Let’s Talk About Feminism
If your Facebook newsfeed looks anything like mine, it’s featured a lot of politics lately. Who am I kidding? It’s been an explosion of politics for months. About two weeks ago, one topic on my feed was especially explosive: The Women’s March. I’m betting it at least made an appearance on your radar.
People on Facebook tend to either be engagers (the ones doing the posting, sharing, debating, etc.) or ignorers (the ones who scroll past debates as quickly as possible). I’m usually somewhere in the middle, leaning towards ignoring. I may look at what people have shared, but I rarely interact with those posts – it gets too complicated, too messy, too time-consuming, and it usually doesn’t solve anything.
But I decided to engage in some of the discussions on the Women’s March, and, as usual, I got sucked in. It started with a few comments on someone else’s status. Then I shared an article. And that’s when it happened.
I called myself a feminist.
And then I had to spend the next few days typing out lengthy comments in response to people who were concerned about me describing myself with that particular term. That’s when I decided that this blog post needed to happen (although it took a bit longer than expected).
This post is not another response to the Women’s March, since lots of good ones (and bad ones) already exist. Instead, it’s what almost all of the discussions I had because of the march boiled down to: feminism, and in particular a Christian response to feminism.
Obviously this is a huge topic that I could write books about, so I won’t be able to cover everything, but I’ll try to sum my thoughts up both thoroughly and succinctly (and it’ll still be a fairly long post, but bear with me!).
What’s your knee-jerk reaction when you hear the word “feminism”? What immediate comes to mind? Would you ever call yourself a feminist, or do you adamantly speak out about why you’re not one? Whatever your reaction is, I doubt it’s one of indifference. Feminism is one of those words that’s charged with associations, connotations, and emotions.
Personally, I have a complicated relationship and history with the word. I do refer to myself as a feminist, but I almost always accompany that declaration with a disclaimer and a discussion of what I mean. And trust me – that title isn’t one that I adopted quickly or lightly.
I grew up in an old-fashioned, conservative, fundamental Baptist family and church. So for the first nineteen years of my life, I had nothing but negative associations with the word “feminism.” It was worldly, radical, unbiblical. It was in opposition to the family, it taught women to not be submissive to their husbands, it taught that women were superior to men, etc. Never mind the fact that I probably couldn’t have explained what feminism actually was if you’d asked me to.
Then this “sheltered” homeschooler started her college education at Western Wyoming Community College. Through a series of events, I became friends with several teachers who proudly called themselves feminists, and my perceptions of the word began to change. Then I became a part of the Honors Program and its Introduction to the Humanities class. At the end of the semester, we had to do a research paper and presentation. I decided, based on some of our class discussion, to write about feminism and how it dealt with the issue of women staying at home.
Here’s the funny part – I thought my research paper was going to be about how I disagreed with feminism and how I was against the way it discouraged women from being wives and mothers. But the more I researched, the further I dug into the issue, the more questions I asked, the more I wondered: do I actually disagree with this?
My research paper turned into a discussion of the many different views feminists have held of women staying at home, which turned into a discussion of what feminism actually is, which turned into a realization: feminism and conservative ideals aren’t actually totally at odds. (Hold on to that thought, because I’m coming back to it.)
My teacher selected seven students from that class and invited them to take their research and give presentations at the Western Regional Honors Conference in Flagstaff, Arizona that spring. I was invited. I was terrified. But after a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to go for it.
I remember sitting in my teacher’s book-covered office, coming to the conclusion that the heart of my presentation wasn’t really the issue of women staying at home, but rather the issue of how conservative groups interacted with feminism. And I distinctly remember telling him: “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to openly call myself a feminist though, because the people I know wouldn’t understand what I meant by it.”
Still, I did further research, I interviewed people – including our very own work-from-home-Christian-mom Nicole Elliott – and I dug into what feminism is at its heart and how conservatives react to it. And a few months later I took an amazing trip to Flagstaff, and I presented my thoughts to strangers. The last line of that presentation, my conclusion of months of research, was simply this: “All of us, when we consider the basic definition of feminism, should be able to proudly consider ourselves feminists.”
I didn’t start calling myself a feminist right away or make a big deal of “coming out” about it. I honestly don’t even know when I first applied the term to myself. But after that presentation, if the topic came up, it was this concept I went back to and discussed. And somewhere along the line, I called myself a feminist, and I explained what I meant by it.
That’s my history with the word. Now, let’s have that discussion.
First off, here’s a link to the video of my entire presentation from Flagstaff. It’s about half an hour long. The best thing you could do to fully understand my thoughts is to watch the whole video right now, then read the rest of this post. However, I get that it’s a long video, so I’m going to hit most of the big ideas from it in my discussion below. If you do watch it, let me know so I can congratulate you. 😉
Now, just a quick note: my audience at the Honors Conference was strangers, so I had no idea what their backgrounds, beliefs, or opinions on feminism would be. Here, however, I’m assuming that much of my audience is Christian, as wells as including lots of mommies. Of course, I still don’t know what your opinions on feminism are! But my ideas here will be a little more focused on how we as Bible-believing Christians deal with feminism.
Here we go!
The basis of this issue is simply the difference between the denotation and connotations of the word “feminism.” The denotation of a word is its basic definition, while the connotations of a word are all the other ideas that people attach to it.
The denotation of feminism is this: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests” (Merriam Webster); “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basic of the equality of the sexes” (Google); “a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women” (Wikipedia). If you were to ask a feminist what feminism is, most of them would tell you that it’s a belief in the equality of the sexes.
The problem comes because of the connotations of “feminism,” because those are endless. As the term has developed and been claimed by various groups, it has had a lot of associations attached to it. As often happens, the most radical and extreme groups are the ones that get the most attention. This is why “feminism” has come to be associated with what I refer to as “radical feminism.” These are the people that burn bras, wear crude costumes, call for extreme legislation, have negative views of men (which is technically misandry), etc., etc. These women are what people, especially Christians, tend to think of as feminists. They are also not a representation of all feminists.
I think this is the single biggest reasons Christians (and I use that term broadly) have shied away from the term “feminist” and thus the concept of feminism as a whole. All the articles I’ve read from Christians that argue against feminism make the same mistake of faulty generalization.
One article that was shared with me after I referred to myself as a feminist on Facebook was from a Christian blog for women (not unlike this blog), called “7 Reasons I’m Not a Feminist.” This was part of my response: “This author is…defining all feminism by the most liberal and radical forms of feminism, rather than the actual definition of the word and concept. I firmly agree with all the points she makes about the Bible and its view of women. I also disagree with nearly all the points she makes about feminism as she is, as I said, only describing very radical/liberal feminism. And, honestly, even the liberal feminists I know wouldn’t agree with some of the claims she makes about feminism.”
So, feminism is, at its core, a belief in the equality of the sexes. Do we, as Christians, believe this? Does the Bible teach this? Yes! (Now, hang with me before you raise your concerns. I’ll get there.) All humans, male and female, are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). I believe this means that both men and women together are needed to have a complete view of the image of God in humanity, and that both men and women are completely equal in value in creation and in God’s eyes. God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) – He is the only One Who perfectly never discriminates for any reason, including gender. And in salvation, all are perfectly equal before in Christ – “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:27-28).
Now, you may be concerned that I’m headed down the road of “equality means there should be no distinguishing traits between genders, men and women can always share the exact same roles, women should never have to submit,” and so on. I’m not. God does distinguish between genders, and in some very specific cases, like the office of pastor, God does prescribe certain roles to certain genders. I’m not downplaying that fact.
In fact, I’ll argue that in some ways these distinctions actually heighten the fact that men and women are equal. The genders are different, and some distinctions can be made (although time and society often change what those distinctions are – that’s another discussion), which shows that both genders are needed and should be celebrated, equally, for a complete view of God’s image in humanity. Women are asked to submit to their husbands, yes. That doesn’t mean their husbands are more important. God the Son submitted to God the Father, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are equal. Also, younger Christians are asked to submit to elder Christians, and all Christians are asked to submit to one another (1 Peter 5:5) – that doesn’t change the equality of believers, it heightens it as they honor one another.
Now, some of the definitions of feminism define certain types of equality (political, economic, and social). These come from the history of feminism since the belief in the equality of men and women has pushed people to fight for the ability of women to hold some of the same rights as men, such as the right to vote, to get an education, to work, etc. I know that most of us wouldn’t agree with some of the specific things people push these days (such as pro-choice groups), but I still don’t believe that we can equate the entire concept of feminism with specific beliefs of some feminists. As a whole, I don’t believe the Bible condemns these broad areas of equality. (Obviously there is so much that can be discussed here specifically that I simply don’t have time to dig into, but I encourage you to dig yourself!)
Now, I have one last point to make. I’ve said that I call myself a feminist, with explanation. That doesn’t mean I’m asking you to call yourself one. I completely understand the hesitancy to use a title that groups you disagree with have used. I understand not wanting to be associated with radical feminism. I completely respect those who choose to avoid this title. I will note, however, that any title can be horribly misrepresented and abused, including “Christian” (and I believe it has been). That’s not necessarily a reason to throw out the title altogether. Maybe it’s a reason to keep the title, but explain what you mean by it. But because titles can be abused, maybe it’s less about what we call ourselves, and more about how we live. Do or don’t call yourself a feminist – but live out a belief that all human beings are equally created and loved by God and deserve to be treated with respect.
I know this is long for a blog post, and I applaud you if you’ve read it all (especially if you watched the video, too!). And I also know that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the surface, and there’s a lot more than can be discussed. I genuinely would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment! I’ll also leave the disclaimer that these are my own thoughts, and don’t necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of my fellow writers on this blog. But I hope that I’ve at least given you some ideas to think about, and maybe some ideas to dig deeper into yourself.