#FaithFeminisms - Where we've come from vs where we must go

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Reading so many stories of women coming to find their feminism alongside, or as part of, their faith this week made me realise the details of how it happened for me had become slightly hazy. I've told people the tale so often now: I went to university as a lifelong Anglican who'd never been taught a single thing about gender and religion, but also as one who had also started identifying as evangelical. In the following years, I slowly began to learn that some people didn't believe women could be church leaders, and that they also believed in rigid gender roles. I struggled to feel as if I fit in at church, feeling as if people wanted to cram my personality into a box marked 'Biblical femininity' and do away with all the bits that made me who I was. I'd started to pick up the messages from leafing through books and from coming across blogs aimed at Christian women. Even though I'd grown up far removed from the US evangelical culture of the time, it was starting to affect my life. When I got engaged, more than one person told my husband-to-be that they didn't think I was right for him and advised him to reconsider. I was the young woman who was Too Much, with the wrong sort of upbringing and the wrong sort of ambitions.

What I'd forgotten over the years is how much this hurt. These days I tend to consider myself quite privileged to have come to faith and grown up outside the sort of Christian culture that has caused so much pain to so many. Looking back at my Livejournal (yes, my Livejournal) from the time it's filled with accounts of news stories I found that worried me intensely: The Silver Ring Thing trying to raise its profile in the UK; people I knew starting to talk approvingly about Mark Driscoll; conservative blogs on 'Biblical womanhood' that named as 'selfish', among other things, working outside the home, eating disorders, and 'giving in to PMT'. I worried about what would be expected of me as a married woman, and I didn't know what to do. I knew something wasn't right, but I worried that the problem was me. In 2007 I was writing about asking God to show me where the problem lay. Was I displeasing Him? Was I, as ever, Not Good Enough?

Enter my discovery of egalitarianism, and I know many of you know where that led me. Reading back into my story today has reminded me not to forget the place I came from. Yesterday, I told someone how strongly I feel that as a community of women, as Christians and feminists we must tell our stories, but also move past the incessant going over of those 'moment of realisation' posts, the posts about how yes, indeed, faith and feminism are compatible. They give us warm fuzzy feelings but do they move us forwards? I remember today the women who will be reading through the #FaithFeminisms posts this week with a growing sense of excitement and a sense of sisterhood, the feeling that they're not alone and the problem isn't theirs to 'get over'. I was there once, and then everything changed.

For the rest of us though, when we've been here a while we can be tempted to get tired of it all. At a time when discussions about the feminist movement often seem to be centred on its 'toxic nature', an incessant cycle of call-outs, fall-outs, and the drawing of lines in the sand, it's easy to hold up our hands and step back. Are these our people after all? Aren't they, well, a bit angry? But if we disengage and seek solace in the safety of our own privileges, of evangelical subculture and its respectability, I don't believe we'll be the women we're called to be. It's easy to take the 'I'm all right' route, stay content in our progressive crowd and forget about all those for whom things are very much not all right. Even as more progressive voices make themselves heard, there's still an emphasis on watching our tone, being careful not to be 'divisive' and being careful not to upset conservatives or men. Often, it seems as if the message is: you'll never win them over unless you play it safe and play nice and make sure that men get to take centre stage too. 

I believe what we're called to do instead is bring the very best aspects of our faith to the feminist table. Foster understanding, demonstrate love, and stand against injustice. Demonstrate true sisterhood. Don't be tempted by performative social justice activism that prioritises call-outs, ideological purity, and ejecting people from the fold over recognising people's humanity and discussing problematic behaviour in a productive way. We feel saddened by the performative gatekeeping of Christianity, with its 'farewells' and smackdowns. Let our feminism not fall prey to the same problems. This week I've seen people better known by the mainstream movement and from outside the movement altogether exclaim how open and welcoming they've found #FaithFeminisms. I've always found this to be the case and I hope they're values we hold on to.

I've met some of the very best people I know thanks to being a young woman with an internet connection and a lot of thoughts and feelings about faith and feminism. At the beginning, it seemed that patriarchal Christianity had the monopoly on the popular books and the websites I was seeing and the messages I was getting. Today, women I am proud to call my friends have published books on egalitarianism and feminism. I've been involved in networks of women working together and supporting each other as we navigate what it means to practice faith and feminism. I'm a founder member of one of them. I'm involved in a group that's trying to get another one off the ground. Once we felt silenced, now there is a definite voice that has the power to speak to the church and to the secular feminist movement. And we can build on this by coming alongside each other and doing what, as Christians, we're supposed to work at doing best: creating real and productive community - those that support, those that organise, those that lead - no longer voices in the wilderness but a movement for change.

This post is part of #FaithFeminisms week. Do read the amazing posts that have been written by other women.

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