Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Standing Firm in a Changing World

Leslie Basham: Carolyn McCulley says young women face some pressures unknown to previous generations.

Carolyn McCulley: I said to them, “There are things that have changed that you have inherited that you think are normal. I remember when AIDS came about. It didn’t used to be that way. You live with the fallout of so many things, and you don’t know how we got here. You don’t know what’s changed, and you don’t know what’s at stake.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, September 2.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’m delighted to have back in the studio with me today my long-time friend, Carolyn McCulley. She’s just been a partner in ministry, a prayer partner, and an encouragement. We are kindred spirits. You’ve heard her before on Revive Our Hearts. She’s been a great blessing to many of you on the subject of singleness. We’ve talked about femininity, biblical womanhood, a number of subjects, and she’s back with me today to talk about a new book she’s written called Radical Womanhood. The subtitle to that book is Feminine Faith in a Feminist World.

Carolyn, welcome to Revive Our Hearts. Thanks for coming on to talk with our listeners about what God has put on your heart.

Carolyn: Well, of course, it’s a huge joy to be back here with you, Nancy. You were such a champion for this book in many more ways that I could even enumerate today. I’ve been very grateful for your support, so thank you.

Nancy: You’re welcome. I was telling you just before we got into the studio here that I’m jealous you came up with this great title. It’s a title I wish I’d come up with for a book, but I’m glad you wrote the book. Radical Womanhood, which also is the name of your blog, and if our listeners would go to ReviveOurHearts.com, they can link to your blog. You write on all kinds of subjects of interest to women. A lot of our listeners read your blog. I’m glad for that.

The main title is Radical Womanhood, and then the subtitle, which I just love, Feminine Faith in a Feminist World. We’re going to talk about what feminine faith is, what the feminist world is, and how those two can come together, how we as God’s women can have biblical feminine faith in a feminist world.

Let me just back up for a moment for those of our listeners who may not have heard you before and just let them know that you work with Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Carolyn: Yes.

Nancy: Tell us in a sentence what Sovereign Grace Ministries is.

Carolyn: It’s a ministry that starts and cares for churches around the world. It focuses on church planting and training leaders.

Nancy: So our listeners may be aware of some Sovereign Grace church in their area. You work with the ministry that serves those churches as a media specialist.

Carolyn: Yes.

Nancy: Which means you do what?

Carolyn: I’m essentially a video producer. I have a wonderful job where I get to go around and document God’s grace in our various churches. This year I was in Ethiopia and Germany and last year in Bolivia and New Mexico. In years prior to that, I was in New Orleans, right after Katrina, and the U.K.

It’s wonderful. If you love to travel, you’d probably envy my job. I enjoy it. I love to travel, but I also love being able to tell the stories of God’s work among our churches. It’s an incredible privilege.

Nancy: You love the gospel, and Sovereign Grace churches are known for just an emphasis on the centrality of Christ, the centrality of the gospel.

In this book, Radical Womanhood, you’re not just doing an academic treatment of the subject of our feminist world, but you’ve woven throughout this book how our womanhood has to be informed not only by the Scripture but by the gospel of Christ. That’s something that really drives you in pursuing feminine faith.

Carolyn: Well, it’s the heritage I’ve received. Certainly my pastors and my leaders are very cross-centered. In fact, my boss, C.J. Mahaney, wrote The Cross-Centered Life, so that would be a hallmark of their ministry and one that I’ve received. They are very intentional whenever they introduce people to a passage of Scripture to always bring them back around to, “How does this point to Christ?” So that’s how I’ve been schooled and taught, and I’m grateful you can see it in the manuscript.

Nancy: We want to see it in our lives as women. We want our lives to point people to Jesus Christ. That’s why the byline of Revive Our Hearts is “Calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.” Those last two words are so important because we’re not talking about a kind of femininity that’s just a throwback to another era. We’re talking about something that reflects the beauty and the wonder of who Christ is. That’s why I think this is such an important book that you’ve written.

We’re going to talk about it over the next several days and unpack some of the themes of that book, but let me just say to our listeners: There is no way in the course of this series that we’ll be able to do justice to this book. You need to get it, and you need to get it for the younger women that you know—college students. I have a real burden for some of these younger women to be informed and to come to understand how we got where we are as it relates to womanhood issues.

Carolyn has done a great job of developing this theme how feminist thinking has influenced our world in areas like marriage and motherhood and female sexuality. We’re just going to touch on some of the highlight themes in this series and hope that it will whet your appetite to get the book, get it into the hands of all the young women that you know—college age, young moms, young singles. It’s not just for young women, but I’m particularly burdened that these younger women have not heard this message. Their lives will be blessed and helped if they can get a hold of it.

Carolyn, early on in this book, Radical Womanhood, you say that this is a book you wish that you had had as a young believer. Why is that? Tell us where you were in your journey as a young believer and why you wish you’d had this book.

Carolyn: Well, I hate to peg myself on my age on air, but . . .

Nancy: Oh, go ahead. Now that I’m past 50, it’s no problem.

Carolyn: Well, glory be to God that we’re still living. That’s the way that I think about it, but I had come up through grade school in the 70s, graduated from high school in the 80s, and went to college in the 80s. During that time I was living through the tail end of what’s now known as the "second wave of feminism.”

Because there had been such a media emphasis on women’s liberation in the political movement in the late 60s and 70s, I kind of grew up thinking, “Well, that’s over and done with.” I had no idea I was living like that frog in the proverbial boiling pot of water. As my culture was changing around me, as things were changing around me, I thought my reactions and my opinions were the result of independent thinking. I had no idea that I had really inherited a world view that highly shaped me and my assumptions.

I went to school, and I went to college, and I got a degree in journalism, but I also received a minor or certificate in women’s studies. So I was highly shaped by feminist thinking and ideology during that time. I went on to work for several years in the media field. Then I had the opportunity at 30 to hear the gospel, and I was, by God’s grace, saved at that time period.

So there I was, walking into a church where all the women there were so foreign to me—their assumptions, their viewpoints, their way of living.

Nancy: For example?

Carolyn: Well, it would range from the kind of music you listen to, the kind of fashion you liked, the way you decorated your home—even having an emphasis on the home was foreign to me. I honestly felt like an anthropologist sometimes, going into women’s homes and looking around, like, “Wow. They have candles in the bathroom.”

Nancy: Like in a foreign culture?

Carolyn: Yes, very much so.

We were going through the book of Ephesians when I first started church. At the time I remember thinking, “I know God’s changed me, some things are going to have to change.” But I didn’t realize what a profound difference He wanted to make in my life in terms of the way I looked at myself as a woman.

So we get to church. They’re in Ephesians 5 talking about the role of a husband and a wife. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, to live for her as though he were caring for his own flesh, and the wife to submit to her husband, to honor and respect him (see verses 22-33). These roles struck me as being old fashioned and arcane and something that we didn’t live with anymore. Didn’t these people realize that culture had changed?

So I met with my pastor, and I asked him for some help. I asked him to help me understand this perspective, and he gave me a wonderful resource, but it went way over my head at the time. I didn’t find other resources at the time that could explain to me how I had arrived where I was in my thinking and why the Bible would prescribe the things that it did in a way that was easy for me to understand.

So being a writer, from the very first I had a burden for this. But it would take another 15 years before the Lord would open the doors for me to write it. I think, in large measure, because there was work that needed to be done on my character.

Nancy: He wanted you to learn to live and love the message that one day you would write.

Carolyn: I also had to be tested in some areas to understand what I really and truly believed and to spend some time learning to apply it in my life even as a single woman. This is the reason why I have always wanted to write this book. But I think the Lord allowed me to write my first book, which was about biblical womanhood for single women, first. I had to sort of sort through these messages and apply them in terms of my own life.

I’ve had the opportunity over the last several years to speak to different groups of women. I’ve really had a burden in speaking to college women in particular who have no idea—“How did we get here?" They have no idea what has changed in my life alone.

Nancy: I know you told me about an incident not too long ago where you were speaking to a group of college women, and you asked them some questions and were surprised at their answers.

Carolyn: Yes. I had the opportunity to speak to a regional college campus group. I had been warned that a lot of these girls were either just new believers or weren’t even believers yet. They wouldn’t be very well versed with the Bible, and that I should make sure to ask questions as I go along to test their assumptions. So I had the opportunity to be in a small setting and to bring the core message of this book to them.

As I looked out at them waiting for the seminar to start, one young girl was sitting in the front row. She had this shiny, bright, happy face, and she said, “I can’t wait for you to tell me how I can blend my feminism with my Christian beliefs.”

Nancy: Which wasn’t quite the gist of your message.

Carolyn: No, but I just smiled at her, and I said, “I can’t wait either.” But watching her and watching others, I realized as I looked at them that I needed to back up three or four more steps even from the message I brought. So I put my notes down, and I just said, “I want you to know how much has changed in my lifetime alone, the things that you have inherited.”

I said, “For instance, how many of you are children of divorce?” Nearly half the room raised their hands.

I said to them, “There are things that have changed that you have inherited that you think are normal. You think the hookup culture is normal. It’s not. It didn’t used to be that way when I was younger. You live with the specter of death from sexual immorality. I remember when AIDS came about. It didn’t used to be that way. You live with the fallout of so many things, and you don’t know how we got here. You don’t know what’s changed, and you don’t know what’s at stake.”

That was what my burden was for this message, which is now in the book.

Nancy: One of the things you did with those women was to educate them on what you’ve already referenced, these three waves of feminism.

So in the moments we have left on today’s program, I’d love for you to just walk us through—take us on a tour of the high points of these three waves of feminism. But first of all, why does it matter that we know this?

Carolyn: Well, I think it matters that we know this because there are assumptions that feminism is just one facet that came about in the 1960s, but in my research I realized the roots of what we experienced in our lives actually go all the way back to the 19th century, and in some ways that was more profound in terms of its change on society than even what happened in the 20th century.

Nancy: So the 19th century, that would be what you would call the first wave of feminism?

Carolyn: Right. Most people generally identify the first wave of feminism from 1848 to approximately 1920 when women received the national right to vote. It was largely centered around suffrage—women obtaining the right to vote. It has its roots in some change with all the Republican ideals that were coming about in our nation, in the founding of our nation, and the French Revolution and other places, that all men were created equal before God, and women said, “Hello, we are, too.”

So what happened is that women were saying, “We also want to participate in the politics of our nation.” They were, in my opinion, rightfully looking for changes in the legal status of women so they could be considered full legal entities both in marriage and property ownership and the ability to vote.

What happened is that early on there was such a uniform sinful judgment against men, in some quarters, and some unhealthy promotion of feminine values to be like the model of everything that’s needed in our culture, that it actually set the stage for feminism, for people to start to decide, “Men have corporately sinned against us, and so men are thus the problem.” It actually laid the foundation for the first wave of feminism.

So what was good, and there are some things we’ve inherited from this move that we would appreciate got lost fairly quickly in terms of women wanting to defy Scripture, defy the church authority, defy the marriage relationship, and to change what had been standard practice in the culture very radically.

So the first wave of feminism was largely focused on suffrage.

Nancy: That is the right to vote.

Carolyn: Yes, the right to vote. But there were many other aspects that came about—changes in the church structures and founding of new religions that are not biblically based and led by women—and changes in women’s sexuality and their relationships with men as well.

Then, at least in the United States, things calmed down a little bit as far as political activism is concerned, and I think primarily because we were very distracted with World Wars I and II and the Depression. But following that, there came the rise of socialism, which was very much linked to feminism in both its first and second waves.

So Betty Friedan really kind of kicked off the second wave with the publication of her book, “The Feminism Mystique,” in 1963.

Nancy: What was the essence of her argument or her concern?

Carolyn: Her concern was that women were not fully developed, and they were living in this suburban lifestyle that she called “a comfortable concentration camp.” They suffered from what she called, “the trapped housewife syndrome.” She presented herself to be the typical American housewife, but she actually had been a radical activist in Communist and Socialist causes for about 25 years.

Nancy: So did she have a point here—based on the research that you’ve done (both of us are a little young to remember that era)—was she identifying or tapping into something that women really were feeling on a broad scale?

Carolyn: Well, there are some things that I would have some sympathies with. The way she described women being trapped in their affluence, just running around and being satisfied by the appliances and being satisfied by the marketing toward them, and living this American dream, which is really more about your stuff than your relationships. I would tend to agree.

I don’t think we as women are called to just be concerned with buying our stuff, polishing our stuff, dusting our stuff, showing off our stuff. That’s not the essence of femininity, but she was really pushing for something more than just the release from the sterile suburban lifestyle that she had painted, from women who felt groomed in one direction and trapped by marriage and motherhood, who had ambition to do something more.

I think she was short-sighted in being able to see the implications of some of the things she brought because later on in her life before she died, many of her interviews would show a very tempered perspective. She began to really embrace family. She was grateful for her children’s marriages and for her grandchildren. I think that the perspective of a long life helped her to see that the early frustrations she may have experienced with motherhood really didn’t have anything to do with “a comfortable concentration camp in suburbia” but with a woman who was not seeing the long-term fruit and goals of what motherhood could be.

Nancy: In the process of books like hers, there were those few seminal books. Am I right with my impression that they served to foment a spirit of discontent and rebellion among a lot of women in this country?

Carolyn: Yes. Actually, there was a very intentional application of what Mao Tse-tung had done in Communist China . . .

Nancy: . . . with the consciousness-raising groups.

Carolyn: Right. The suburban consciousness-raising groups in the 60s were modeled after what he had done in the 1940s.

Nancy: For those who weren’t around in the 60s, what were those like?

Carolyn: Well, I only remember reading about them, but it was where women would get together and talk to each other about their frustrations. In other words, they were sowing bitterness and anger and discontent among each other. That would lead to this higher consciousness of, “We’ve been trapped by our roles. We need to break free.”

Well, that same process of stirring up anger and discontent fomented a political rebellion in China, and it fomented a rebellion and a revolution in our culture as well.

Nancy: And that revolution was seismic. It was a scene change, really, in our whole culture. I think women today who are what we would call “younger women”—under 40—have never known a world any different than what it is today.

Carolyn: Yes. It was such a profound and a rapid change in our culture. There were, again, things that would be positive—the second-wave feminism brought about equal pay for equal work for women. I think that’s fair and that’s right. But it also devalued the home and said, “The only way for you to be a full-fledged adult is to be out in the workplace. That’s where you’re validated, and that’s where you have worth.” So that’s where we began a huge generational experiment with latchkey children.

I think we’re seeing media now done by those who were in their 20-somethings and younger who are looking at this. The cry that comes from their hearts in the movies and media and music is, “Where are the relationships that I can count on? Who’s there for me?” They were the children of divorce. They were the children of being left alone in their homes and not really feeling that sense of a connected family.

Now, I’m painting these things in extremes. When I describe this book, I often say to people, “It’s about the history of feminism—the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I don’t want to take a position where it’s all so black and white and not have intellectual honesty about some of the things feminism addressed that were right, in the sense that these are wrongs against women. It’s just that the ability to observe a problem and then interpret a problem is two different things.

Nancy: And what to do about it.

Carolyn: Exactly. Scripture would often also observe these same problems but would have a completely different interpretation and solution. Feminism would see these things and go in another direction that are anti-God and anti-family.

Nancy: So what’s an example of what feminism might have correctly observed but their interpretation and prescription for it are different from Scripture?

Carolyn: Well, I think first-wave feminism identified the most historical wrongs—women being subsumed legally into a marriage where they could no longer own property in their own names. That was called “coverture.” Feminist men were working against it, and even women who would not identify as feminists themselves would say, “We needed these legal reforms.” So there were some things that were good, and I think that women were not valued at that time. But it became a very pro-woman movement by the 60s, which by that time also meant anti-men largely.

So, second-wave feminism would go largely from 1963 to 1983. It had included a lot of what is now known as “the sexual revolution,” a lot of very pro-homosexual movement, a lot of pro-divorce, pro-abortion. A lot of these radical changes came about then.

But a lot of people also don’t know that there’s a third wave of feminism.

Nancy: What gave rise to that?

Carolyn: Well, it was actually the daughters of second-wave feminists. Second-wave feminists actually had one moment in time when we as Christians stood on the same platform with them and agreed with something, and that was about the issue of pornography.

In 1983, around that time period, Christians and feminists, second-wave feminists were in agreement that pornography degraded women, but something just kicked over in another direction in the early 90s.

The daughters of those second-wave feminists said, “Oh, no. I’m tired of the sexual politics. You don’t objectify me. I objectify me. I like sexual power.”

This whole movement called “girl power” came about then, probably as just the normal (and I say “normal” with quotes around it) “normal” rebellion of one generation against another. So what has become known as “sex positive” or “porn positive feminism” came about at that time. That’s why we see so many images in our media of really tough, fierce, buffed, half-dressed women, assuming these aggressive roles and flaunting their sexuality.

Nancy: We’re going to explore some of those things further over the next few days here as we look at the influence of feminist thinking, really all three waves, on marriage, on motherhood, and on female sexuality.

You may be listening to this program today thinking, “Well, I escaped all of that. I hardly know what you’re talking about. I’ve just not been involved in that world.”

But more than we realize, we’ve all been influenced by this way of thinking, and if we’re going to be women who reflect God’s way of thinking in this world, we need to understand where the culture is, where the women are, how they got there, and how the gospel of Christ addresses these issues that are of concern to women who’ve grown up in this feminist world.

So this is the counter-revolution we’re talking about—Radical Womanhood. It’s biblical womanhood, but it’s radical in the world’s sense. It goes against the flow, and we’re calling women to have feminine faith, fearless feminine faith in a feminist world.

Carolyn, I want to thank you again for writing this book. We’re going to pick up this conversation when we come back again on Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: Let me tell you how to get a copy of the book Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking about with author Carolyn McCulley: Just visit our website, ReviveOurHearts.com. When you make an online donation, we’ll say “Thanks” by sending Carolyn’s book, Radical Womanhood.

If you’d rather call, here’s the number: 1-800-569-5959.

Like Nancy just said, we’ll hear part two of this conversation tomorrow as Carolyn talks about the allure of money and material things for women today. She’ll help you set some biblical priorities tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

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