Monday, July 7, 2014

The F Word: On Faith, Voting, and Pants

I didn't really understand that the F word was "bad" until age fourteen or so, mostly because I grew up around people who never said it. Sometime around ninth grade though, they finally explained why it was wrong.

I am, of course, referring to the word feminism. 

And I'm not joking about being taught that feminism is wrong. This wasn't some implied code of conduct or an unspoken sentiment. I mean that when I was in high school, we were literally taught how to argue against feminism. In college I heard dear female friends say "I am not a feminist!" lest their character be questioned. 

So now I've divided my readers into two camps. On the first side, we have the feminists, some of whom are Christians. (I'm a Christian feminist, by the way.) And they're horrified. They're imagining a situation in which teenagers are taught that women shouldn't vote and shouldn't have equal pay. (We're nowhere near finished fighting for that last one, either.) On the second side, we have a group comprised entirely (probably) of religious people. And they're horrified. I've just announced that I am a Christian feminist, and in many minds, those two words should never be put together. If they haven't clicked away from this post already, they're bracing themselves for an attack on their beliefs. They're cringing in anticipation of the moment when I'll inevitably bring out the misandry and the arguments that women should dominate men. 

And that is the problem that happens nearly every time church people talk about feminism. We're arguing about two different things. 


Feminism, at it's core, is simply the belief that men and women are equals. It acknowledges that globally, men tend to enjoy more rights and privileges than women do, and it seeks to change that. Sounds reasonable, right? So where did we get our signals crossed? 

Well, we tripped over some of the different branches of feminism. Just like almost anything else, feminism has a whole list of different types. A google search on feminism will lead you through a labyrinth of quotes and definitions. Type "feminism is" into the search bar, and suggestions will include "feminism is for everybody" as well as "feminism is a hate movement". Cheris Kramarae believes that "feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings", while Pat Robertson believes that it's "about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians". Yes, that is very specific, and no, I didn't make that up. 

Generally speaking, when I talk about being a feminist, I'm referring to the main feminist movement. It's sometimes called "liberal feminism", though the definition of "liberal" here isn't usually about politics, so if that word bothers you, you can pretend it isn't there. This is usually what people mean when they talk about feminism. It isn't about misandry. Women, do you enjoy your right to vote? Drive a car? Own property? Do you like wearing pants? Well, you can thank God for feminism. Are you concerned about eliminating rape? Violence against women? Female infanticide? Trafficking? Then feminism is your friend. Men, do you believe that women are human beings who are just as important as you are? If so, then believe it or not, you are a feminist. 

Now, I'm willing to bet that many, if not the vast majority, of the "feminism is bad!" camp would actually celebrate a closer look into all of the things that I've listed above. I'm making this assumption based on the fact that my high school, the same school that taught against feminism, also taught that voting is important for men and women. Plus, we all wore jeans. 

Again, we just got tangled up in all the different branches. You see, in addition to your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, "women are people and not property" feminism, you also have subcategories such as cultural feminism, radical feminism, socialist feminism, etc... Each of these categories examines how feminism works in different aspects of society. Confusion happens when a proponent of one branch doesn't specify which branch he or she is talking about. If you hear somebody say "I believe in socialism because I'm a feminist", you might conclude that mainstream feminism is all about socialism. In reality, the person you heard is a socialist feminist, and you will probably go on to meet other feminists with very different beliefs. Have you ever heard somebody use the words "introverted" and "shy" interchangeably? It's a similar type of mislabeling (and one that also seriously gets on my nerves). Though some introverts may be shy, shyness is not the same thing as introversion. In the same way, though some feminists may follow socialist (or cultural, or radical, etc.) feminism, those things are not the definition of feminism as a whole. 

Do you see now how we're talking about two different things? 


I'm going to end this post with a these two messages.  

To those of you who readily identify as feminists, whether you're religious or not: Be gentle with those who recoil at the word feminist. These people aren't arguing against a woman's right to freedom and equal pay. They're usually just misinformed about what feminism means. Keep that in mind, and then explain your thoughts calmly and carefully. Really listen to what other people have to say. Chances are that you'll reveal where our wires got crossed, and you may help others understand why feminism is important. It may take persistence. Just be patient. 

To the Christians who have negative feelings about feminism: Be gentle with those of us who call ourselves feminists. We aren't arguing for misandry or trying to say that all men are the same. We usually just want a world where it's safe to be a woman. Take some time to research and allow the stereotypes to leave your mind. Always explain yourselves calmly and carefully, and really listen to what other people have to say. 

To the Christians who work on feminism within the Church, to those who try hard to undo the subtle sexism that happens inside and outside our religious setting, to those who are caught up in the "complementarian" vs "egalitarian" debates, and to those who want to see more female leadership in the church: keep going. I'm fighting alongside you. 


For further reading and research on Christian feminism, I recommend a book called Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. It often reads like poetry and serves as a good introduction not only to ways we can be feminist and Christian but also why we can be feminist because of our faith. I also highly recommend A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. It will truly make you think. When you have to put a book down every once in a while to turn a sentence over in your mind a few times, you know you've got a good read. (And for an interesting, if infuriating, study on how people misunderstand feminism, research why LifeWay Christian stores don't carry either of those titles.) 

Those are the books on the subject that I've read so far, and I've got plenty more on my to-read list. If you want to recommend a book to me, I'd love to hear about it! 

By the way, did you know that some medieval men were so upset by the idea of a female apostle that they changed a female name in the Bible to a male one? For more information on that as well as insights on women in the church, check out the Junia Project. 

Remember That One Time?

Hey, remember that one time when a bunch of Christians flooded the nation's Chik-fil-A restaurants because we were going to stick it to the world with chicken sandwiches? Yeah. Good times. High fives all around, everybody.

What about that other time when we decided that we needed our own dating site? Eh, I guess that one's not so weird. We have dating sites for every demographic, including geeks, farmers, and pretty people (or narcissists). I didn't make that up. Okay, so while I do have a problem with a "find God's match for you" tagline, I guess there's nothing wrong with a Christian dating site. What about Christian Pinterest though? Christian Youtube? It's not just an internet thing, either. We've got our very own breath mints. I mean, maybe there's not technically anything wrong with those things, but...but...did we actually need any of it? If I eat Christian candy, will my breath smell holier than if I'd eaten one of those secular candies?

My personal favorite is that one time we decided to stop writing letters and sending funds to real, actual children when a ministry decided to hire gay people. Good choices.

Hey, remember that one time when we all stopped shopping from the company that says "Merry Christmas" but doesn't pay women as much as men?

Remember that one time when we wrote to the clothing store that sells "modest" things but exploits needy children and single mothers overseas?

Remember that one time when we took to social media to voice our anger over poverty, hunger, and rape?

Remember that one time we forwarded emails full of ways we could help orphans?

Remember that one time when we held a massive protest against abusers and abusive systems?

...I don't remember those last ones, either.