Feminism looms as a formidable threat to the power structure of our male-dominated society. That is why loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh employ the not-so-endearing term "feminazi" to describe the movement.
Some feminists are rankled, and for good reason. Women simply do not have equal rights in America. Theoretically, a woman is allowed to do just about anything allowed a man. The first exception that comes to mind is that women are not allowed to fight on the front lines. I don't really understand the rationale behind this. The Biblical Deborah did all right, as did Joan of Arc.
With at least 51 percent of the population female, women certainly are not getting a fair shake. Why is this? Perhaps there is some truth behind the claim that America was founded on Biblical principles. It is those very Biblical principles that kept Native Americans, African-Americans, and women out of the democratic process for so many generations.
In 1992, the state of Iowa placed an Equal Rights Amendment on its ballot. In an effort to pass the ERA in Iowa, I travelled across that state holding press conferences and appearing on talk shows.
ERA supporters were unprepared for the opposition we encountered. Women — who should know better — bitterly fought the Equal Rights Amendment. Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America activated her hysterical troops to fight the feminists. Then Phyllis Schlafly, also betraying her gender, entered the fray. Both of them proved the theory that women are their own worst enemy.
Next Pat Robertson cranked up his printing presses, flooding Iowa with direct mail. In one of his most amazing pronouncements in recent memory, Robertson wrote: "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."
This, from a man whose wife once said of his religious fanaticism, "I'm a nurse and recognize schizoid tendencies when I see them, and I think you're sick." He sure straightened her out.
As a former Christian fundamentalist minister, I've observed numerous men attracted to fundamentalism because it gave them power over women. When you have an already violent man, this power translates into personal injury, and even death, for women. I've seen women who were beaten, stripped naked, and thrown out into the street by their Bible-believing husbands because of insubordination.
Fearful of completely losing power over women, the radical Religious Right is fighting hard to create a Bible-based society. And naturally, this movement is led by men. The few Religious Right leaders who are female are in total submission to their husbands.
While the Bible is indeed sexist and anti-feminist, I've often heard fundamentalist ministers say Jesus did more to advance women's rights than anyone in history. They say this because the man Jesus was often surrounded by women, one of whom washed his feet and dried them with her flowing hair. Today, these women might be called groupies.
In Genesis, women are considered a "help meet" for a man, meaning a suitable helper. Proverbs calls a wife a "crown to her husband." In the New Testament, Peter tells wives to be submissive to their husbands. He tells the husband to honor the wife as "the weaker vessel." Timothy and Titus, respectively, tell the women to stay at home and be obedient to their husbands. Paul, in a much-debated statement, said that women are to be silent in the churches.
With all this background, it's no wonder that the Rev. Pat Robertson said on his "700 Club" program: "I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household and the husband's the head of the wife and that's just the way it is. This is the way the Bible sets it up."
Pregnancy, and the fear of pregnancy, can enslave women. Reproductive rights liberate women because it offers them a choice. Men cannot possibly understand the gravity of that choice. The anti-abortion movement, naturally, is led by men — or "macho-Nazis," as I see it.
The number of abortions could be greatly reduced if birth control was more widely available and widely utilized. Unfortunately, the men leading the radical Religious Right, oppose that, too. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, glorifies women who give birth to five, ten, or even twelve children. He warns about having sympathy for women who have sought abortions. He orders women who have been sterilized to seek a medical reversal.
Feminism represents freedom for women. And anyone desiring freedom for women is a feminist. Full rights for women is one of the last great battles in the human rights effort. We must all join in.