Let’s be unambiguous about this: I am a feminist.

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.

-R.K.P.

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6 Comments

  1. I found this all super interesting, Bekah! I have many reservations about the term feminism, the misuse of it, and the general movement that Sarah Bessey (who I greatly admire on so many levels, btw) and others have started.

    That said, I think in the end there are more things we would agree on than disagree on, so I try not to get hung up on the term.

    And my personal conclusion of the matter is that I desire to see a return to true Biblical womanhood– not our culture’s definition of who we should be but God’s definition of our true state as His children.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Tasha!

      What you said on there being probably more areas of agreement than disagreement, and so trying not to get hung up on terms is a really good point – I’ve thought something along those lines about quite a few political “points of controversy,” before, too.

      And yet terms are important, too, b/c I think one of the potential (and significant) points of disagreement is people’s different understanding(s) of what the term “true biblical womanhood” means! And looks like. Especially for us today in a different time and culture. (And I think that our cultural context is very important – we’re inescapably a part of our environment.)
      People interpret different passages differently, and even within the Bible itself, spanning many years and settings from Gen.-Rev., there are many extremely diverse women with diverse roles and lifestyles who are portrayed as godly.

      I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know 🙂

      I’m curious – what do you think of as being the key points/main characteristics when you use the term biblical womanhood?

      p.s. I really want a coffee date w/ you when I get home 🙂

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      1. Good point… 🙂 Probably “Biblical Womanhood” wasn’t the best term. I should have said something more like, “learning to identify my womanhood in light of Scripture instead of in light of our culture.”

        And the main characteristics? Surrender to Christ. Dying to self. Eternal perspective. Giving up my will for His.Humbleness. Glorifying God and giving thanks to Him in all circumstances.

        While I do agree that we are inescapably a part of our environment, I also believe that our hearts and minds are being transformed by God’s Spirit with a perspective that comes from Him instead of from this world. What we were/are because of our culture and surroundings– are not what we are left to be.

        and yes, I would love a coffee date. 🙂

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      2. Those are great main characteristics – for men being transformed by God’s Spirit, too, not just exclusive to womanhood.

        So is there a sort of “scriptural womanhood” definitely distinct from a sort of “scriptural manhood?” I don’t really know. Or is it more just like scriptural “humanhood”…? (THAT being said, I think that the more I grow in Christ, the more deeply I’ll become the Woman God made me to be…whatever that means. I don’t think I’ll grow towards a vaguer, sort of sexless identity. I think as we grow in Christ we become more human in general, and stronger in the particular gender that is our gift. I could be very off on this. But I do also think there are definitely distinctions – and good ones! – between things masculine and feminine that God created and that’re enriching to the human race, but I’m not sure about those being “scripturally prescribed” or not.)

        The most important things, like those you pointed out, seem to apply equally to both genders. And Love. And the other parts of the fruit of the Spirit. Those top the list. Or rather, the things on the list are all just parts of the same whole, huh? 🙂 Becoming little Christ’s. And joining in the community of God and his family, in the Trinity and the Church and the whole of Creation. And, too, I think, becoming more fully who we, as both individuals and members of the larger Creation, are meant to be – in all our humanity, just as Christ is both fully God and fully human…

        Speaking of which, this brings me back to the topic of culture, b/c Jesus, as a human being, is also a cultural being. Again on being transformed by God’s Spirit: Yes. The often-cited (but so good) words of Romans 12:1-2 come to mind – of course. Yes. But I’m also really interested in the good parts of our culture, and questions of the redemption of other cultural aspects or goods, and the ways in which the Gospel may put on a different dress (while still being essentially the same) in different times and places – I’m not sure I’m saying all this very well, but I don’t think there’s any such thing as being human and being acultural.

        But as far as creatively, contemplatively resisting the dominant mainstream monoculture “of the empire” largely defined and driven by a monstrous industrial-militaristic mindset, and instead actively engaging in alternative, thoughtful, and intentional cultural pursuits/lifestyles, inspired and guided by God’s word and The Word made flesh and God’s Spirit as best as we understand them to be leading: yes. I’m all on board.

        *Andy Crouch’s book “Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling” [http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Making-Recovering-Creative-Calling/dp/0830837558] is one great resource that I usually have in the back of my mind when thinking/talking of these sort of cultural questions and things – it may help to clarify what I’m trying to say! I read most of it for a college class a few years back, and I’m pretty darn sure it’s currently still on my bookshelf at home if you ever want to borrow it or just drop by and give it a quick glance/skim session. And then you could hug my mom and sisters for me, too. 🙂

        *Also usually in the back of my mind when it comes to this topic – C.S. Lewis’ sermon/essay/lecture called “Learning in Wartime.” You can find it online. Among other really good things, he talks about how there’s no such thing as no cultural participation/engagement in human lives – what changes is the quality of the cultural things we interact with and produce ourselves. (For example, there’s not going to be “no literature,” or stories in some sort of form -cultural goods- life of a Christian – only poor literature/stories or good ones…or perhaps middling.)

        Sorry, Tasha! I think I may have gotten a bit long-winded and redundant there…perennial faults of mine, especially in any sort of writing, even blog comments or personal letters…

        Coffee: I’m back July 11th. So you’re on for sometime soon after then. I’m looking forward to it!

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      3. You’re exactly right in saying that those are not exclusively characteristics of womanhood. There are definitely exclusive comments directed to women in Scripture, but I feel they are more the natural (feminine) response to these characteristics. For example, I will naturally be the “keeper of my home” if I am dying to self and living with an eternal perspective.

        In truth, Bekah, I don’t have any answers. I don’t even want to pretend to. I know that some of the terms that are floating around (like, feminism) make me feel unsettled. I can read people’s thoughts on it and think, “I agree with this and this… but it doesn’t spell feminism to me.”

        And in the end, maybe that’s just a difference of definition rather than of fact.

        I do know that the more I immerse myself in the Word– the more time I spend it prayer– the more time I spend in worship– the more my own life makes sense. I see God all around me and all through my trials and it changes who I am on the inside.

        With those changes, comes a certain level of detachment from the world around me. And verses about being in the world but not of it, start making a lot of sense.

        I understand about culture. I know we will always participate and engage in it. I’m not saying we won’t. But I hope (and pray!) that as I seek more of Christ, He will teach my mind to differentiate between what is built on this world’s system (which is fallible) and what things are built on Him.

        Anyway. We could probably talk in circles for awhile but I think it comes down to the fact that you’ve come to terms with a word and it’s definition being applied to your life, and I read it and thought, “Interesting… I don’t think I can use that word to define me at all.”

        But, really, we’re not far apart in application.

        And isn’t that just how the world turns sometimes… 🙂

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      4. yes, it is 🙂 and yes – not far apart at all, I’d say, too.

        I’m with you on not having all the answers – thanks for letting me send some of my many questions your way the past couple of days!

        I was thinking of this poem by Mary Oliver last night – I bet you’ll like it, too:

        “The man who has many answers
        is often found
        in the theaters of information
        where he offers, graciously,
        his deep findings.

        While the man who has only questions,
        to comfort himself, makes musics.”

        …or the woman 😉

        Keep making your ‘music,’ Tasha! I’ve always felt affirmed and encouraged by you and your part in my life to work more on making mine, and to seek God further through that process…thank you for that gift. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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