I’m a Feminist.
Considering I am a pro-life, anti-contraception, mantilla-wearing, submission-preaching, chivalry-loving woman, this might be something of surprise.
But today, I want to share the first reason (of at least two, maybe three reasons) why I am a feminist.
Because I’m not a hypocrite.
When I first became Christian, I had something of a backlash against feminism. And with good reason! Why would I want anything to do with a movement that was founded on atheistic existential philosophy like de Beauvoir’s, that promoted abortion and promiscuity as the solution to all women’s problem and that just seemed to hate men? (Who, let’s be honest, can be just marvelous!)
No thank you!
But why did I have such a negative view of feminism? To see that, we have to take a brief tour of feminism.
First wave feminism (1880s-1920s) focused on key legal issues, particularly the right to own property and the right to vote. This is the age of the Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, of suffragettes chaining themselves to railings, and of women pointing out, ever so politely, that they had as much right to a say in how things were run as men.
Second wave feminism (1960s-1980s) had a broader range and was concerned with workplace equality, reproductive “rights”, social inequalities, sexism, and gender discrimination. This wave brought abortion, contraception, and divorce but it also brought equal pay (and then equal pay for equal work), decent education, and the craaaazy notion that sexism is unacceptable.
And then we come to now and third wave feminism (1990s – present). At the beginning of 1990s, Feminists had largely achieved it’s legal goals for women – at least the ones that were easily measurable like votes, pay and discrimination. Still, problems remained. So what’s a feminist to do?
Mainly, feminists turn in on themselves and to the female body as a site of oppression. Rather than being focused on the polling booth or the office cubicle, third wave feminism is focused on the body.
And enter raunch culture and the idea that women should “express” their sexuality, “embrace” their inner slut and maybe even take up pole-dancing for exercise. Take
Miley Cyrus any female pop star. Many feminists are adamant they are just expressing their sexuality how they wants to and anyone who says otherwise is slut shaming and buying into our culture’s double standards about female sexuality.
Older feminists, of the Second Wave, tend to disagree (Exhibit A: Sinead O’Connor) But younger feminists, more influenced by postmodern relativism, are unwilling to make that call. If she’s feeling empowered, who are we to say she isn’t? For them, it’s all about choice.
From an orthodox Christian perspective, third wave feminism is deeply troubling. The notion that sexual promiscuity is empowering? That gender is all just a social construction? And that it all ultimately comes down to choice? Not so much.
And yet, I’m not prepared to abandon the term feminist.
Irony of ironies, feminism is the reason I could go to university to write essays arguing against feminism. And feminism is the reason that I could do so with all the assurance that my opinion was as important and valuable as anyone else’s. The truth is that no woman can argue against feminism without biting the hand that fed her.
That’s Reason #1 that I’m a feminist. I’m not a hypocrite.
Feminism has its problems but it’s history is my history. As this history shows, there are many waves and movements within feminism and there will continue to be so. Many contemporary concerns, particularly among Christians, relate specifically to this third wave backlash against second wave feminism. But feminism is so much bigger than that. Even dividing it into waves makes it simplistic.
I’m not prepared to jettison feminism simply because the feminist cri de guerre at the moment is that murdering babies in the womb is pro-woman. Just as feminism has changed over the years, I believe it can keep changing. And when Christians rubbish feminism or treat it like another F-word, all I hear is that they wish I didn’t have a chance to go to school, own property, vote or have a mind of my own.
I am part of this feminist story and without feminism, my life would be drastically different. And by different, I mean worse.
I may be a pro-life, anti-contraception, mantilla-wearing, submission-preaching, chivalry-loving woman but I am also an university-educated, fairly paid, un-oppressed, opinionated, independent human being with no fear of being beaten, sold, or killed — or regarding myself as anything less than completely equal to the wonderful men in my life. And that, at least in part, is thanks to feminism.
Our daughter’s daughters will adore us, and they’ll sing in grateful chorus, “well done, Sister Suffragette!”
The least I can do is say thanks and not be a complete hypocrite about it.
That’s why I’m a feminist.