Frustration over how “hardcore conservatives” view women drove Rebekah Merkle to begin researching the topic of feminism.
Feminists and “the hardcore right,” Merkle says, “both agree that being a wife and mother is a brainless, menial job that takes no talent.”
“So the feminists react out of it, and then the hardcore conservatives, for whatever reason, doubled down into it and said, ‘Yeah, it is brainless. That’s what we want,’” she says.
Dissatisfied by extremes on both ends of the feminism spectrum, Merkle says, she wrote “Eve in Exile: The Restoration of Femininity,” in which she presents a biblical response to the feminist movement.
Merkle joins this episode of the “Problematic Women” podcast to share her story and discuss the importance of restoring femininity within society.
Listen to the podcast below or read an excerpt from the interview:
Virginia Allen: We have with us today Rebekah Merkle, author of “Eve in Exile: The Restoration of Femininity.” And Rebekah, welcome to the show.
Rebekah Merkle: Thank you.
Allen: You began researching and writing on feminism first in school and then on your own. What were the holes that you began to see? Because obviously, so many people have written about feminism, talked about it; as women, we love talking about this issue. What were you seeing that made you say, ‘I think people are missing this and I would like to be able to speak into that space?’
Merkle: I think I didn’t love what I was seeing on the right in terms of the hardcore conservatives. I remember meeting people who would say, “Well, we don’t need to give our daughters an education because they’re just going to be wives and moms.” And I thought, “Well, that’s the most insulting thing to wives and mothers. That’s worse than the feminists.”
But the interesting part to me in that was that the reactionary conservatives actually agreed with the primary feminist lie; they just reacted to it emotionally differently. So it’s like when you have the feminists and the hardcore right, both agree that being a wife and mother is a brainless, menial job that takes no talent. So the feminists react out of it, and then the hardcore conservatives, for whatever reason, doubled down into it and said, “Yeah, it is brainless. That’s what we want.”
But it’s actually on the fundamental principle [that] they’re in agreement. And I just thought that was ironic and tragic at the same time, and certainly not a lasting solution to the feminist thing. And like I said, as we see now, everybody is coming out of their trauma on blogs the world over. It wasn’t a lasting solution. And I do think that actually, if you have a high opinion of what it takes to be a wife and mother, what is that calling, why does it matter? Rather than it being the thing that you just do if you didn’t really ever accomplish anything in life.
Allen: For you, how does your faith play into your thinking about women’s role in the world and feminism and the concepts of women in the home or in the workplace?
Merkle: Well, it’s everything. I mean, it really is because I’d have no reason not to be a feminist if I wasn’t a Christian. Because really, I mean, what possible reason could I have other than … I do think some people get into it kind of like a fetish or something. Or it’s like a hobby. Some people get into model trains, other people get into homemaking, if you thought of it that way.
But honestly, without believing that we are created by God for something … If evolution is true, we can make up our own adventure as we go along. We’re not created for something, we’re not designed for something, we’re just simply the end product of time and chance acting on matter. We’re bags of protoplasm, so why not just do what makes us happy?
Allen: We need that foundation, that grounding, the why.
Merkle: Absolutely, yeah.
Allen: What was on your heart and mind when you sat down to write “Eve in Exile: The Restoration of Femininity?”
Merkle: I think primarily it was sparked by the Christian feminists, because the pagan feminists are at least just being consistent with their principles. They’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing. It’s the Christian feminists that I think are doing just untold damage to the culture.
Allen: Emma Waters, who we’ve had on this show many times—and she has praised your book, and she says that it’s one of her favorite books on the subject of feminism. She says, “In the book, you managed to affirm the angst and heirs of the 1950s housewife while persuasively arguing that women should not throw the baby, meaning the home, out with the bathwater.” This is a tricky line to walk. How did you achieve walking that line?
Merkle: I think that was the kind of interesting thing about just looking at the progression of thought and the sort of cultural moment that feminism unfolded in the middle of. You had the sort of first-wave feminists were fighting for one thing, then we have World War break for that. And then post-World War II, it was like feminism had just kind of gotten put on the simmer burner for a little bit.
But also there was this huge leap in standard of living, technology, what it meant to be in the home. Everything was becoming much easier for a housewife. And it was like women sort of settled into ‘We are just here to be pretty and keep the house pretty, and that’s what we do.’ And it didn’t take very long before they got incredibly bored of that.
And it’s because I do think that that is very unbiblical. I mean, the feminist thing is unbiblical, but so is the notion that women are just decorative. They’re not meant to do anything particular, they just sort of exist to be pretty to look at or whatever.
And so I think it initially probably was a little bit fun, and then it got really boring really quick. And I think that you can see the same exact thing happen right after the Industrial Revolution. Life gets easier, then you get that sort of Victorian moment where women become merely decorative again, and then you get first-wave feminism. And then the Second World War happens, the standard of living jumps, everything’s different, women become decorative, then you get second-wave feminism. Because I do think it’s a super predictable response to women descending into, you don’t really do much, you just kind of exist and you just get your hair done, and you just … That’s not a meaningful existence.
And I do think it’s super clear if you look at the Bible, women were created to work, to be productive, to take over this planet. I mean, Adam was given a huge job. It was obvious that he was not sufficient for the task, and he was given Eve. So right from the very beginning, women were made to be productive and to work. And I think when you take a woman who’s made for something else and you just make her stuff it and become just docile and pretty, and that’s it, end of story, she’s going to just blow up, right? And I think the whole country just blew up.
And so I think when Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” [in 1963] and she’s talking about how miserable everyone was, everyone really jumped on that. It really resonated with women. And you could look at all those idyllic little pictures of the “Leave It to Beaver” and we’re going on family vacations. But to be honest, I think that was the women’s fault 100%, because they took a massive blessing and they did not turn a profit on it. They were given so much, and then they just sat there and then they got bored.
And it’s like, well, who are you blaming for that? So I think if women had responded obediently to the gifts that they were given in the middle of the last century, rather than just descending into a lazy approach … Nobody was oppressing them into it, it was probably really fun for a minute.
Allen: What do you think that would’ve looked like, because I know that there are people thinking, “Well, but weren’t women being told, ‘Well, that’s a man’s job and you need to be in the home’?” So, in your mind, what should have been the response?
Merkle: The response. Well, I think that basically if you think that the home was women’s domain, OK? They’re the ones who decided to reduce it to just this simple little thing. I don’t think you could probably find a single footnote of men telling women, “Here’s your list of this is what you have to do.” There’s a lot of women’s magazines telling women. You see those little scare articles that go by about advice for women. Those are women’s magazines. You know what I mean? This is something women treated themselves to.
And in the book, I do use the example of imagine that there’s a guy who made millions in tech or something by the time he’s 24, so he just retires at 24 and then he just plays video games. Probably for a minute that seems really fun. He buys the house with a pool, he’s got a hammock, plays video games, it’s great. He will be bored out of his mind after a minute.
And I think that that is what women did. [It’s] like suddenly you have all of the resources at your fingertips. You’ve got fridges, you’ve got stoves, you’re not pulling water out of the well in a bucket. There’s so many things that you have, and rather than turning a profit on it in some way, they just … It was like they kept the bar at the same place, which meant that it took a lot less to run the household.
Merkle: And it was probably amazing at first. I mean, I talked to my mother-in-law, who grew up in Southern Idaho. This is, gosh, not even at the beginning of the last century, because she is just my mother-in-law. And her mom had to go haul water out with a bucket and bring it into the house and all that kind of thing. So imagine just having the luxury of the appliances and everything. You would just want to lay down and put your feet up and have a great time.
But then you’re going to get bored and you’re going to feel sorry for yourself and you’re going to feel oppressed, and “Why can’t I do anything important?” But I do think that that was something that women could have raised the bar for themselves but didn’t. And then they felt like… I think it was a misplaced blame. They thought, it’s the house, it’s the home, that’s the thing that’s holding me back. So they ran out to get careers.
Allen: The book is “Eve in Exile: The Restoration of Femininity” by Rebekah Merkle. And Rebekah, thank you so much for your time today.
Merkle: Well, thank you for having me. It’s fantastic to be here.
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