“Why Are You a Feminist?”

I am sitting in a coffee shop, drinking a mocha. Let’s say that you are sitting with me.

“Why are you a feminist?” you ask, with a slight frown.

You ask because you know that there’s no reason for feminism. It’s outdated. Maybe it was needed once, for something like women getting the vote, but now, who needs to talk about gender inequality anymore? Sexism is dead in our enlightened society. (The same way that problems with racism are a thing of the past.) Today, feminism is all just nit-picking and self-aggrandizing.

I sip my mocha. It’s hard to frame my response. I could point out that it’s true that, due to the feminism of the past, things are better than they used to be (in some places, in some contexts)—so why stop if it’s working? And I could point out that the work of feminism is needed (still, always). I could talk about double standards and wage gaps, acid burnings for women who learn and death threats for women who speak, rape culture and media objectification, sex-shaming and victim-blaming. I could call up statistics, I could collate anecdotes. If you haven’t yet noticed the world’s many facets of systemic misogyny, though, chances are that hearing about them from my mouth might not change anything for you. But it could, so I would try.

But let’s assume that isn’t you.

“Why are you a feminist?” you ask, leaning forward in interest.

You know that gendered inequalities exist and should be countered. It’s the word that throws you off, not the radical notion that women are people. Everyone knows that feminists are about hate. They hate men and babies and God and women who disagree with them. Also, they hate beauty. You can tell from their hairy legs and sagging, braless bodies. You’re in favor of love and beauty, so you can’t be a feminist.

We talk openly over our pastries. I explain that, for me, feminism is about love and beauty: the love that fights for equality, the beauty that is liberation. Just as with “Christianity,” there’s a myriad of identities and opinions possible within the label “feminism” (not to mention a myriad of popular misconceptions and misperceptions that are applied to individuals who claim either term), and the solidarity of feminists isn’t uniformity—it leaves space for disagreements.

I see feminism as recognizing the full humanity of each person, woman or man. I see feminism as fighting for the marginalized, and from the position of the marginalized. And this goes beyond just gender issues, since feminism has to be as intersectional as the systems of oppression that it faces. I choose the label “feminist,” but others might choose other labels—“womanist,” “mujerista,” “supporter of social justice” (even, perhaps, “egalitarian”). To me, the term that’s chosen isn’t as important as the stance that’s taken and the work that’s done. (And I know that I am very far from as active as I could and should be in doing that work.)

But maybe that isn’t you, either.

“Why are you a feminist?” you ask, shifting uncomfortably.

You can see that there are systemic injustices in the world, and you can understand using the term “feminist” for someone who opposes them. You can almost get behind that. You half wish you were allowed to believe in the full equality of women and support their full flourishing across the world. The only problem is the Bible.

You know that men and women are spiritually equal before God. It’s just that men are a little more equal. And women shouldn’t rebel against that—it’s the order of Creation. After all, it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Equal.

Some things about feminism are a little appealing to you, but the larger package connected to it is just too dangerous. Because if feminists see women as the true equals of men, we’ll probably think that women can lead and preach, and that they don’t have to submit to their husbands (maybe, even, that they aren’t defined by having a husband). And then where would we be?

In a church with more vitality and fewer walls, I reply, brushing off my fingers so that I won’t get crumbs on my Bible. In a church that’s closer to the life of the gospel than our conformity to the postlapsarian curse of patriarchy has let it be. In a church that frees the Magdalenes and Marys, the Phoebes and Junias, to do the work they’re called to do. In a church that doesn’t reinforce the widespread subjection, othering, and silencing of women, but that stands against it.

But perhaps that’s still not you.

“Why are you a feminist?” you ask, smiling.

Our eyes meet and we laugh together. The inequalities in the world and in the church are so many and so clear to us both that, coming from you, the question can only be a joke. Let’s say that this is us. Let’s say that we go out the door together, fellow feminists.

Note: I don’t mean to imply by this that all people who think that sexism is dead, who hold a stereotyped view of feminists, or who are complimentarians are laughable or thoughtless. Different people might reach different conclusions on feminism for thoughtful, conscientious reasons. I’m just giving a very quick (and oversimplified) list here of what some of my reasons for supporting feminism are. Last week, I talked about why I claim the term “Christian” as one of my labels of identity. This post accompanies that one as a partial explanation of why I use the term “feminist,” and next Sunday, I’ll get into why I claim the term “pansexual.”

[photo credit: striatic via photopin cc (cropped and resized)]

4 comments:

  1. Very thought provoking Marie. One could also ask the question, “Why do you use the term feminist, and not egalitarian?”

  2. I would also say that I am an egalitarian. In my experience, “egalitarian” is a more specific term than “feminist.” It refers to the Christian theological standpoint on gender that contrasts with complementarianism. I am both a feminist and an egalitarian, and the term “feminist” for me encompasses egalitarianism while at the same time implying broader concerns beyond theology and the church.

    I understand why some might try to move away from “feminist” as a word that could be linguistically misleading when it comes to the fundamental feminist emphasis on equality (rather than, of course, on female superiority over men–that is not a feminist tenet at all). However, to me it is still the most useful word in connection with the broad movement and community that is feminism. Again, though, individuals do not owe the terms they use for themselves to the “community” or the “movement,” and many people who may take the same stance on equality may not choose the term “feminist.”

    Thanks for reading!

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