Should Women Think?

“Should Women Think?” is the title of a chapter in Nellie McClung’s 1915 suffragist treatise, In Times Like These.[1] Writing in response to drastic social inequities which fostered abuse of women and children, and driven by the political helplessness of women to respond to the atrocities of World War I, McClung used her Judeo-Christian background as a Methodist minister’s daughter to lay out a Christian case for dismantling the pre-Christian, Greek-style upper-class male supremacy of the Victorian era.[2]

Victorianism Versus Christianity

Given the penchant for that brand of Victorian ideals within modern protestant fundamentalism (one can hardly call a separatist mindset “evangelical”), it seems pertinent to hark back to what Christians were saying in Victorian times. Since I have McClung’s volume here on my desk, it’s not at all inconvenient.

In the vein of Solomon’s Ecclesiastes musings, McClung wrote:

So we ask, in all seriousness, and in no spirit of flippancy: “Should women think?” They gain in power perhaps, but do they not lose in happiness by thinking? If women must always labor under unjust economic conditions, receiving less pay for the same work than men, if women must always submit to the unjust social laws…if women must always see their sons degraded by man-made legislation and man-protected evils–then I ask, Is it not a great mistake for women to think?[3]

This is our dilemma: If we think too much on the evils of the world, perhaps the pain will only overwhelm us. Or will it? After all, we give birth. And yet, too often, we give up our minds to the idolatry of worldly male authority.

Do Women Have the Right to Oppose False Teaching?

One may wonder how this is even a question. An interesting dynamic plays out between conservative evangelical women and fundamentalist false teachers, a good many of whom are also women. In the first place, a cultural tradition of rigid segregation of the genders tends to drive a wedge between husbands and wives, effectively dividing and conquering. Separated from their husbands’ friendship and community of thought, women are exposed to a lot of teaching that their husbands don’t hear about, or hear about too late – after their wives have absorbed and accepted unbiblical, manmade “doctrines of the home” or “doctrines of femininity.”

Once women open the door to these false teachers of a pagan persuasion, those teachers insist that their spiritual hostesses must be silent, submissive. To speak up is to be a “Jezebel.” Yet these false teachers infringe upon the very areas of life which they supposedly assign exclusively to women – home and child-raising/education – and they infringe upon the very areas of life which they assign exclusively to husbands: to be the leader and spiritual teacher in the home. And so their falseness is immediately obvious, should a woman think about it for even a second.

…That is, if these things must always be, if we must always beat upon the bars of the cage–we are foolish to beat; it is hard on the hands! Far better for us to stop looking out and sit down and say: “Good old cage–I always did like a cage anyway!”

But the question of whether or not women should think was settled long ago. We must think because we were given something to think with, ages ago, at the time of our creation. If God had not intended us to think, he would not have given us our intelligence. It would be a shabby trick, too, to give women brains to think, with no hope of results, for thinking is just an aggravation if nothing comes of it.[4]

In that light, those who oppress the intellectual freedom of women become the accusers of God, a small Satan, their doctrines promoting the idea that God has indeed engaged in quite a shabby trick by how He designed womankind.

Perhaps instead we women should ask ourselves, “Am I willing to subscribe to the false idol of a ‘God’ whose ‘holy and righteous’ character is demonstrated by shabby tricks?”

Do Women Have a Responsibility to Oppose False Teachers?

Again, one wonders how this is even a question. Given that false teachers make their entrance into many Christian families through materials picked up by married women – the primary educators and spiritual nurturers of the family – we have at least a responsibility to discern those materials using the Bible in its full context, without relying only on proof-texts. Any genuine commitment to Titus 2 can’t possibly be overridden by any inversion of biblical priorities: God first. If applicable, marriage second. If applicable, children a close third. The rest of the world, including church, older women’s advice, and society at large, comes last after caregiving commitments.

How Then Should Women Think?

That means that when a church leader is telling a woman to be silent, to cease being “contentious,” “usurping,” or whatever label is applied – the hierarchy of Godly priorities should put such admonitions in their proper place: Last among considerations.

Let all things be done decently and in order, including our commitment to doctrinal fidelity. Is silence the will of God? Is silence a true service to my husband? My children?

Or is “Silence, woman!” merely the pseudo-rebuttal of a spiritual charlatan clinging to heretical love of power and esteem?

Even in order to consent to silence, we must think.

Let’s be clear, though, that I don’t say much in public. I talk freely among friends only, because it’s my nature. It doesn’t matter whether a person talks a lot or almost never, only whether they speak what’s necessary when it’s most necessary. The thing is, I do know my place, and my place looks like this:

If it’s not the will of God as revealed in the unity of Scripture and nature, then it doesn’t serve the people I serve. In which case, the purveyors of it, whatever idea it is, may go and find themselves a handbasket. Even a small Satan should be appropriately prepared for the future.

That’s what I think.


[1] The title of McClung’s book references the hymn, In Times Like These, We Need a Savior.

[2] In Political Thought from Plato to NATO, contributor Christopher Rowe writes of Socrates’s era that “‘anyone and everyone’ here read ‘any adult male citizen’. Even at its most generous, Athenian democracy was extremely restricted in its extent, excluding women, slaves and other groups which together must have accounted for three-quarters of the adult population.” The definition of “citizen” was further restricted among adult males by class considerations. [Source: Political Thought from Plato to NATO, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company (Pacific Grove, California), 1988; p 20.]

[3] Nellie McClung, In Times Like These, McLeod and Allen (Toronto, Ontario), 1915; p 38.

[4] Ibid. p 39.