Wednesday, October 17, 2007,11:26 AM
What is a Christian Feminist?
A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a link to a blog where a fundamentalist woman was posting about a woman's true place in a biblical worldview. Her thoughts went beyond complementarian to the "women exist to serve men in the home by popping out babies" extreme. Apparently women can't think, can't question, and can never ever seek equality because God forbids it. In the comments it was concluded that feminism was created by Satan and that the term Christian Feminist is an oxymoron because according to God, they just can't exist. While I was amused by the idea that according to God I have no ontological reality (and yes, I know she meant that if one is a feminist one obviously can't be saved), it was still disturbing to hear women parroting the propaganda of oppression. I know it is her belief system and that it has meaning for her, but the fact that she isn't allowed to encounter different viewpoints is indicative of the reality for too many women in the church.

So why am I bringing this up? Geoff over at Amateur Theology has asked a genuine question as to what is a Christian Feminist. He writes, "It sounds from the implication of the title that I’m having trouble reconciling Christianity with feminism. The truth, I’m afraid is that I’m far more ignorant than that. I just don’t have a solid grasp on a) what feminism really means in the here and now, and b) how that interplays with people’s faith."

Makeesha has provided a great response and the comments there have sparked some good exploration of the term "feminist". I'll include here my contribution to the comments.

Feminist is a hard word because it is usually used as a negative label that is applied as a means to ridicule and dismiss. I’ve been in groups where generally open minded people actually say things like “well, I don’t think anyone here would go so far as to call themselves a feminist…” As if being a feminist is the most extreme out there thing one can be.

I do understand that there are various streams/waves of feminism and while I have serious issues with some of them (the ones that hate men or think that sexual openness means equality), I am not willing to give up the entire history of the movement because of some fringe views (kinda like I feel about Christianity). I am a feminist because I am a Christian. I believe all people are created in the image of God and are therefore worthy as imagebearers. We are all called to serve God in the ways we are called (in ministry, work, the home, school…) and to say otherwise is to stifle the will of God. Since it has been women who have generally been seen as inferior, I think feminism is necessary to overcome that lie.

In many ways, I would rather be a “peopleist” and work for all people to be allowed to be the people God made them to be. Men and women should not be fit into the molds of gender stereotypes and should be respected for who they are. But I think the goals of feminism still have a long way to go to just get basic respect for women established.
I know I've posted this graphic before, but I think it represents the historical tradition of feminism that I respect. There has been much achieved by the strong women who put it all on the line to get basic rights for women. Basic rights that as a Christian who loves God and respects how he created people I don't understand how they could be denied. But denied they have been along with much more. I recently re-read Virginia Woolf's classic A Room of One's Own and was shocked at how little has changed in the past 80 years for women. We still have loud and powerful men asserting that they know women are inferior and detailing for us all that we are good for in this world. Our voice is still not heard in many circles, especially in the church. And it is still a struggle to get the average person to acknowledge that these issues even matter. For many out there there just seem to be way more important things to care about than how women are perceived and treated. I think there are a lot of things that should be more important, but getting basic decency, rights, and respect for women seems fairly important to me.

So I am a feminist. I think women are people too. I think we are worthy of respect and human rights. I think God is big enough to use whoever he wants to serve him. And I will stand up with feminists against those who out of fear or hatred try to tell God otherwise.

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posted by Julie at 11:26 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 10/17/2007 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Pastor Astor

    I must side with Geoff on this one. I am an ignorant. In your view, do you have to accept the Marxist power ideology that feminism is rooted in, or can it be exchanged in favor of a Christian anthropology?

  • At 10/17/2007 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 10/17/2007 01:34:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    Why does any recognition of the power structures and oppressive systems that do in fact exist in this world automatically get (derogatorily) labeled "Marxist"?

    And even if it is "Marxist", is it possible that Marx too occasionally spoke some truth?

  • At 10/17/2007 04:58:00 PM, Anonymous Holly

    Have you heard the NPR show - Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett? She interviewed Sr. Joan Chittister a few weeks ago. It is FABULOUS! Sr. Joan discusses feminism and her Catholic faith. You may enjoy her thoughts. You can download it on iTunes under the Speaking of Faith podcast.

  • At 10/17/2007 06:39:00 PM, Anonymous Geoff

    Well Pastor Astor - I've got you beaten in the ignorance stakes: I read "Marxist power ideology" and gave my computer a blank stare.

    Thanks for the link back Julie - this post certainly got a lot more noticed than my usual fare :P

  • At 10/17/2007 07:28:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Bah. I so typed up a nice long reply then blogger ate it. Let's try this again.

    Holly - I love the Speaking of Faith series, but I don't often have time to listen to podcasts. I generally save a bunch up for long car rides. But I will keep this one in mind!

    Pastor Astor - I think the language and categories that Marxism has given the world are helpful in understanding these issues, but I by no means believe that one must buy into Marxist theories in order to be a feminist. The goal in Marxism is for the oppressed to overthrow their oppressors. But the issue is that the formerly oppressed then gain power and end up oppressing others.

    I don't support the sorts of feminism that are about proving women are better than men and should be the sole ones in charge. I approach the issues of equality from the standpoint of love. god has told us to love our neighbor as ourself. In doing so we respect the other as a person made in God's image and worthy of our respect and love. To continue to oppress (or demean, or segregate) the other would be to deny the image of God in that person and fail to love them as we are instructed to do.

    So feminism can very much be rooted in Christian ideals of love as oppossed to Marxist ideologies of power.

  • At 10/17/2007 07:40:00 PM, Blogger Kyra

    It always bothers me when women feel the need to placate the fears o the masses when they admit that they're a feminist but not "one of those feminists". More often than not it's about assuaging men who as soon as you say you're a feminist believe that they're being attacked for having a certain set of genitalia. Feminism isn't about keeping men happy or even about men(not directly at least). For me, my feminism is about my own voice and learning how to craft and project it. Feminism is about refusing to hate myself. It's also about shrugging off the baggage that comes along with being labeled "woman" and exploring what it means to be human without having to be "feminine". It is through that thought that feminism has to do directly with men. If I disrupt what it means to be a woman I have also, as a result, disrupted what it means to be a man.

    This is also why I am a staunch and even shrill or strident user of "feminism" as opposed to "humanism". There are a whole heap of problems in this world and just as many theories about how to solve them. The way that I approach them is through gender and thus feminism. I think that feminism illuminates and gives us different ways to approach problems such as poverty or despotism. Humanism sweeps the plight of women under the rug so that other more important problems can be solved first. Feminism draws attention to the problems that women face. Simple as that.

    At the moment, because of my conservative introduction to Christianity, I have some difficulty reconciling feminism and Christianity. This is not to say that the two are oil and water. The problem lies with allowing myself the same liberty with the Bible and God that I do with other texts; the same forgiveness and willingness to contextualize. However, the reason that I endeavor to meld the two, is that my feminism will make me a better Christian. I am more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving.

  • At 10/17/2007 07:49:00 PM, Blogger Kyra

    I forgot to add:
    This might be a helpful starting to place for the uninitiated.

  • At 10/17/2007 09:02:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

    During a brief but intense flirtation with capital-O Orthodoxy, my wife and I enjoyed reading Frederica Matthews-Greene's account of her journey into the Orthodox faith, and I have appreciated her writing ever since.

    I generally believe it serves us well to listen to the gracious voices of those in previous generations who have "been there, done that" to see if they have something worthwhile to say that might give us a shortcut, keep us from having to reinvent the wheel or otherwise smooth out a few bumps. For example, it's a great thing that many in our generation are discovering Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, who first challenged our parents' generation (my wife's mother was at Trinity while Wallis was there and can tell some interesting stories).

    Sometimes it's also worthwhile to interact with people who have tried the route we are going and maybe even walked it for a good while but are no longer on that path, even if in the end we don't agree with their decision to leave.

    As a male who supports women exercising the full range of their gifts in the church and society, and who has alternately (or indecisively) put on and taken off the feminist label a few times, Frederica's account as the former vice president and PR director of Feminists for Life gives me something to chew on. She may or may not be right, but she's walked a lot of miles in feminist shoes. Have you interacted with her writing on this topic?

  • At 10/17/2007 09:49:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Kyra - thanks for sharing. I agree that Humanism sweeps the plight of women under the rug so that other more important problems can be solved first. Feminism draws attention to the problems that women face. There are problems out there that need to be overcome and ignoring them or wishing they didn't exist doesn't help. I have heard far to many people say they have rejected Christianity because they can reconcile the faith they have been taught with their self-worth as a woman. Unfortunately Christians are doing a better job at promoting sexist agendas than they are doing in healing the body of Christ.

    Karl - oh you bring up the dreaded Frederica Matthews-Greene. yes I've read some of her stuff and yes I think she has some good things to say (and there's a lot I disagree with). My issue is how she always gets paraded out as the "look here is an intelligent woman of faith who realized how stupid feminism is" example with the implication that all of us Christian feminists will realize how stupid we are, start preaching submission, grow out of our childish notions of equal rights, and just shut up. I'm not accusing you of that, but others have played the Frederica card against me a few too many times for me to be comfortable aligning myself with her writings.

  • At 10/18/2007 02:54:00 AM, Blogger Pastor Astor

    Mike: I didn't mean to be derogatory. I think Marx and the NT talks about two worldviews that don't mix well - not in the description of the sotuation we are in, ut in the solution: Marx paints the victim as good and the oppressor as evil - as the victim comes into power all should be well... the best a marxist view can deliver is a sort of terror balance. The NT makes the vistim and oppressor sinners both, and the goal of the gospel is reconciliation and mutual service. If feminism can can be an outflow of the gospels story, I am definitely a feminist! If it can't and it is tightly connected to the marxist power ideology, then I don't believe it will do us much good.

  • At 10/18/2007 08:51:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

    Julie, I'm not surprised some people have used Frederica's writing as a way to say "here, read this and shut up." But I don't think that's Frederica's attitude, and it wasn't mine.

    I realize my post, taken literally, simply asked whether you had interacted with Frederica before and you did adequately answer that question. But as a father of three daughters and someone who shares many of feminism's concerns but also thinks Frederica makes some good points, I'm hungry for a little more thoughtful dialogue about what Frederica has to say. If you've already been there, done that, and aren't interested in doing it again, that's fine.

    For an example that might show how I read your post, someone might say:

    oh you bring up the dreaded Brian McLaren. yes I've read some of his stuff and yes I think he has some good things to say (and there's a lot I disagree with). My issue is how he always gets paraded out as the "look here is an intelligent man of faith who realized how stupid evangelicalism is" example with the implication that all of us evangelicals will realize how stupid we are, start preaching openness, grow out of our childish notions of absolute truth, and just shut up. I'm not accusing you of that, but others have played the McLaren card against me a few too many times for me to be comfortable aligning myself with his writings.

    OK, but I am interested in what you actually thought about what McLaren actually said . . .

  • At 10/18/2007 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    touché Karl. I guess I shouldn't have been brief and open about my personal experiences. So have people actually used McLaren in intellectual violence against you, or was that purely hypothetical?

    It's been a few years since I read her in depth, but taking the article you linked to here are a few of my thoughts -

    - a like her discussion on women feeling at home in their bodies. Too often we are told that we have to be something we are not in order to be valued as a person. So I applaud those that promote women to be valued for who they are. But I also know that who some women are gets expressed in how they artistically present themselves. how I dress, how I do my hair, what piercings or tattoos I have is part of who I am. There should be a balance.

    - I was uncomfortable with her condescending tone as she reflected on her feminist past. She spoke of her association with feminism as something she participated in because she was young and naive, but as she matured and became more self-reflective she abandoned those ideas. That's her story, but the implication is that feminists are only feminists because they are young and naive.

    - She speaks about some of the streams of feminism she dislikes (hatred of men, pro-abortion) and so decides to reject all of feminism because some people associate feminism with those things. This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. She is afraid to use a label that means one thing to her, but other things to other people. I could say that about Christianity as well, but I am not willing to give up my faith no matter how many negative things are associated with it.

    - She dislikes the characterizing women as victims and men as the bad guys. I agree that such broad generalizations are unhealthy and need to be avoided. But there remains the fact that women have been oppressed by men at points in history. That issues can be dealt with without assuming women are always good and men always bad.

    So while some of her insights are good, on the whole I don't find her a very useful source in helping others understand gender issues or women in the church. There are too many points of disagreement and too many places where I have to clarify and qualify what she says. That does not mean i think I can't learn from people I disagree with, but that I am not going to devote a lot of time to studying her or promoting her ideas right now. There are better ways for me to spend my time.

  • At 10/18/2007 03:17:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle

    "What is a Christian Abolitionist?"

    Can I be a Christian and an abolitionist? Just not one of those abolitionists!

    But really. Can a Christian NOT be a feminist (or an abolitionist)? Isn't feminism (and abolitionism) rooted deeply and profoundly in Christianity? No? Then, isn't Jesus Christ a feminist, an abolitionist? Of course he is! And those of us who follow him find that "Marxist power ideology" is really quite beside the issue.

  • At 10/18/2007 03:18:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

    Thanks for the more in depth thoughts, Julie. I appreciate your willingness to be open about your personal experience and didn't mean to be snide about it. I'm sorry you've been treated that way. On looking at my question (have you interacted with her) the brevity was understandable. You delivered what I was hoping for in the second post.

    One thing that still troubles me is her observation that "If I used the word “feminist” to mean something most people didn’t understand, I wasn’t communicating . . . My work depended on using tools precisely, and employing an esoteric, private definition for any word amounted to damaging my tools."

    You respond to this with the example of the baggage that comes with the word Christian, and that is helpful. But I see a lot of people who haven't abandoned their convictions but have abandoned (or at least usually don't use) that word in favor of terms like Christ-follower, or Follower of the Way of Christ, for exactly the same reason Frederica gives above. I think the term "Evangelical" is an even closer analogue to the term "Feminist" as far as being a loaded term that brings with it a lot of baggage and assumptions for neutral hearers re. my stance on a whole range of social and political issues. I do still call myself an evangelical at times, but only if pressed and when either (a) my hearer will understand what I mean or (b) I have a lot of time to explain. Usually I use some more neutral, non-loaded-with-baggage term. Otherwise, I'm employing a private, esoteric definition (albeit one I think is closer to what true evangelicalism is all about than the prevalent stereotypes) and failing to communicate.

    The same seems to be true of feminism. Christian feminists are a small minority in the N.O.W. ranks, and there's as much in the N.O.W. agenda and attitude that I reject as there was in Falwell's. Sure, N.O.W. doesn't speak for all feminists, but neither did Falwell speak for all evangelicals. So if I use a term that makes most of my non-insider hearers think "N.O.W. and all that organization stands for", am I really communicating?

    The Brian McLaren thing was hypothetical.

  • At 10/18/2007 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    gayle - I feel the same way. There are days when I just really wonder how equality for women can even still be an issue. It's such a no-brainer, I can't even wrap my mind around how anyone could think that women are inferior.

    karl - the label thing is an issue. But while people use other terms to describe themsevles as christians, they do not reject the term Christian altogether. It still hold meaning for them even if they know it hold negative connotations for others. most people I know would rather redeem the term than abandon it. That's somewhat how I feel about feminist, although I do not think all of the hatred of that term is based only on the extremes of feminism.

  • At 10/19/2007 08:56:00 AM, Anonymous Matt Stone

    The image is quite thought provoking Julie. Liked it.

  • At 10/19/2007 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    I would say I am a feminist because I am a peopleist :) And I am a peopleist because I am a Christ-lover.

    I think a huge issue is how anger is dealt with by people who have been oppressed. Anger is a normal, healthy response in some situations, and can lead to positive action. Yet without grace and the gift of composting shit into fertile soil for new life, anger can become entrenched and lead to new forms of oppression or hurtful responses. It's kind of like sorting through the reasons why Christians are persecuted: is it because of how radical Jesus is, or because we are being (perhaps unintentionally) obnoxious? I hope we are prepared to accept persecution if it is because of living out the call of God in Christ, but I don't advocate feeling heroic over being disliked on account of our attitude.

    Likewise, are people reacting to feminism because it is a truly unbalancing (yet balancing) idea that feels threatening, or because of attitudes held by women or groups of women who are in such pain that has become internalized into bitterness and aggression?

    Seeking healing for our feminine wounds can lead the way for clarity about the issue of women being full, equal human beings entitled to be who they (we) are, and who God calls us to be!

  • At 10/19/2007 09:37:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

    "I do not think all of the hatred of that term is based only on the extremes of feminism." I agree. Of course the same is true of the terms Christian, and Evangelical. As Tolkien reminds, there will always be those who meet the best of the real thing and still respond: “Leaves out of the elf-country, gah! Lembas—dust and ashes, we don’t eat that.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful conversation.

  • At 10/19/2007 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Pastor Astor

    1. I found a post on christian feminism.
    2. I thought that maybe I can get some answers (I have really appreciated the posts on this blog)
    3. I post my question
    4. I get told that asking that question is derogatory.
    5. I explain that that is not my aim, and clarify.
    6. I get told that I am not a christ follower. Now, THAT is derogatory!
    7. I understand that I am not particularly welcome, and so, good bye.

  • At 10/19/2007 02:32:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Pastor Astor -
    1. Thank you for asking your question.
    2. Mike pointed out that applying Marxism to feminism is usually done in a derogatory way, not that your question was derogatory.
    3. I answered your question and never received any response back from you
    4. You return and claim we said you were not a Christian which I can't get from anything written here.
    5. So if you have a question to ask please ask it, but I do not understand this angry response.

  • At 10/19/2007 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Christy

    In evangelical Christian circles, it has been my experience that very few men or women have read the work of any feminists or interacted with any real live feminists, so they visualize NOW and hordes of hairy-legged, man-hating lesbians or the cast of Sex in the City whose sole goal is to promote unrestricted abortion and casual sex.

    The truth is that feminisim is a very big tent - particularly third wave feminism. There are Marxist feminists and feminists who think he was sexist. (I think his theories were both flawed and brilliant.) Women of color have critiqued the white, middle-class emphasis of the second wave and NOW types. There are pro-porn and anti-porn feminists. There are womanists and mujeristas and I've even met a Yinist...

    All of that is precisely why I call myself a feminist - particularly in more conservative Christian circles. If I don't self-identify as a feminist, then that allows people to maintain their stereotypes of feminists and who we are. In my experience, those who have the most trouble with the label are those who adhere to a patriarchal interpretation of scripture, and we are going to disagree no matter what I call myself.

    Great post, Julie.

  • At 10/19/2007 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Pastor Astor

    "Then, isn't Jesus Christ a feminist, an abolitionist? Of course he is! And those of us who follow him find that "Marxist power ideology" is really quite beside the issue."
    This is where my faith is questioned... Oh why bother. -good bye.

  • At 10/19/2007 03:11:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Pastor Astor - I don't think the point of those ideas was to question the validity of anyone's faith, but to explore how our faith can be expressed. You asked if feminism can be rooted in the Christian tradition, and we gave our answers as to how that can be the case.


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