The Woman’s Place

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From Ladies Against Feminism, a timely word from R. J. Rushdoony

We talk a lot on LAF about the “family economy” and how it eliminates the whole mythical “work-family balance” that causes eruptions in the blogosphere every time it is raised. Family is work, and what takes place within the family unit is far more than washing dishes and making beds. Those are normal routines of any daily life. The heart of the family is really and truly economic in every sense of the word. When the whole family is involved in work (whether it’s a home-based business, a ministry, home education, hospitality and charity, community service, etc.), its members grow together in amazing ways and become more involved in one another’s lives, thoughts, and dreams than if each member of the family goes in a different direction each morning to different locations with differing priorities and goals. Today, this is a radical way to approach life, but our ancestors prior to the Industrial Revolution lived it, breathed it, and built nations upon it. We can, too. What could be more empowering, freeing, or exciting? Enjoy the article!]

“The Woman’s Place” by R.J. Rushdoony

The Biblical doctrine of woman…reveals her as one crowned with authority in her “subjection” or subordination, and clearly a helper of the closest possible rank to God’s appointed vice-regent over creation. This is no small responsibility, nor is it a picture of a patient Griselda. Theologians have all too often pointed to Eve as the one who led Adam into sin while forgetting to note that her God-given position was such that counsel was her normal duty, although in this case it was clearly evil counsel….

It is a common illusion that in man’s primitive, evolutionary past, women were the merest slaves, used at will by primitive brutes. Not only is this evolutionary myth without foundation, but in every known society, the position of women, as measured in terms of the men and the society, has been a notable one. The idea that women have ever submitted to being mere slaves is itself an absurd notion. Women have been women in every age.

In a study of an exceedingly [so-called] backward society, the natives of Australia, Phyllis Kaberry has shown the importance and status of women to be a considerable one. [1]

Few things have depressed women more than the Enlightenment, which turned woman into an ornament and a helpless creature. Unless of the lower class, where work was mandatory, the “privileged” woman was a useless, ornamental person, with almost no rights. This had not been previously true. In 17th-century England, women were often in business, were highly competent managers, and were involved in the shipping trade, as insurance brokers, manufacturers and the like.

 

Up to the eighteenth century women usually figured in business as partners with their husbands, and not in inferior capacities. They often took full charge during prolonged absences of their mates. In some instances, where they were the brighter of the pair, they ran the show. [2]

A legal “revolution” brought about the diminished status of women; “the all too familiar view of women suddenly emerging in the nineteenth century from a long historical night or to a sunlit plain is completely wrong.” [3] A knowledge of early American history makes clear the high responsibilities of the woman; New England sailing men could travel on two and three year voyages knowing that all business at home could be ably discharged by their wives.

 

The Age of Reason saw man as reason incarnate, and woman as emotion and will, and therefore inferior. The thesis of the Age of Reason has been that the government of all things should be committed to reason. The Age of Reason opposed the Age of Faith self-consciously. Religion was deemed to be woman’s business, and, the more the Enlightenment spread, the more church life came to be the domain of women and children. The more pronounced therefore the triumph of the Age of Reason in any culture, the more reduced the role of women became. Just as religion came to be regarded as a useless but sometimes charming ornament, so too women were similarly regarded.

These ideas moved into the United States through the influence of Sir William Blackstone on law, who in turn was influenced by England’s Chief Justice Edward Coke, a calculating opportunist. As a result, his law books of the first half of the 19th century showed woman in a diminished role. Three examples of this are revealing:

Walkers’ Introduction to American Law: The legal theory is, marriage makes the husband and wife one person, and that person is the husband. There is scarcely a legal act of any description that she is competent to perform…. In Ohio, but hardly anywhere else, is she allowed to make a will, if happily she has anything to dispose of.

Roper’s Law of Husband and Wife: It is not generally known, that whenever a woman has accepted an offer of marriage, all she has, or expects to have, becomes virtually the property of the man thus accepted as a husband: and no gift or deed executed by her between the period of acceptance and the marriage is held to be valid; for were she permitted to give away or otherwise settle her property, he might be disappointed in the wealth he looked to in making the offer.

Wharton’s Laws: The wife is only the servant of the husband. [4]

There is an extremely significant clause in Roper’s statement: “It is not generally known….” The full implications of the legal revolution were not generally known. Unfortunately, they did come to be generally supported, by men. Even more unfortunately, the churches very commonly supported this legal revolution by a one-sided and twisted reading of Scripture. The attitude of men generally was that women were better off being left on a pedestal of uselessness. At a women’s rights conference, one speaker answered these statements, Sojourner Truth, a tall, colored woman, prominent in anti-slavery circles and herself a former slave in New York state. She was 82 years of age, had a back scarred from whippings, could neither read nor write, but had “intelligence and common sense.” She answered the pedestal advocates powerfully and directly, speaking to the male hecklers in the audience:

Wall, chilern, whan dar is so much racket dar must be somethin’ out of kilter. I tink dat ‘twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin’ ’bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all dis here talkin’ ’bout? Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place! And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!… I have ploughed and planted, gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it 00 and bear de lash as well! And a’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen ‘em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman? Den dat little man in black dar, he say womin can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wan’t a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?… Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him. ‘Bleeged to ye for hearin’ me, and now ole Sojourner han’t got nothin’ more to say. [5]

The tragedy of the women’s rights movement was that, although it had serious wrongs to correct, it added to the problem, and here the resistance of man was in as large a measure responsible. Instead of restoring women to their rightful place of authority beside man, women’s rights became feminism: it put women in competition with men. It led to the masculinization of women and the feminization of men, to the unhappiness of both. Not surprisingly, in March 1969, Paris couturier Pierre Cardin took a logical step in his menswear collection show: “the first garment displayed was a sleeveless jumper designed to be worn over high vinyl boots. In other words, a dress.” [6]

Thus, the Age of Reason brought in an irrational supremacy for men and has led to the war of the sexes. As a result, the laws today work, not to establish godly order, but to favor one sex or another. The laws of Texas reflect the older discrimination against women; the laws of some states (such as California) show a discrimination in favor of women.

To return to the Biblical doctrine, a wife is her husband’s help-meet. Since Eve was created from Adam and is Adam’s reflected image of God, she was of Adam and an image of Adam as well, his “counterpart….” The Biblical doctrine shows us the wife as the competent manager who is able to take over all business affairs if needed, so that her husband can assume public office as a civil magistrate; in the words of Proverbs 31:10-31, he can sit “in the gates,” that is, preside as a ruler or judge. Let us examine the women of Proverbs 31:10-31, whose “price is far above rubies.” Several things are clearly in evidence:

 

  1. Her husband can trust her moral, commercial, and religious integrity and competence (vss. 11, 12, 29-31).
  2. She not only manges her household competently, but she can also manage a business with ability (vss. 13-19, 24-25). She can buy and sell like a good merchant and manage a vineyard like an experienced farmer.
  3. She is good to her family, and good to the poor and the needy (vss. 20-22).
  4. Very important, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom: and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (vs. 26). The useless woman of the Age of Reason, and the useless socialite or jet set woman of today who is a show-piece and a luxury, can and does speak lightly, and as a trifler, because she is a trifle. The godly woman, however, has “in her tongue the law of kindness.” People, men and women, who are not triflers avoid trifling and cheap, malicious talk. Loose talk is the luxury of irresponsibility.
  5. She does not eat “the bread of idleness” (vs. 27); i.e., the godly woman is not a mere luxury and pretty decoration. She more than earns her keep.
  6. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her” (vs. 28).

Obviously, such a woman is very different from the pretty doll of the Age of Reason, and the highly competitive masculinized woman of the 20th century who is out to prove that she is as good as any man, if not better. A Biblical faith will not regard woman as any less rational or intelligent than man; her reason is normally more practically and personally oriented in terms of her calling as a woman, but she is not less intelligent for that.

Another note is added by King Lemuel in his description of the virtuous woman:

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who reveres the LORD will be praised” (vs. 30, Berkeley Version).

Nothing derogatory towards physical beauty is here intended, and, elsewhere in Scripture, especially in the Song of Solomon, it is highly appreciated. The point here is that, in relation to the basic qualities of a true and capable help-meet, beauty is a transient virtue, and clever, charming ways are deceitful and have no value in the working relationships of marriage.

 

Important as the role of a woman is as mother, Scripture presents her essentially as a wife, i.e., a help-meet. The reference is therefore not primarily to children but to the Kingdom of God and man’s calling therein. Man and wife together are in the covenant called to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it…. Certainly, the command to “increase an multiply” is very important, but a marriage does not cease to exist if it be childless…. God himself defined Eve’s basic function as help-meet, important as motherhood is, it cannot take priority over God’s own declaration.

Endnotes:

 

1. Phyllis M. Kaberry, Aboriginal Woman: Sacred and Profane (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1939).

2. Ferdinand Lundberg and Marynia F. Farnham, M.D., Modern Woman, The Lost Sex (New York: Harper, 1947), p. 130.

3. Ibid., p. 421.

4. Charles Neilson Gattey The Bloomer Girls (New York: Coward-McCann, 1968), p. 21.

5. Ibid., p. 105 f.

6. Time, April 18, 1969, p. 96.

7. Ibid., p. 213.

 

 

(Excerpted from Institutes of Biblical Law: Vol. I)
 

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