USA Today recently reported that the campus gender gap was at an all-time high -- with women accounting for upward of 57 percent of all university students. So, it's shocking to consider that within the U.S. there are still circles -- in small sects of conservative Christians, for example -- where education for women remains not only unconventional but controversial. After all, their logic goes, if good Christian girls spend their lives being wives and mothers, why squander time and money on college?
Look closely, and you'll notice the sentiment persists in home-schooling texts, in teachings by some Christian leaders and across the Internet. Being Virtuous Women and Ladies Against Feminism -- two Christian Web sites -- provide forums for women to share homemaking tips and extol the virtues of keeping a man's home. An essay published on both sites offers young women these words of wisdom: "Pursuing a life outside of the home, day in and day out, at college or a job, has a way of wooing and stealing our hearts away from our God-given role of being keepers at home and from our families -- especially in seeing the blessing our father's covering brings. It is not a sin to go away to college or to have a job (unless your father doesn't wish you to do so), but it is not wise or prudent."
The message is pretty clear: Your life is your father's and then your husband's, not your own.
But the bloggers at another site created by Christian women, Got Me a College Girl, offer an alternative. Launched last summer by Karen Campbell and Mollie Campbell Greene, a mother and daughter from Canton, Ill., College Girl has since grown to include 10 contributors. Of the regular writers, nine are wives and six are mothers, several of whom stay home to raise their children while their husbands work. They live all over the country and range in age from their mid-20s to their mid-50s. All are devout Christians; several consider themselves evangelical. All take their faith and their roles as Christian women seriously. And to their sisters they say: Going to college won't make you bad wives, mothers, daughters -- or Christians.
That men might be intimidated by smart women is something these women were debating as a practical matter long before a certain New York Times columnist set off a furious debate among prominent feminists and their detractors. Indeed, every day on College Girl, posters posit questions of gender, education and power -- and not from a distanced, sociological viewpoint -- but as part of a personal debate about what it means to live a full, educated life.
Founder Karen Campbell is a mother of six, a grandmother of six and a home-schooler of 20 years. She is also a pro-life activist. Campbell told Broadsheet: "I see families with just very sharp, articulate girls, [and] I feel some sadness that they have been told -- not just discouraged, but told -- that they are not allowed to go to school ... I just feel very sad about that."
The notion that women should be free to make their own choices is one that feminists have embraced for decades, but it may shock some to hear that Christian women also question their rights as potential students, wives and mothers. "Feminists, I think, deal with caricatures of what people in my camp believe," says College Girl blogger Joy McCarnan, who earned a bachelor's degree in creative writing and a master's degree in theology from Bob Jones University. But, she says, "we have caricatures and flawed views of feminism too."
So while the College Girls may not be ready to start a feminist revolution, they are committed to presenting smart arguments that encourage faithful women, taking on thorny gender politics from within the heart of the conservative Christian home. What they lack in fervor, they make up for in sound, firm reasoning, grounded in the best possible examples: themselves.
Perhaps Laura, a regular College Girl reader, puts it best: "Growing up ... I felt an almost overwhelming pressure to be a 'nice Christian girl' in ways that denied my true, God-given personality. My Christian high school even offered a Proverbs 31 Woman class, a sort of biblical home-ec," she writes in a recent post. "Not only was I not sweet and quiet and soft spoken, I was busy in pursuit of academic goals and ultimately degrees in the sciences. I tutored a lot of NCGs in high school and heard them say 'I don't need to do well in school, I just need to love Jesus' ... But God has graciously revealed to me that He didn't create me to be just like someone else. He is glorified when I use my heart, soul, and mind to love Him."
What feminist -- what woman -- could disapprove of that?