Feminism: The Other F-Word

I’m a Christian. And I’m a feminist. For lots of folks, those two identifiers seem incompatible, antithetical, an oxymoron.

Are those things supposed to go together?

A few years ago, I gave a presentation at an academic conference at my alma mater, a Christian university. As a part of my lecture, I used a research-based creative piece I wrote that engages with Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene by recasting its only female knight while striving to stay true to Spenser’s original art as much as possible. My rewrite was feminist. The room was mostly occupied by people who know me well, friends and former professors, so I found myself throwing out the F-word rather casually and without caveat throughout my presentation.

Somewhere along the way, I noticed a few of the folks in the room looking concerned, possibly even a little upset, and it dawned on me that I needed to stop and make a caveat or two: I just realized I’ve been casually throwing around the F-word [insert shocked faces here], you know, feminism… the other F-word, and that’s because most of you know me well enough to know the kind of feminism I mean. But that’s a bit unfair to the rest of you in here because of the bad rap feminism gets in Christian circles. 

We don’t use words like that around here, young lady!

I went on to explain myself: I like men [insert comic relief]. I don’t think men are evil or the source of all the world’s problems. I don’t think all men are raving, sexist morons. Quite the opposite. I get just as upset about commercials and sitcoms and throw-away comments from women that make men out to be helpless idiots and blundering cavemen as I do with ideology that makes women out to be, for example, either perfect angels or whorish devils with no room for messy, muddling humanity, as is the case with our text today. I’m an egalitarian, which sometimes requires feminist efforts to raise women up from the dehumanizing social scripts proliferated by men and women alike, and sometimes requires masculinist efforts to do the same for men.

I hope that was helpful in assuaging the furrowed brows in the room. I couldn’t quite tell. I had a time limit and had to move on. If I’d had all day, I would have challenged them not to shy away from feminist scholarship just because there are some toxic versions of feminism out there. In fact, good feminism must exist, if for no other reason, because bad feminism needs to be answered. [Golly that’s good! Oh right, that’s because I didn’t come up with it; CS Lewis did (read “philosophy” where I wrote “feminism”).]

You can read more about Mr Clive Staples in Aaron’s lovely piece, Surprised by Failure.

I think it’s important that as Christians we develop habits of thinking that are nuanced, particularly in regard to those ideas that stir up our most vehement reactions, the ideas we like the least and the ones we feel most threatened by. I think this is happening more and more; nuance is often one of the good results of Postmodernism. (What!!? Isn’t “good Postmodernism” incompatible, antithetical, and an oxymoron? Case in point. But that’s another post for another day, and one that can probably be done better by some of my fellow TTC writers. Cough-cough, hint-hint…)

Feminism in it’s extreme forms is ugly and certainly incompatible with Christianity because it dehumanizes men (and women). Any sort of approach that seeks to, for example, oppress the oppressors is the product of our fallen nature (even if it’s understandable); it is the epitome of hypocrisy to say: It’s wrong to oppress us, so we’re gonna oppress you as punishment. However, I would encourage those who, for example, believe the Bible speaks conclusively about gender roles (and therefore consider feminism antithetical to Christianity) to consider the ways in which their feminist, or egalitarian, brothers and sisters are challenging that position.

A helpful article in this vein called, “Gender Difference: Lose the Boxes,” appears on Sandra Ghland’s blog Aspire 2 Thinking that Transforms. Do I think this essay or a hundred like it are going to change anyone’s position? Not necessarily. But I’m less concerned with that than I am with the need for us as Christ-followers to discipline ourselves to think outside our boxes, whatever they may be, so that, among other things, we can be unified in our differences through Christ rather than divided by them, a division that thrills our Enemy and those most hostile to our faith. [I could just as easily make the same exhortation to egalitarians, but this is a feminist post after all. 😉 ]

are women humanFor a good starter on thinking through a middle way between extreme feminism and complete rejection of feminist efforts, I recommend Dorothy L. Sayers’s Are Women Human? It’s a little book comprised of two short, very readable (and rather witty) essays: one critiques Feminism, the other, the Church.

Let’s work together to de-vilify feminism. There really should be only one F-word… Foucault! [insert winking emoticon here]

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