On October 29, 1975, the National Organization of Women declared "Alice Doesn't Day" (named for the motion picture Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). Women were asked to go on strike for 24 hours — to stay away from school, not go shopping or deposit money in the bank, and skip work if possible (if not possible, they were asked to wear an armband to work or refuse to do "feminine" jobs like making coffee).
This mass demonstration was an attempt to show people in the United States (and around the world, for that matter) that women — have an essential function in today's society. In fact, society as we know it could not continue if "Alice Didn't" go to work or if she didn't shop, teach, drive, answer the phone, do the typing and filing, cook the meals, make the coffee, etc., etc., etc.
But why were these women moved to demonstrate so strongly against doing what they've always done? What is making many of them dissatisfied with their traditional role in life?
Women in Today's World. Times have changed radically in the past fifty years, mainly because of new technology. Problems have arisen all over the world because our environment is changing faster than our social institutions. Change is thrust upon us before we are ready to deal with it.
As Alvin Toffler wrote in the best-selling book Future Shock: "Future shock is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated rate of change in society. It arises from the superimposition of a new culture on an old one. It is culture . shock in one's own society.... [It] is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.... It may well be the most important disease of tomorrow .... The malaise, mass neurosis, irrationality, and free-floating violence already apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste of what may lie ahead unless we come to understand and treat this disease" (New York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1971, p. 11).
One example of this hard-to-take change is the way the average woman's life-style has rapidly evolved since the 1900s. While a woman could formerly count on having a large family and spending nearly all her life rearing children, today the average woman in the United States has her last child before she is 30 years old. By the time she is 34, that child will start to school, and by age 46 he or she will leave home for college.
Consequently, many women find themselves finished with motherhood in their middle forties. Add to this the fact that the average American woman is widowed by age 56, and has a life expectancy of 76, and it's no wonder many women are concerned about their rapidly changing role in life. What do they do when their children are no longer dependent upon them and their husbands have perhaps died?
Unfortunately, many women become very despondent. Some turn to alcohol — figures show that an increasing number of women are becoming alcoholics. Others turn to pills or suicide, or strive frantically to remarry. This depression or despondency is only normal, however. It is paralleled by a man's feeling of letdown when he is laid off his job or fired.
If a woman cannot count on being a homemaker, mother and wife all her life, then she is indeed in trouble unless she discovers other options. As she grows older, the job she filled for the first half of her life will vanish, and she will need to find something else to give her life meaning and purpose.
A Brief Biblical History. According to the Bible, women have been on earth almost as long as men. So what does the Bible have to say about them? Does it really limit their role in life as much as some people think it does? Does God want women to be considered inferior beings? What is His attitude toward them as outlined in His Word? And how should women view themselves and their purpose in life in light of the Scriptures?
As Christ stated in Matthew 19, God originally intended for a husband and wife to be "one flesh" (Matt. 19:3-6). A man was to leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife. He was not to divorce or put her away, or take to himself more than one wife.
But people failed to live up to this ideal. Polygamy is recorded as early as Genesis 4:19. By Moses' time, it was actually legally recognized, with laws governing how a man should treat his different wives (Deut. 21:15-17).
Under the laws of ancient Israel, it was obvious that women were thought of as somewhat inferior to their husbands. Yet under the Mosaic and Levitical system, and later on in Judaism, women were infinitely better off than their counterparts in most of the surrounding nations. They were honored as mothers (Ex. 20:12) and were to be feared and obeyed by their children (Lev. 19:3; Deut. 21:18-19). The mother was a highly respected figure. She often helped name the children, and was responsible in many cases for their earliest education.
Israelite women were allowed to attend religious services and could even present offerings for sacrifice (Lev. 12:5-6). It may come as a surprise to some that in Old Testament times a woman as well as a man could take a Nazarite vow to dedicate herself to the Eternal (see Numbers 6:2).
Women Demand Their Rights. But under the laws given to Moses governing land inheritance, only male heirs could inherit their father's land. Consequently, if a man had no sons, his land would ordinarily go to the next of kin who was a male.
During that time, a man named Zelophehad died who had only daughters. But these daughters stood up to protest to Moses against what they considered an unfair law. Moses took the matter to God, and God rendered this decision: "The daughters of Zelophehad are right; you shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them" (see Numbers 27:1-11).
Because of the spunky protest of these women, God went on to give this added legislation: "If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father's brothers."
Jesus' Unorthodox Approach. When Jesus Christ came on the scene, He taught contrary to the Jewish establishment of His day by declaring that " judgment, mercy, and faith" were more important than picky Pharisaic rituals. Some of His actions were radical compared to the accepted practice of that time and society. For example, in the Gospel of John; chapter four, we read of Jesus carrying on a lengthy conversation with a Samaritan woman. When His disciples saw it, "They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said... 'Why are you talking with her?'" (Verse 27.)
The disciples were truly shocked — and not just because Jesus was talking to a despised Samaritan, but to a woman. In order to understand their reaction, we must realize that according to the custom of the times it was considered shameful or disgraceful for a rabbi or teacher to speak to any woman in public. In fact, most rabbis would not even speak to their own wives in a public situation. It lowered a man's public esteem if he even considered them worthy of conversation.
So Jesus' unorthodox conduct shocked the disciples. But being who He was, and having the tremendous awe and respect for Him that they did, no one took Him to task or interrogated Him about His actions.
The Lesson of Mary and Martha. In Luke 10:39-42, there is a short account of Jesus' visit with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. While Jesus was a guest in their home, Martha acted as hostess while Mary "sat at the Lord's feet" (an expression which meant to sit as a student learning from a teacher) "and listened to his teaching." This aggravated Martha quite a bit, since she was "distracted with much serving." So she came to Jesus and finally complained to Him, asking for His help in telling her sister to do the woman's duty. "Lord," she said, "do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."
Of course this was her role — to serve and be hospitable and prepare the food. It was the men's place to sit and eat and discuss scriptural matters.
This is exactly the way it was centuries before when the angelic messengers came to visit Abraham (Gen. 18). Sarah stayed out of the way while Abraham talked with these "men." Sarah made bread, prepared the meal, and eavesdropped on the conversation.
But Mary, in contrast, sat among the disciples as a student listening to Jesus' words. How did Jesus view this situation? He answered her worried sister: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her" (verses 41, 42).
It wasn't that Jesus thought serving was unnecessary. Certainly someone had to do it, arid we must admire Martha for her diligence. But Jesus was emphasizing that the role of women encompassed more than physical duties. Women along with men should learn the "one thing" that is "needful." Christ believed that women were to heed the divine words of God and be concerned with spiritual issues every bit as much as men.
Again, this was revolutionary. Most rabbis would have preferred the women to be in the kitchen preparing the food, leaving the men to discuss spiritual matters. But not Jesus!
Faithful Women. Christ's overall attitude of respect for the dignity of every human being attracted quite a few women followers who "provided for them [Christ and the disciples] out of their means" (Luke 8:1-3). These women who followed Jesus and gave to Him from their money or possessions were faithful right to the end of His life. While His own disciples all "forsook him and fled," these faithful women followed Jesus right to the cross (see Matthew 27:55-56 and John 19:25-26).
And on the first day of the week, after they had rested on the Sabbath, it was again the women who went to visit the tomb very early in the morning to bring spices which they had prepared. They were the ones who found the sepulcher opened, the stone rolled away, and Jesus' body gone (Luke 24:1-3). The disciples had no idea of what had happened. It was the women who saw the angels and heard the words they spoke and "remembered his [Christ's] words" (Luke 24:8). They returned from the sepulcher and told the disciples and the rest of the followers what they had found, even though the disciples didn't really believe them (verses 9-12). We find that these women were also among those that were waiting faithfully with the apostles of Jesus for the promise of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:13-14).
Outstanding Women. In his letters, the apostle Paul mentioned a number of women who had labored and served the Church, thus furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. One outstanding example is Phoebe. Paul said of her: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well" (Rom. 16:1-2). Paul introduced her to the church at Rome, commending her for her exceptional assistance.
In this same chapter, Paul commends several other women for their service and help. Among them is Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, who were Paul's helpers in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). It is interesting to note that in some instances Priscilla's name is listed even ahead of her husband's. However, when they are mentioned in the context of their home, Aquila is mentioned first.
Paul states that Euodia and Syntyche were women who had "labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life" (Phil. 4:2-3). These women had such an outstanding part in furthering the gospel that Paul gave them honorable mention along with Clement and other of his fellow laborers.
And the gifts of the Spirit were bestowed upon the women of God's Church in that early first century, just as they were to men. The daughters of Philip "did prophesy" (Acts 21:9).
Women's Contribution. Throughout the Bible, God shows He is pleased with His creation of mankind as male and female. God does not want the abolition of these distinct characteristics of sexuality. But a man and a woman are both human beings, and as human beings deserve an equal amount of respect and dignity. No matter what one's gender might be, we are all children of God and empowered to fulfill the same destiny (Gal. 3:28, 29).
As times and circumstances change, God does not expect Christians to try to indefinitely maintain their particular society's old status quo regarding women. Christ certainly didn't. Because of our rapidly changing culture, we may need to reevaluate traditional thinking in order to help women make a greater contribution to society as a whole. All of us as Christians need to reexamine our own personal lives, habits and prejudices in this regard, and make sure our individual attitudes toward women parallel those of Christ.