In 2007, the now-defunct San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival awarded Best of Festival to a documentary called The Monstrous Regiment of Women, a film that simultaneously asserted that women leading families or nations is antithetical to the Bible, vilified feminists (as Marxists and destroyers of the home), and called legalized abortion an “unparalleled holocaust.” I’m in the midst of researching for a book, and it was already on my calendar last week to rewatch The Monstrous Regiment of Women the day after Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on Roe leaked.
I braced myself. My social media feeds were flooded with Handmaid’s Tale references, a fiction now feeling too real. But the goals of women’s submission are not fictional.
Rewatching this not-too-distant artifact of white, evangelical pop-culture, I was reminded that women’s submission has long been a driving feature of a movement with outsized political influence in our country. We are merely witnessing years of power, positioning, and theological normalization coming to fruition.
The title of the film comes from an essay by founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, John Knox, who wrote the tract: “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” in 1558 in opposition to female political leaders such as Mary I of England, who persecuted Protestant Christians, and thanks to whom, Knox had found himself exiled and out of a job. Knox wrote: “how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard.”
Next, the film leaps forward to damn modern feminism. Christians, the narrator says, cannot be egalitarians — those who believe all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Phyllis Schlafly, who successfully galvanized opposition to ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, was featured in an interview, saying “the problem with feminism — the principle problem — is the cultivation of an attitude of victimization. Feminism tries to make women think they are victims of an oppressive, male-dominated, patriarchal society.” Further, she asserts the feminist movement set out to make the role of fulltime wife and homemaker economically impossible and socially disdained.
“I do not believe Hillary Clinton will be elected president,” said Schlafly. “She is not a likeable woman… she’s angry about lots of things, and that isn’t the sort of person we want to lead this country.”
Carmon Friedrich, a homeschool icon and mother of 10 noted that Clinton’s “face looks harsh. She seems mad at everything.” (Years later, Friedrich herself went back to school and became a sex therapist.) Later in the film, Clinton is critiqued for only having one child and for her 1992 comment in response to a question pertaining to her legal career, when she said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”
Before a flashing montage of photos of Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Dianne Feinstein, Friedrich references the Biblical Deborah, arguing that women serving in leadership roles indicates God could find no worthy men to fulfill the call. Jennie Chancey, co-author of Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, explains, “The bottom line is God created men for leadership, and he clearly tells us in his word that when women are in leadership, it’s a sign of a curse upon a nation.”
That “curse” is further illustrated, according to the film, by the millions more American women who vote compared to men. Women’s political voices had begun to overtake men’s, a danger for the nation. The great error of the men of the suffrage era was their willingness to relinquish power, and in so doing, hand over the role of father to women and in turn, the “paternalistic state.”
The rest of the film is a soup of common evangelical talking points: a segment of what appears to be a late-term abortion (without any context) from the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion group that produces abortion videos for show in churches and college campuses. This is followed by a woman who claims to have been an abortion profiteer prior to her conversion to Christianity. She describes how in her abortionist past, she’d worked to provoke girls ages 13–18 to have three abortions apiece, in part by increasing sexual activity among girls by bringing sex education and easy-to-miss-a-day birth control into schools.
(Studies have shown that comprehensive sexual education actually reduces rates of sexual activity, risky behaviors, STI’s and adolescent pregnancy.)
But the boogeyman of the profit-hungry abortionist creates a stark evil, a ready enemy. There’s an utter and profound lack of nuance. There’s no space to weigh circumstances of rape, incest, health of the mother, or non-viable pregnancy, let alone reproductive choice. The abortion provider is reduced to a greedy (not-yet-Christian) killer, and the procedure, to images of bloody fetuses. The Bible is defined as unchanged and infallible — a single, patriarchal interpretation, the only option.
Claiming intellectual links between Betty Friedan, Engels, and Marx, Chancey extrapolates that the goal of communism is only accomplished by displacing fathers as head of Christian families and getting children into state-run schools. It’s this strategic linkage of anxieties that marks this worldview: if women working or women in leadership concerns you, then so too should public school (where your kids can’t be taught Christian values anyway!). Similarly, if, despite other evangelical convictions, you take part in school or work or female leadership, then you may be contributing to a socialist overthrow of America. Right Christian action would entail rejecting the gamut.
About Erika Oliver
Erika Oliver is a successful entrepreuner. She is the founder of Acme Inc, a bootstrapped business that builds affordable SaaS tools for local news, indie publishers, and other small businesses.