Christian Feminism: Friend or Foe? Part 2



As we saw in yesterday‘s post, a recent article made the argument that feminism is unnecessary for Christians, and I gave my view on why that’s not so. As promised yesterday, I want to spend this post examining the second main objection that Walsh raised against feminism (again, with the understanding that I am picking on his article because it represents a widely-held view among many Christians, not just Walsh himself).

 
His other question is equally legitimate and also deserves a serious answer. Even if feminism is not redundant to the Christian faith, is it worth it, if it comes with so much baggage?
He brings up several different points included in this notion of baggage, and I want to deal with them in order of importance. So, let’s start with abortion.
Walsh, like many other Christians (comp and egal alike), is suspicious of feminism because it has so many ties with the pro-choice movement. Lots of peole feel too uncomfortable with that to identify as feminist. That is their right. I must leave it to every individual to decide where their comfort level is with that, and I’m not trying to gloss over how seriously many people take that issue.
But Walsh goes a little further and claims that no Christian anywhere should be able to hold a different opinion or level of comfort. His claims, plus the amount of time he spends on the abortion issue, make it sound as though abortion is about 95 percent of feminism’s purpose:

The concepts are contradictory, [feminists] argue, and I agree — though I’d say the term ‘pro-life feminist’ could be more aptly compared to ‘abolitionist slave trader’ or ‘free market communist.’

Personally, I have to disagree. I believe, through reading feminist blogs and having conversations with women who identify as modern-day feminists, that feminism’s main focus is to explore the ways in which society has unhealthy beliefs about gender. That can include certain beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of abortion, but abortion certainly is not the only (or even main) focus for most of the feminists that I personally deal with in everyday life. And it is certainly not the only social concern that feminists are working to affect (other social concerns include equal pay, sex trafficking, female representation in government, the portrayal of women in the media, and more).
Most of the feminists that I speak with talk to me about unfair policies toward women in the workforce; about the horrors of rape culture; about expectations for how women should dress and act; about dynamics between husbands and wives, etc. Those are the issues that many of my personal feminist friends seem most concerned about, and they’re the issues I see being written about and broadcasted by feminists in the wider media. In fact, I have gotten into many more abortion discussions with Christians than I ever have with feminists.
Now, I don’t want to be disingenuous here. There are indeed some (many?) feminists who don’t believe you can be a feminist unless you are pro-choice. However, the reality is, there are feminists who agree on every other issue except the abortion one. Those people do exist, and I see no law or Gestapo preventing pro-life Christian women from identifying as feminist. So, why not? To me, saying that the feminist movement is focused on or inextricably tied to abortion just doesn’t ring completely true.
Now, again, if someone else feels differently, s/he has every right to reject the feminist label. But where I think the line is crossed, is where that person tells other people that we are not allowed to see feminism as being about more than abortion, just because s/he doesn’t.
Moving past the abortion issue, the next largest issue that is often brought against feminism is that it doesn’t square with a complementarian view of the sexes. “Complementarianism,” coined in the 70s (see, I can read about the history of gender theory, too), is the belief that God ordained a high degree of difference between the sexes and intends men for one type of “role” within the family and church, and women for another type of “role.” Men are leaders; women are supporters.
I think a belief in complementarianism is why Walsh said the following against feminism:

To be equal is to be the same. Women are not equal to men because they are not the same as men. Therefore, a woman’s freedom is really slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and characteristics that make her a woman. The same could be said for men, if his freedom requires him to shirk that which sets him apart from women and makes him a man.

The problem with using complementarianism to prove that feminism is un-Christian is, of course, that not all Christians are complementarian! Many egalitarian Christians (in organizations like God’s Word to Women and Christians for Biblical Equality) believe that complementarianism is an incorrect interpretation of a handful of Biblical passages. They believe in mutual submission between husband and wife, in the leadership capabilities of women, and in the rights of husbands and wives to divide traditionally feminine and masculine “roles” within the home however they want. And as for not being the same, egalitarians believe that Adam’s delight with Even was because of her sameness to him, not because of her difference. “Then the man said, ‘At last, here is one of my own kind—bone taken from my bone, and flesh, from my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23, Today’s English Version).
Thus, I’m not sure that feminism is incompatible with “being a Christian.” It may be incompatible with “being a complementarian Christian.” To prove that Christians shouldn’t be feminists, Walsh would first have to prove that they shouldn’t be egalitarians. Until he and other anti-feminists can do that, they can’t really use the complementarian line as an example of feminism’s evils.
And while we’re on the subject…why does Walsh get to define what Christian feminists mean when they say the word “equal”? He seems to think that word means “having no difference in their essence.” Actually, many Christian feminists do accept a difference in gender makeup to some degree (and others don’t), but that has nothingto do with what they mean when they say “equal.” The word “equal” in Christian feminist discussions is often employed to mean equality of opportunity (such as ministering alongside men, being able to get a job after motherhood, and not viewing your husband as your authority). It’s bad rhetoric for a writer to claim that the term must mean interchangeability of essence or being, when the people he’s arguing with don’t use the term that way. To truly engage someone, you have to address what they’re actually saying, not some cliché you pretend they’re saying (that’s something we cover in my freshman-level writing class each year).
Perhaps I could say that every time Walsh uses the word “women” he actually means “tyrannosaurus.” I could then claim that his argument makes no sense, since tyrannosauruses don’t exist anymore, and aren’t, in any case, human. But that wouldn’t make me right.
And speaking of bad rhetoric…
To Walsh’s other points about the baggage of feminism, I simply have to disagree with most of them. They read like the outdated caricature of second-wave feminism that preachers crafted to scare parishioners during the 70s and 80s.

From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them. Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes, while feminism preaches competition and exclusion.

Oh, okay, so we’re just going to start saying things now and sayingthem will make them true just because? Well I’m going to say that the highway is made of snakes, and my husband is actually a unicorn, and the square root of cheese equals a Tiffany lamp.
Sorry to lose my cool, but this was the point at which my patience with this article evaporated. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz was less a straw man than this argument. I don’t personally know any feminists who want dominance over men or treat men that way. Feminist culture is actually against such things, believing men and women to be equal in value and capability, with neither deserving to dominate. It is dangerous to equate the pursuit of equality with grasping for dominance. By that reasoning, you’d have to say that the Civil Rights movement was about black people wanting to dominate white people. Today, all of us recognize that for the unfair, bigoted scare tactic that it was, so why is it okay to make the same argument about feminism?
And as far as competition and the destruction of harmony…do you know where I learned to roll my eyes at men, bash husbands behind their backs, and believe that “Men are from Mars; women are from Venus?” From pop culture and, ironically, watching other Christian women. In fact, the women I’ve known who were the most prone to hold bitterness against men, and to struggle with feelings of competition toward their boyfriend or husband, were women who were farther along the spectrum of anti-feminism.
It was feminism that helped me see the destructiveness of such behavior. Feminism helped me see the harmony that can exist between the sexes, and has trained me out of the eye-rolling and husband-bashing that women are expected to engage in. Other feminists are often the first to join me in complaining about commercials and shows that make dads look stupid and inadequate; they’re often the first to insist that rape culture degrades the character of men, too. And let’s not forget that plenty of happy, confident, well-adjusted men are feminists and don’t feel threatened by it.
Again, I came to realize that these harmonious attitudes between the genders were God’s intention, and soon saw how it lined up with Biblical truth (Galatians 3:28, anyone? Ephesians 5:21? Or how about Eve being an “ezer kenegdo”?) But the rhetoric of feminism assisted me in seeing the truth that was already there, and gives me language to explain myself when pop culture (and yes, church and complementarian culture) wants to re-introduce elements of competition.
There are also a lot of hot-button phrases mentioned in the article, such as wedges being driven between husband and wife, and chasms being opened between women and their children. Actually, I’ve seen feminist living arrangements close the chasm between moms and babes, as child-rearing duties are shared equally by the dad, allowing the mom to be less overwhelmed and frustrated and more able to enjoy her kids. Most of the feminists I know have close, happy relationships with their spouse. In my experience, marital troubles come just as easily to people who don’t identify as feminist as those who do.
I’m getting a little exhausted, so I think I have to stop. I hope I’ve made my point by now. This hung so heavy on my mind last night that I started working on it first thing this morning. Then my computer installed automatic updates, shutting Word down suddenly and losing everything, but my husband found the lost file for me over his lunch. Go team! Just another example of the bitter, competitive, selfish marriage partners that feminism produces, I tell ya.
The bottom line, though, is that no one must identify as a feminist. I really, truly respect people who are uncomfortable with the term, including other egalitarians. But if you’re going to attempt to convince everyone else that they should be uncomfortable too, you need to fight fair and have good reasoning behind you.
Consider these two feminist posts part of my 40 Days of Easter Project. Because really, I can’t think of a better way to have spent these hours of the last two days than writing about a topic that makes me so passionate. I am truly a lucky person!

  17 comments for “Christian Feminism: Friend or Foe? Part 2

  1. April 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I absolutely loved this post! Thank you for so logically (and yet still comically) addressing the concerns brought up by Walsh’s post!

  2. April 23, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Kate, I don’t know whether I’m more flattered by being logical or comical, as both were my intent. Thank you. And I’m so glad you wrote that article about feminism that I referenced in the last post, because I think that laid the groundwork for a lot of my thinking when I read Walsh’s points.

  3. April 23, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I love that you are passionate about this topic and I love reading your arguments. I’m an only and have always consider myself a strong, able, independent woman, but it wasn’t until I began reading your thoughts on the topic of feminism a couple of years ago (or so) that I realized I held the same views as you… I just hadn’t taken the opportunity to fully develop the idea in my own mind. Truth be told I think there are a lot of Christian women who probably agree, but the word feminism itself scares them away from identifying that way, and so also from thinking very deeply about it… but I think a great bulk of them (at least the one I know) already live life as though it is their belief. I just think they key itself is always submission to Christ and sensitivity to what he desires of us in our relationship with Him.

  4. April 23, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Very true! In fact, a lot of Christian egalitarians have questioned the “feminist” label precisely because, as you say, the word can tend to scare people away from ideas that they might otherwise agree with. A lot of people have rejected the label due to that reasoning, and I have to say, I can completely understand their concern. That’s why I try not to be too harsh on saying that people “should” accept this label if they believe in equality.

    Thanks for your kind words. And I second “the key itself is always submission to Christ and sensitivity to what he desire of us.”

  5. April 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you Rachel for these two very insightful posts. There were so many great points for me to quote you on that I could not decide – so sharing the lot!

  6. April 24, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Thank you! Share away. Bless you for being someone else who cares enough to participate in spreading the word about the issues.

  7. April 24, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Lol! I laughed and laughed at the Scarecrow line! And the examples you gave on the distortion of certain words! Great job as always; I’m glad I was able to save this 😀

  8. April 24, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Thank you, my sweet! 🙂

  9. April 25, 2014 at 9:40 am

    This is absolutely what I would say in response to that vitrol I encountered in Wallace’s article, if I hadn’t been too mad and gobsmacked to say something articulate. I’m sharing this!

  10. April 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I suffered high levels of stress while I was writing this and referring back to his article.

  11. April 25, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Brava! Matt Walsh…you may not, but I have very little use for him. He is a sophist–he uses rhetoric to push people’s buttons, but commits fallacies at every turn. There’s very little substance there.
    Now I’m off to travel that snakey highway… 🙂

  12. April 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Yeah, that’s kind of why I didn’t want to engage HIM or the specifics of the article TOO much, only the places where his rage overlapped with very common arguments that everyone hears.

  13. Anonymous
    April 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I am a very liberal, very outspoken feminist and a Christian, and yes I am pro-choice at all points for all people. I have read many, many liberal blogs and have some very close liberal friends who are deeply feminist and pro-choice. My take and my standing as a feminist is that all individuals (women, men, cis women and trans women and men, gay, lesbian, and bisexual) have equal rights to their bodies, equal pay, equal space to move, be, and not be ridiculed or oppressed in any way. This includes aspects of patriarchy, and support politically for pro-choice, also gay marraige. These are all aspects of modern feminism, but feminism in the modern sense is not linked to any of these by force. Online it is really a community of individuals who are deeply philosophical about differing aspects but are a very eclectic community. Also, our support of abortion politically does not mean personally. We also usually support initiatives politically which make abortion less likely to occur (SNAP, welfare, food stamps, paid maternity and paternity) but we do see the right to one’s body as being fundamental. I do not see my feminist views as being incongrous at all with being a Christian and there are Christian as well as pagan and atheist feminists. On a personal note, I was talked out of an abortion myself by a friend who is very liberal, feminist, and pro-choice, as well as atheist or pagan (I can’t remember which). So no to answer your question, it is not at all an exclusive community, but it is important in a political sense and most feminists are pro-choice….
    Alyson Boe-Davenport

  14. April 26, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Aly! I’m so glad to see you on my blog. We meet again, even if it’s just in cyber space! 😉

    Thank you so much for adding your thoughts to this. Also, thanks for bringing up the point that feminists’ political stance on abortion does not always reflect their “personal” belief about the moral rightness or wrongness of it. That’s an aspect of the conversation that I feel is often overlooked. And you are probably right (at least from what I’ve seen) that, while some feminists identify as pro-life, probably the majority of people who identify with the feminist label would also call themselves pro choice.

    The way I chose to approach the subject in this post was based on the fact that Matt Walsh was claiming it was somehow impossible to be feminist and pro-life (as if the police are going to come to your house and say “Excuse me, ma’am, but we see you’ve adopted two labels that are illegal to hold simultaneously”) and that he was also claiming that the feminist movement was somehow all “about” abortion. In trying to address those particular accusations, I wasn’t able to get anywhere near a proper evaluation of the feminism/pro-choice subject.

    THE BEST thing I’ve ever seen on the collision of faith and beliefs about abortion, can actually be found here: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/why-progressive-christians-should-care-about-abortion-gosnell

  15. April 29, 2014 at 1:56 am

    Outstanding article. I didn’t read the original post to which you are responding, but I got the gist.

    Recently I was at a conference where a very lucid and articulate woman stated as part of her talk, that feminists are all very different and with different perspectives. The only single opinion that ALL feminists must hold is pro-choice.

    It just wasn’t the place to stand and disagree, particularly because it wasn’t about abortion but about equality in employment etc., but it did make me realise that even among the most intelligent and clear thinking, there can still be absolute prejudices which operate clearly as flaws in that person’s thinking.

    I am a Christian and am absolutely pro-life, and I have also become/come to realise I’m a feminist and am absolutely determined that gender equality should become the norm in my lifetime (and I’m getting old so that’s a miracle to start with).

    I’m filing this post; it’s outstanding. Thanks.

  16. April 29, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Thank you Bev!

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