Ok, so anybody who knows me or reads this blog regularly will know that I am a Christian and a feminist. To a certain extent both are words which you don’t use in polite society anymore but hey Christian is the central label I choose to own and being a feminist flows from that. Having spent a large proportion of yesterday preparing a lecture where I look at feminism, but not being able to incorporate the strand I choose to identify with I thought I would explain why I am a feminist and what sort of feminist I am. This need to articulate what feminism means and why it’s important but why it can be confuddling these days was reinforced reading this article about Rihanna in yesterdays Guardian.
If I were to have to put labels on to identify which of the Heinz 57 varieties of feminism I align myself with I would have to say I am a Christian, biblical feminist theologically who methodologically and theoretically identifies with third wave post-feminism. My ideas are not new, they are a mish mash of what I have gained from those women who have gone and shared their ideas before me.
What does this mean in practice? What do I actually believe? Why does it matter anymore?
1) I believe all were made of equal worth, in the image of God. The imago dei means that whilst there may be differences between genders and diversity amongst humanity we are all of equal importance to God and so should be of equal importance to each other.
2) Culture has developed, within industrial societies, in such a way that the elderly and the extended family have become devalued. This means that the role of the matriarch, particularly, has become devalued. This in turn has led to the breakdown of support networks and of informal control within our society. I do not believe this is what God intended. God, I believe, designed models of family which are not isolated and fragmented but rather ones which are based around community. Models where younger women learn from older women…..(this is what the story of Ruth and Naomi teaches us).
3) In a number of societies, including our own, there is pressure upon women regarding what they wear. Equally there is condemnation of those women who positively choose, having reflected upon the wider issues involved, to wear the clothes that society pressures some to wear. For example some women are pressured through their culture to wear the hijab whilst others are vilified when they choose to wear it as a symbol of identity and in our culture some women are pressured to wear short skirts and make up whilst others are accused of giving in to the marketing when they choose to wear it as symbols of their identity. Part of a healthy society is the ability to make healthy choices which are right for both the individual and the society. Men should not be the ones, either through political and religious decrees or through media marketing, who decide what is and isn’t right for a woman to cover her body in. Women should be able to choose what they wear and not be attacked for it.
4) Women are still seen as caring victims to be looked after and protected because of their gender. Thus single mothers are viewed as broken but the best people to look after their kids, the victims of domestic violence are seen as being down trodden women and laws are introduced to protect us from the violence and abuse of men. Great until you realise the effects of these stereotypes, images and gendered pieces of legislation. Male single parents become further marginalised, we forget that some men have main caring responsibilities or we ignore the fact that men who see their children less often are also single parents. This in turn helps lead to a culture where many dads lose contact with their children. Male victims of domestic violence are left without refuges or the legal protection afforded to women. Males working within the sex industry are left with less help to escape than women and less support generally, making their working conditions more dangerous. Generally these men will be viewed only as the perpetrators rather than as potential victims themselves. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that legislation isn’t needed to protect and help people in our society but I am saying this legislation and sources of support should not be gendered….these things are not only female issues. If we care for supporting all in our society and as Christians living counter-cultural lives we should not give into the gendered stereotypes which make us blind to what is going on and marginalise many men in our society.
5) Women in the Western church, I believe, have too often believed that the feminist struggle relates to them breaking through a glass ceiling into the different levels of leadership or to getting away from a gendered interpretation of God and looking for inclusive worship if they haven’t just become post-Christian. My problems with this approach and these battle fronts being drawn up are various. Firstly, I believe in the priesthood of all believers. Whilst I understand and support the campaign for women bishops and so forth because we know that power equals making decisions on the allocation of resources I think that this focus actually disempowers many women as it focuses attention on the role of the clergy at the expense of the value of lay roles. I believe that as attention has been focused on these things, particularly by academics, the experience of “the everyday women on the pew” has been marginalised. Issues regarding being able to get adequate childcare to participate in church on an equal basis or the timings of meetings to support the women who are working are ignored. The segregated nature of our churches where the experience of single women or women without children is often very different to married women with primary childcare responsibilities is ignored. The imbalance of genders in our churches is not looked at from a female perspective. Beyond having less Christian men available for single Christian women what does this mean? How does it effect mission and so forth? How do we treat and (mis)use elderly women in our congregations, particularly in relation to unpaid and voluntary labour? What is going to happen with this army of women who keep many of our churches going when they become infirm? Who is going to support them, particularly those without extended families or more likely those with attenuated extended families who can visit rarely because of geographical distance? When they do have to give up their roles and ultimately pass away in the coming decade or so what is going to happen to the ministries they keep going? What is the experience of younger women? How should this impact fresh expressions, what pioneer ministries does it give opportunity for and so forth? These are the things we should be concentrating on to a greater extent.
I know I’ve gotten on my soap box, but I include two You Tube clips for anybody who seriously wants to know more about either feminist Theology or third wave feminism and not just my ramblings.
The first clip is a shorter five minute clip from Naomi Wolf explaining the natuer of Third Wave feminism and how this differs from second wave feminism, aswell as contributing to the hijab debate.
The second clip is a full hour long lecture from Dr. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza giving a Burke Lecture. If you are familiar with who Schussler Fiorenza is you probably want to skip the first five minutes. She is not just explaining what Feminist theology is but she is giving a good example of excellent feminist scholarship. There is a point about half way through, (around 24mins in) where she defines her understanding of the f word.