I was 19 years old at the University of Virginia and suffering.
I had enrolled in Women in American Literature and felt instantly intimidated by the strong, articulate and (to my mind) ANGRY feminists (was their a more vitriolic combination?) sitting beside me.
I was so freaked out I ask the professor to let me opt out of the group project (unfathomable for my duty-oriented posture). If he said no I was planning on dropping the class. Unthinkable.
I actually called him at home and begged to be excepted from forced proximity to the other women in the class.
I was afraid I’d stop caring about being sexy.
I was afraid that any prospective husband would sniff me out and drop me like a cold potato.
I was afraid feminism would destroy me and all my goals to get married and have 12 children.
I was afraid I would stop wearing long skirts and high button boots.
I was afraid I’d become a pro-choice, women’s libber and immediately unhook and burn my bra.
I was afraid feminism was contagious.
I wanted to keep myself unsmeared by the world and all it’s anti-God beliefs.
Have I mentioned that I was a Christian?
The professor told me I didn’t need to be so afraid.
And I didn’t. It would be four years before I would catch feminism,
and it would be from my husband, not one of these girls.
Confused about Feminism, or Certain You’re Right?
A Christian author and speaker, Mary Kassian, shares on a popular Christian website Revive our Hearts: Calling Women to Freedom, Fulness and Fruitfulness in Christ (a tagline that doesn’t match the little experience I’ve had on their site) that she knows what feminism is and does to godly Christian women.
View the video here: Feminism and the Christian Woman.
Kassian’s work, both in her book The Feminist Mistake and this video are great examples of ignorance. I don’t want to charge Kassian of willful ignorance. So let’s just say she’s unaware.
Kassian and others like her, teach women to be afraid of the word “feminism.”
And teaching others to be ignorant and afraid, too.
It was Kassian’s propaganda in videos precisely like Feminism and the Christian Woman combined with Rush Limbaugh’s mockery of feminazi’s that terrorized me to be afraid of all the females in my Women in American Lit class.
Interestingly, Kassian was raised in Canada.
I spent last week in Ontario, Canada, in a small rural community (hence my late post this week) with friends from Dale’s college years. I walked past their Mennonite neighbors and smiled as the teen boys commented on my baby wearing Finn. They looked at me, curious and somewhat puzzled. I thought of how wordly I might look to them, in my blue jeans and platform boots marching along the frozen road with Finn bouncing on my back.
Back inside I asked these Canadians, G and S, to give me a gut reaction of what feminism meant to them. Don’t think about it, just tell me, I said.
G grew up in a small village in the Asian Pacific. The night before, someone had bemoaned feminism coming into the church. “I just have no idea what that word means,” G said honestly.
S grew up in Virginia. “Feminism makes me think of equal opportunity, everyone gets a shot,” S said. As an afterthought, “Feminism is not very sexy.”
What do you think of when you hear the word “feminism”? Does it mean anything good? Or is it a mostly dangerous, wordly, un-feminine, godless, selfish group of women (and some pathetic men) who are angry most the time?
Demonizing out of Ignorance
It is wicked easy to demonize. Most of us do it every day. We think we know about a group, evolutionists or feminists, lesbians or vegans, snowboarders or pastors. Oh, we know THEIR type.
Christians, particularly evangelicals, do this as much as anyone else. But we hate it when people do it to us.
There is a simply remedy, 3 Tools, whip these out next time you start demonizing.
Tool # 1
No matter how sure you are about any group of people, look up their movement in a good ol’ dictionary. I like dictionary.com or American Heritage online. Find out if the negative associations you have of this movement are accurate with how the adherents describe themselves.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines feminist as someone who adheres to feminism.
1. Belief in or advocacy of women’s social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to equality of the sexes.
2. The movement organized around this belief.
By the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition, I believe Jesus was a feminist.
Does that sound shocking?
Jesus regularly placed women into honorable, valued, equal places with men. He praised Mary for learning with his disciples at his feet (Luke 10:42 – social equality), he accepted the female patronage of women who financially supported his ministry (Luke 8:1-3, Mark 15:40-41 – economic equality), he healed and forgave women that men were ready to stone (John 8:1-11 – moral equality), he put his stamp on the Old Testament where God appointed women like Deborah to rule and judge Israel (political equality) and propose to men (social equality, see Ruth in the book of Judges).
Kassian teaches another definition of feminism. In the first sentence of her video she says feminism teaches women to treat her own authority as God, let me quote Kassian supposedly quoting feminists, “This is the way I want the world to be, this it the way I want men to be, this is the way I want God to be.” Feminism, according to Kassian, teaches women to disregard and fail to bow to God.
I guarantee you can find feminists that do not love God (or feminists who aren’t particularly loving, feministing, for instance, or feminists who are pro-choice) but you can also find quiet wives sitting at home cross-stitching roses that do not love God. The existence of sites like Feminists or Life, Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus: Feminism Today, blogs like ChristianFeminism and resources like Christian + Feminist should indicate the story is a little wider than Kassian has shared).
For a speaker and teacher like Kassian, I believe we need to hold her to a standard of a little more research.
Feminism isn’t a good litmus test for someone’s god-fearing or godless state.
Don’t judge a thing by it’s abuse. In other words, don’t look at the abuse or practice of feminism and accuse all feminists of guilt. That’s as bad as accusing Jesus of starting the Crusades.
Kassian states that Betty Friedan started the feminist movement in the 1960’s.
Feminism is not the new kid on the block, nor was it invented with Friedan.
I can think of quite a few people and even some movements that believed in the equal treatment of women. Jesus for starters. The Society of Friends (or Quakers, the denomination of my youth) started by George Fox in the late 1640’s (not 1960’s) believed in the equality of women before God in church and home. For more see footnote 16 in “Far as the Curse is Found”, Ruby Slippers.
The relatively new kid on the block, the United States, has enjoyed two major waves of feminism.
First wave began in the mid-1800s during the Second Great Awakening. Christian women began speaking out, publicly, against alcohol abuse. Prohibition, among other things, revealed women’s social power to change America. With females speaking in public places to abolish alcohol, women became recognized and recognized in themselves a force of political and religious renewal. This first wave of feminism was dominated by Jesus followers who turned this new-found power to talk about other issues as well, the end of slavery and the vote for women. Let me say that again, the first wave of feminism in America was run by Christians. Christian Feminists. Look ‘em up, they’re for real.
First wave feminists used these early feminist’s Prohibition momentum and secured the vote for us today. It is because of feminist’s work and beliefs that you or women you know will cast their votes this the Fall.
Second wave feminism began in the 1960′s and continues into today. It gleaned cultural and politically equality (more famously known for securing birth control and legal abortions). This is the wave most people think of when they hear someone is a feminist. For more about feminism’s waves see History of Feminism. Read more about the way feminism was originally a Christian idea in Janette Hassey’s book No Time for Silence: Evangelical Women in Public Ministry or her summary chapter “Evangelical Women in Ministry a Century Ago: The 19th and Early 20th Centuries” in Discovering Biblical Equality ed. Groothuis and Pierce
Kassian claims that this new movement of feminism (I believe she’s only referencing Second Wave American feminism) took women on a path that was not what God wanted. Even if we only speak of second wave feminism Kassian fails to recognize how much feminism continues to do for women. For instance, a book I regularly recommend, Sex for Christians, came to print because the theologian and author, Lewis Smedes found the 1960’s sexual revolution revealing. Feminists brought problems and questions to light that society had never formally addressed.
We cannot judge the 1960’s simply by failed experiments like free love at Woodstock. The pressure to move women into the full-fledged realm of equality is a direct benefit to women throughout the world. And most importantly, reflects the image-bearer qualities God imparted to the first couple in Eden. Feminism cannot be quite as godless as Kassian wants us to believe, even if adherents use and abuse the term to make it appear so.
Ask a person who is in a group if what you have heard about this group is accurate. If you think vegans are scary healthy and obsessed, get to know one (hint: health food stores) and see if you can have a conversation without lapsing into prejudism or rolling your eyes. If you are think most lesbians don’t know Jesus, take a moment and venture into the My Faith Hurdle Question “What if I’m Christian AND Gay?” and read Cara and my exchange. Scroll down to Dec 3, 2011 to see the beginning of a conversation between two Christians, one homosexual and one heterosexual.
It would have helped Kassian if she could have brought a true, living feminist to interview and glean from before assuming feminists all count their own authority as the most important.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been immersed in a culture so unfriendly to feminism, but it once was a culture I used to eat and breathe. I even made a home video with girlfriends mocking feminists. We called it Ms. Roger’s Neighborhood. It was all about loving Bill Clinton and putting men in the kitchen. I think I broke every tool I’ve just written about here.
So, if feminism isn’t really all about killing the unborn and burning bras, why have Christians made it appear so scary?
Why so much fear-mongering and ignorance about feminism?
A good question. What do you think?
I’d like to thank Chrissa for originally asking me to explain Christian feminism in a recent comment on How to Spot and How to Treat a Chauvinist.
p.p.s. Please do not mistake me to be saying that I believe men and women are interchangeable parts. Men and women are different, that’s why I originally wrote Ruby Slippers, I wanted to explain how women are both feminine and free in Jesus’ kingdom. Our differences are one of the reasons, I believe are, God asked man and woman to take dominion, subdue and fill this earth together, side-by side (see Gen 1).
The way you go about achieving feministic goals (man-bashing for instance, verses carefully argumentation and love) is very important to God. So is the reason you want certain “equal” rights. This blog is a place I try to think through the best way to promote equality while maintaining distinctness between the genders. This is, I believe, one of the reasons Jesus came, to set the prisoners of the gender war free.
And many would agree that women are imprisoned today.. if not literally by human trafficking, then socially, politically, religiously. And if women are imprisoned, according to 1 Corinthians 11:11, so are men. For a secular admission of this exact idea see Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. One short example: the USA’s Terrorism Department noted countries where women were empowered as places terrorism would be less entrenched. The increase of power and opportunity for women directly reduced terrorism’s capacity to grow. Sounds like hope to me.