I grew up in a sub-culture where the word feminism was a dirty word. “Feminists are ruining the family,” was the mantra I heard over and over. It didn’t really make sense to me. For these same people raised me on stories of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, powerful women of faith.
Lottie Moon was a missionary to China. She took the grace of her faith to a people who had never heard of it. She fought against the stupid rules of the men in charge about single women and what jobs they were allowed to have and became a powerful preacher.
Annie Armstrong was a “home missionary” as we called them back then. She wrote so many letters in support of the efforts of those who were providing basic food, water and clothes to anyone who needed them in the US that her hand actual went crippled.
I wanted to grow up to be like one of these women. What young girl wouldn’t? Then around age 12, I was hit with the stunning news: girls can’t be preachers in a Southern Baptist Church. What?
But what about Lottie Moon? What about Annie Armstrong? What about these amazing women of faith who I adore? Well, they were just not the point you see.
I tried for a long time to make it all make sense, to rationalize that my gender made me second best to God. But I never could. Over time, I gave up trying. It doesn’t make sense to teach me about strong women of faith and then tell me I’m not allowed to be one.
Eventually, I left that denomination and moved to one that treated women and men the same. I more or less made my peace with it, but somehow that always nagged at me. Then this week I read a piece by Rachel Held Evens that spoke to something deep down in me.
Indeed, [the gospel] is good news for women.
I learned this not from a class in feminist studies, but from Jesus—who was brought into the world by a woman whose obedience changed everything; who revealed his identity to a scorned woman at a well; who defended Mary of Bethany as his true disciple, even though women were prohibited from studying under rabbis at the time; who obeyed his mother; who refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery to death; who looked to women for financial and moral support, even after the male disciples abandoned him; who said of the woman who anointed his feet with perfume that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”; who bantered with a Syrophoenician woman, talked theology with a Samaritan woman, and healed a bleeding woman; who appeared first before women after his resurrection, despite the fact that their culture deemed them unreliable witnesses; who charged Mary Magdalene with the great responsibility of announcing the start of a new creation, of becoming the Apostle to the Apostles.
I learned about equality, not from Virginia Woolf, but from Junia, described in the New Testament as “outstanding among the apostles.” I learned it from Priscilla, who partnered with her husband to plant churches and teach famous apostles like Apollos. I learned it from Phoebe, a deacon, who may have been the first to read and explain the book of Romans.
Well, shut the front door! I’m no second class citizen in that group. In fact, gender has nothing to do with anything. I’m just a person, trying to live the life I’ve been shown. Sometimes, I’m doing it well. Other times, fine! most of the time, I could use a lot of work.
But my gender isn’t my problem. Evans is spot on when writes, “I suspect that advocates of religious patriarchy perpetuate the narrative of a ‘radical feminist agenda’ because it is easier to dismiss calls for equality when they appear to come from the ‘outside’ than when they come from a response to gospel itself.”
But that’s where my worth comes from. We are ALL children of God. My uterus doesn’t make me less or segment me in any way in how I can serve in Kingdom work. It’s just a part of me.
If you’ve read any of my writing about fertility, you know it’s a party of me that doesn’t even work properly. So sit with that cosmic joke for a moment.
Still, I keep hearing from people who don’t seem to understand feminism that it’s just a bunch of angry women who hate men. I suppose there are angry women who hate me. There are also angry men who hate women. Neither of those should stop us from treating all people with dignity and respect.
So I was thrilled when I came across this perfect definition of “feminism” shared by Stephanie Drury.
My anthropologist friend Kevin Swann was asked to define feminism yesterday and here is what he said. I give him slow claps:
“Well, there is no ‘official’ definition of feminism and everyone here can come up with a perfectly valid one. Each and every person here can, and should, tell you what it means to them. I will tell you (at mansplaining length) what it means to me.
Almost all schools of feminism believe that women and men are morally equal, should be politically and socially equal, and should have the same set of political, employment, scholastic, medical, and familial rights and opportunities. Most schools of feminism deal with confronting something called ‘patriarchy’ which is an organization of social power (and a corresponding ideology) wherein most power is allotted to men. Patriarchy works by making this allotment of power seem natural by conflating biological sex and gender thereby making gender roles seem natural and universal.
That’s what people do when they say ‘intended roles’. They mean that having a penis or a vagina ALSO means having a specific, rightful role in the world.
get ready for it,
gender roles are not natural or universal (sorry to break it to you).
In fact, almost all of the ethnographic, scientific, sociological, anthropological, and medical data from the last 100 years thoroughly discredits any natural relationship between sex and gender and, therefore, between biological sex and gender roles. It is all contingent, arbitrary, and entirely socially constructed.
What does all of this mean? What does it mean to be a feminist? For me it means to acknowledge a simple sociological fact: these gender roles are connected to social power that keeps men in positions of authority. This realization, in turn, means I must admit that, as a dude, I have tons of social privilege.
It’s a bummer, but I am not naturally this good at living my life. History and patriarchy make it way easier to live as a dude. It’s like playing Life: The Video Game, on the easy setting. I don’t have to worry about getting raped or groped or sexually harassed, having my ideas be brushed off with ‘that’s nice sweetie’, earning less, hearing people tell me what I ‘should’ be doing with my body, having political leaders determine what medical procedures I should have to endure (or should not have access to), having people stare at my body, having my clothes be seen as a determination of my moral worth, having ridiculous double standards erected around my sexual practices, having people tell me to smile on the street as if my body is their concern, being called crazy or irrational for having a legitimate reaction, being excluded from certain professions, or having my worth determined based on my looks.
But feminism ALSO means that I can be what I want without regard to some arbitrary notion of what my sex says I ‘should’ be. Feminism means that my gender is something I can perform and I can perform it any fucking way I choose.
It does not mean, in any way, that women ‘don’t need men’.
I really attached to two fellas in particular in my life: my husband and son. I’ve even let myself grow to need my husband. I don’t think that makes me weak, just part of team. Feminism doesn’t make me angry. It just means that I’m a child a God, and I won’t let anyone tell me I’m something less than that ever again.