Writing Christian fiction involves much more than mentioning God a few times or showing a character attending church once. Christian fiction encompasses the whole worldview behind your characters. Loyalty. Courage. Hope. Kindness. Love. No character is perfect, but the worldview presented and the conclusions reached by the main characters ought to mirror the teachings of Scripture. This is true, not only of emotional and mental themes, but of all the details in your story—including the portrayal of gender roles, which is often ravaged by secular (and sometimes Christian) fiction.
I am not just talking about a proper view of marriage or the fact that God created us male and female. In a biblical worldview, men and women have different tasks and roles of authority in which the woman is a helpmeet to the man. This contrasts sharply with feminism that elevates women in the wrong way. The right to vote and receive equal wages are admirable goals. But unbiblical feminism is a mindset in which a woman steps outside of her God-given role to try to usurp the role God has given to men.
What Does a Biblical Worldview of Gender Roles Look Like?
Men and women are different. What a surprise. It is actually cool how men and women are built differently. They see differently (because of minor variances in the eye, men see distance and speeds better while women see textures and colors). They react differently. In a stressful situation, a man’s body tenses up, readying for a fight or flight. A woman’s shuts down in the urge to hide.
Let me be clear, men and women are equal before God and as human beings. One is not better than the other. No soul is of greater or lesser worth. Yet, men and women are different. They are designed for specific tasks and biblically assigned distinct roles.
The man is to be the protector. The provider. He is to head the family, preach, and be a leader in general. He goes to war to defend what is behind him.
Women are to assist the men. They help advance the mission of their husband or father. They also guard the home and raise up the next generation.
It is when a woman attempts to take over the role of a man (such as claiming leadership, marching to war, or getting a job to earn extra money), especially when capable men are present, that an unbiblical brand of feminism can slip into stories.
Must All My Female Characters Conform to This Pattern?
Quite simply, no. Not at all. For instance, Eowyn in Lord of the Rings is a fascinating character. At the beginning of the story, she is hard and cold. Though she may not be purely feministic (most characters probably won’t be), she does disguise herself as a man and ride for war, longing to be able to act as any other man. But at the end of the book she softens, realizing and accepting her own place with happiness.
Characters in a book are not faultless. It would be boring if they were. Each of your characters has his or her own set of flaws. When writing these flaws, a character’s feministic tendencies should be handled like any other problem: the character struggles with her flaws and learns how to overcome them. An antagonist delves deeper into his flaws as a contrast against the light. Some characters continue believing the lies they have been taught while others eventually embrace the truth. The portrayal should be the same whether the flaw is anger, pride, or feminism.
A female protagonist may discover that feminism is false and disavow it over the course of your book. Or a character may remain steeped in feminism, acting as a contrasting foil. She may grow or fall deeper. There is nothing wrong with having feminism in your story as long as you demonstrate how it defies biblical womanhood and what the consequences are.
What about Female Characters in Extraordinary Circumstances?
Since you are writing a story, I doubt any of the circumstances will be ordinary. The girls and women in your book will likely perform extraordinary feats that normally wouldn’t fit in the duties of a woman.
This is fine—expected even. Although there are general roles for men and women, this doesn’t mean a man will never tend to the mundane chores of a household or that a woman won’t ever lead. Whether your character follows feministic or biblical ideas is determined not by her deeds but by her overall demeanor and how she relates to men.
Think about Deborah in the book of Judges. She became a judge (which was a sign of a curse that there were no men suitable to lead), but she didn’t roam the land, mustering an army. The people came to her to be judged. She called Barak to gather an army and only accompanied him to battle when he refused to go alone.
Esther is another example. When she heard of the threat to her people, she didn’t charge off on her own and rally a resistance. Instead, she listened to her cousin, who was the father figure in her life. After asking him and others to pray and fast for three days, she risked her life and went to speak to the king. Esther saved her people, and she did it in a God-honoring way.
Don’t be afraid of thrusting your women into difficult situations. They can lead. They can spy. They can even fight. You just need to consider one question when deciding how they react to the scenarios you’ve placed them in.
Why are they leading? Is it because there is no one else to do the job? Is it because the men are fighting or wounded or in need of aid? Or are your female characters pushing forward to seize the task from those who ought to be leading?
Feminism is about attitude more than actions. A woman washing dishes in her own house can be bitterly feministic, whereas a woman standing beside her husband to protect her village and children from raiders is completely within her role and ability.
The same concept applies to female warriors and spies. Are they opportunely positioned to find information that no one else can? Are they volunteering to save numerous lives? Do they have the blessing of those around them? Or are they sneaking off in the middle of the night to prove that they are as good as any man?
It is not wrong to have a female character who is skilled with a sword, bow, gun, or weapon of any kind. Although it is the man’s responsibility to protect his family, there are times when your female characters may be forced into combat. If women are attacked while their men are absent, they will fight. If their children are in danger, they will fight. Heroically serving as the last line of defense for hearth and home is entirely different than disguising oneself as a man and riding to war in search of glory.
Depending on the culture of your story, you may have female characters resisting norms which would keep them in restricted circles. Still, they have choices about how to approach what they must do. Will they rise up like a feminist, demanding to be treated like a man, or will they submit to rightful authority while exemplifying the full scale of their roles and abilities?
The Key to Writing Strong Women
The key to making your women strong, and even leaders, is how they view men. Do they heed, honor, and help the men in their lives? Do they work with men, or do they try to break free and somehow prove they are as skilled as men (which ought never to be questioned since the success of both genders is outwardly measured by different actions)? Focus on the motivation and attitude of the women in your story, which will cause them to be either feministic or supportive of the men in their lives.