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.