For at least half a century, American feminists have considered religious conservatives their greatest rivals in the public square. But Louise Perry points to the greater danger to women from a new kind of post-Christian morality, which, she argues, bears a strong resemblance to the morality of the pagan world before Christians introduce a new sexual ethic with its roots in Judaism:
In historical terms, it is the Christian system of sexual ethics that is an aberration. What the historian Kyle Harper describes as the “first sexual revolution” emerged in a society in which Roman men enjoyed unrestricted sexual access to their social inferiors. The Roman marriage system may (unusually) have been monogamous, but it looked radically different to the monogamous system that existed until recently in our own society, and their sexual morality was even stranger. High-status women were expected carefully to guard their chastity, but all other women were potentially ripe for the picking, whether or not they wanted to be. This was a slave society, after all.
Christians demanded chastity, not only from women, but also—radically, infuriatingly—from men, too. The advent of Christianity really did constitute a sexual revolution, which is exactly why its early converts were disproportionately female, and why the majority of the world’s Christians are female still. No wonder Nietzsche described Christianity as a religion of “women and slaves.” (He did not intend this as a compliment.)
Modern feminism is not an enemy of Christianity; it is its descendent. The moral ideas that form the basis of feminism are derived from Christian values that are, in historical terms, highly unusual.