In western culture the onset of the industrial revolution in the early 18th century radically changed the role of women. When paid work moved increasingly outside the family and into the factories and office buildings, women were left in the home to care for children and other family members, and when they did enter the workforce were still left with brunt of the responsibility for home and childcare. This historical shift had significant implications on our modern economy and in our churches that still resonates in our current times.
In her book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, Katelyn Beaty does a masterful job of thoughtfully defining (or maybe re-defining) our understanding of who God created women to be and why their work in the world is essential to a flourishing economy. She illustrates how cultural shifts over time created a view that women’s ability to create economic value for the human community was second-class work, and a diminishment of their feminity. Even the church’s assimilation to these shifts have left women whom God gifted and called to the workforce feeling as though making money while female was not God honoring.
I’ll admit when my good friend and bookseller Byron Borger recently approached me with an “immediate must read” book called A Woman’s Place, I was skeptical. My experience over time has been that many Christian books about women in leadership, women and work, or what the bible has to say about women’s roles have left me frustrated and annoyed.
At best, they try and smooth over the angst that women feel around the pull of their many roles including daughter, wife, mother, caregiver, community volunteer, and worker. At worst, they espouse flawed and reductionist theology referencing poorly interpreted passages of Scripture that define the role of women to be exclusively relegated to home and hearth.
By way of disclosure, I am a generation older than Beaty, and grew up under the shadow of Betty Freidan’s “Feminine Mystique.” I was taught, and truly believed, that a woman could do anything a man could do. I am a product of the first wave of Feminism in the late 20th century.
But I trust Byron who told me it was a “Faith Work and Economics” book, and I started to read.
Beaty had me hooked at her opening statement: “Every human being is made to work. And since women are human beings, every woman is made to work.”
The starting point for any conversation about women and work, vocation, the Christian faith and biblical economics must be the Creation narrative and a robust understanding of the “Imago Dei” — that we all bear God’s image and are designed to co-create with Him in all aspects of our work.