Am I a feminist? Opening up a conversation

There’s been a lot written about feminism in the Christian world this week, and recently the Christian feminist network was launched. The question I’ve been turning over in my head is whether I am one. Am I a feminist?

It’s not as easy as it seems to answer. Is it as simple as believing men and women are equal? Is it more systemic: ensuring equal rights, whether that is social, political or economic? Is it challenging structural imbalances that restrict women through spoken and unspoken patriarchal cultural norms? Is it not removing any hair from your body?

Feminism has a bad reputation in conservative Christian circles. It is seen as undermining the family, destabilising society and rejecting God ordained gender roles. Some of the rhetoric that emanates from the church criticising feminism is overblown and unhelpful. But that doesn’t mean all of the questions should be ushered under the carpet. They should be engaged with sensibly and fairly once we have a grasp on what both Christianity and feminism demand of us.

Only when we have clarity over both identities can we decide whether they are compatible, or fundamentally at odds.

I want to open up a conversation and see where we end up. I’ve already got a couple of thought experiments in my mind that I want to work through. The conversation got moving on twitter this afternoon, but hopefully a bit more space will be created by blogging about it. Does being a feminist require that you are pro-choice, or at least think that abortion should be available even if you consider it wrong?

And the one that got me thinking about this, can you be a feminist and hold a complementarian view of women in leadership? Instinctively I say no, but then I step back and ponder the reasoning behind it. What is the starting point for that decision, what are the non-negotiable river banks?

I am committed to the authority of the Bible, and that might make this a hard conversation for some. It means that once I have worked out what the Bible says about something, it is that which guides the other values and priorities in my life. So if I was to hold a view which was the best conclusion I could reach from scriptural evidence that men and women should take different roles, whether in family life, the church or society, that would then guide how I worked out if feminism was compatible with my beliefs.

I am committed to hearing the voices of those who need feminism the most. I am a middle class white man, and I have a lot of learning to do.

I am committed to rooting my conclusions in reality. I could come up with the most sophisticated and elaborate philosophical construct of belief and equality and it be meaningless if it is not grounded in real life. One example of this struck me this afternoon, on twitter:

I understand where this comes from, how easy is it to say that you agree with something but tag a ‘but’ after, which completely undermines your agreement. The most infamous ‘but’ is equal but different. But what if that’s correct? What if men and women are equal but different? I think they are, at its most obvious, men can’t have children.

So the question isn’t removing the buts, but examining whether and how difference is used to undermine equality.

As I said, I don’t think this is simple.

6 thoughts on “Am I a feminist? Opening up a conversation

  1. As I was saying earlier, the complementarian/feminist thing is an interesting and complex one and probably depends on the degree of complementarianism. So if you’re on the end of the spectrum that says a woman should not hold a position of authority over men in the workplace and it would be unbiblical for a man to be a secretary, I can’t see how this can lend itself towards feminism.

    I would agree with GLW that when a “but” comes after “men and women are equal”, this is where problems can start to arise and we get into difficult territory. If you can’t say it without qualifiers, are you a feminist? I guess it depends what the “but” refers to. So I would say “Men and women are equal BUT in general, men are physically bigger and stronger than women/BUT in general, men cannot become pregnant and give birth” this does not negate my feminism. However if that “but” was “BUT I don’t think women should be able to do X without the permission of their father or husband” then this would be an issue.

    It’s not simple at all but I am looking forward to this conversation!

  2. I think you need to define the terms of Equal. in saying Men and women are equal what exactly do you mean? We are equally loved by God (Woman, Man or Otherwise.) Saint or sinner, slave or free… We are all Equal in God’s Sight. We are all Equally known and loved by him. We are all equally called according to his purposes. Jesus has Favourites yes ( the orphan, the widow, the dispossessed, the foreigner etc) but we were all Equally forgiven, Jesus death is an Equal sacrifice for all our sins.

    God made us exactly how we were meant to be – in my case a woman. God made man and woman if he wanted us to all be the same he would have created robots or plastic toys. We are supposed to be different we are supposed to have different gifts and talents. This is where the complimentarism comes in because giving everyone (we nearly everyone) mother and a father we are supposed to complement each other in the home there are very specific roles for husband and wife in the can find them in the bible they are about relationship and family dynamic not about who should earn the most money. We are not supposed to be the same and that is the beauty of God’s Creation.
    But you can’t apply this to how God Calls people. Sure because women may naturally be good nurses or teachers due to a caring nature which would make them a good mother… but it doesn’t mean God won’t call a man or give him those qualities. The most heartbreaking attack for feminism on Christian culture in my opinion is that it somehow de-values stay at home mothers and the value of ( for those who are able) choosing to be a housewife which is a rich and beautiful choice to invest in your family

    Feminism is a retaliation historically against the annexing of women into menial Jobs. It is a backlash against situations where a woman gets discriminated against or looses her/ doesn’t get a voice because- to be crude- she was born with the wrong parts. In a Christian context with women clergy or bishops, or for Christian women it is standing up and saying you can’t put God in that kind of box he can call men and women equally to all kinds of jobs. If these are the terms of feminism that anyone should be able to perform any role in any organisation, and are called by God to do so, regardless of gender, then I am a feminist.

    I do not like the word though. It has been tarnished by the bra burning militant left wing movements whose purpose it seems is to( in so many words) homogenise human life. I recoil from this view not because I am white middle class and conservative (although that is probably in there somewhere) but because it denies the beauty of God’s creation. it doesn’t allow God to be God, it doesn’t allow him to Gift people differently to bless them with Gender and all the things that go with it. It doesn’t allow for diversity. That is what I oppose the rejection of Gender as a valid concept ( I have a ‘sibling’ that has rejected gender entirely) its that rejection of the beauty in God’s creating both men and women equal in love and in stature but all different in their call and walk with him its kind of ungrateful to a God who made us just how he wants us to be.

    Personally, I think the whole idea of feminism is outdated,it was designed for a world where women were systematically oppressed – the world isn’t like that any more and hasn’t been for quite a while. I think we should just stick with the equal opportunities ideal. We have a big God who can and does call all sorts of people in more ways than we can imagine, who are we to stop them from fulfilling all the wonderful things he has planned for them?

  3. Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk is “a feminist and hold[s] a complementarian view of women in leadership”. I’m not sure if there are any real people out there who believe like her that some leadership positions should be for women only. But there is certainly a strand in feminism which (in over-reaction to the opposite) treats men as somehow lower and less valuable than women.

  4. I believe the term “feminist” to be similar to “Christian”. It’s value is mostly extrospective, as opposed to introspective. It can certainly provide an internal sense of belonging and unity, but it’s main function is to identify an individual as belonging to a larger group, a longer history, a denser purpose. Calling myself a Christian is meaningful to me and creates a sense of connectedness to the past. However, it someone is able to experience that same sense by calling themself a Christ-follower, is it worth arguing about?

    Like most things, feminism can become an idol. It should be approached with wisdom and moderation, and I imagine that sometimes this means adhering to certain feminist values without calling yourself a feminist. As a feminist, the last thing I want is for someone to feel bullied into appropriating the label. Refusing the label does not disqualify you from godliness, equality, or from having meaningful and humble conversations about God’s plan for men and women. It provides a framework for me in my academic studies and in my personal life, but if you don’t need or desire that, I think that is perfectly okay. We are not more or lesser for being feminist.

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