Femmy-Mentum: Why I am a Feminist 3/3

I am a feminist because I believe in Gender Equality.

Many of my friends, some of whom read this blog, have a few of feminism as a movement for Woman-supremecy.  That we won’t stop until men are smashed and women are on top.  This isn’t true of me, and actually it isn’t true of feminism.  What I do want is gender equality.  I am sick and tired of society treating women differently, having different expectations of them, of them being forced to modify their behavior to suit men’s agenda.

These posts aren’t supposed to be long, but at the same time I feel the need to establish a strong case that women and men are treated unequally otherwise arguing that I am a feminist for the sake of gender equality is futile.  So I will link you to this privilege checklist:

http://sap.mit.edu/content/pdf/male_privilege.pdf

I believe that this privilege, the privilege in which I share, is unjust and it demeans the God-given personhood of women and that feminism is the best way of smashing it.  (yes, that is something I believe we should smash).  And that once we have overcome this male-privilege then we will see greater gender equality.

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Femmy-mentum: Why I am a feminist 2/3

I am a feminist because God has changed me to be so.

As a rule of thumb I am not particularly charismatic in my spirituality and I am generally sceptical of people who appeal to personal experience as a justification, therefore it is with some disbelief that I submit this reason for my feminist convictions, and I suppose, I offer it actually as one interpretation of an event.

Conveniently it ties with with Momentum, in that it occurred at the teenage version; Soul Survivor. After a talk on loving what God loves and serving him, we were invited to pray that “God would break our hearts for what breaks his”. I think my young self expected me to develop a passion for evangelism and biblical teaching in some previously un-reached tribe. He didn’t. At that point I would not be able to describe myself as a feminist. I barely supported a feminist agenda, and my attitude to women’s liberation did not change. But gradually over time my attitude shifted, I found myself agreeing more and more with elements of feminist agendas, then I changed a bit more and here I am. I am a feminist, I cannot hide from that title, and instead I actually use it unashamedly. The goals that we pursue and the injustices we challenge set my heart ablaze in a way that I was expecting it to respond to tribal evangelism. It burns with passion for the cause, and anger at the injustices.

And I am left with a question, a niggling, inescapable question. It isn’t one that I totally have an answer to, but that I am enjoying sitting with. What if, perhaps, this is an answer to prayer? What if, somehow, what I feel when I get all feminist, is my heart breaking in the way that God’s does?

Perhaps, I am a feminist, because God has made me so.

 

Femmy-Mentum Why I am a feminist 1/3

I am a feminist because God values women but the world doesn’t.

Throughout the Christian Scriptures there is a bias for protecting and empowering the marginalised. I cannot escape that there are a number of misogynistic passages in the bible too, but I believe the whole testimony of scripture is one that seeks to challenge marginalisation and liberate from oppression. Women are looked down on, judged, they are blamed for the way that men act around them, they are not given the equality or dignity that they deserve. Men children of God continue to hold onto the reigns of power, to demonise women, to hinder them, to be treated better than the treat women children of God. This isn’t right, this is not fair. I genuinely believe that women in the UK and across the world are being oppressed by patriarchy. I believe that this flies in the face of the Gospel and should anger all who wish to follow God. I also believe feminism is the best tool we have for smashing patriarchy and inequality. Feminism is the best way of fighting for a better, fairer world that gives people equal value, irrespective of their gender, and I believe to long for those things is to be in tune with God’s redemptive scheme for the world.

I am a feminist because God wishes to end women’s oppression.

Next week: Why I am a feminist 2/3

If there isn’t a happy ending … don’t preach one

[Warning: This post goes on to mention violence against women]

The Christian Canon is wide-ranging and deep-reaching.  It is testimony to, as well as being born out of, pretty much the whole spectrum of human experience.  Sometimes preachers like to remind us of this; in a evangelistic talk we are told we can always find a bit of the bible we can relate to and it’s relevance is commended to us on this basis.  From the pulpit also.  We are reminded the bible wasn’t just written by saints; the “go to” passage for this is Psalm 51 where we hear David confess to God of his sinfulness with Bathsheba.

But alongside these claims (and I believe them to be valid) our actions also sometimes speak differently.  Sometimes the pulpit masks, avoids, glosses over, down-right polishes up some of the very human bits of the bible.  Recently I experienced a sermon given on the story of Ruth which highlights the point.  Ruth’s story became idyllic, fantastical, almost like a fairy-tale as she went from destitute to secure, all because of her prince-charming and God’s provision.  I am sure most people at the service left with a warm glow in their hearts. … But I didn’t.

Because I saw through the fairy-tale.  Alongside the preacher’s gloss of the story I also dipped into my translation’s account, and I become more and more discomforted.  I didn’t read a story of God’s provision, or the joys of finding “Mr. Right”.  I found a story of patriarchy and oppression.  I met a group of women who didn’t have their own standing in society, and who were dependent on men for their survival.

Ruth’s story occurred in a viciously patriarchal society, I have to accept that, and it would be irresponsible of the preacher to pretend otherwise just as to gloss over the nasty bits coming up is irresponsible.  I also have to accept that we can’t preach about how God values women and equal and independent people each time a bible passage portrays the patriarchies of the past, although I think it is sometimes helpful to get close to that.

I do, however, struggle with twisting Ruth into a means of saying “don’t all you women just wish you could be like Ruth and find a nice Boaz who will care for you and provide for you”.  The angry feminist within me sees that far too much like perpetuate bad stereotypes about gender and gender-roles.  I fail to see how the Church will nurture Deborahs if we emphasise how women should be Ruths looking for their Boaz.  But then within the Church I know some women who are called to be like Deborah and  find that empowering and other women who are just as equally and validly called and empowered by finding a partner.  There are some women who serve God in both images of womanhood.  I believe God made and celebrates that diversity.  So whilst the “true-love” theme isn’t the one that I would take, and whilst it did nothing for me, I am prepared to mutter quietly to myself about that one.

But there is more in this “happily-ever-after” and this is what really gets me angry, not just for myself but for other people.

“And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” Ruth 2:22 ESV)

Things are far worse than gender-roles now.  One of the key figures in this biblical narrative has to stick to Boaz’s field and with the other women because if she doesn’t she might be assaulted by the men.  The bible covers a full spectrum of human experience.  Even violence against women.  And this one utterly horrifying verse also reminds us that oppression of women isn’t just something of the past; it isn’t just that Ruth couldn’t sustain herself without a man, it is that she fears for her safety.  In the UK women can now have jobs and earn money, they can have their own bank accounts, they can take out their own mortgages and own their own houses.  (All rights they had to fight to win.  They are still not at full equality yet) but they are also being told to walk home from town in groups and have to plan which route will keep them on well lit, populated streets.  Some things have progressed but some things still haven’t.  There is not much difference between Naomi’s instructions to Ruth, and the safety guidelines given to women today.

But so often that verse is shot over, not mentioned, glossed over, omitted.  Which is an irresponsible way of dealing with a biblical text, and also a pastorally devastating decision. We have known for a little while now there are more women in our pews than men.

And at the same time, in 2007 stats from the Home Office showed tha, “Violence against women has affected almost 1 in 2 women in the UK”¹.  We have churches predominantly full of women, and just shy of half of women have experienced violence against them.  That means that it is statistically likely there are women hearing sermons on Ruth (and other passages) whose lives relate directly to her experience as portrayed in v.22 and yet so many preachers continue to avoid this subject. Apparently it is OK for the bible to relate to us when we give in to temptation, or when we get angry, when we have doubts with our faith etc.  I suppose the bible is allowed to relate to us when we are mourning the death of loved ones.  Bible verses flow a plenty when we’re unsure about the future, or are having a rough time, but if you’re a victim of violence against women, then no, the message of the story is that we should all hope to find lovely husbands like Boaz.
This angers me.  I’m OK with not ranting too loudly about gender-stereotypes and a massive emphasis on finding Mr (Boaz) Right, but this is different, this is a whole different ball game.  This is something I’m prepared to get angry about because in omitting talk about this very real human experience the Church alienates itself from people it should be caring for and becomes complicit in a society where “More people would call the police if someone was mistreating their dog than if someone was mistreating their partner.”² By neglecting to preach of these painful verses, by remaining silent on this issue which strips women of the dignity and worth that God gave them we dishonour the creator-shepherd who loves them and we dishonour those whom we are charged to love.
[1] Coleman, K., Jansson, K., Kaiza, P., Reed, E., (2007) Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/2006. Home Office, Editor. 
[2](pg 15) ICM (2003) Hitting Home BBC Domestic Violence Survey

A belated Mothering Sunday Post

Fair warning: This post sounds very progressive and very feminist.  It may well make a load of people uncomfortable, but I’m OK with that.  Feel free to tell me the numerous ways you struggle with it in the comments.

In my last post I said I wanted to blog the feast days or high points in the church year.  I was going to write one of my longer “this is what I think and why” posts about mothering sunday, but it just wasn’t forming, so instead I’m going to try something different.  I’m going to write a prayerful poem on the theme and then possibly write a few lines after it.  This is a bit different, but let’s give it a go.

Divine Mother,
Who gave birth to this world,
whose words give life, like whispers of love.
and who tends and cares for me,
draw me close to your self, wrap your arms of love around me
Arms which, once, long ago, in a place quite far from me here, were pierced,
Let me suckle at your bosom,
taking in living water,
being nourished by the milk that is your word,
let me feast on you, be nourished by you.
Help me to grow and develop as a disciple in the same way a child does in a womb,
Amen.

And a final note.  I am fortunate enough to have a super mum and in so many ways she has shown me Christ, revealed him and embodied him.  I am very grateful to her for the part she’s played in the development of my faith.