A little while ago I got interviewed by a Christian magazine about being a Christian and a feminist. The article didn’t end up going to print but they gave me permission to put my answers up here. So here’s the interview in its raw form.
How would you define feminism?
Feminism is tricky to define because it’s an evolving movement. It’s changed and grown since its advent in the late nineteenth century (some analysts would identify four ‘waves’) and it’s never had one single leader (like, say, Marxism). The loose affiliation of people who identify as feminists has to do with the notion that women should be afforded the same rights and opportunities to flourish as men. Within that, there’s great breadth and diversity.
Emma Watson said during her UN speech, “too often feminism has become synonymous with man-hating”. Do you agree?
That’s certainly an idea that I come across frequently, and I think it’s a shame because it’s based on a caricature of feminism. Yes, there are extreme feminists, but they are by no means representative of all feminists. Today what many feminists are talking about is how men and women can work together, because that’s good for everyone.
Why do you think feminism has been perceived this way?
As with many social movements, it’s often easier to criticise a straw (wo)man than to really engage it, or to take one experience with one feminist and universalise it. Many people do the same thing with Christians, to the great frustration of the rest of us who want to protest that the stereotypes are inaccurate, or that the extremists don’t represent all of us!
Do you think feminist beliefs have a place in the Christian community? What parts do you think fit well with Christian belief?
Yes, certainly. Many early feminists were motivated by their Christian beliefs; the notion that feminism is something alien to Christian thought has things backwards. One of the striking things about Genesis 1-2, when read against its Ancient Near Eastern context, is the place given to the creation of the woman. Eve is created pre-Fall and charged together with Adam with the mandate to rule and fill the earth. Only then is creation said to be ‘very good’. The place given to the woman in Genesis 1-2 upends the status quo of the time, in a way that would have challenged men’s notions of their own superiority. This idea of the flourishing of women is intrinsic to both feminism and the Bible’s view of humanity.
Of the things that overlap (or fit well together), is there anything that feminists advocate for in a more successful and coherent way than Christians do?
Feminists are often much better than Christians at identifying the way that structures work in our society. Many Christian men would say, ‘I’ve always treated women well’, and they’d be absolutely right, but it’s possible that our society as a whole is set up in a way that disadvantages women. Feminism can help alert us to where sin exists on a corporate or structural level.
Can you think of anything in feminist thought that doesn’t match up with Christian faith?
Reproductive rights is the obvious candidate here, and feminists have long been outspoken about ‘a woman’s right to choose’. However, there’s some really interesting discussion happening among feminists at the moment about the effect of miscarriage and stillbirth on women, and that’s playing into ideas around abortion as well, so even within the abortion discussion there is significant common ground for conversation about the sanctity of life.
Do you think it’s possible to be a Christian and a feminist?
Yes, and for the record, so do feminists! Feminism as a movement recognises the ‘intersections’ of our lives, that everything is in tension with everything else, so feminists are allowed to be other things as well. Feminism enriches my Christianity and my Christianity informs my feminism.
If these things were ever in tension, how would you make a decision?
I see myself as a participant in feminism. In that sense, feminism is something I contribute to as a Christian. That kind of mindset takes me away from accepting or denying feminism wholesale, and towards being part of a conversation, a dialogue with myself and with the wider community.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.