The Feminism Needed by Men

The Feminism Needed by Men

May 31, 2010  |  Blog, Featured, History, Politics

Since childhood, it seems I have always been drawn to history. One of the first books I remember reading dealt with the American Revolution. And my grandparents had one of those satellite dishes big enough to communicate with E.T. so I would often watch documentaries on the History Channel with my grandfather. There was something in the characters of history that led me to believe that there was still something to be learned from their actions — otherwise why would we bother writing down their experiences? I recently watched the HBO miniseries, John Adams, which caused me to think more about that time period, and what issues are still addressed today. His relationship with his wife, Abigail became most of my focal point in thought. And with that came feminism.

I believe many I know do not quite understand the word “feminist” and what it defines. And many have the ill-perceived notion that feminism means misandry (man-hating) or lesbianism in practice. True feminism is the idea that women should be given the same rights and opportunities of men. UNICEF defines gender equality as “leveling the playing field for girls and women by ensuring that all children have equal opportunity to develop their talents.” So, let me highlight the example of this Founding First Lady and feminist, Abigail Adams. It is extraordinarily insightful to see the relationship she had with her husband, John Adams, and how she gathered the deep respect of her peers, including George Washington and most fondly, Thomas Jefferson. From the invaluable correspondence we see she had with her husband and Mr. Jefferson, a picture appears of the high esteem many men held of her.

Abigail Adams

Born Abigail Smith in 1744, she was a sickly child, and like most women of the time, she did not receive a formal education, of which she alwaysregretted with embarrassment. Because of this, she was taught by her mother to read and write, and educated herself on the extensive libraries of her father, uncle and grandfather. John Adams had known the Smith family as a boy but paid no attention to the shy and petite Abigail, nine years his junior. But after an outing in 1762 with a friend who was engaged to one of the Smith sisters, he became intrigued by Abigail who was constantly reading a book. He was astonished to see her so knowledgeable of poetry, philosophy, and politics which were all subjects not considered appropriate for a lady of the day. And his honor of her as an equal caught her attention. They married in 1764.

There is no denying the intelligence of Abigail Adams. She was often recognized for her knowledge of many topics of the day and the influence she had on her husband. During his presidency, opponents went as far as calling her “Mrs. President.” John Adams thought of her throughout his lifetime as his most trusted advisor on politics, family and finances. John Adams biographer, David McCullough says, “She was a better judge of people than he was. She was much more insightful politician, if you will. She adored him and he adored her. It’s a great love story. And it’s all in their letters.”

In March of 1776, she wrote a letter to her husband and the Second Continental Congress stating:

Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

She should also be known to be a competent farm and financial manager. One writer, Laurie Carter Noble notes that, “John did not resent his wife’s abilities to manage a farm and raise a family without him during his long absences on the nation’s business. Rather, he took considerable pride in her accomplishments. He told her she was so successful in budgeting, planting, managing staff, regulating live-stock, buying provisions, nursing and educating her children, that their neighbors would surely remark on how much better things seemed to go in his absence.”

What I find quite important in all of this is John Adams’ love and support of his wife. He found her as an intellectual equal with whom he trusted and welcomed critique. Mrs. Adams’ insight into all matters was sought and encouraged — matters that affected his career, their family, and rather importantly, the formation of their new country, the United States of America. Not following the orthodox course of other men of the day, which forced women to resign and repress themselves to the traditional roles of women, he sought to elevate her beyond what society had limited. The letters exchanged document that John’s trust in Abigail’s knowledge was sincere. Considering John Adams’ actions, he did not see Abigail as an ornament of fashion, but as a loving spouse, who sharpened his wit and wisdom.

The relationship of John and Abigail Adams set an example that many follow, not of a domination of one spouse onto the other, but a partnership deep rooted in love and respect. I believe their relationship shows how the sexes can and should be viewed as equals. Without Abigail, John Adams may not have had the realigning light needed for him to be kept humble, maybe less contentious than he was known to be, and better connected to people.

Other American presidents have followed the lead of John and Abigail Adams. Former President Jimmy Carter in his book, Our Endangered Values, addresses much of the discrimination of women found in the American Christian church and how that affects the secular world.

A growing number of women are serving as governors in the House and Senate, and as chief executive officers of major corporations. Other nations as diverse as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Israel, [Germany], Great Britain, the Philippines, and Nicaragua have had women as presidents or prime ministers. These nations represent citizens who are predominantly Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, and include two of the three largest democracies on earth.

Despite the fact that Jesus Christ was the greatest liberator of women, some male leaders of the Christian faith have continued the unwarranted practice of sexual discrimination, derogating women and depriving them of their equal rights to serve God.

There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women; he treated them as equal to men….

It is ironic that women are now welcomed into all major professions and other positions of leadership but are deprived of the right to serve Jesus Christ in positions of leadership as they did during his earthly ministry and in the early Christian churches.

For worshipers in our modern society, it has been found convenient to ignore Paul’s comments pertinent to his era—such as “Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair.” Paul also forbade women to braid their hair or to wear rings, jewelry, or expensive cloths. It is obvious to most modern-day Christians that Paul is not mandating permanent or generic theological policies.

Devout Christians can find adequate Scripture to justify either side in this debate. The question is whether we evangelical believers in Christ want to abandon his example and exclude a vast array of potential female partners, who are equally devout and responding to God’s call to serve with us in advancing God’s kingdom on earth.

What is especially disappointing to me is the docile acceptance by so many strong Christian women of their subjugation and restricted role.

I would recommend checking out his book. You can also check out an article he wrote about the issue of Women’s rights here. And to satisfy a desire to see dramatization of John and Abigail Adams, view this short clip of the HBO program below.

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1 Comment

  1. I finally read it, love it. Thank you so much for sharing. It is so refreshing and liberating to hear a Christian guy stand up for and represent these principals of equality.

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