The Feminist I Became

My husband and I are approaching our fifth wedding anniversary. I read an article a while back from Candace over at The Thoughts I Think about her five year anniversary, and she wrote these words that I found so true:

We think differently about life and God and politics than we did five years ago. We have different passions… Nobody tells you that the person you marry will not be the same person in 2 or 5 or 12 years. Nobody tells you that you have to learn to love the person that your spouse is at each juncture in their journey. Nobody tells you that you have to learn to love yourself through the changes in order to be able to love that person fully.

We do change over the years and sometimes that’s hard for you and sometimes it’s hard for your spouse, sometimes you change in ways you never imagined and sometimes you simply become comfortable with who you are, which can be an entirely different kind of change. My husband didn’t marry a feminist, but he’s married to one now.

I was raised to be a strong, independent woman. That’s something my mother instilled in all four of her girls. We were taught we could do anything, achieve anything. It would take hard work and perseverance, but we could do it. There was nothing a boy could do that a girl couldn’t also do. I was not raised in an evangelical, church-going family, so when I became a Christian, started attending church, and went to a Christian college, I was confronted with a lot of ideas, scripture verses, and sermons about submission, about being modest, about what girls can and cannot do, particularly in the presence of men, and none of it ever sat right with me. It was probably that strong will my mother instilled in me that kept pushing these ideas away, resenting them.

I began to recognize the effects of women being told that they are less important, less valuable, less able. And I began to understand that it’s not just a matter of “girls are as good as boys,” but systemic injustice, the belittling and dehumanizing of one half of the population. I began to see the sexism and discrimination around me, not just in church and Christian circles, but everywhere:

Women took new roles in the media and in politics and everyone talked more about what they were wearing than what they were saying.

The woman at church who had earned her doctorate in theology was still just the ‘director’ of women’s ministries; while all the men were ‘pastors’ of their ministries (whether or not they were actually ordained). None of the men had doctorates.

A friend of mine wasn’t given a choice when she had her first child, she was just expected to stay home because ‘a good mother would’.

A man I respect made a joke about rape.

I heard a beautiful girl of about 14 say she wished she looked different, thinner, prettier, because right now, as she was, she wanted to disappear, not be noticed. Right now, as she was, she felt like she didn’t matter.

So I became a feminist because I saw the women around me and around the world being used, rejected, discredited, silenced, injured, and killed because they were women. When I finally turned the microscope on my own life, I saw the ways I had been explaining discrimination away, making excuses, and blaming myself for why I wasn’t chosen to lead, why I was afraid to speak up, why I was insecure about my body.

And as I researched and read my Bible, I began to see how standing against this injustice is part of my theology– not a new part, but a part I already believed in. Because I believe that we were all created in God’s image, male and female, and all of us deserve the full dignity and respect afforded to one who carries that image. When Jesus came, he stood up for women, befriended them and accepted them despite their sins, just as he did with men. And I am commanded to seek justice and love mercy, to love my neighbor as myself, and to care for the widows, orphans, aliens—those who need us.

And so gradually I began paying attention, talking about it more and reading about it more, until one day my husband was suddenly married to a feminist.

My husband comes from an evangelical family and church. I think it’s safe to say his upbringing was more conservative than mine. He’s never really thought much about women’s roles in the church or the issues facing women around the world, but took them at face value. He’s a man of integrity, who has always treated me like an equal. He thinks I’m smart, and capable, and strong. At no time in our relationship– before or after we were married– have we ever talked about our roles, about who would do the dishes and clean, who would go to work and pay our bills. We just took on the roles as they came, both working, both keeping up with the chores, both taking care of each other and our crazy cat.

I’ve started talking about feminism and women’s issues more and more. And sometimes I think it seems like these are brand new problems for me, but it’s just that I’m recognizing the problems as problems now. And it’s been hard for him because I’m asking him to care too. I’m asking him to see that this matters, because women are being oppressed and treated as though we are less able and less valuable, and we should be outraged when any of God’s creation is treated as less than.  And I don’t question that he is someone who sees the wrongs of rape culture, sexual slavery, a lack of access to education, health, and safety, treating all people with dignity and respect. I know he sees these issues with compassionate eyes and cares for all people and I’m proud of him for that and I’m proud to married to him. But he’s still researching feminism and how it intersects with his faith and plays out in our everyday lives, because it matters to him that he does the work of finding the truth for himself. It matters to him that he knows how and why before he gets on board, and I’m doing my best to be patient while he works through it. Because we all need to for ourselves. So I’m waiting now to see how he reconciles the more conservative ideas he grew up with, with the ideas of justice for all women. And at our next marriage milestone, maybe I’ll also be married to a feminist.

 

This post was written as part of the #FaithFeminisms synchroblog. Find out about that here.


2 thoughts on “The Feminist I Became

  1. I know that before Shelli’s wedding we spoke about what was important. I expressed submission, love, and respect. The more I’ve prayed and read my Bible, I’ve begun to question my own understanding of submission as an evangelical Christian.

    I agree that men and women are uniquely made. Women are often not able to do physical things that men are, but that’s not for a lack of will but more because we, women, lack testosterone. I think if a woman tries hard enough though she could be just as apt to perform physically as her male counterpart. (I remember Frank saying that the person with the highest PT score in his unit is a woman.) The more I’ve studied Scripture, I’ve concluded that we are uniquely made as individuals not specific gender roles.

    I’m confused why a man feels threatened when he’s taught by a woman. Don’t most men get instructed by mothers rather than fathers? (Which I’m not saying is right, but more to make the point that if their mother’s taught them why would they get upset over women teaching in general? Absentee fathers vs. devoted dads is a whole other loaded conversation in itself.) Also, conservative men often quote the instruction for elders and the verses about women being silent in church as a mandate for man’s authority. How do they reconcile that with individuals like Deborah and the woman who anointed Jesus with oil? A woman anointed Jesus, not a man. She was the one who understood what was to come, not a man. Also, what do these men do with the female apostle Junia? The fact that women were the first at the empty tomb?

    Frank and I have also had several discussions about feminism and gender recently. Before going to college, I was perfectly fine with women being whatever they wanted to be. My mother is extremely headstrong and has made me opinionated too. Christian college caused me to question women as pastors though, but I’m not quite sure why. Then the older I got, the more I thought it (female pastor-ship) was okay. Why shouldn’t a woman be able to have that role? Do men really feel their masculinity is jeopardized by a female teacher? I asked Frank how he felt about a woman pastor. He said he never really thought about it. I asked if he’d be okay with it. He said he felt unsettled by it but wasn’t quite sure why. It might just be that his Baptist upbringing ingrained in him that a pastor wasn’t a role for a woman. I’ve had a female pastor. I adored her. Her messages weren’t as strong as some of the male pastor’s messages I’ve heard, but I think that has less to do with gender and more to do with her speaking style. I’ve heard women who could definitely lead a church well if given a chance.

    I like how you’ve laid out your growth as a woman of God and finding out just what it means to be made in his image as a female. I’m doing the same. I’m more feminist than I thought. I’d say that I’m not the burn my bra because it is restrictive type but I’m also not a doormat that heeds my husband’s beck and call. I’m not a radical feminist by the secular world’s understanding but I’d definitely be called such by Christian circles.

    I don’t like women manipulating men into thinking an idea was the guys when it wasn’t, belittling their husbands abilities but saying they respect their spouse and calling themselves (women) submissive, or blanket statements about how men don’t __________ (often saying things like don’t listen). I’m also against men asserting power over a woman. I dislike men ordering a woman to do household chores because somehow they think it beneath them. I don’t think the man has to work and the woman should be in the home (though this is the choice Frank and I want for our family I don’t think it is a man-fail if it is reversed). I’m saddened that “elite” men think it’s okay to rape “untouchable” women (I think I posted about this recently…it was an article in Al Jazeera about public restrooms for women in India.)

    I’m so glad that Frank and I don’t place each other in hierarchical roles. I’m glad that we’ve been challenging mainstream understanding of submission. Recently, we’ve realized that submission is more a mutual give-and-take and less about oppressive social constructs. Too often we cringe when we hear the word submit because we’ve misused this term in church. If Frank ever ordered me to do something I wouldn’t listen because I’d feel he was demeaning me. How would that honor God on either of our parts? I think I listen to him because he often lets me lead. He doesn’t feel like he’s less of a man when I order our social calendar, make suggestions about our financial structure, or having requested him to think earnestly about the church we attended in the past and heavily suggesting we make the switch.

    Well written friend. I appreciate seeing a journey that doesn’t just accept church infrastructure without studying Scripture. Thank you for having us assess our beliefs. I think you’ve helped us analyze why and what we believe and challenged us to grow in the process. Your growth has helped ours.

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    1. Thanks Kelly! It’s definitely a journey, and I can see you are journeying alongside me. I think it’s important to consider how these gender roles also belittle men, just as you mention. If women are being put into certain roles, then men are too, and you’re exactly right when you say we are uniquely made as individuals, not genders– none of us should be put into roles that we aren’t comfortable with or aren’t called to, and vice versa, none of us, man or woman, should be restricted from certain roles because they are ‘for the other gender.’

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