What Is the Role of a Christian Woman in: Feminist Society? (Part I)
Last week I told you I would be tackling the tough question of what the role of a Christian woman is. I’m starting to wonder if this is what this year’s series has been leading up. If maybe this is the question I’ve been trying to get at all along. I’ve asked it to myself so many times in so many different ways. Especially this one: Where should I stand on the issue of feminism in today’s society?
My first core English class in college began to make me unafraid of the “f” word. Until then, I equated feminism with words like “anger,” “no-bra,” “self-reliance,” an overall I-don’t-need-you/don’t-mess-with-me mentality. But, before he assigned us to read extremely complex explanations by thinkers like Adrienne Rich and Gayatri Spivak, my professor gave a very simple explanation of feminism: It is the belief the women are entitled to an education and a career. Hm. This definition did not seem scripturally astray. Nor did it sound scary. It sounded like me. And probably sounds like you. We don’t burn bras; we just believe women have gifts that translate outside the home.
So it surprised me when a girl in my class chimed into the discussion complaining about feminists. Hadn’t we decided the modern definition is harmless? Not to her. She didn’t want to be in college. She didn’t want to be in class. She was only here because of the societal pressure to gain an education. When what she desired was marriage and a family. Something attainable without a degree.
I was mad at her. How could she not appreciate where she was, what she had, all that she could be? In college, the possibilities are endless: so much to learn and try and succeed and fail at. Even being an “intern” sounds like a glamorous opportunity. And after hundreds of years with this door of possibilities closed to our gender, here she was wishing it hadn’t been opened. How embarrassingly regressive of her.
Or was it just me? As soon as I got mad at her, I saw my own aggression and recoiled at it. In undergard I placed this unreasonable pressure on myself to make perfect grades, be an active member on campus and use my summers to either further my education or get job experience. I was not chill by any means. Looking back, I realize I was striving desperately to prove myself and that my gender in no way hindered my intelligence or capabilities.
I didn’t know what the right reaction to this student’s complaint was, but I knew mine was wrong and for some reason grated against my Christian nature. What does Jesus really say about this issue? I had never asked him before because I didn’t see the Bible as a place to learn about feminism.
Now, I believe scripture explains feminism better than Rich or Spivak ever could. What exactly does it say? I’ll explore that next week.
I agree with and believe in your definition of feminism: women have a right to a world outside of the home. Yet, I can see your classmate’s perspective: not every woman wants that. For some women their sole desire is to be a homemaker and, honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. The might be the one and only case where I support “different strokes for different folks.”
My mom always told me that feminism gave women a choice where before that time period, they rarely had one (except by necessity). A woman canstay at home or a woman can work or a woman can do both. We spend so much time arguing one view (women should work) or the other (women should not work) that we forget feminists (the original ones atleast) just wanted women to have the option, not a mandate.
Although, I will say this about college: even if you plan on not working, don’t assume you will get married young or conceive easilly or live in a marriage where one income is enough. Not to mention your spouse may be injured or die. So, we should be grateful and take advantage of the opportunity to gain employable skills — even if we never end up using them.
Andrea! Good post! I have so many thoughts and questions! I vaguely recall reading Adrienne Rich in university, but don’t recognize Gayatri Spivak’s name at all. I’m interested to hear how you define Biblical feminism next week … and I fear I’m going to want to say something like, “but that’s a Biblical perspective on the place of women! It’s not feminism anymore!” This is why …
I took quite a few feminist theory courses during my undergrad (my degree is in political science) and I wrote a paper for a course about whether or not feminism and Christianity are compatible. It’s one of the few papers I clearly remember from my undergrad, because I regret my conclusion: I chickened out and concluded by sitting on the fence: “Though many grey areas remain, I believe that it is possible for a woman to be both a feminist and a Christian”. (I just looked up the paper and I’m a little horrified by my 2003-styled writing and the meaningless immaturity of that sentence. Ouch.)
I don’t agree with your English professor. I think defining feminism as “the belief the women are entitled to an education and a career” is kind of like defining Christianity as “a religion where God loves everyone”. It’s technically true, but more importantly, it’s a massive oversimplification that leaves out critical tenants. I think feminism has to take a critical look at patriarchy, misogyny and all those big, unkind words. I’m going with the bell hooks definition: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression”. (I stole that from her wikipedia page: awesome sourcing, me.) And once you get into sexism, oppression and that kind of thing, well, I think the church SHOULD be responding to those issues in a Biblical manner (whatever that actually means, because I really haven’t figured it out, either) but I think the church’s response is going to be very different from a feminist response. I think feminism and Biblical truth wouldn’t align on the place of authority in life.
So back to my regrettable paper, I think feminism is an ideology, much like Christianity (which, is yes, also a religion but religion demands ideological premises). And I think that just like you can’t be Hindu and Christian, you can’t really be feminist and Christian. You can be a feminist who’s influenced by Christian thought or a Christian who’s influenced by feminist thought. That’s how I should have concluded that paper years ago. That’s what I should have argued.
(If you wanted to read my paper, I would be willing to email it to you. If you don’t want to, that’s okay too, because it’s not that good.)
As for the girl you talked about, on a completely different note, I’ve definitely spent my fair share of time silently judging girls of my generation (I’m 31) and younger who skip out on education in favour of early marriage and a young family. I stand by the belief that education is so valuable and that getting married at 19, in this day and age, is a mistake 90 per cent of the time (seriously, the number of Christian people I know who got married as kids and are now divorced is _appalling_). But at this point in my life, if I met a man I loved and who loved me in return, and we were to marry (please God, let this happen!), and if we were to have kids, I would be so game to stay home to raise them. I think there’s such value to kids to have a stay-at-home parent.
Kerry, thanks so much for your comment! Maybe I can just excerpt part of your paper for my post next week? I think you know much more about this than I do! I guess I’ll just have to do my own work 🙂
But seriously, I like bell hooks’ definition too. I totally forgot about her, and her weird no capitalizing my name thing.
Love your insights!
On Wikipedia, it says the lower case letters in hooks’ name are to point to the substance of her work, instead of her person. I’d always thought it had something to do with power. Maybe the substance thing is still about power.
I definitely don’t mean to come across as a know-it-all. I don’t think feminism has the answers for the place women ought to occupy in the church … but I’m more comfortable talking about feminism than I am debating a Biblical approach to women in the church. I think it’s easier: feminism. (That might mean I’m calling myself a little lazy.) So I’m glad you’re taking the hard route of writing through some of this!
Have you read The Feminist Mistake? I read it this summer. She shares about the history of Feminism, its origins, and how it made its way into the Church. Very revealing. Many of us younger women don’t know these things because we were raised in a society where feminism was pretty much the norm. While feminism may have started as an initiative to even the playing field, it eventually became a means by which women claimed superiority. That’s the problem. There is no superiority. Simply different strengths.
I haven’t read that, Rebecca but thanks for the rec!
Hi, Andrea, loved the post. Something similar happend to me as studying History – I realized women just wanted things like children’s daycare and public healty carefor her needs, for ex.
By reading you I could remember of Lydia or even the woman in Proverbs 31, who “considers a field and buy it…” I believe there r a lot of ‘feminism’ in the Bible, we just need to pay attention.
How about Jesus Mom? Ok, God, here I am, I don’t care people will point fingers at me was her answer…
Well, that’s it, take care.
Alessandra from Brazil
Hi, Andrea, wanted to let you know I’m a regular reader. I very much enjoy your posts. I am a guy, but I still find this very interesting. I’ve always thought, definitely, that the man should be the head of the household, but in what sense? Not to the point of superiority: that’s definitely too extreme. Like in The Lord of the Rings, when Eowyn showed herself quite skilled with the sword. She said she feared “to stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” We are brothers and sisters in God, and although we may at times have different roles, it is important that we do not think in terms of importance.
Well, anyways, I thought you might like this video. Strangely, after reading this post, I started seeing more feminist-related ideas, like Eowyn, as I said before. Perhaps it is God, getting my attention? Anyways, this is Words of the World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYueIpGudgA
Thank you for your writings! Keep up the good ruminations. 🙂