There’s Nothing New About Undermining Women’s Autonomy

Old evangelical media offers a primer for the attack on Roe

Sarah Stankorb

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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…

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Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com