This NPR article caught my eye this morning: A Toxic Stew: Risks to Women of Public Feminism.
Among other things, it made me wonder why I haven’t “officially” become a “public feminist” before now. Probably partly because the initial Idea behind this blog was primarily literary – but come to think of it, feminism has a lot to do with literature, and vice versa. (And my political interests have always been intimately entwined with other areas of interest to me, especially literature – and more and more, I am seeking a more integrated, unified life.)
Partly because I didn’t want to make an unnecessary fuss; why the need to “publicly declare” my feminism? (Even now, am I just semi-pompously trying to be politically correct?) Also, it seemed a bit presumptuous – I didn’t see myself as being really engaged in what is normally perceived as feminist activism. (But since when is writing itself NOT a political act?) The article cited above quotes biological anthropologist professor Robin Nelson talking about “living [her] identity and politics publicly.” I whole-heartedly admire this. But for myself, I tend to put emphasis on trying to make sure I’m living my own identity and politics privately, first, before I “go public” with them; I don’t always do this consistently or perfectly. In fact, I NEVER do this perfectly – living my convictions privately, I mean. So what right, in a way, (I’ve wondered) do I have to give public voice to what I have not yet succeeded at in my own private life? (And yet public declarations and private actions complement one another; the ole heretic dualism of body vs. spirit isn’t the only misleading binary…public and private, too, are not opposed separate spheres, but rather 2 parts of a single whole…and by declaring affiliation or faith in something or someone – Christ, for example – people don’t usually mean that they believe or follow perfectly all the time, if ever.)
And I didn’t take “Gender/Women Studies” in college…but this hardly means that I, as a woman, am uninterested in “women’s interests,” which are really men’s, and every human’s interests, too, just as “men’s interests” also affect women, not just members of their own gender.
It also seemed a bit redundant – a young, well-educated woman “declaring allegiance” to feminism in this day and age. (“Isn’t nearly every liberally educated woman a feminist these days? It should go without saying…”) And there have been plenty of other women bloggers and writers other than myself (Sarah Bessey, for one) who have already articulated both their commitment to following Christ and their affirmation of feminism; and other women, too, have eloquently described their own transition from a more conservative background to a more liberal one. (I recently discovered the apt term “post-evangelism” – why am I just now encountering it??) Why not just let these other women speak for me? (The answer’s obvious, especially for a self-declared, or aspiring, feminist – it is imperative, I believe, that as many individuals as are able find and use their own voice to tell their own story, however small, even gentle, their voice may be – and in using it, of course, they join the community of other voices, and other stories, and find their place in what they understand to be a larger Story, if they believe in any – very postmodern of me to acknowledge this, don’t you think? That’s meant to be slightly ironic, by the way. [*Note: When I was first thinking of beginning a blog, I wanted to call it “Confessions of a Postmodern Romantic…”])
Which brings me to my last point – the last factor that has held me back, I mean: my background. While I have certainly never feared for my physical safety as a result of “going public” with feminism, as mentioned as a possible result for women in the NPR article referenced above, I have definitely feared being misunderstood and creating unnecessary conflict as a result. (But wait, not that many people read my blog anyway 🙂 …and most of those who do probably know all of this about me already.) I really don’t like interpersonal conflict. (My past college roommates, and even more, my family, could tell you that I tend to be passive-aggressive – or sometimes just “avoidance”-aggressive.) I like instigating it even less. And I have been afraid of a misunderstanding of my use of the word feminism leading to immediate red flags, stereotyped assumptions, and even offense and/or anxiety in the minds of people that I respect and love very much, and who I know care a lot about me, who I know from the slightly right-of-moderate milieu in which I was brought up. (But this isn’t being very fair to them – assuming that these people would make assumptions about me…and you know what happens when one assumes, and here I go, making asses out of everybody, myself not least of all!) By far the majority of the people that I know from my childhood who would describe themselves as conservative are good, sincere, intelligent, kind, and fair-minded people. It would be unfair of me to portray them as otherwise, even to myself in the privacy of my own mind.
So much for my excuses. Here I go: I am a feminist. And for the sake of clarity, by “feminism” I mean the social-justice movement King’s article talks about, aimed at advocating and obtaining equal rights, respect, and opportunities for women – not man-hating or abortion-advocating. Perhaps it’s on this matter of feminism being automatically, even primarily or exclusively, associated with abortion in some more conservative circles that has held me back the most. It is possible to be both a feminist and pro-life, which I am; that being said, I have also come to appreciate that the issue of abortion is a much more complex one than I originally thought – a complex issues surrounded by multitudinous other complexities. And I’ve come to see how short-sighted and wrong it is for people who say they are Christians to get really upset about abortion and not give much thought at all, if any, to conditions such as class inequality and poverty which often seriously contribute to a woman’s felt need for an abortion in the first place – an hypocrisy which many others besides and before me have pointed out, and done so more eloquently and graciously. Perhaps this note from the back of David Janzen’s The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (a book I recently read and highly recommend for anyone piqued by the title) will make clearer what I am endeavoring to say (And, incidentally, the two majority denominations from my home county are Catholic and Mennonite):
“Catholics and Mennonites have traditions of instruction concerning a ‘seamless garment of life,’ opposing abortion, capital punishment, and war. That’s not been the norm for most Protestants. The usual divide parallels political boundaries where evangelicals may have little to say in favor of peace but stand up for the unborn; and mainliners summon us to care for the poor but may not address the virtue of sexual restraint. But many in this younger generation are turned off by the culture wars and are coming round to the ‘seamless-garment’ vision.”
Yes. I really like that. A lot. That describes me – or at least where I’d like to be, and what I’m striving for/aiming at. A “seamless garment of life” – all of life is holy. Just read a great essay the other day by Wendell Berry that expounds on this idea (and that I also highly recommend) called “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” As Mr. Berry writes, in this essay and elsewhere, there’s no such thing as sacred and secular; there is only sacred and desecrated.
And so much for that rabbit trail. For now, I’ll just return to and conclude with my “public” affirmation of feminism, and desire to be associated with it. How’s that for a “dangerous act” on this mild February Friday afternoon? (At least it’s mild here where I be…)
May it be a great Friday for you, friends, wherever in the world you find yourself today, and whether you be a “public feminist” or not. Peace.