As we saw in the previous post, a recent article by Matt Walsh argued that feminism is unnecessary for Christians. Today I want to examine the second objection that Walsh raised (with the understanding that I am picking on his article because it represents a widely-held view among many Christians).
His second question is equally legitimate and deserves a serious answer: Even if feminism is not redundant to the Christian faith, is it worth it, if it comes with so much baggage?
He brings up several different points included in this notion of baggage. Let’s start with abortion.
Like many other Christians, Walsh is suspicious of feminism because it has ties with the pro-choice movement. Lots of people feel too uncomfortable with that connection to identify as feminist. That is their right and I’m not trying to gloss over how seriously people take that issue.
But Walsh goes further and claims that no Christian anywhere should hold a different opinion. His claims make it sound as though abortion is about 95 percent of feminism’s purpose:
“The concepts are contradictory, [feminists] argue, and I agree — though I’d say the term ‘pro-life feminist’ could be more aptly compared to ‘abolitionist slave trader’ or ‘free market communist.’”
I disagree. I believe that feminism’s main focus is to explore the ways in which society has unhealthy beliefs about gender. That can include beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of abortion, but abortion certainly is not the only (or even main) focus for most of the feminists that I deal with in everyday life. And it is certainly not the only social concern that feminists are working to affect (other concerns include sex trafficking, female representation in government, and the portrayal of women in the media).
Most of the feminists that I speak with talk about unfair policies toward women in the workforce; about the horrors of rape culture; about expectations for how women should dress and act; about dynamics between husbands and wives, etc. Those are the issues they seem most concerned about, and those are the issues being broadcasted by feminists in the wider media.
Now, I don’t want to be disingenuous here. There are indeed some (many?) feminists who don’t believe you can be a feminist unless you are pro-choice. However, the reality is, there are feminists who agree on every other issue except abortion. Those people do exist, and I see no law or Gestapo preventing pro-life Christian women from identifying as feminist.
Again, if someone feels differently, s/he has every right to reject the feminist label. But where I think the line is crossed, is where that person tells other people that they are not allowed to see feminism as being about more than abortion, just because s/he doesn’t.
Another criticism that is often brought against feminism is that it doesn’t square with a complementarian view of the sexes. “Complementarianism,” a term coined in the 70s, is the belief that God ordained a high degree of difference between the sexes and intends men for one type of “role” and women for another type of “role”. Men are leaders; women are supporters.
I think a belief in complementarianism is why Walsh said this:
“To be equal is to be the same. Women are not equal to men because they are not the same as men. Therefore, a woman’s freedom is really slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and characteristics that make her a woman. The same could be said for men, if his freedom requires him to shirk that which sets him apart from women and makes him a man.”
The problem with using complementarianism to prove that feminism is un-Christian is, of course, that not all Christians are complementarian! Many Christians believe in mutual submission between husband and wife, in the leadership capabilities of women, and in the rights of husbands and wives to divide traditionally feminine and masculine “roles” within the home however they want. As for not being the same, Adam’s delight with Eve was because of her sameness to him, not because of her difference. “Then the man said, ‘At last, here is one of my own kind—bone taken from my bone, and flesh, from my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23, Today’s English Version).
Thus, I’m not sure that feminism is incompatible with “being a Christian.” It may be incompatible with “being a complementarian Christian.” To prove that Christians shouldn’t be feminists, Walsh would first have to prove that they shouldn’t be egalitarians.
And while we’re on the subject…why does Walsh get to define what feminists mean by the word “equal”? He seems to think it means “having no difference in their essence.” Most Christian feminists do accept a difference in gender makeup but that has nothing to do with what they mean when they say “equal.” The word “equal” is most often employed to mean equality of opportunity. It’s bad rhetoric for a writer to claim that the term must mean interchangeability when the people he’s arguing with don’t use the term that way.
As to Walsh’s other points, I simply disagree. They read like the caricatures of second-wave feminism that preachers crafted to scare parishioners during the 70s and 80s. For example:
“From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them. Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes, while feminism preaches competition and exclusion.”
This was the point at which my patience evaporated. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz was less a straw man than this argument. I don’t know any feminists who want dominance over men or treat men that way. Feminist culture is actually against such things, believing men and women to be equal in value and capability, with neither deserving to dominate. It is dangerous to equate the pursuit of equality with grasping for dominance. By that reasoning, you’d have to say that the Civil Rights movement was about black people wanting to dominate white people.
And as far as competition and the destruction of harmony…do you know where I learned to roll my eyes at men, bash husbands behind their backs, and believe that “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus?” From pop culture and, ironically, from watching other Christian women. In fact, the women I’ve known who were the most prone to hold bitterness against men were women who were farther along the spectrum of anti-feminism.
It was feminism that helped me see the destructiveness of such behavior. Feminism helped me see that harmony can exist between the sexes, and trained me out of the eye-rolling and husband-bashing that women are expected to engage in. Other feminists are often the first to join me in complaining about commercials and shows that make dads look stupid and inadequate; they’re often the first to insist that rape culture degrades men, too. And let’s not forget that plenty of happy, confident, well-adjusted men are feminists.
I realize that harmony between the sexes is God’s intention, and lines up with Biblical truth (Galatians 3:28, anyone? Ephesians 5:21? Or how about Eve being an “ezer kenegdo“?) But the rhetoric of feminism helped me to see the truth that was already there, and gives me language to explain myself when pop culture (and yes, church and complementarian culture) wants to re-introduce elements of competition.
Walsh also mentions a lot of hot-button phrases, such as wedges being driven between husband and wife, and chasms being opened between women and their children. But in my experience, these kinds of marital and family troubles come just as easily to people who don’t identify as feminist as those who do.
The bottom line is that no one must identify as a feminist. I really, truly respect people who are uncomfortable with the term. But if you’re going to attempt to convince everyone else that they should be uncomfortable too, you need to fight fair and have good reasoning behind you.
Rachel blogs at observationalginger.blogspot.
I think it’s ironic for a Christian to be wary of feminism because of its baggage when Christianity has a ton of baggage of its own.
I was at an event recently and one of the panel said that same thing – she is a feminist and said that feminists disagree on many things but one thing they cannot disagree on, and that is the pro-choice issue. There was no opportunity for me to say that I was a feminist who didn’t agree with abortion… but really, it’s just the height of arrogance for anyone, and especially some guy, to decide what a feminist is and what they believe.
And yes, on that subject, why does this guy get to define the meaning of equality? #irritated!
Excellent, Bev! I absolutely wonder the same thing–who on earth does this guy think he is, defining the meaning of equality? Good grief. The height of hubris.
For that matter, what femi-nazi Gestapo puts the term “feminist” in a tight box, and says ALL feminists MUST believe A, B, C, D and E? And that NO feminists can possibly believe F and G?
I actually went to the original article to scroll through it. It almost feels that the writer antagonized his readers on purpose–to get better page views and shares. I cannot believe that someone would actually read through that nonsense. I saw only one line and was ready to click off. He said: “We all deserve equality under the law, but that doesn’t mean we are all equal.” It makes me wonder his view on the equality of the races then…
You wrote: “Like many other Christians, Walsh is suspicious of feminism because it has ties with the pro-choice movement. Lots of people feel too uncomfortable with that connection to identify as feminist.”
I can respond to this that a lot of people are suspicious of Christianity because it is associated with witch hunts, the “holy” crusades and hundreds of years of abuse of power in the Roman Catholic church. So, since the people in those ages identified as Christ followers (Christians), should we then reject being identified as Christians for the fear that someone would misunderstand who we truly are in this day and age?
I love your point on this: “As for not being the same, Adam’s delight with Eve was because of her sameness to him, not because of her difference.” But Walsh’s statement that “Women are not equal to men because they are not the same as men. Therefore, a woman’s freedom is really slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and characteristics that make her a woman.” just about made me sick! To not be the same does not mean not to be equal. His statement is wrong on so many levels. If we are to use this line of thought, we could then say that because Asians do not look like Blacks, that means that they are not the same, therefore they are not equal (and we can keep applying that to all races, then to all skin shades, then to people with different hair or eye colors). The fallacy lies with his assumption that to be different is not to be equal. If he were to be correct, the present USA would be an impossibility, where all men/women are to be equal.
I am grateful that not all men are thinking this way. There are a lot of amazing men in Christianity (and otherwise) who see that we have entered egalitarian age; and, I believe, this takes pressure off men to feel that they have to live up to some unbelievable, unattainable expectations to be “the head” and “the leader” when they might not feel that it is the kind of role their personality type fits or they would want to fulfill. It is some much easier to enter a marriage with only these expectations: to love and to be loved; to be yourself and accept another as s/he is; to give and to accept; to use our talents and giftings to lead and to submit as each situation calls for it–no competition, no false hopes or burdening expectations. We are to be one of the same, yet different; equal, yet unique.
“Adam’s delight with Eve was because of her sameness to him, not because of her difference. ‘Then the man said, “At last, here is one of my own kind—bone taken from my bone, and flesh, from my flesh.”'”
What a wonderful insight!
Excellent article. I agree with everything except . . . Rachel’s contention that feminists (am I correct in assuming Rachel meant ALL feminists?) are not in competition, exclusion and then dominance over men. See Walsh’s comment: “From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them. Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes, while feminism preaches competition and exclusion.”
I absolutely agree with Rachel’s assertion that “Feminism helped me see that harmony can exist between the sexes, and trained me out of the eye-rolling and husband-bashing that women are expected to engage in.” However, I happen to live in mostly-free-thinking Evanston, Illinois, a liberal-leaning suburb of Chicago (which is overwhelmingly a bastion of Democratic/liberal politics and thought). Rachel contends that ” I don’t know any feminists who want dominance over men or treat men that way. Feminist culture is actually against such things, believing men and women to be equal in value and capability, with neither deserving to dominate.”
Perhaps in Rachel’s neck of the woods, she is familiar with a different brand of feminist. I know that here, in the Chicago area (and especially in Evanston and areas of Chicago proper) I do know certain women who do identify as feminist and liberal AND do want dominance over men and treat most men as inferior–often to compensate for and because of historical reasons of male-dominance, and especially power-over as opposed to submission and inferiority. Not only because of sex and gender differences, but also because of race/color differences and power-over in those areas, as well.
I still agree with almost everything else that Rachel said. Except for what I just mentioned. Just sayin’.
I’d be really interested to hear about views from other areas of the country. Here in multi-cultural, free-wheeling Chicago, I see a definite slant on things. Please, if anyone has any other experiences with feminism and feminist-leaning views, do tell! @chaplaineliza
Thanks for joining the discussion! You’re right that it’s not helpful to broadbrush and say that “all feminists do” or “all feminists don’t” believe something. Glad you pointed that out.
My beef with Walsh’s view is that he implies that the majority view of feminists is to wish for dominance over men. While I have seen feminists go that direction, in my experience, they’ve been in the minority, so I felt like it wasn’t accurate for him to take an extreme end of the spectrum and claim that it represents the basic desire of the entire movement.
Why oh why do we continue to infer that one cannot be a Christian feminist and be pro choice?
For one thing, I find it highly un Christian to deprive a person the right to act according to their conscience(and bear the consequences therein) based on their sex.
I’m a mother. My pregnancy was unplanned, and….having the freedom to decide a course of action in accordance with my conscience actually helped me choose to keep my child.
Not everyone is Christian. I am not about to coerce another person because of my mores, rather, I hope that I can find it within myself to trust them to their conscience and the love of God, and to have compassion in doing so.
And I will continue to support the pro-choice movement, even as a Catholic.
Now. That said, I think this was a wonderful peice , dismantling as it did the complematarian argument that since equality requires “same-ness” , women can never be equal.
Black people aren’t the “same” as white people. Chinese people are not the “same” as Polynesians. Yet they are all made in God’s image.
So , if you accept that women are also “people”, then you must reject “sameness” as a qualifier for equal rights.
A Christian feminist once posited that it is the ultimate blasphemy to look upon another human, equally made in God’s image, and hold them lower, because of their sex.
This is wonderful. Thank you.
Loved this series, Rachel. Very well articulated and fair. The point I appreciated the most was “Other feminists are often the first to join me in complaining about commercials and shows that make dads look stupid and inadequate; they’re often the first to insist that rape culture degrades men, too.” I am a mother of 4 sons, and my Christian feminist identity leads me to fight on THEIR behalf. For example, we refuse to watch television that degrades women, and we also refuse to watch television that portrays men as morons. Male bashing jokes are as equally unwelcome in my home as female bashing jokes (or race bashing ones for that matter!), and be prepared to be called out if you start generalizing men OR women.
I want my sons to see women as sisters whom they will step up and defend not because they have roles as a protectors but because they are humans with deep respect and care for others – especially those who lack a voice. And I want them to experience women as sisters who will also step up to defend and protect them when our culture tries to stereotype who they are. I want my sons to grow up with the expectation that women will treat them with respect and not manipulation and disdain, which is far too common in the church.
Healthy feminism is both pro-woman AND pro-man because it is at essence the understanding that men need women as much as women need men. We were designed to be equal partners, fighting for one another, loving one another, and being the voice for one another.
Re:’Healthy feminism is both pro-woman AND pro-man because it is at essence the understanding that men need women as much as women need men. We were designed to be equal partners, fighting for one another, loving one another, and being the voice for one another.”
Then perhaps a new name is needed for this movement rather than “feminism” as that appears to be focused on women. In other words, “feminism” is not gender-inclusive.
Raswhiting, I agree, I dislike the word for the same reason. (I write that here too: http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/why-i-hate-the-word-feminist/
Perhaps we do need to use another word.
But any such word will collect baggage in time too, partly because any group has bad apples and partly because enemies of a movement likes to slander them.
I agree, whatever word will carry baggage. Remember when ‘gay’ meant happy etc? I won’t use that term unless for its proper meaning. If I refer to my lesbian friend, I use her correct title, which she likes. This will cause a few comments, but I’m feminist and free, so that’s what counts
Thanks, great couple of articles. You drew out the problems in the argument clearly and well.