An open letter to my Christian sisters

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Being a Christian feminist can be difficult. It's something I've really wrestled with and I went through a long and confusing journey to reconcile these beliefs. I know well that feminism has a bad reputation among a lot of Christians and that many people I know particularly disapprove of it as a concept. If you're a Christian who wants to find out more about feminism and decides to do some research on the internet, looking at popular Christian sites and blogs, then you're going to find an exhaustive amount of information on why feminism is so contrary to God. According to a few I've looked at recently:
'These [feminist] leaders minimize women’s roles in the home as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. They don’t seem to see women as bearers and nurturers of life, as caregivers, as those privileged to shape the character of the next generation.'

'A daughter can no longer expect to be protected by her father; a woman finds it hard to trust her husband's leadership and feel secure in her marriage, with the divorce rates so ridiculously high; a lady cannot expect chivalry anymore.'

'...hate femininity (which they see as weakness) and loath women who choose traditional roles (try voicing support of housewives in any college women's studies course and see what happens). Stay-at-home moms are seen as traitors to the Cause.'

'From the time the first feminist (Eve) came on the scene, until now, we have been in a cosmic battle against the flesh and Satan because he hates the image of Christ and His Church...Feminism was, and will finally be, defeated when the Seed crushes the Serpent (Gen. 3:15).'

'The feminist leaders - humorless, militant, pugnacious, and angry with their particular lot in life, launched programs that were anti-God, anti-capitalism, anti-family, anti-birth, anti-heterosexual and fostered a virulent hatred of anything having to do with males. They no longer wanted to equalize the status of women, but instead wanted to irreversibly alienate women from men and vice versa.'

'They belittle a woman’s calling in the home, marginalize motherhood, sneer at modesty, and abhor wifely submission.'
When you look at a lot of sites bearing information like this, we're painted as monsters. Monsters who hate men and children. Monsters who hate stay-at-home mothers and domesticity. Monsters who want to see the world cleansed of men so that women can rule over the earth in some sort of all-female dictatorship. If we're not being portrayed as monsters, we're being quietly mocked or disapproved of for being 'career girls' (who naturally, put our career aspirations over everything else in life) or being 'shrill' or using the title 'Ms' or hyphenating surnames.

Sometimes we're begrudgingly accorded some praise, usually with a statement saying something along the lines of 'the initial aims of feminism - such as the right to vote and access education - were necessary and have helped women, but now things have gone too far'. In other words: 'Good grief, you can go to school and vote now; what more could you possibly need?' It's important to point out here that the missives I've posted above are always written from a white, middle-class perspective. In other words, by people who have been able to reap the benefits of what feminism has achieved as far as economic and educational freedom goes and also the benefits of living in a wealthy country. People who talk about the early gains made by the women's movement as if every woman now enjoys these privileges and could not possibly need anything more. Women who have never had to work because their husbands earn enough to support the whole family. Women who don't have to fight for survival. It's easy to live in a privileged bubble, but we must not assume that life is the same for everyone else.

Aside from addressing privilege, there's the basic fact that these sort of claims are wrong. As feminists we're extremely aware of the potential we have as mothers to shape future generations. To many of us the fact we can bear new life is extremely important to us. Feminists the world over are mothers and homemakers and women who aren't particularly bothered about being 'high-flying career girls'. It's bizarre and downright ridiculous to paint us as a group of people who hate children and 'the home'. Some women don't plan to become mothers, this much is true. But this isn't a phenomenon peculiar to women who identify as feminists. Mocking stay-at-home mothers and housewives? That's not my feminism - and every other feminist I know would say the same.

As for the old man-hating/abolishing males forever stereotype, that gets trotted out at every opportunity by the media and anti-feminists the world over. Does that make it true? Of course not. Gaining equality for women is not about taking away the rights of men and this is an important distinction to make. Men may have subjugated women for centuries but the aim of feminism is not to reverse this oppression. What would be the point of fighting for equality in the first place if all we want is a world where men are obsolete?

It's also important to recognise that misogyny, men treating their wives badly, domestic violence, family breakdown and objectification are not a result of the late 20th century women's movement. This is an assertion I've seen pretty frequently in anti-feminist Christian writings. As I mentioned above, the subjugation of women and lack of respect for them as people was happening long before the 1960s. And it was most definitely happening within Christianity. The line of thinking which portrayed women as the root of all evil is pretty common knowledge, as are the methods used to deal with women who did not fit the church's expectations of womanhood. Divorce is often used as example of the negative impact of feminism, but when it was less 'acceptable' countless people were forced to remain in unhappy and abusive marriages. It's naive to assume that a married couple is a happy couple and there's little point in idolising a time when women had little choice but to marry because they had few other options, rights or life choices.

Aside from mangling the facts, attacks on feminism by Christians have a very narrow focus which totally ignores the majority of things feminists are fighting for - things that everyone with a heart for change can get behind. Access to equal opportunities in education, the workplace and childcare for all women. Wishing for an end to poverty and deprivation. Stopping discrimination by age, class and race. Protesting rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Educating the next generation of boys to treat women with respect. Fighting attitudes of domination and control in relationships. Giving women easier access to healthcare, contraception and sanitary products. Working to lower maternal mortality due to lack of resources. Helping the broken and abused. Fighting the sexualisation of young girls and the objectification of women. Trying to stop the exploitation and dehumanisation of pornography and trafficking. Hoping for a world where a woman's worth is not measured by little more than the way she looks. I refuse to accept that any of these examples is 'contrary to God's plan' seeing as God is opposed to and angered by injustice and the fact that people have been stripped of equality and dignity by all that is mentioned above.

I find it's a common feature of anti-feminist Christians that they claim to love and respect women, yet express disgust and derision at those who don't fit the narrow mold of complementarian Christian womanhood. And yes, that includes mocking 'career girls' and women who use the title 'Ms' and women who don't have children. This is not love and respect. Jesus went beyond societal convention in his treatment of women and reacted against negative attitudes towards them. Women must be free to pursue their gifts and callings whatever they may be. If that is outside 'the home', so be it. So when denouncing us as monsters, please remember that we fight for a better world rather than a broken one, just like you. Yes, you may not be able to get behind some things feminists believe and do, but do we agree with all things done in the name of Christianity?
 

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