“I didn’t know that I raised a feminist,” my mother said, surprise, and almost worry, in her voice.
“You didn’t. I’m not a feminist,” was my immediate response. Partly because of the way in which she said it, but mostly because I was loathe to associate myself with the negative connotations that come with that labelling, too scared to be considered unwomanly and brash. To my mother, as a Christian, hearing me say some of the things which her uber-conservative upbringing defined as feminism, unsettled her somewhat. Feminism for many of the women of her generation symbolises a hateful approach to men and to marriage, and not only so, they cannot possibly see how a young woman who considers herself a Christian, could possibly say she is a feminist, and still go to church on Sunday with a ‘clean conscience’.
Although I have always had feminist tendencies (whatever those are), my upbringing meant that I always concealed these because they were frowned upon. Fast-forward to my 21st year of life. The scene: two young women in their 20s sit in deep concentration over a black and white chequered chess board, each contemplating her next move as well as that of her opponent. “Checkmate,” the first calls out. The other woman, she who has lost, can’t believe she has just been conquered by an amateur more amateur than she is. Bummer, there goes her king. But most of all, during the game she has come to realise that all her moves and stunts on the chess board have been towards a single goal. This goal was to protect her king, and bring the opponent’s army to its knees so as to retrieve the king. It strikes her as peculiar that the most valued member of the army is the King, and yet he can only move one space at a time, and cannot even defend himself perfectly. He is like the man of society, which many women seek approval from, or protection, or wealth, or whatever. And yet the king’s movements are limited. Why not go for the queen? Why not go for the bishop even? Or the castle? Upon mentioning this to her opponent, the winner of the game cried, “It’s patriarchy friend!”
Many of those who object to Christianity and the Bible do so because they hold that these are inherently sexist and oppressive towards women. As much as I see how they may have mistakenly come to receive and accept that idea as truth, they must be reading a different Bible to mine, or at least reading it differently, because the God that I know loves and establishes women in society. I am not saying that the Bible is a feminist text, at least not in the way that we expect Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing to be, but it does advocate for women’s rights as much as it does for that of men. After all, Christ died for all. I have not heard that there were two separate occasions where He died for men and then went a second time to offer a less taxing sacrifice for women, them being inferior and all. No. Christ died for all, and in fact, as TD Jakes has pointed out, “the greatest event in history happened to a single woman named Mary,”. Women are not only as important as men in the eyes of God; the Bible has shown that they have the power to change the destinies of nations.
What of all the violence against women that the Bible portrays? As a relevant text, it discusses issues which are pressing, but portrayal does not mean that it condones this violence. In fact, in instances where women are reviled, such as in Jezebel’s case, they are reviled because of their lack of respect for God, not because they are women. They are seen as human with a flaw in their human nature first, before they are recognised as women. Yes, they are women, but that’s not all they are. Also, where women have been violated, such has been done because of the failure of humankind, not because God condones rape or abuse. In those cases we have seen their honour being defended, to the point of attack on the offender and their entire tribe.
Phantsi nge this idea that “the measure of a man is his career, and the measure of a woman is a man,”. Men and women have lost sight of God, and have both become chained to oppressive structures. Also, people have misconstrued the part of the Bible that exhorts women to be submissive to their husbands (Ephesians 6: 21-33). Surely if a man loved a woman as much as he loved his own body, and as Christ loves the Church, he would not make her suffer. Domination is not Love. Abuse is not Love. God died for us, and by right owns us as His possessions, yet we are never forced or coerced into doing His will. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that women should not respect their husbands. We partake of the kingdom by Grace, Faith and Choice. In a perfect world, a marriage should be a mutually respectful and beneficial union. Love is not Love that one enters into against their will- it is neither genuine nor sweet, but a farce. William P Young’s The Shack discusses how the Trinity live in a relationship of mutual equality and respect: they exist in a submission to one another’s love, each fulfilling a function in the relationship that is unique, and yet just as important as the other’s role. There is no hierarchy therein. In Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col 2:9) and in the Spirit there is freedom, and in God we are made fearfully and wonderfully. Neither is so insecure in themselves and their function that they feel the need to overpower the other and insist on their dominance. Rather, God is so passionate about His Son that his own passion will see his son’s kingdom established. In the same way, women and men are to submit to one another’s love.
When we lose sight of our unique functions as women and men in God, we start to compete with one another on the false basis of breaking down gender oppression. To say that we have separate functions is not to say one is more important than the other. We are all part of the same body, the heart is as important as say, the lungs. Gender is arbitrary: a performance of sorts. To say that women must be soft and men must be strong is to constrain each sex. What does ‘soft’ mean? What does ‘strong’ mean? Women must also be strong, men should in turn also be soft. God is both soft and strong: countless times we have seen Him say; “I’m angry at this nation, I will visit judgement upon it”, and as His people have repented He has said, “I love you so much, I forgive you.” To some that is a weakness, a softness, but to me, that is true strength.
A woman is more than just a body. Source: Feminist Ryan Gosling at http://feministryangosling.tumblr.com (he’s sometimes out of tune, but sometimes he rocks, my guilty pleasure! AND he’s hot ♥)
When you consider that women in Africa still earn less than men (partly because of the patriarchal structures within the workplace), and that war and crime in Africa leaves women most vulnerable to violence, perhaps you see that this is still in many ways a man’s, man’s, man’s world. Now mainstream culture is promoting the idea of objectification of women’s bodies under the guise of feminism. Feminism stands for the freedom to control one’s body. American culture and corporations stand for sexual/physical objectification, but they promote it as sexual freedom. They spread the idea that “a woman is in control of her body, therefore she must flaunt it.” But when a woman’s body becomes an object of sexual fantasy and a pawn in corporate America’s capitalist chess, her body is no longer an expression of freedom, but a repression of dignity.
Truth is, feminists have fought for the rights of women when it should have been Christians rising up to the challenge to communicate God’s heart for women. What about God saying that He is a Father to the fatherless, and His emphasis on His being a “He”? God is a personality. He is not a “He” in the sense that we view it here on earth.
I understand that feminism has its flaws (that it may be arrogance that is the intention), and that Christianity has often been at the root of much trouble and oppression. In an ideal world, there would be no need for feminism to even exist, and yet inequality exists. If feminism, at the risk of oversimplification, is taken to be the idea that women are human beings and have rights, then Christ was on that tip. I picture him now, at the well, speaking to the Samaritan woman who was considered the lowest of all women. He smiles at her, speaks life into her heart, and encourages her to live loved because she is worthy of it. And that there, should be the true heart of feminism.
**Christian feminist discourse is varied and wide, and debates within this discourse are numerous. Dusty’s attempt to understand her position in this world is not an attempt to involve herself solidly within this discourse, but to defend her position and share her thoughts. Her only wish is that women will not be considered inferior in the church, and that more than anything, women will realise their own worth in God’s Kingdom. Engage.
Love and sunshine,
“Patriarchy is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women deny that they themselves are engaging in it.” Ashley Judd