The thoughts that make up this post have been on my mind for roughly the past year. They grew out of questions, stories, lectures, and events I have encountered while in Seattle. I hesitated to write this post because I felt that a post about semantics would be of little value, and I was not completely settled in my own thoughts well enough to share them. I no longer believe this is simply a conversation about the definition of a word, and I’ve come to a place where my thoughts have been able to settle.
What Are We Talking About?
Before I start sharing about the things within feminism that compel me and why it’s not a threatening or scary movement, we need to lay a foundation to stand on. Feminism is a broad and diverse topic. There are disagreements and variances within the feminist movement just like every other movement or group that involves people, and that is okay. Not all feminists will agree with everything I say,just like not all Christians will agree with every theological statement I make. Disagreement is not always a bad thing. From what I see, it seems like we are losing our ability to argue while simultaneously respecting the imago dei of the person we’re arguing with. One of the foundational pieces of feminism, especially for middle class white men, is the willingness to acknowledge that our individual perception of reality is limited and that other voices are not only valid, but essential to being whole.
When I talk about feminism I simply mean the belief that women and men are created by God with equal worth, leadership, authority, and responsibility, as well as being equally called by God to love, service and submission regardless of gender.
Feminism is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time. In fact, one of the first major gatherings to discuss women’s rights was in 1848. Since that first meeting there have been three waves of feminism, each bringing a broader focus to the movement. The first wave took place during the late 19th and early 20th century with a focus on women’s right to vote, the second wave occurred from the 1960s to the 1980s with a turn toward some of the social issues women were faced with, and the third wave started in the 80s and is where we find ourselves now with a diverse collection of focuses on things such as challenging gender stereotypes, objectification of female sexuality in the media, and gender binaries.
Part of the diverse collection of conversations within third wave feminism are discussions about transgender politics, abortion, pornography, and sexual liberation. I’m under the impression that some people may believe these are the only conversations feminism is currently interested in, but that is absolutely not true. I also feel the need to restate that not every person holding a feminist perspective will have the same opinion about these topics.
I once heard a pastor say that we don’t need chauvinism, which tries to put men ahead of women, and we don’t need feminism, which tries to put women ahead of men, but we need both men and women side by side. This pastor seemed to understand that feminism supports the empowerment of women around the globe, but the fundamental error I think he made was acknowledging where women (in general) currently are in global society. Feminism seeks to empower women, not above men, but to equality with men. This pastor seemed to think that men and women currently stand on equal ground, but unfortunately this is untrue in many places throughout the world. Even in our own cities we see evidence that the harassment and objectification of female bodies is still disgustingly pervasive.(Please also note this response to that video)
Parts of the feminist movement lean heavily on sociology and approach issues from a political perspective. However, feminism is by no means exclusively a sociological ideology. There are three major types of feminist theology that I am familiar with: Reformist,Reconstructionist and Rejectionist. My heart rests in the reformist type of feminist theology.This type of feminist theology seeks to reform the traditional patriarchal narrative of the Church and its use of Scripture. It focuses on Scripture and the feminine imagery it uses to describe God, as well as the roles women play throughout the biblical story. Some positive examples are: the woman in Mark 14:3-8 who understands Jesus’ ministry (i.e. death and resurrection) in ways his male disciples don’t; the Syrophoenician woman whose faith makes Jesus change his mind; and Miriam the prophet proclaiming worship after the Israelites escape the Egyptians.
The core of the Christian faith is love of God and love of neighbor. To affirm traditional hierarchies, monarchies and patriarchies, as divinely appointed power seems to be an offense to a God who locates power in the least, last and weak.I think loving God and loving neighbor means being willing to speak and act boldly in gracious defiance to the power structures that a fallen world tries to establish.
For me, the most inspiring example of faith in Scripture comes from a woman, and not just any woman, but the woman who became the mother of God. In Luke chapter 1 we see this young woman answer the call of God into the unknown, the unforeseeable troubles and rejection she might face, with a simple, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”. Only in my dreams do I have the faith of this teenage woman. Only in my dreams do I have the courage to face such uncertainty. Only in my dreams am I able to courageously follow the footsteps of her discipleship.
I live in a world that is made for me. I live in a world where my level of education,national citizenship, economic standing, skin color, sexuality and gender all receive favorable responses from society. This is called privilege. I believe drinking this cup, blindly accepting my afforded privilege, is an offense to the God who made me. To walk through my life without acknowledging my particularity and the beautiful particularity of those unlike me would give power to a system that hurts those who do not receive the same favorable responses as me. To claim the side of a God who brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind,and lets the oppressed go free, all while blindly affirming worldly power dynamics would seem to make me hypocritical to the highest degree.
Growing up, my mom was almost always the one to take care of my two sisters and me. Reliable and supportive male role models were on short supply in my life until midway through high school. So how did I learn about strength, motivation, leadership and courage during some of the most formative years of my life? From one of the strongest and most courageous people I know: my mom. If you try to tell me that women can’t be strong, that women can’t lead, that women are best suited for domestic activities,then I’d have to introduce you to my mom and tell you that you’re wrong.
During my time at college in Seattle, I received a lot of spiritual formation and theological teaching. When I think of three people who inspired, instructed, and fed my spirit the most while in Seattle, three women come to mind. One professor, one pastor and one professor-pastor. Laura Sweat (now Holmes), Gail Song Bantum, and Brenda Salter McNeil are three powerful women who have taught me so much and modeled Christian discipleship in such amazing ways. If you try to tell me that women can’t teach, that women can’t pastor, that women are best suited for following, then I’d have to introduce you to these three women and tell you that you’re wrong.
What’s the Alternative?
I often hear people say, “I’m not a feminist, but ….” and they then go on to say something that supports the equality of women and rejects male dominance over women. This may burst your bubble, but that’s feminism. To say you’re not a feminist is to say that you support the limitation, exploitation, and oppression of women. This piece of satire demonstrates an exaggerated form of these types of comments.
I’m a feminist not only because I believe in the equality of women, but also because I’m opposed to hyper-masculinity. The type of masculinity that says all men must be strong,emotionless, powerful leaders (defined in a very specific and narrow way) who crush any opposition they encounter. I think this type of masculinity is an infection in our culture that breeds violence, tribalism, and war. I believe this type of hyper-masculinity is a mentality that the Gospel is opposed to. In my experience, feminism lines up with the Gospel by seeking to hear the unheard, feeling the pain of the broken, and breathing life into the lifeless. Put simply, I see feminism opposing the same conquering, devastating, worldly power that the Gospel opposes.
I don’t have all the answers, but I hope that I am developing ears to hear those who have a deeper and more personal understanding than I do. Here are a few articles that may provide a good place for us to start listening.