, it doesn’t work—it will only create an uprising.
Don’t date by grace. Never date by grace. Date by free market capitalism—date by merit, and by values. Marriage is about building something, and you can’t build much if you’re dating someone who thinks your fundamental impulse to be sexually attracted to her physical beauty is evil. Date by the free market system. That’s a Baptist value. Dating according to a free markets model is the closest thing to “Christian dating” you’re ever going to get. And it works. You’re not a Marxist. You’re not a feminist. You’re a Christian. So if you’re a lady, recognize that you need to distinguish between offering your value to a future husband and commoditizing yourself. You don’t have to sell your soul to compete for a husband. Because on the other end, your husband is competing for you. You should only commoditize yourself—and there really is nothing wrong with thinking about it that way, in a simple sense—to the degree that you can attain what you desire while remaining true to yourself. Don’t let feminists tell you any different.
7. You Can Use The “Male Gaze” to Your Advantage
The predictability of the male gaze doesn’t have to be a curse—it can be a blessing. Use it to your advantage. It’s almost a law of the universe—if you get in shape, more men will be more interested in you. That will give you an opportunity to actually showcase all of the godliness, personality, and character that you so desire for a man to know. If you know that there is gold at the top of a mountain, you have two options—climb the mountain and get the gold, or start a blog about how stupid mountain climbing is, and how overinflated gold has become. The person who climbs the mountain gets the spoils. The person who starts the blog has … a blog.
Now, there are plenty of men who need to hear the same message. That’s a different blog. Christian feminists often decry the lack of marriageable men: “Where have all the good men gone?” I’ll tell you where they’ve gone. They’ve gone to the local pub to complain that all the Christian women are out of shape. That’s where they are. And you could be the woman who walks into that bar and makes one of those guys melt at his knees. Now the burden is on him. And as a woman, the odds are on your side.
Marriageable Christian men far outnumber marriageable Christian women. In society generally, men are far more often looking for women than women are looking for men. Men are in competition for the female gaze. And they learn early on that they can either cry about the competition, or they can make themselves as strong, competent, and marriageable as possible in order to find a wife. Many women are simply opting out of competition. The ugly truth is that they are still in competition with other women for men—but the scripts they’ve adopted have guaranteed their placement at far outside the male gaze.
If a Christian man had to choose to marry a woman who is out of shape and bitter, or to marry that same woman who is in shape and positive, the choice would be very clear to him.
8. Stop Being Bitter—It’s Killing Your Chances
Don’t be bitter. Don’t be resentful. Don’t be cynical. If you are a Christian feminist, and desire to find a husband, and you are overweight and cynical, one of those variables must change in order for your desires to be fulfilled. Any red-blooded man will want you to get in shape, and to be positive. Should he also desire that you be godly, funny, and a good personality match? Yes. Of course. But there are women out there who are godly, funny, have great personalities and stay in shape. If you neglect the physical aspect of what you have to offer, you will lose in competition to those other women every single time. But you can use this to your advantage, because you can become the girl who wins a man’s heart. You can increase your chances of connecting with a man by getting in shape. That’s not a result of the fall. That’s just life.
Non-Christian, non-feminist women instinctively know this. They are not gender traitors. Just like non-Christian men know that if they want to compete for a worthwhile mate, they must be in shape, on a good career track, funny, emotionally intelligent, and personable. It’s not wrong to be those things. And it’s certainly not wrong to want those things. So be the very best you can be in your search for your future husband—and in doing so, you will attract the kind of men who make themselves the very best they can be for their future wives.
The only exception to this rule is if you want to attract one of those “male feminist” types. Then, you should totally be as bitter as you can about the oppressive patriarchy, the male gaze, etc. But you should still stay in shape, because even male feminists are still men.
9. Don’t Hate Shallow Men—Just Don’t Date Them
If there is a Christian guy out there who only cares about marrying a 10, you don’t want to be with that guy anyway. He’s the ultimate Christian douchebag. Don’t be with him. He’s on his own journey. And even for that guy, his goal shouldn’t be to repent of physical attraction to beautiful women or to repent from his preference to marry a beautiful woman—it should be to mature his sense of attraction to something which takes into account immaterial qualities like godliness, grace, and personality.
There is an entirely separate article worth writing on what single Christian men need to do. But that’s not what we’re doing here. This is a call for single Christian women who have bought deeply into these harmful feminist scripts to lay them down, improve themselves, and accept that improving one’s body, aesthetic, and attitude for the sake of finding a husband is neither idolatry nor traitorous toward one’s gender. In fact, it’s one of the most self-beneficial and womanly things you can do.
Addendum: Pastors, Stop Guilting Guys for Being Guys
Pastors need to stop guilting guys about their preference for gorgeous women. It is too common for some pastor, married to a beautiful woman, to shame and condemn men in his church for choosing not to marry the homely looking single females in the church. It’s harmful and hypocritical. You need to stop.
Ultimately, Christian feminism hurts Christian feminists most because its scripts produce women who deprive themselves of the very things they aim to achieve. Presumably, these women want to be married. But Christian feminism provides scripts which help them to cope with the fact that they have been unwanted by men in a way that blames the men, and abdicates them of all responsibility in the drama of courtship. In reality, single Christian ladies, if you follow these two rules, you will attract a husband so quickly:
1. Stay in shape.
2. Stay positive.
I’m assuming you’re pursuing godliness. I’m assuming you’re pursuing wisdom. I’m assuming you’re building character, personality, wit, and all the other virtues by which a woman beautifies and strengthens herself. If you’re doing these things, then take it from me as a guy who was single all throughout his twenties and has discipled hundreds of younger Christian guys—the two things that younger Christian men find lacking in the Christian women they meet are not godliness, personality, or character. They find them lacking in physical appearance and a positive attitude. And those women who are godly and warm and intelligent and in shape get married fairly quickly by very good men, because they are pursued by very good men. And that is not a coincidence.