Our 21-year-old daughter called my husband’s cell phone one evening last week.
“Dad, I’m on a quick break during class but I wanted to ask you: do you self-identify as a feminist?”
“Well, yes, I would say that I do,” he said.
“What do you think that means?” she countered.
“I believe that women should have equal opportunities and get equal pay for equal work. Why?”
In a comparative politics class at her Christian university, the male professor had asked the students the same question. About 75 percent of the female students raised their hands, and about a third of the male students. The professor asked the class what that meant to each of them, and why they did or did not identified as such. One of the guys who said they were feminists simply explained, “I think girls are great.” I could almost see my daughter’s eyes rolling.
My daughter didn’t even wait for class to end to ask a few of the important men in her life—including her dad and her brother—how they labeled themselves, and whether they even understood what the word meant.
My daughter is saddened and shocked that many women at her college do not identify as feminists. When I asked her what reason they give for their position, she sighs, “It’s ‘biblical.’ Well, not really, but they think it is. I think a lot of women are just passive and complacent, even if it mildly contributes to their oppression.”
I tell her I’m so proud that she is a feminist. “Well, what else would I be? You raised me.”
I was never really on a soap box about being a Jesus Feminist (as Sarah Bessey so aptly labels us). She grew up in a home and a church where she saw women leading, teaching, serving in every capacity without limits based on gender, and assumed that was normal. She saw parents who tried to practice mutual submission. Who argued, yes, who worked through things and prayed through things, but never played the “I’m the boss because of my gender” card.
“I didn’t really know issues like this existed much until after I came to college, because all I ever knew until then (in our family and our church) was egalitarianism,” she told me.
“I guess I just absorbed it,” she said. “Thank you for raising me to be a feminist.”
Thank you for becoming one, and such an articulate one at that, I thought.
In a subsequent conversation, I told my daughter that a decade ago, even though he believed in women’s right to work and have equal opportunities, her dad would probably not have embraced the label “feminist.” My husband’s mother was a working mom in the seventies, which shaped him. But his father’s dedication to listening to (and parroting) Rush Limbaugh did as well.
However, raising a strong, capable daughter with leadership gifts provides a clinic in all that’s good and right about feminism. He would never want to squelch her opportunities in any way, and he admires her tenacity, character and intelligence.
In other words, he wants the best for his daughter, in a completely non-patriarchical way. Together, we’d had a conversation for two decades or so in our family that helped all of us understand the value of everyone.
Here is the thing: Girls need dads who self-identify as feminists. Fathers who treat their daughters with honor, who champion their right not only to be respected, but their ability to achieve. Dads who never say “don’t worry your pretty little head about that,” but instead believe in their intelligence, encourage them to develop their gifts. Dads who let their kids know that they believe in them, and in their ability to problem solve and succeed.
Girls and women also need churches who self-identify as feminist. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, to be feminist is not to be against men, or to be angry or militant or think that there is no difference at all between genders. Rather, it means, as my husband told our daughter, that you believe that women and men have equal value, should have equal opportunities, and should not be discriminated against—in society, the workplace or the church.
Churches that self-identify as feminist will thrive, because everyone in that church will discover and deploy their gifts. Women won’t feel frustrated at being told they can only take on certain roles, that they are disqualified for certain other roles solely because of their gender. Feminism is never against men, it’s in living out the biblical truth that the community of the church is one where distinctions of gender, socio-economic status, race are subsumed by unity. Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is how the church, the new community, is supposed to function. But sometimes, it doesn’t.
“I’ve been so discouraged by the church,” my daughter said, adding that this disappointment started after she left our strongly egalitarian church to go to college. She was rather stunned to find out that other churches within the same [evangelical] tradition seem to often move in the opposite direction of her admittedly liberal views, not just on women but on many issues of justice and equality. She was stunned by the stories of her friends who grew up in churches that denied women the opportunity to do certain things because of their gender.
I want my daughter to bring her intelligence and strengths to the church. I want to remind her that there are other churches out there like the one we raised her in, where women’s gifts and abilities are celebrated, welcomed and utilized.
I also want churches to wake up and realize that if they continue to cling to patriarchy, they will lose a generation of capable and wise young women, and will be bereft as a result.
“I think a lot of women are just passive and complacent, even if it mildly contributes to their oppression.”
That, in a nutshell, is the danger of complacency. It aids and abets oppression. Your daughter is a wise woman, and you and Scott have done a great job raising your kids.
Reclaiming the word, “feminist”? It SO needs to be done. Remember Rush ranting about “feminazis”? Ugh. I love the idea of feminist churches. And hold the line, I’m heading over to the garage to ask Robert if he self identifies as a feminist. I’m dying to know what he will say.
Okay, here’s our conversation.
Me: “Would you self identify as a feminist?”
Me: quizzical look with a hint of dismay
Hub: “I’m an equalist.”
Me: another quizzical look
Hub: “I don’t want to identify with either side because I don’t want there to be sides. We’re all equal.
Me: “You mean like Paul says we’re all one in Christ?”
Hub: “Yep. (His voice takes on a matter of fact tone). Remember, I’m colorblind and don’t notice age or nationality, either.”
Me: “That’s true.”
So, it wasn’t how I expected him to answer but I like it. A lot.
I like that term, equalist. I also consider myself an egalitarian, a similar word. But I’d have to take exception to his statement, “we’re all equal.” It’s great to see others as your equal, I think that’s awesome. But the problem is, we are not, at this time, all equal. Women face discrimination and oppression in the workplace, in the church, in culture. They face it much more so in certain parts of the world. So feminism is not saying that women are better, it’s saying because they are oppressed, they need to have those oppressions, barriers and discrimination removed. Feminism is not “taking sides” it is trying to bring justice for all.
Good things to think about–and funny how labels get hijacked sometimes. I love your earlier comment about reclaiming the word. Exactly.
My dad was a Coptic Orthodox Egyptian Immigrant who use to proudly share,”my daughter is an American woman!” I never realized the significance of his statement, especially when made to some of his more traditional Egyptian friends and family.
I love it.
So, for those who might want to read an opposing viewpoint, my complementarian friend and fellow writer Jen had a piece that released today on Christianity Today’s site. I respect Jen and think she’s an excellent writer, even though we disagree on some topics. But in the interest of balance and to know a bit about why this topic should matter to Christ-followers, here’s a link to her article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/april/finding-my-place-in-gospel-coalition.html
I love this, thanks Keri and to your daughter too for prompting this post.
I would add that boys need feminist dads too. My husband is one of three boys, but his father (although he might reject the term feminist) is a person who has always championed the rights of women. The boys have seen this in the way he has constantly supported their mum in whatever she does, and then the three daughters-in-law when they joined the family. And also the way he has supported the role of women in leadership in our church.
Because of my father-in-law’s example, my two daughters have a feminist dad and for that I am grateful.
Thanks for your comment, I totally agree. Your family sounds wonderful. My son (age 19) considers himself a feminist as well, which is great and as you’ve seen, will bless future generations.
yes, this is absolutely true as well! thanks, Jodie!
I love Robert Flory’s comment about being an “Equalist”.
I think men and women are created equal, but different. I stand firm on equal pay for equal work and anti discrimination, which is ironic because women get minority hiring status and can bid a government job at more than a male owned company and have it awarded to her based on her gender-it should be equal both ways.
I also would never call myself a FEMINIST due to what the feminists have done to the ROLE and God’s unique design in how we were created. The differences were evident all the way back to the garden.
There has been a push by those who call themselves FEMINIST to create a society of gender neutrality across the board, even to the extent of putting women in the fighting trenches of our military. If they are equal..then the physical fitness test to make it through boot camp should be the same..it is not even close. Should we be allowed to serve..yes. Should there be limits as to where and how..yes. Does that make me anti-feminist..no. and yet that is the label quickly slapped on someone who doesn’t sing along with “Anything you can do, I can do better.. ” I am anti-labelist.
Raising a family, and taking care of a home is often looked down on by other women as though we have no choice but to grovel in a pile of unmatched socks at the feet of a dominating male. The remark I have heard so often is, “Oh, it must be nice to not have a job.” My husband and I are a team. We have raised 6 kids- that is my job.
We have taught our boys to open a door for women, just like their dad does for me. If asked, I probably wouldn’t label my husband or sons as feminists..they are equalists, as well as gentlemen.
Love this post. Love being an equalist. Love being a woman.
Thanks, Marci. I agree, certain groups of feminists have sort of hijacked the label. And labels are easily misunderstood. Perhaps Christian feminists are trying to take back that label, not to promote gender neutrality, but to end the oppression of women, and to raise awareness of their plight (especially globally)? And I’m with you–I really can’t stand when women judge each other or don’t understand the work that each of us does in the world, whether it’s at home, in the marketplace, or our own unique combination of those (as you’ve done by writing books and speaking while also raising 6 kids!). I appreciate your comment.
Another excellent explanation of what is meant by the term Christian Feminist. (From the Junia Project, which is based at the same university my daughter attends.
If anyone feels any resistance to the word feminist, please read and give me your opinion. I’m curious what you think.