“The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator.”

–Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd recently wrote, “Patriarchy is not men.  Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate.” I could not agree more. Patriarchy is held in place at least partially by women.

What is patriarchy? permanent rule by male/s. Other names it goes by: complementarianismBiblical Manhood and Womanhood.

As a seminary graduate who follows Jesus, these titles are misleading. I believe in the sexes complementing each other, and I believe in Biblical womanhood (and manhood, too).

So why is Judd frustrated with patriarchy?

En mass women and men have accused her new “puffy” face as a result of plastic surgery, a look that she explains is the result of 6 months of laziness.  Her response in The Daily Beast explains among other things that the problem with the public’s response in a patriarchal belief one version of beauty is all a woman like her can contribute.  Ashley Judd’s face and body are being picked apart by scavengers, patriarchal scavengers.

Photo credit: collage US Weekly (of course), photos: Gary Gershoff/WireImage.com; George Pimentel/WireImage.com

Now how is objectifying women a patriarchal thing?  I’m glad you asked.

First, let me share that Judd isn’t taking it lying down.

She insists upon forming a feminist discussion, not one driven by patriarchy or the standard that men’s bodies, goals or sexual fantasies determine women’s value. As she writes,

If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight . . . to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who.   The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. It affects each and every one of us: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. 

First, she’s correct in seeing patriarchy as the cause. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Second, she is using “feminist” correctly. Though I’ve written about this before “What Does Feminism Mean to You?” with reasons Jesus was a feminist, it bears repeating in context of Judd’s quote.

Feminism is not a synonym for godless or lesbian. Feminist is not the opposite of “chauvinist” (sorry, Mark Driscoll). Feminist is not identical with a pro-choice advocate or a bra-less, hairy female.

Feminist when used correctly, as the most conservative dictionary defines it, means “Belief in or advocacy of women’s social, political, and economic rights, especially with regard to equality of the sexes.”

And feminism hasn’t won and is now being replaced by something more “sane.”

“We are no more a post-feminist society than we are a post-racial one. The goals of feminism have yet to be reached.” Lisa Solod explains in “What We Need to Talk about When we Talk about Sex and Feminism” at The Good Men Project.

And what exactly are the goals of feminism? my colleague Paul Franks asked after I tweeted Solod’s quote above.

I’m glad you asked.

Feminism is a belief that women are as valuable as men.

Valuable enough to choose the best career combining their gifts, their desires and their life goals.

Valuable enough to reflect God’s characteristics.

Valuable enough to be able and worthy contributors to every aspect of life.

This is not to discount women’s differences. I believe in our distinctions, wrote a whole book about them in fact (Ruby Slippers). But my conclusion is that every slice of society and culture,

from pulpit preaching,

to final decision making in the family,

to spiritual leadership,

to the highest office of the land

would benefit from unmuting women’s voices.

Feminism wants to actively reach for woman’s voice in every aspect of life. To include women as more than an ornament.

Most people say they agree with this idea, that women are not just ornamental. I know Christian patriarchalists who are emphatic that women ought not be objectified.

However, when a patriarchalist makes the man the spiritual leader of the home, they remove spiritual authority and responsibility from women.  This turns an adult female into a permanent underling of the tie-breaking male “head.” Not even Jesus subjected himself permanently to the authority of the Father (Matt 28:18). The wife becomes the receiver, the object of the male’s decision making. And any time a human is treated as an object, not a subject, you have objectification. The same is true in our churches, but that is another matter.

Why don’t more people take the term “feminist” as their own? Why are secular people quicker to own it than religions? My theory is that the term “feminist” has been so smeared by religious organizations that it confuses religious people. Feminist has become a scary term to take up in evangelical circles. It’s also an impossible term to adapt if you believe women cannot play certain roles, hold certain offices.

But until another culturally recognized (and I mean in secular and sacred places) term comes to light, I will use “feminist” to talk about this equal value of men and women.

What I appreciate is how Judd gets the danger of patriarchy.  Listen to her elucidate as I contextualize her quote above,

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia (I had to look this up it means “among other things”), the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

In closing Judd makes a call to sisterhood, “I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change . . . that there is no winning here as women.”

Small as I am, I offer her my alliance to confront and change.

The goal of feminism that women ought never be objectified is worth defending.