I don’t really like to identify myself as a feminist.
I am – to borrow and slightly modify our priest’s description of herself – an outspoken, straight, white woman with a slightly ridiculous collection of education and degrees. I am somewhat uncomfortable aligning myself with feminism, mainly because feminists have gotten a pretty bad rap from the people in my former evangelical circles. I am, for the record, also still somewhat uncomfortable with saying I have a priest, and that said priest is female.
Saying that I am uncomfortable with those things, however, does not make them less true.
It is true that at this moment, I am very happily attending an Episcopal church which has a female priest. And it is also true that I am a feminist.
I have been one of the fortunate women who has never been told by my parents that I cannot do something just because I am a woman.
I’ve not really been constrained to behave differently or fill a particular role simply because I am a daughter. As a child, I was pretty much uninterested in things inside the house, unless it was too hot, too cold, or too rainy to play or read outside. I was active, preferring dirt, a gun, or a ball to dolls or cooking. I read voraciously. I was intelligent. And in my family, it was not just OK, it was encouraged that I do my best and pursue the things that interested me. I did not have to be something I was not simply because I was a girl.
Also in my family, my mom worked and my dad was at home due to a life-altering condition called Crohn’s disease. This meant that my dad had to learn to cook, clean, and do laundry and that my mom had to figure out how to take on the role of bread-winner. There is little doubt that this juxtaposition shaped my views on traditional family roles – growing up in the context of a rural Appalachian culture, this upheaval did not allow me the luxury of remaining apathetic about gender roles. From an early age, my family faced scrutiny and unkind comments regarding our family structure from people who had no idea about my family’s struggles or the hurt inflicted by their words. Even though we rarely responded publicly, a quiet defiance toward the constraints of the culture grew within me.
Perhaps this quiet defiance is why I tried out for baseball in middle school in protest of the fact that there was no softball team available or why I studied science AND English in high school and was the only female chemistry major on my GSP campus. Perhaps that is why sometimes my house is a mess when the weather is warm and there is dirt to be played, um, I mean dug in. Perhaps it is why my mouth still gets me in trouble.
This also likely contributes to why I don’t find it comfortable to fit into the gender roles typical for conservative Christianity. And why I question and sometimes challenge the constraints that my world has tried to put on me for the past forty years. Though I am single, it doesn’t mean that I am not attracted to men or that I am opposed to the traditional family structure. Though I enjoy mechanically-inclined activities and working outdoors, it doesn’t mean that I dislike dressing up in pretty clothes with nice make-up. I just don’t want to be told that there is only one way – the traditional way – to do things, to be, to live out the life God has given me.
For me, feminism means that I – and all women – need to be allowed to be the humans God created us to be, within the context of the family and culture in which God has placed us.
It means that I need to be able to play sports, build my own raised garden beds, be intelligent, have a voice, and not be thought odd in the process.
It means that I want to be able to speak out, and that my voice, along with the amazing range of voices of women, needs to be heard and respected.
I am finding this voice again – the voice with the passion of a middle schooler and a missionary, the emotion of the defiant child and the angry teen, the range of the undaunted twenty-something and the broken thirty-something.
The voice of the reluctant feminist.
Slowly, I am beginning to rediscover and become reacquainted with who I am, with the words that rattle and flow inside me. I am a child of God. A daughter of a fun, if culturally upside down family. An intelligent woman who has dreams for how to impact the world, and a word or two to say about my role and that of other women.
These words have been buried for too long under the doubt and confusion that came from a too-intense time of ministry, a good dose of hurt and disillusionment, and a whole mountain of burnout. It is exciting – intoxicating, almost – to find that my voice hasn’t died, that it hasn’t been drowned out by broken dreams and grief. It is nearly beyond my ability to express myself to find that there are words to write, maybe one day to speak.
Feminism takes on many forms for many people:
For some, it is an angry cry.
For others, it is a plea for justice.
For me it is the necessity through which my family lived, survived, and eventually thrived.
It is the medium through which I speak the beliefs formed from the life I have lived.
It is the reality that not only can I explore these things I love, but that God created me to explore and love them.
Feminism speaks to me, saying that perhaps God is pleased when I begin again to grow into the woman He created me to be, born from the family through which He molded me.
Through this, through these experiences and this raspy voice, I am beginning to recognize again and reclaim who I am and who God has molded me to be. Because of this – and comfortable with the title or not – I have little choice but to acknowledge that I am a feminist.
Image Credit: Kaboompics.com