i am a feminist


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feminism: noun 

  1. the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
  2. organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

(from the Merriam-Webster dictionary online)

feminism:

a word that i, as a girl growing up in the church deep in the heart of the bible belt, was terrified of claiming as my own

feminism:

a word that i secretly, quietly, and covertly began to try on for size

feminist: noun

someone who supports feminism

(from the Merriam-Webster dictionary online)

feminist:

a label that i could never use to define myself, because, of course, feminists are men-haters, bra-burners, baby-killers, home-wreckers, radicals, etc. etc.

feminist:

Someone that I now understand as one who supports equal opportunities for both genders.  Someone who may or may not be religious. Someone who does not have to align with a particular political ideology. As Gloria Steinem, one of the original advocates in the women’s movement of the 1970’s, writes in her auto-biography My Life on the Road, “Forget about party labels. Just vote on the issues and the candidates who support equality.” A feminist is primarily an advocate for the equality of the sexes. It is that simple.

I was a raised in a kind, caring, supportive, Christian home. I was raised by a smart woman who chose to set aside her degree in accounting, and gave up her career as a successful banker to educate me and my siblings at home. A woman who poured her life into her children, labeled my childish bossiness as “leadership skills,” pushed me to work hard as both a scholar and a pianist, and who supported and continues to support my every endeavor. My mother and father raised me and my sister to be every bit as strong and independent as my two brothers. So why was it so difficult for me to claim the word feminist? Because the church (and I realize I am making a generalization here) has turned the concept of feminism into a dirty word, as explicit as the lyrics to your favorite rap song, and as frowned upon as pre-marital sex.

My purpose in writing this blog post is to encourage Christians to take back the label feminist. I would also like to add that this article will not become a theological debate. My goal is not to change the mind of fundamental Christians who will say, “A woman’s place is in the home.” For despite whatever I might say, this group will continue to utilize Scripture to serve their own agenda. Instead, I want to emphasize the fact that a feminist, by definition, is simply an advocate for equality of the sexes.

After interviewing a male friend of mine, he asked me a thought-provoking question, “Why are you such an advocate for feminism? Why are you, personally, driven to align yourself with feminism?” Almost instantly I knew the answer to his question. I choose to align myself with feminism because I grew up in a circle in which young men are encouraged to study advanced calculus while young women are taught to knit scarves. Where young men are encouraged to pursue engineering degrees while young women are given the responsibility of preparing family dinners and constantly encouraged with phrases like, “Don’t worry. The right guy will come along soon.” I was blessed to be raised by parents who encouraged me to pursue whatever career or life pursuit made me the happiest. Otherwise, I may have ended up like several of my childhood friends: in their twenties, without jobs,  without driver’s licenses, or with the belief that women don’t need the right to vote.

I recently interviewed a variety of young men and women and asked them about their views on feminism. I asked them,“What is a feminist? And would you call yourself a feminist?” I received a variety of responses. (These are just short excerpts from long conversations. You can read the longer transcripts of these conversations at the bottom of this post.) The responses below are from those who did not hesitate to label themselves as feminists.

Female, 23: I do [call myself a feminist]. I think that a lot of Conservative Christians might frown upon it because they might have a misunderstanding of what feminism is and what it is not. To me, feminism is providing women with the same choices as men and whether or not they take it is their option but just giving them that option in the first place is significant.

 Female, 19: I do consider myself a feminist because I just recently learn that feminism is about equality which is a very important thing to me. It’s important to me personally because I feel like I was raised in a community where women were treated as lesser than what they actually are and it’s very important to me that women feel empowered and strong and inspired to be who God made them to be.

Male, 23: Feminism I would define as a way of creating equality for the female gender especially. As to whether I would consider myself a feminist, for sure, yes, definitely.

Female, 23: Feminism is just equality of the sexes. So yes, absolutely I’m a feminist.

Female, 30: In my mind, feminism is just saying that men and women are equal. So in my mind, every human being should be a feminist.

So while about half of those I interviewed were passionate advocates of feminism and equal rights, the other half was not so sure. Many expressed concerns about radicals, Scriptural interpretations of women’s roles, distaste for “labels,” or just complete misunderstandings of the definition.

Female, 18: I’m kind of in the middle. Because I’m all for women doing what they want and do anything that a man can do but I look back to the way that God created man and women. I’m just not a free your tit kind of feminist.

Male, 20: I’m not entirely sure what a feminist would consider themselves to be. If a feminist is for a form of equality where they perceive the same respect as men then yes. Yeah, I refrain from refraining labeling myself as a lot of things for that reason.

Female, 20: I definitely support equal rights and I would call myself a feminist for the most part but I don’t support putting down men or thinking that women are superior and I think that people get carried away with that

Male, 23: In some respects, yes. Depends on who is using the word; who’s asking. The word is kind of ambiguous now because so many groups have identified themselves with this word; have tweaked it, so over time its become very difficult to pin down. If feminism was defined only as equality of the genders then yes, I would definitely call myself a feminist.

Female, 25: If I were to view feminism I would say it’s standing up for equal pay, for equality. But for me, I define myself as a feminist and that means women going to college, getting jobs, being doctors…but I don’t know if I necessarily if I think there should be a woman president. I think that women think completely differently than men so I think there are roles that men would handle better.

Female, 20: I would say that a feminist is a person who is very independent to the point that they would rather they do things than have someone assist them, who believes that women are as strong as men. Women are equal to men but they have different strengths and weaknesses. I would say I am not a feminist because I’m not against guys helping me out.

Female, 24: I think it’s taken to the ultimate extreme and continuing to go that way now. I don’t consider myself a feminist. But I’m not completely anti-feminist.

Of the 15 people I interviewed, the two that stood out most to me were from two very different young men. The first is a powerful example of how religious fundamentalism can turn women into second-class citizens. The second is of a young man who understands that it is not his place to define how a woman is happiest.

Male, 22: I do not consider myself a feminist. And the reason is, I feel like usually women are happier in the home, taking care of the kids, and I think God set it up that way. It’s not that women are incapable of doing work but in general they do a better job taking care of the kids. When I get married, I want a wife who will stay home with the kids, because I think she could do a better job at it than I could. I think it’s God’s natural order.

Male, 23: A way of describing feminism that I agree with is equality on both sides, equal opportunities, and if it’s on that end then yes, I would consider myself a feminist. I wouldn’t walk around yelling that I’m a feminist but if there’s any man or woman turning down a women’s opportunities then I definitely have advocated and defended and empowered both genders. A man can’t say how a woman would be happier. He’s not a woman. He wouldn’t know. Some men are happier are at home. Some women are happier at home.

All of these responses were interesting and wonderful to me. Everyone that I spoke to was respectful and kind. I think it is so important to have these conversations to learn from each other and to instruct each other. At the end of one of my interviews, a young woman said that after speaking with me, she learned the definition of feminism as equality and therefore she would now gladly call herself a feminist. That was so rewarding to me. Empowering men and women to reclaim the word feminist is my whole goal in writing this article. It is important for me to add that choosing to be a wife and mother over a career is valid and beautiful and brave. However, it is the CHOICE that feminists so passionately advocate for. I will give my daughters the CHOICE to pursue higher education or to get married at 20. The CHOICE is what I long to give so many of the young women from my childhood.

I am a feminist. I believe whole heartedly in the equality of the sexes. We all must reclaim this word. I urge you, personally, to reclaim this word, as I so recently have done.

I am a feminist.


Full length interviews:

Female, 18:

I’m kind of in the middle. Because I’m all for women doing what they want and do anything that a man can do but I look back to the way that God created man and women. I’m just not a free your tit kind of feminist. Hey women should be able to do any sort of professional business thing that a man can do and don’t need men to survive. Sometimes feminists can get overdone. If you’re a feminist you should prove it with your lifestyle and not with a label.

Female, 23:

I do [call myself a feminist]. I think that a lot of Conservative Christians might frown upon it because they might have a misunderstanding of what feminism is and what it is not. To me feminism is providing women with the same choices men and whether or not they take it is their option but just giving them that option in the first place is significant. So I definitely believe in giving women the choice to be at home or to have a career. As Christian woman, there are so many examples of strong women who were leaders who did more than take care of their families and both are valuable. There are radicals in every belief system.

Male, 20:

I’m not entirely sure what a feminist would consider themselves to be. If a feminist is for a form of equality where they perceive the same respect as men then yes. Yeah, I refrain from refraining labeling myself as a lot of things for that reason.

Female, 20:

I definitely support equal rights and I would call myself a feminist for the most part but I don’t support putting down men or thinking that women are superior and I think that people get carried away with that and I would say that I am a feminist because I support equal rights but I wouldn’t say that I’m a feminist for the derogative connotations. But for the most part yes. I think a lot of feminists go too far. I’m not a huge label person.

Male, 22:

I do not consider myself a feminist. And the reason is, I feel like usually women are happier in the home, taking care of the kids, and I think God set it up that way. It’s not that women are incapable of doing work but in general they do a better job taking care of the kids. When I get married, I want a wife who will stay home with the kids, because I think she could do a better job at it than I could. I think it’s God’s natural order. Question: Why do you think God would give women the ability to do advanced calculus if not to use these skills for his glory? I think they can use the skills in the home. When you’re training up your kids, you’re training up the next generation. I wouldn’t be against a woman scientist, but I think in general it’s best for a woman to take care of the kids. Women are really best in the home. I think that’s their place in life.

Female, 19:

I do consider myself a feminist because I just recently learn that feminism is about equality which is a very important thing to me. It’s important to me personally because I feel like I was raised in a community where women were treated as lesser than what they actually are and its very important to me that women feel empowered and strong and inspired to be who God made them to be. I am afraid to be associated with feminism because of the negative stereotypes. Unfortunately. I’m definitely trying to overcome that fear but there’s a bad stigma attached to feminism so sometimes I’m afraid of even saying that I’m a feminist. I think there is a way to believe in women empowerment and human equality and respect others without being a radical. Our world is full of too many extremes.

Male, 24:

There are two ways to describe feminism. One way is the way that the media generally displays feminism where women destroy things are hateful and put down men in general. The other way of describing feminism that I agree with is equality on both sides, equal opportunities, and if it’s on that end then yes, I would consider myself a feminist. I wouldn’t walk around yelling that I’m a feminist but if there’s any man or woman turning down a women’s opportunities then I definitely have advocated and defended and empowered both genders. A man can’t say how a woman would be happier. He’s not a woman. He wouldn’t know. Some men are happier are at home. Some women are happier at home.

Male, 23:

Feminism I would define as a way of creating equality for the female gender especially. As to whether I would consider myself a feminist, for sure, yes, definitely. Question: are you afraid of aligning yourself with feminism because of the actions of radicals or the negative stereotypes of feminists? Not really, I mean there is the chance that people associate me with the subjugation of males or extreme feminism but ok, if someone is going to misinterpret what I’m trying to do without asking me to clarify it just sucks for them.

Male, 23:

In some respects, yes. Depends on who is using the word, who’s asking. The word is kind of ambiguous now because so many groups have identified themselves with this word; have tweaked it, so over time its become very difficult to pin down. If equality was defined only as equality of the genders then yes I would definitely call myself a feminist. Question: are you afraid of aligning yourself with feminism because of the actions of radicals or the negative stereotypes of feminists? I would still label myself as a feminist but it would just take a very long conversation to clarify what that meant.

 

Female, 25

If I were to view feminism I would say it’s standing up for equal pay, for equality. But for me, I define myself as a feminist as women going to college, getting jobs, being doctors…but I don’t know if I necessarily if I think there should be a woman president. I think women think completely differently than men so I think there are roles that men would handle better. I personally think that a man has to take the role on because women tend to be more emotional because not all women are emotional. I’m all for a woman president but at the same time I can see why men have always been president. I wouldn’t say I am a feminist. Question: What if I told you that the literal definition is literally the equality of the sexes? Then yes. I think there are so many branches coming of feminism, if it is equal rights then yes. I am for women having their rights.

Female, 20:

I would say that a feminist is a person who is very independent to the point that they would rather they do things than have someone assist them, who believes that women are as strong as men. Women are equal to men but they have different strengths and weaknesses. I would say I am not a feminist because I’m not against guys helping me out. If I had lived in the time when they were rallying for political rights I would have totally been there because I believe that women aren’t below men. There is a big culture difference from Bible times. But in most women, God has put a natural tendency to nurture. Not all women are like that though. If you can take care of your kids that should be your first priority. There is definitely hesitation. After hearing what the definition is and thinking about it I would be more careful and try to explain the reason why I label myself as a feminist.

Female, 24:

I think it’s taken to the ultimate extreme and continuing to go that way now. I don’t consider myself a feminist. But I’m not completely anti-feminist. You can see women refusing to have doors opened for them. I’m not saying that a woman can’t do everything that a man can do, I’m just saying it’s not always a good idea for them to do. If you go down to the actual meaning of the word that is nothing like it’s portrayed today. I would not consider myself a feminist as it is portrayed today. I think that God has given us so many gifts and talents. A lot of them can be used in the home but you’re right a lot of them can be used outside of the home.

Female, 23:

Feminism is just equality of the sexes. So yes, absolutely I’m a feminist. Every movement has people who take it to the extreme. Feminism is a movement so that’s going to happen but I definitely don’t think that’s the majority but just because a few take it to the extreme that the whole thing itself is bad or has lost its original meaning. Men-hating is not feminism. That’s not equality. Saying that it’s morphed into something else…what its morphed into is yes we have voting rights now but now we want equal pay and equal rights and equal healthcare and I don’t think that’s extreme at all. In a more personal sense, I realized after being sexual assaulted and someone asking “What were you wearing?” That’s when my eyes were really opened to rape culture, victim blaming, and a country that is generally unreceptive to feminism.

Female, 30:

In my mind, feminism is just men and women are equal. And in my mind, every human being should be a feminist. Once I went to a Bible study, and we were going around discussing the Proverbs 31 woman and when it got to me I said, “That’s impossible! We shouldn’t even have this discussion.” and it got so quiet and I was never invited back. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion but I don’t agree. Everyone interprets scripture differently and that’s why there are 3000 different denominations. Question: are you afraid of labeling yourself as a feminist because of the actions of radicals or the negative stereotypes of feminists? I didn’t know that people were afraid to claim the label. I think it’s a Midwest thing. I think that fear is a smaller city thing. My mother wears the pants in the family. I was raised by a strong mother. I grew up with women pastors.

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2 Comments

  1. Just a few months ago I had a pastor ask me, “has your husband abused you?? Has he been unkind or ungentlemanly to you for you to want this… equality??” As someone who has been berated for believing in equality between men and women, I can really relate to this post and the struggles so many young women face growing up in this kind of environment.

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m sorry that happened to you. Yeah something TERRIBLE must have happened to you for you to want…EQUALITY. Crazy that you want to be treated like a human being! It’s truly disgusting how men (and women too! Internalized misogyny is a dangerous thing!) pervert religion to subjugate women and elevate themselves to places of power. The church I grew up in wouldn’t even allow women to pray out loud. Crazy stuff! But I’m glad you and I made it out strong and bold!

      Like

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