Female empowerment. It’s a hot buzz phrase right now, especially after Sunday night’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime show, but there is clearly some cultural confusion about what it entails. Are women empowered by being told we can be and do anything we want? Are we empowered by the belief that there are really no gender distinctions? Are we empowered by a “no rules” sexual freedom that isn’t suppressed by taboos or the patriarchy, or by following and admiring women who are sought after sexual icons because of their beauty, fame, and self-objectification? How ironic that feminism’s message says women are more than what we can offer a man sexually, while the world’s functional message to women through every media outlet is, “You sure better have a good body and sex appeal!” The world sends mixed messages about female empowerment because the world doesn’t know a woman’s (or a man’s) true source of worth and power.
A Secure Identity
Whatever female empowerment means to the world, Christian women know we have a better word and a better source of power that grounds our God-given identity. We are certainly not less than our femaleness, but we are so much more. We have been created female in the image of God, and his immeasurable worth secures for us automatic and intrinsic worth. Although we have marred God’s image in us by seeking to find identity and validation in our rights, achievements, bodies, sexuality, and relationships, God sent his Son–His very image made manifest in human flesh–to redeem us from the idolatry of “finding ourselves” in the gifts rather than the Giver. By faith, we have a new identity in Christ that sets us free from the need to define ourselves and our story by the oppression and injustices we’ve faced, or by the sin patterns that have characterized us. In Christ, we are defined as those “radically beloved by God.” Because of this new identity, we can give thanks for the freedoms, rights, and educational opportunities we have as women in this country without bowing down to them as gods or believing they define who we are.
An Upside Down Power
As Christian women, we don’t need to endlessly pursue “ female empowerment” because we have a greater power living within us. This is an upside down kind of power that enables us to live for something so much bigger and better than ourselves and our own glory. Women have proven our gender’s ability to shatter glass ceilings, but it takes Spirit empowerment to be able to quietly and joyfully lay down our lives for “the least of these” day after day. As women, we have proven we have the God-given intellect and work ethic to become successful doctors and lawyers and teachers and entrepreneurs, but no amount of female empowerment can protect us from calculating our worth by something as unstable as career success or financial security. Female empowerment has given us (the illusion of) complete control over our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction, but only the Spirit of God gives us the self-control to deny gratifying every sexual desire of our flesh. He alone helps us refuse to use beauty, immodesty, and sex appeal as sources of power over men, or as means to secure our own feelings of validation. It’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe and find comfort in the unpopular truth that real sexual freedom and joy are found only when we live within God’s good boundary lines for our sexuality–the ones outlined in his word. And it’s by the Spirit’s power that our spiritual nakedness is clothed by Christ’s righteousness and we are able to repent for glorying in our shame. Female empowerment teaches us to use all of our energy to fight for our rights as women, but the Spirit empowers us to pursue restoration by dying to self and seeking first the Kingdom of God while trusting Him to bring justice.
A World Made New
I do not pretend to believe that women have not faced real injustices, abuse, and oppression in this broken world—some much more than others. Millions of women around the world have not been privy to the freedoms, rights, educational opportunities, and God-like love that the three girls pictured above have experienced in our lives. No, things are not as they should be in our world. But no amount of female empowerment or mojo or women’s rights can set all things aright because women can’t fix the human condition. Women cannot cure sin-sick hearts (including or own). We cannot heal all the wounds of abuse and set every captive free. Female empowerment cannot ultimately bring perfect justice for the sins committed against women or for the sins women have committed against others, but make no mistake, justice will be done. Sin will be paid for–either through the cross-work of Christ on Calvary or by the sinner in the life to come. We can trust God with this.
So, our hope is not in (broken) girls running the (broken) world but in Christ ruling a world made new. In this new world, there will be no thought of female empowerment and no perceived need for it. Male and female will live together in perfect harmony and love as brothers and sisters– co-heirs of the grace of life. Sisters, we need something better than female empowerment, and it is ours in Christ Jesus. His is the power and hope we proclaim.
Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. – Brennan Manning