Christianity has a difficult relationship with secular feminism.
Feminists see a danger in a religion that privileges the story of a patriarchal line and a male God. They ask how such a Christianity can be good for women. Christians blast feminism for the supposed disdain of vulnerable human life of its pro-choice stance. They argue that what might look good at first is actually deeply damaging to women.
Readers of this blog will know that I think both approaches are caricatures and failures to interact with the other party fairly. It’s always easier to burn a straw woman than to humbly learn from a real person. I’m frustrated, for example, to see feminists condemned as joyfully pro-divorce or selfishly pursuing their own rights. But that doesn’t mean that I think the Christian story isn’t more compelling than feminism. In fact, I blogged recently on my frustration when Christianity isn’t well articulated in contrast to feminism.
That’s why I loved Justine Toh’s approach in Feminism struggling beneath the burden of beauty on the abc’s religion and ethics blog. Toh explains the enslavement of women to the ideal of beauty, the ‘third shift’ as Naomi Wolf called it, a third obligation after paid work and household duties. She identifies feminism as the ‘obvious answer’ and briefly celebrates its accomplishments. But then she moves on to ask if Jesus has anything to offer into the mix. She picks up on Jesus’ interaction with Martha to illustrate his care for her irrespective of her productiveness or fulfillment of a particular role. It’s an outstanding article, well worth the read.
To use a favourite Christian cliche, I’d say Toh’s approach is that of a gentle and quiet spirit. She’s not quarrelsome or insecure. She doesn’t perceive herself as under threat by feminism. That allows her not only to be generous to feminism but to cut to the heart of the issue. She argues, not about the role women should or should not occupy, but who Jesus is and how he speaks about the worth and value of women. Without lambasting the feminist competitor, she presents a captivating Jesus, who is determined to uphold the dignity of women. Christians need more of this sort of positivity and confidence as we interact with secular feminist ideas.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.