It is difficult to read Leviticus 12 without coming to the conclusion that God has it in for women. It is, however, an unwarranted conclusion.
Keep in mind that it is God’s will for mankind to reproduce. Paul will write that this is a woman’s purpose (though please do keep in mind it is not her sole purpose) and children are considered in scripture to be a gift and reward from God (Psalm 127:3). A woman who bears many children is prized as a “fruitful vine” (Psalm 128:3).
Why then is she considered “unclean” for having children?
The answer has to do with the bodily secretions during and after childbirth (note her uncleanness is like that of her “monthly period”). As the next chapter will detail, God is a fairly hygienic God. Vaginal discharge is common for 4-6 weeks after giving birth (which might explain that 41 day period of uncleanness in verses 3-4), and the fluids are far from benign.
“Uncleanness” does not, in and of itself, designate disfavor in the sight of God. After all, God created unclean animals as well as clean. As the next chapter will show, a person might be unclean, but that not affect his relationship with God. It simply means those people should be held separate. A woman who has a child is held “separate” because of her uncleanness, but it doesn’t mean God is upset with her. A man, however, who approaches his wife during her uncleanness violates the will of God. His resultant uncleanness does mean disfavor with God because he violated God’s will.
Why then is the woman unclean for twice as long when she has a female child? The text doesn’t say, but one obvious reason is to preserve the distinction between the sexes. Boys and girls are not the same, a fact our own society seems to have forgotten. As I write this, the Boy Scouts of America is wrestling with whether to accept gay members. As much as I oppose discrimination, this, it seems to me, is asinine in the extreme. We would not think of bunking boys and girls together, or allowing the kind of exposure in mixed company that is common when sexes are segregated. The reasoning, at least to men (who in the majority oppose this move), is obvious. Men are men. Gay or straight, we are not ambivalent about our sexuality. A society that treats men and women as if they are the same is headed in a direction that can only lead to social disaster.