I noted in the comments of this post recently that Christians can unfairly interact with a caricature of feminism. I get annoyed when people speak about the Christian faith in unsympathetic or un-nuanced terms so I think it’s important to interact generously with others, to hear how they define themselves. In that spirit, let me point you to this article (language warning) by the very funny Lindy West. It’s a pretty neat summary of feminism and its different forms over the years.
I think there are considerable resources within Christianity for the feminist. The overwhelming dignity and value that the Genesis creation story assigns to women is unique in ancient creation accounts; likewise, there’s very little room in a passage like Eph 5 for men to assert their dominance over women; 1 Cor 7 is an outstanding example of mutuality in marriage. Here, I’d like to consider Lindy’s definition of Third Wave feminism (if it exists!) here.
Third-wave feminism is the idea that women can and should define their own womanhood… Just follow your instincts and keep calling people on their shit.
At first, this definition appears distinctly anti-Christian. It has little room for sin or the idea that our understanding of gender might be distorted. It also essentially rejects God as knowing what’s best for us – I rule my own life and live my own way. However, I think there’s room for bridge building here.
First, this definition allows room for there to be difference between men and women. The idea that feminism is about making women like men is shown to be false here. The point is to discover how to be a woman, in all the femininity and complexity that that entails.
Second, this definition is all about choice, which opens up the discussion to include many different ways of being a woman. You may disagree with others’ way of doing that but at the very least, this creates room for your model of femininity, even if it’s ‘traditional’ or ‘Christian’.
Third, while there’s a sense in which, as Christians, we want God to define our womanhood, there’s also a sense in which we choose to embrace this way of living. This language can open up helpful exchange with feminism. I am not a slave to a patriarchal religion; I am a woman, treasured by God, who finds empowerment in that relationship and all that flows from it. While there’s plenty of language about being captive to Christ in the Bible, there’s also heaps about being set free from sin and discovering the richness of life lived God’s way.
Christianity and feminism have profoundly different starting places. Feminism starts with humans; Christianity starts with God. But that doesn’t have to make our discussions antagonistic. Let me make an invitation to you if you’re a Christian. Take a moment to consider how you might describe a Christian view of gender in feminist language. That’s not a capitulation to feminism: it’s a chance to recognise the dignity of women and of feminists, to understand how their worldview operates. And it may just make our discussions a little more fruitful.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.