Ironically, my ‘coming out’ as a feminist was in a blog post titled ‘Why I Am Not a Feminist’. For a long time I maintained that while I held strong views on women’s rights, the label shouldn’t be necessary, just as there is no label for ‘not-racist’. It seemed obvious to me that women and men are equal, and if a label was needed it should be reserved for those who disagree. I can think of a number of words for those people. At this point of my life I would have read Christine’s argument that Christianity should do the job of feminism and nodded my head emphatically.
I was at the zoo one day when we walked past a cage full of lionesses without a lion. I joked that they ‘didn’t need no man’. Rather than laugh at my clearly hilarious joke, a male friend turned to me and said, ‘you’re not a feminist are you?’ Perhaps it was his disparagement, the snarl, the upturn of his nose that made me realise I sure as hell was. I believe I may have become a feminist purely to spite him. Nevertheless, I slipped easily into feminism and found I could stretch out there, digest different ideologies within it and spit out the bones. Plus it was so much simpler to just use the word rather than constantly explaining my beliefs in a kind of feminist version of the Athanasian Creed.
Time and experience has proved to me that Christianity as the only label, is not enough to end the oppression of women. It should be, but unfortunately the church is full of sinners and imperfect people. I want to be clear what I mean so everyone knows I’m not being a heretic. The Bible is where I get my feminist theory from – not Germaine Greer. It’s the Bible that has informed my views about equality, and the Bible that compelled me to fight injustice. But Christianity as a ‘label’ is not enough. Many of the harms committed towards women have come out of a misinterpretation of scripture. In most people’s eyes, the word ‘Christian’ doesn’t align me with the fight for women’s rights; it sets me in opposition. People have used their idea of God’s design to limit the choices of women and exclude them from the intellectual, political community. This is not scriptural. This is an interpretation of the word that comes through sin and bias. The first feminists were Christians, but so were the first antagonisers of feminists. For this reason, I believe it’s especially important to call myself a Christian feminist in order bring the two labels from their ends of the spectrum, and back into unity. We need to reclaim feminism. If we lived in a world where everyone was perfect and understood The Bible clearly, then I believe it would be enough to end a myriad of social problems. As it happens, that’s not the world we live in. That the church is full of sinners is not controversial, nor that the church has problems. We all pick our battles in the church and out of it, and one battle I have chosen is equal rights for women.
In these discussions I often contrast feminism against my anti-slavery work. They are two areas where God’s plan for people is not being met, and people’s humanity not acknowledged. People who fight slavery are called abolitionists. No one has ever pulled me up on this label and asked why it’s necessary, nor have they asked why being a Christian isn’t enough. Of course Christianity is enough. Christianity is WHY I fight slavery. When I picked that battle the label I got was ‘abolitionist’. It became an auxiliary label attached to the end of the primary label, ‘Christian’. When I looked around and saw that women were also not having their full humanity recognised, I picked that battle too. The label that came with it was ‘feminist’ and it joined the list or auxiliaries that came after Christian. Christianity is not just all I am. It’s the beginning of what I am. It directs the ideologies I adopt and the battles I choose to fight. I don’t stop being a Christian in order to become a feminist. I am a feminist because I am a Christian. To say that Christian is the only label that is sufficient is an oxymoron because it is precisely that label that compelled me to pick up others.
Forgive my most likely incorrect use of science here. Hopefully the gist will come through if the names in incorrect. Labels should be treated more like a genus than an ontological state. The scientific name for a wolf is Canis lupus. Canis is the species: dog. Lupus is the type of dog: wolf. It narrows the lens. In the same way, Christian is my species. My specific set of beliefs are the genus or sub-species. A topic that I always come back to, despite caring very little about, is Calvinism. Every conversation about Calvinism vs Arminianism seems to end with ‘can’t you just be a Christian?’ Of course I’m a Christian. But what kind? We get a hierarchy of labels. I don’t slip out of ‘Christian’ and into ‘Calvinist’. I am Christian: Calvinist/Protestant/Abolitionist/Feminist.
I’m not going to engage too heavily with Christine’s points because she covered many of the objections in the onslaught of comments, all of which she responded to thoroughly. However, I feel I should address the claim that a person cannot be a feminist and disregard the parts that oppose Christianity. Brands of feminism are many and varied, one particular brand is Christian feminism. I believe the kind Christine is referring is a more radical feminism, but there as many different types of feminists as there are different types of Christians. Granted, Christians hold core beliefs, just as feminists do. But I believe the core belief of feminism isn’t reproductive rights or gender fluidity but equality. The problem here is that ‘equality’ is open to so many different interpretations. I imagine the Christian Feminist label as a Janus-headed figure with a face swivelled towards each noun. ‘Feminist’ adds to Christian as a focus of my faith, and ‘Christian feminist’ distinguishes me from those campaigns that do not align with my faith. I’m not a feminist, I’m a Christian feminist.
Here’s the reality of the world we live in: 1 in 3 women will be a victim of abuse. 90% of the world’s violence is towards women, 55% of people trafficked into slavery are women and girls, only 3 out of every 100 rapists will ever be charged for their crimes, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is legal, and statistically, the most dangerous place for a woman is in her home. Something needs to be done about that and the church should be the one doing it, if anyone. As long as we’re fighting together to seek justice for the oppressed, and you promote the equality of all people, I don’t really care what you call yourself.
Postscript: I’ve been saying for a while that things won’t change until men get on board with feminism. Michael Jensen wrote this great article for Eternity which you can read here: http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/perhaps-feminism-is-not-the-enemy