Here in Wellington we have an event every six weeks called the Radical Tea Party, where about 50 or so people get together, drink fair trade tea and talk about different social issues. Last night the topic was on feminism and I was asked to be on the panel. One of the questions given to us was, ‘how have you experienced discrimination because of your gender’. I was torn three ways about how to answer this. Just that afternoon my sister told me she was going to stop running because she was tired of being wolf whistled or tooted at every time, I could talk about the army, or messages absorbed through the media, or how I used to go to a church without a women’s ministry because they believed that women should be ministered to by their husband or father (so if you’re single and live away from home, too bad – internalise it). There are so many layers of discrimination going beyond your everyday objectification. I felt like I could talk for hours on this question alone.
I managed to get it down to two examples and I think I still talked for slightly too long, but as I left it occurred to me that I had never had to decide how to answer that question before. No one has ever asked me.
I know a lot of people who don’t like feminism, who think its ideas are dangerous*, and suddenly that doesn’t surprise me. How are people supposed to understand the need for feminism if they don’t understand the female experience?
This example is a totally different topic, but hopefully it illustrates what I’m trying to say. When I was about 14 or 15 I wondered if I had OCD. I told a few people my theory and it brought the house down. Apparently it was hilarious so I didn’t talk about it anymore. At 22 I was (unexpectedly) diagnosed with OCD by a psychologist, by which time I’d pretty much dealt with it on my own. The thing is, no one ever asked why I thought I had it. What makes a 15 year old think she has OCD? If they had asked, they might have understood. It’s the same with feminism. Some people scorn the idea and kick it aside, and if that’s you, I wonder if you’ve asked why people want feminism in the first place. What makes a person think it’s important? If you ask, you might understand.
Sometimes people disregard feminism without stopping to think why other people might feel they need it. In fact it’s probably hard to accept without understanding what the everyday is like for women. I know I’ve heard a lot about the male experience – body image issues, emotional issues, having abuse claims disregarded, struggles to get custody of their children, etc. But I often hear stories of men’s surprise at the struggles that are particular to women, for example the safety precautions women have to take doing the simplest things – like walking home… or existing.
Hopefully by now everyone knows the statistic that 1 in 3 women will experience abuse in her lifetime. How many women are in your church? I’m assuming more than three. Where are those stories? How do we make sure the female experience is heard and understood in churches? You don’t have to call it feminism, in fact I encourage you not to at this stage. You could call it ‘getting to know your congregation’ or ‘understanding people’s struggle’. How can we help women with their problems if we don’t give them a platform to share it? Discrimination against women is not a women’s problem, it’s everyone’s.
You are all one in Christ Jesus -Galatians 3:28
*I understand that there are thoughtful, considered objections to feminism. The objections I’m talking about here are more the unconsidered ones.