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Discovering Christian Feminism – Part 4

2012 June 7
by Julie Clawson

This week as part of Rachel Held Evans’ One in Christ series I am posting the story of my journey to Christian Feminism – Read Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3.

Once I took the time to understand the history of feminism I found myself wondering if I was really a feminist or not. On one hand I agreed with the messages my predecessors had fought for. Yes, of course women should have the right to vote, of course we are more than sex objects, and of course we shouldn’t be kept from using the gifts and talents God has given us. I fully agreed that essentializing women as simply wombs and nurturers denied the complex reality and diversity of real people fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image. I got that. And I had a huge new appreciation for the history of the fight for women’s equality – a history I had never heard before. (And I even majored in history in college!) I knew those stories should be told and girls taught that there was a rich history of intelligent and fascinating women who fought tirelessly for the very freedoms they now enjoy. It sickened me to know that patriarchy’s silencing of feminism was denying young girls access to some amazing role models.

But at the same time, I knew there were parts of feminism (or at least its stereotype) that just weren’t me. I don’t hate men. I don’t think women as a collective should rule over men, simply replacing a patriarchy with a matriarchy. And while many of the third wavers I encountered defined their empowerment as their ability to have sex whenever and with whoever they wanted, I just couldn’t personally go there. I’m all for embracing my sexuality with confidence, but as a result of commitment and relationship, not conquest or entertainment. Nor did I agree that a woman having control of her own body meant that she had to unquestioningly support abortion. I get that the issue is far more complicated than the extremes often allow it to be, and that the polarizing rhetoric of many pro-lifers often does little to actually help anything, but I remained convinced that abortion on demand as a default birth control choice wasn’t something I could morally support. And yet there were people telling me that the essence of being a feminist was to support “a woman’s right to choose.”

I wanted a third way. I wanted to be able to claim the name feminist, and all the beautiful things it stood for, without feeling like I had to accept the parts that didn’t represent me or my faith. Some may say that I was naïve – wanting my cake and to eat it too. But here was this movement, founded on Christian principles of love and justice, that sought to deliver freedom to the oppressed. Women were breaking free from lies that had held them back for centuries and were finally finding the space to be their true selves. I knew that freedom like that can only come from God; so, despite the ridicule and the misunderstandings and the parts I couldn’t affirm, I wanted to be a part of it.

What I discovered was that there were a whole lot of women who believed the same way, women who over time had come to claim the term “Christian Feminists.” This wasn’t some cheesy Christian subculture thing – feminism misappropriated and redefined, and then repackaged with a Christian label so it would be “safe for the whole family” or something. No, these were women (and men) who chose to be feminists because of their deep commitment to following Jesus. They believed that if, as Jesus said, he came to bring freedom to the oppressed, then that gift must extend to women as well. Through the power of Christ, who treated women with respect and shattered culture taboos by having them as disciples, women could be free from the cultural confines that prevented them from serving God or being treated as people created in the image of God. All my life I had been told that it was impossible to be a Christian and a feminist, and yet here I was reading hope-filled words from committed believers doing that very thing.

These Christian feminists took the Bible seriously and tirelessly advocated for an understanding of scripture and theology that didn’t assume the biases of patriarchy. They reminded the world that the feminist movement, like abolition, has its roots in Christian communities. And they helped me understand that feminism was not about a selfish attempt to claim entitlements for myself (as I had been told), but a powerful way to combat the evil of patriarchy that unjustly harmed women and silenced the voice of half of God’s children. I realized that given its diversity, feminism wasn’t just another box that I had to fit into. Feminism is about freedom to be who I was created to be – even as a woman. I might live that out differently than other feminists, but we were still working for the same cause. I just happened to root my feminism in my faith.

I even discovered a group called Feminists for Life, a pro-life group which argues that women deserve better than to feel pressured into terminating a pregnancy just so she can have a career or make life easier for people around her. Their mission is to change society so that the pressures of a freaked-out boyfriend, or an embarrassed family, or a woman-unfriendly workplace do not become the new cages that patriarchy creates for women. They often point out that many of the early feminist advocates like Susan B. Anthony were strongly opposed to abortion and fought the patriarchal systems that often pushed women towards abortion. As they saw it, any system that forces women to choose between following God’s call in her life and being a mother is just another vestige of patriarchy trying to maintain control over women. They helped me see that being pro-life was actually a feminist cause.

I slowly began to realize that feminism didn’t stand in opposition to my faith, it actually helped me live into my faith more fully.

To be concluded tomorrow

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. June 7, 2012

    Even most pro-choice feminists such as myself are more about preventing unwanted pregnancy all together, meaning providing women with better access to information about birth control and BC itself. No one likes abortion.

    • June 8, 2012

      Exactly. The polticized rhetoric has made making real change difficult though since it has been painted as an all or nothing thing.

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