Tuesday, June 19, 2012

on being a kind-of feminist.


I went away to Christian college and came back a feminist.

Since a lot of people go away to Christian college for the primary purpose of finding and securing a spouse -- and I say this not based on statistics but on personal experience, i.e., the number of "MRS degree" jokes I heard prior to my freshman year -- I'm sure the results of my own education are somewhat surprising. In fact, I'm afraid my own university's administrators might shake their heads in shame were I ever to discuss this with them in person. That's unfortunate, because really? They should be thrilled.

The world needs more Christian feminists.

Here's what I mean.

We need to raise our girls to be strong, independent, and secure. We need to raise our girls to know marriage, even when it is excellent and good, is not an answer; it's an option. We need to raise our girls to know their purpose and their passion isn't dependent upon another person; it's within themselves and with the Spirit residing there. We need to raise our girls that way, so one day we will have confident and compassionate women working and leading right alongside men: in the home, in the church, in the workplace.

That's not sacreligious, by the way. I fully believe -- despite the sermons I've heard and the countless number of times I've been told, jokingly, to get in the kitchen where I belong -- it's part of a Creator's divine purpose for us all.

Last week, in an episode of The Conversation (I fear perpetuating my womanly stereotype if I confess the show runs on Lifetime, but there you go), interviewer Amanda de Cadenet asked New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand if she was able to "hold on" to her femininity in a male-driven field. Her response was perfection.

"I think strength is also being feminine. And I think being tough is also being feminine. And being determined and never giving up are all feminine qualities. Sometimes we don't associate that way, but I really believe that's the essence of a true woman. Think of any woman who's defending her children or protecting her family. You've never met a fiercer fighter in your life. Women have all those qualities. Women have all those skills."

Despite the examples we have in Scripture of bold, brave, tough, confident, merciful, graceful, strong women, we've somehow failed to recognize that all of those qualities are both feminine and masculine. They are God-like qualities, qualities we've been given as the created in the image of Creator.

I'm afraid we've taken I Peter 3:4 out of context, that we've forgotten a "quiet and gentle spirit" can look very differently in a variety of personalities and people. We've taught submission in all the wrong ways. The Proverbs 31 woman is not one size fits all, and honestly? Just a glance at that passage could prove, I think, that she herself -- though a myth, a description -- is a kind of feminist, fiercely devoted to her Lord, her family, and her craft.

As I studied the great books in college, I was drawn to these various portrayals of women, to the teachings of G.K. Chesterton, to the idea that woman in the home is a strong and powerful place to be. (Chesterton once wrote, "How can it be a large career to tell other people about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.")

While I still agree with Chesteron, I've also grown a little bit, and I've met enough women and mothers to know: Not every woman's path is going to look the same. Not every woman is going to have children or choose to stay home with them full-time. (Nor, it should be noted, does every woman even have that option.) Not every woman is called to children's ministry or to cooking in the community kitchen. Some women are teachers and leaders; some women are loud and extroverted; others are content playing their roles behind the scenes.

I believe our biggest weakness we have as women is each other. We pass judgments, and we are condescending, and we turn our noses up because so-and-so stays home or so-and-so works full-time. We roll our eyes when someone gets married too young and whisper among ourselves when someone stays single too long.

It's absurd, and it's a message we're passing down to our daughters, to our grandaughters.

You know what else?

All of this takes a toll on men, too.

In her book The Feminine Mistake, Leslie Bennetts argues on behalf of a woman's financial independence. I have yet to read the book, and I'm fairly certain I wouldn't agree with it entirely, but I appreciate what Bennetts said in a recent interview.

"We have to raise them [our daughters] to understand they have to take full responsibility for their own lives. It's great if you meet Mr. Right, no matter what age you are. But it is not the answer to anything. You have to figure out who you are and what you want to do, what kind of contribution you want to make in the world, and how you're going to support yourself, no matter what happens."

Regardless of how you feel about working in or outside the home, regardless of where you stand on debates of marriage or singlehood or dating, surely you understand, especially if you are a believer: Christian girls aren't being taught these truths. Instead, marriage is frequently given as the answer to questions about loneliness, sex, ambition, and purpose. We teach our girls how to date and how to dress modestly, all the time not with them, but with boys, in mind. We never really teach our girls what they can be when they grow up or what they can do in Christ's body. (I'm afraid, more often than not, our lessons are on what we cannot do.) Later, we chat sympathetically and encourage single friends to date online or to join singles' groups, failing to remind them that God is pleased with them as they are.

I am married, and I married young, but I know: When we preach marriage and spouse as the answer, we're doing our men and ourselves a disservice.

We are setting our marriages up for failure, because marriages aren't perfect, and you can still be lonely and sinful and sad and passionless in marriage. I'd wager to say this tendency to treat marriage as a bandaid results in a divorce rate that is equal to or higher than marriages outside Christianity.

As a teenager, I had visions of one day growing up and moving to New York City and becoming a journalist. Because of my parents' wonderful example, I also fully anticipated marrying someone someday. I did not, though, believe that day would come so quickly. I did not picture marrying my best friend when I was 22, and I've no doubt other feminists would cringe at the decision I made to marry so young. Perhaps they would argue I gave up my dreams in favor of something more traditional, that I let a man dictate what I was going to do with my life.

I don't believe feminism means a lack of compromise. (Humanity requires compromise.) I don't believe it means getting your way all of the time. I don't believe it means belittling men under the guise of our own greatness. I also refuse to believe that feminism has anything to do with when you get married or what you do for a living. I do believe it has to do with why.

Why did I get married? Why do I choose to work outside the home? If I choose one day to work inside the home, why will I do that? Why do I feel called, and will I do something with that calling?

The answers to those questions, I think, reach to the heart of what I believe is true feminism.

I could argue all day long about women's roles in the home and in the church, and why I believe the way I do about leadership and ambition and femininity.

Instead, though, I think it's far more important to focus on why we raise little girls who think becoming a princess has to do with marrying a prince. It's far more important, to me, that we understand that strength and integrity and boldness and security and sureness of spirit and mind are not masculine, but human, qualities, and that we teach that truth to the women we love.

If we could do that, I believe society would notice a difference. I believe churches would change and grow in staggering numbers. I believe workplaces would be happier, and women of any age would be far more content and comfortable in their decisions and in their skin.

That's why I'm a feminist, and it's why I hope I'll raise a little girl who's a feminist one day too.

image by Nick Scott

16 comments:

brie. said...

me too! oh you've just voiced such a thought of mine. the thing about feminism is that it's supposed to give us choice. it's the same with faith - we choose christ, and we choose to live in obedience. you can obey god and be a feminist (and be married, and stay home with the children, if you are so called).

for me the questions are: am i obedient and am i serving?

thanks.

Shannalee said...

I like this. I too went to Christian college and came back with much different views than what they (or I) had expected. Reading parts of your post made me want to cheer: marriage is not the only purpose for women! a quiet spirit doesn't mean weak! in fact, trusting God in the way that passage describes Sarah's doing is the opposite of weak: it is a firm and steady grasp on what one believes to be true and is praying to believe better.

Kristin said...

Preach it sistah! Wow. Such needed, strong words. I agree...strength IS feminine for sure! I married young, am self employed, and have no children by choice. And I feel societies pressures and frowns of disapproval on a daily basis. But this post was a wonderful breath of fresh air. Thanks Annie!

Leslie said...

I am so, so glad that you wrote this. (Kudos for being brave and bold in your writing!) I cringe when I sometimes hear sweet, kind-hearted church folks that I really respect make a blanket statement about feminism being to blame for all societal ills. I never know what to say, because my perspective is different and still growing really, so I just don't say anything. But this is what I want to say: I am THANKFUL for the feminists who came before me! Because frankly, I am so thankful to have received equal treatment in school, sports, college, and my workplace! Because of those opportunities, I personally am better equipped to serve the Kingdom of God, and I have spaces to use my gifts! Spaces that previously did not exist. And this is no small thing.
Also, your thoughts here on what Christian girls get taught about marriage are spot-on. I wish I would have been taught half as much about how to do daily work purposefully and well, as I was taught about relationships marriage.
I vote that you write on things like this more often. Again, great job.

Cheryl said...

Annie, when I read this, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Wise words, and words that need to be repeated often. Girls (and women) in the church need to hear this.

Anonymous said...

You are a person that others aspire to be. The term feminist often brings a negative reaction to many peoples mind. Defined as a person who advocates equality for women with regards to rights, (politically, socially and economically with their male counterparts)would more likely create less reaction.
I have two daughters that I count as wonderful. It is my wish for them fully accomplish what God has in mind for them. They both can lead, be strong, and support in such a way as to bring glory to the One who deserves all glory.

UR

suzannah | the smitten word said...

brava, annie. this is thoughtful, and i love how you've cast strength as human qualities--every bit as feminine as masculine.

to anonymous/UR, feminism IS equality for women. we embrace the term because it is ours and the legacy rich. misogynistic talking heads and fearful christian culture warrior do not get to define our terms.

to raising feminist sons and daughters!

Erin said...

Absolutely!
And it works the other way, too: some people who don't call themselves feminists don't understand what it is, but some people who DO call themselves feminists also don't understand what it is. I went to a very "feminist" college. This was fantastic in some ways, but the fact that I planned to get married after I graduated was scoffed out.
Feminism is about freedom and choice, not about having your choices dictated and/or judged.
I've actually been thinking about these issues a lot recently, and I think you might have inspired a blog post. ;)

Rachael L. Anderson said...

Love this article. Especially the part about divorce.

Cara said...

Incredible. So incredible. I am just learning some of this first-hand in my own life, after getting married at the ripe young age of 22 also. God is good and faithful in His teachings, and this is so convicting. I love this Annie. I love this. Thank you.

Brooke said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic. I agree that more focus needs to be made on the strength and potential of an individual woman. That said, I also strongly believe that ultimately, we were created to complete each other; that a man can complete a women and that a woman can complete a man. We must be confident as individuals so that we can be true to our purpose (the "why" you mentioned). Choice is key and imperative. Nicely said. Thank you.

Whitney said...

First of all, I haven't commented on your blog before, so hi. Ha, second of all, I so feel you on this one. I went to a small Christian college in Oklahoma and came out a quasi-feminist (the term is so loaded these days, but it's the best we've got). It's sad really because of how much it seems there is this belief (in the Christian subculture, at least) that until you are married, you are just buying your time or only living part of a life. Like what you do when you are not yet married doesn't really count. That raises terrible expectations, as you mentioned, and just incomplete women. Anyway, amen to what you said, sister.

Emily said...

I absolutely love this post. I have been so anxious to join a church the past few years because my I fear the traditional role some church members may place me in (i.e. the kitchen). Your post is a breath of fresh air and a reminder to all Christians that our responsibility is not to label and judge, but to love one another. Yes, I am a married woman who enjoys cooking. But if you think that's all I can do, you are missing all the other gifts God has blessed me with.

Thanks again for the wonderful encouragement.

Annie said...

i LOVE this, Annie. you put it far more eloquently than i could have. this is beautiful. & i love that first sentence: "i went away to christian college and came back a feminist." it made me laugh.

chrislie said...

Hi, your blog really touches me, have been reading it for a while... Just wanted you to know about a website i started ReadYourBiblesChurch.com... It's a place for Bible study guides.. I also put a forum in that can be viewed from a mobile device.. I couldn't find where to contact you privately so I'm commenting, hope that is okay. :) God Bless! Jenn.

Rachel said...

I went to an extremely pro-feminist Christian college....pro-feminist to the point of consistently mocking MRS. degrees, which I didn't understand. I got my MRS. degree at 19 and B.A. at 20 and I'm grateful for the opportunity to do both. I don't understand the feminism that looks down at girls like me who chose to get married young (hey, I got to live with my best friend while I was in college, isn't that what most people want to do?).
I don't understand feminists that go so far as to disparage men constantly and say that because men and women are equal we must therefore be the same and do the same.
However, I do think that if I wasn't so bothered by the extreme feminism of my college, I would call myself a feminist too. I've seen so much of the oppression of women in Islam, and in some ways the Church isn't too far behind, with their constant emphasis that boys can't help where they look but girls must be modest, and the many churches that allow women to do all the service work but won't allow them to take leadership positions in the church, regardless of their qualifications and gifts.

I could go out and get a job. I have the skills and the education. However, because I'm married and my husband makes a decent income, he gives me the ability to stay home and pursue my dream of freelance writing--which does not make a livable income.

The this is, whether you're a woman or a man or single or married--that doesn't have anything to do with your purpose in life. Your purpose is found in God, in serving him and obeying Him in whatever way he calls you to.