The Parable of Margaret Hamilton: Christian Women and Higher Education

You’ve probably never heard of Margaret Hamilton. You’ve probably heard plenty about Neil Armstrong, one of the first men on the moon, but there isn’t much said about his support system. Margaret Hamilton is the woman who sent him to the moon–and without her, he may not have come home again.

She was one of the founding fathers (ahem–mothers) of modern software. Without her brilliance and mad coding skills, software as we know it would not exist and those men may never have landed on the moon. She was working as a programmer at MIT to get her husband through law school when the Apollo program started. At the time, she had an undergraduate degree in math and a 4-year-old daughter she frequently brought with her to the lab. She was chided occasionally for abandoning her motherly responsibilities for the space program. The chiding stopped when America won the race to the moon.

Margaret had a natural aptitude for her job. This aptitude, properly tuned, allowed her to serve her country, her family, and the world. Though she worked in the background, her tireless effort drove a giant leap for mankind.

I read a post by a prominent Christian blogger bemoaning that Christian women are too focused on higher education and finding careers outside the home. Why aren’t they content with being mothers? Don’t they know God gave them ovaries, uteruses, and breasts for a reason?

Reading this post broke my heart a little. Sadly, her attitude reflects the attitudes of many in the church. While other teachers may couch this attitude in more flowery language and enforce the idea more subtly, they still hold that motherhood and housekeeping is the only appropriate calling for the Christian woman.

I won’t disparage housekeeping or motherhood in the slightest. Both are high callings. No mother is “just a mother.” Motherhood is hard, motherhood is important, and motherhood is beautiful.

But aspiring to motherhood does not free the Christian woman from the responsibility to develop the rest of her body. She has a uterus, ovaries, and breasts, true, but she also has a heart, muscles, and a mind. God does not owe the Christian woman a husband, nor is she guaranteed children. But she is born with talents, and burying those talents in a field is poor stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30) and cripples the church.

One of the primary tenants of the Christian patriarchy movement, as I understand it, is that men bear the responsibility to protect women. To protect women is noble and good, but the movement’s approach at protecting women–to discourage them from leaving the home, from getting a college degree, from working outside the home, or, in some scattered cases, even choosing their potential spouses for them–does not protect them, at least not for the long term.

The trouble with this element of Christian patriarchy is its short-sightedness: this “protection” does not protect women from the misogynistic attitudes inherited from the Fall, but perpetuates them. By discouraging the women of the church from going to college, working outside the home, learning marketable skills, or honing their God-given abilities, we are exposing the backbone of the church to a world of harm. Without either a college degree or certification in a specific field, a woman cannot support herself (and certainly not her children) in the modern economy. Proponents of Christian patriarchy insist that the primary responsibility to support a family falls on the shoulders of the husband or father. While that may be the case, a woman may never marry; her husband may die or leave her; her father may pass away or might have never been in the picture. A woman who is unable to support herself is especially vulnerable in a world programmed to belittle and demean her.

The best way for men to protect women is not to hide them from the world but to instruct their sons, colleagues, and friends that women are not property, sexual objects, or lesser beings, but human beings made in the image of God and who reflect His intelligence, His creativity, His wisdom. By permitting our daughters to discover their talents and use them for the good of others (and themselves) and the glory of God, we show a watching world the value of ezers and train future generations to value them, too.

Protecting a woman also includes putting the tools in her hands to protect herself in the present and the future. For this reason, higher education is vital for the Christian woman. Proverbs 31 shows us a woman with strong arms and a strong mind. Playing a supportive role neither demotes women nor removes us from the personal responsibility to sharpen our minds, to know the Scriptures like the back of our hands, to be articulate, to use reason, and to hone our God-given skills. We are ezer–helpers–soldiers. We cheat ourselves and our brothers  if we do not actively become the best we can be. One woman’s best may look different from another’s–that’s another post for another day. Regardless of our individual skills, we have a divine responsibility to shine His light as image-bearing ezers empowered by God.

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12 comments

  1. K. D. Winchester · June 23, 2016

    Excellent post, E. Preach it, sister. Glad you are using your talents so well. All the best, -K

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Marilyn Barnes · June 24, 2016

    Such wise and helpful words for women trying to navigate an often complicated and contradictory world! You words blessed me as I know they will many others.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elizabeth Turner · June 24, 2016

    Reblogged this on The Dinkey-Bird and Me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim · June 27, 2016

    “We cheat ourselves and our brothers if we do not actively become the best we can be.” Great insight, and good advice for women and men both, Emma. Nice job.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vanessa · July 6, 2016

    Thank you; this is great. I was a helpdesk supervisor and technician until January, when I became a stay-at-home mom to my toddler. I did work full-time until he was 20 months old. Oddly enough, in my case, I feel like I’m using my talents (including my brain) better now than I was while working full time, at least as a full time working mom anyway. Now I actually have a little time and brain space to spare on thinking of something other than work and survival, haha. 😃 But that’s just me. And I am grateful for other Christian women who work or persue advanced degrees etc. I think each person should use and develop her talents in the ways the Lord provides for her, whatever that may mean. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    • E.A. Stephens · July 6, 2016

      You’re absolutely right–every woman’s journey is different. Being a mom is a challenging and important job–you’re protecting and teaching a little person. 🙂 I’m so glad you can be in an environment that lets you use your God-given abilities to the utmost–and that you have the time to develop them more!

      Like

  6. Janey · August 19, 2016

    “Proverbs 31 shows us a woman with strong arms and a strong mind.” <=== THIS

    One of the difficulties today is that many conservative evangelical churches are STILL anti-education and anti-career for women. And that's really backwards because in the United States, for more than 20 years, nearly 70% of wives with children under 18 work outside the home. (Source: Table 601. Married Couples by Labor Force Status of Spouses: 1990 to 2010)

    If the church doesn't change it's attitude, we're going to see a mass exodus of women.

    Whoops! That's already happening. According to Barna Group, women have been leaving the church at a far higher rate than men over the past 10 years. (See, "Five Factors Changing Women’s Relationship with Churches" on the Barna.org site)

    Further, many working mothers have raised smart, happy, and deeply spiritual children, just the opposite of the common wisdom offered by churches.

    Liked by 1 person

    • E.A. Stephens · August 19, 2016

      You’re absolutely right. The church I grew up in never, ever taught that women needed to stay out of the work force and avoid getting a higher education, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that many churches and prominent teachers of the Scriptures were opposed to the idea of women attending institutions of higher learning or getting jobs. No wonder that women are jumping ship.

      Thanks for sharing those statistics!

      Like

  7. rinarosetugade · October 14, 2016

    Amen! I too am in a male-dominant field in my University studies. But I don’t wish to compete with men, I want to work with them as I believe my gifts is given to me by God to help those that are in need.

    Like

  8. keepthescars · December 6

    “Misogynistic attitudes inherited from the fall”? Dang girl, preach it!!

    Liked by 1 person

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