From the editor: This post is part of our Feminist Friday series written by Christian women who identify as feminists. We hope that these posts will broaden our understanding and give us a fuller context in which to have conversations about equality in the Church.
Until recently, if I were to be asked if I was a feminist, my reply would have been a noncommittal, “Not really.”
Of course, being a woman, I was never opposed to women’s rights, nor did I doubt my ability to be as capable as men in most situations. Claiming to be a feminist however, seemed extreme; as though one of the main requirements was to hate men, or at least regard them as the weaker sex. Recent events, articles, videos, and social networking posts have both inspired and troubled me enough to reclaim the word feminism for what it is: providing help to women who are being stripped of their basic rights or humanity.
The basic definition of feminism, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; and organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”
Feminism, by definition then, seems harmless enough. Why would anyone, man or woman, not want to admit they have rights, interests, or enough political, economic, and social awareness to have intelligent opinions about them? How could anyone not see the injustice in trying to take away these basics from any party?
It seems that some Christian men and women have taken for granted the equality found in their own lives (and, I believe, become blind to the lack of it in certain areas of their own lives), and have begun ignoring the need for feminist action in the lives of others.
The most pivotal moment in my realization of a need for feminism was seeing a post by a certain Facebook profile named “The Bible is Against Feminism.”
What hit me first was the fact that such a profile existed. Nowhere in the Bible does God belittle or ignore the rights or accomplishments of women. The post itself was a link to a series of pictures of young women holding up signs with their own reasons for not being a feminist. A main theme in this series of photos was that feminism was not needed because these women had apparently never been victimized due to their gender. One woman’s sign actually read, “As a woman in the western world, I am not oppressed, and neither are you!”
If you somehow missed the bigotry in that statement, allow me to spell out this truth for you:
Just because you have never been the victim of a crime or even a dehumanizing slur, does not mean that no other man or woman has not suffered through that type of tragedy.
Christians especially are commanded to care for one another in our time of need, which includes comforting each other during emotional and physical distress, rather than ostracizing each other because of it. As Paul advises in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
How would a woman feel if after a long day of fending off inappropriate advances at work, she arrives at her Bible study group only to hear her fellow Christians antagonizing women who feel oppressed, even claiming that any action taken in the name of feminism to improve her situation would not be approved by God? Any man or woman should be able to find encouragement, prayers, and ideas for improvement from their fellow believers, not belittling statements and rolling eyes.
In October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot for standing up to the Taliban and their banishment of girls from attending school.1 In April of 2014, hundreds of girls were kidnapped from their Nigerian school by the insurgent group Boko Haram, whose name actually means “western education is forbidden.” Yousafzai traveled to Nigeria to participate in the ongoing Bring Back Our Girls campaign.2 Boko Haram has continued their kidnapping spree and terrorist acts throughout the region.
Even our own western world is not exempt from such unthinkable acts.
In America, from 2007 to 2012, 5,951 cases of sex trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. 85% of these cases involved women and girls.3 Unfortunately, to many Christians these figures still seem distant, even though the horrors they describe are most likely happening much closer to them than they realize.
To bring it even closer to home, we need only look at popular song lyrics.
Seemingly insignificant or easily ignored, the repetitive drilling of lyrics into our minds actually impacts how we think, and ultimately, act. The more we hear these lyrics, the more hardened our skin becomes to them, until we eventually just brush them off and consider them “normal.” However, as Madiha Bhatti, a spoken word poet, says, “…I’m not accustomed to boys yelling at me; never had to face boys telling me to ‘smack that, shake that, beat that up.’ Those aren’t the ideas of love with which I grew up.”4
These “normal” ideas that men and boys hear everyday do not describe love as God designed it. They are poisoning our minds and culture.
If we accept the lyrics, what’s stopping men and boys to act out what the songs are describing? Bhatti’s poem continues, “But when a man loves a woman who won’t love him back, what if his first instinct is to attack?” Worse, what if the woman herself has been told by her peers that she cannot possibly be a victim, so she does not feel she can go to anyone for help or comfort. She is trapped with her pain and has been told by the world that no one need help her.
Although the term “feminist” has had negative connotations, Christians cannot ignore the need for true feminist movements at home and across the globe.
The term “Christian” has been abused and misused many times, yet we are still proud to call ourselves such. Instead of giving up on the term when Christians are given a bad reputation, we strive to be more Christlike, to show the world the true meaning of what it means to be called a son or daughter of Christ. Why then should the term feminist be any different?
Instead of giving in to the bad publicity and negative history, we should strive to be more Christlike and show the world the true meaning of Christian feminism.
1 Yousafzai, M., & Lamb, C. (n.d.). I am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.
2 Mark, M. (2014, July 14). Malala Yousafzai rallies to cause of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Retrieved August 24, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com
3 Lee, T. (2013, November 22). Staggering report exposes US sex trafficking. Retrieved August 24, 2014, from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/sex-trafficking-america-0
4 Listen up Jay-Z, this Muslim woman’s got something to say to you. (n.d.). Retrieved August 24, 2014, from http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/faithshare/listen-up-jay-z-this-muslim-womans-got-something-to-say-to-you/
It has been happening for a few years already: Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, … The Spirit is moving. It will be the gift of our generation.
Many of suffragettes who fought for women’s rights were the first feminists. It is my opinion that men not women created the negative brand of “Feminist”. If a woman was a feminist then she must be a lesbian, a man-hater, a liberal or a witch with a b, or a witch. It is fear and a culture of fear that has caused men to fear women having equal rights, equal power etc. The fear is still among us. The fear causes some men and women to say that Christian feminism is liberal – not really Christian. As for me, I am a Christian male who is a feminist.
Thank you John.
Thank you too John…too many men are ruining their sons with their negativity…how many boys are doing badly in school with women teachers because women are “#@$%^&**…I am afraid that the reaction to feminism is far worse than feminism…and extremely damaging to relationships…guess they just can’t stand to lose their ‘entitlement’….we need more kind men like John…(sane, thoughtful and sans the chip on the shoulder)…I am tired of these war horses who just can’t like women unless they are door mats…and then they don’t respect them either…have a relative like this…he just spreads his venom everywhere…
Excellent article…full of meat for the soul!
Karen, this is wonderful, thank you.
Right after I started identifying as a feminist, thanks to Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans, song lyrics began to really bother me. It’s easy to think that those things don’t matter, but when we allow horrible comments made to others to become our entertainment without a thought, we aren’t much of a Body, you’re right.
Good thoughts, Karen.
To add to your response to women who do not feel “oppressed” – it is usually because they are white, straight, economically privileged women who conform to gender stereotypes. Often the oppression is not seen or experienced until you either attempt to step outside those stereotypes, see with your own eyes the push-back experienced by women who attempt to subvert patriarchy, or are educated by articles like yours.
I am privileged to be in a position to “choose,” in many but all not situations, whether to conform or challenge the system and admit it is exhausting to constantly challenge visible and invisible sexism in our society and in the church. So, I confess I sometimes I “rest” in it, but I am painfully aware that many, if not most, women lack that choice and must fight just to survive much less thrive.
Add to that the intersectionality of race, class, religion, and sexual orientation (and sometimes disability), and my heart breaks just trying to empathize with those women.
Christianity has been complicit but it also contains messages of liberation. We are called to make a difference. Your journey to recognizing the need for Christian feminists and male allies is an important story worth sharing. Thank you for doing the hard work to get there and writing this article!
Grace and peace,
Thank you Patti. I do hope my article can serve to open some eyes to the oppression of those who are not as privileged as we are, and help to educate them as you said.
Patti, YES! privilege blinds us to the oppression of others, and to our own privilege. It’s like a middle class white person saying there’s no racism problem in America anymore–because it’s not a problem for THEM. same sort of blindness. We need feminism to help people see the truth and to help the oppressed–who might live right next door.
This is a powerful piece. Thank you!
Karen, you nailed it. We need to be feminists because the world subtly and overtly subjects women to oppression – it could be kidnapping 200 girls to sell them off as brides, or it could be telling a woman her job isn’t worth as much as a man’s because she isn’t supposed to be the primary breadwinner for a family. Either way, it is contrary to the gospel of love and justice and peace and grace. That is the gospel the church should preach and promote and work for in the world.
Yes, people get used to or ignore the more subtle forms of oppression, because it can be hard not to! But as you said, they are still contrary to the gospel we’re teaching.
Yes. I have a very similar story. I’ll wear the label even though it (sadly) requires a longer explanation than it should. I feel like i have to say, “I am a feminist… who love the Bible and men and hates abortion and pornography.” I wish the word didn’t have so much baggage, but I don’t think that is a good enough reason not to use it.
Very good. One Catholic version of Christian feminism is John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Hope Pope Francis will keep building on that. Sign of hope:
“The way in which Jesus Himself regarded women, in a context that was far less favorable than our own, casts a powerful light illuminating a road that takes us far, on which we have traveled only a short distance. It is a road we must travel with more creativity and boldness.”