(This blog post is a part of a broader discussion going on online this week about faith and feminism. To find out more about #FaithFeminisms and to see some other blog entries on the subject, check out http://www.faithfeminisms.com/.)
My college experience was one of falling further and further into feminism. And I mean fall in the delightful accident sense. I hadn’t intended it, but it was a blessing to find feminism that wasn’t separate from my faith but intertwined with it.
Entering college, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying it out loud or proscribing the roles to anyone else, but I was a closet complementarian, assuming things in relationships, at least for Christians, would be more pleasing to God and would just generally work out better if men took the lead and women were submissive.
Entering college, I assumed that my own desires for someone to take the lead, my own turn-ons, my own personality, etc. were proof of God’s dictate for everyone.
Entering college, I was uncomfortable with the fact that I had turn-ons. I was uncomfortable with sexual desire.
Entering college, I believed I had a responsibility to be modest so as to prevent my Christian brothers from stumbling.
Entering college, I would not have called myself a “feminist”—a term that I had once enthusiastically claimed as a young girl.
During college, I formed friendships with people who challenged me and made me see that the mold I thought was God’s was not something that could ever be healthy for everyone (and that would eventually make me see that such a mold wouldn’t even be healthy for me).
During college, I took Religious Studies classes where I saw brilliant, intelligent professors, who were also faithful Christians, model intellectual integrity in wrestling with the Scriptures and demonstrate how feminism and religious studies can meet.
But probably most significantly for this conversation…During college, I joined a Christian fellowship that nurtured my walk with God. Though my faith experienced ups and downs, it, on the whole, deepened during those four years.
Entering college, I struggled constantly with feeling like I didn’t measure up as a Christian. I didn’t feel perky enough or on fire enough. I worried about losing my faith. During college, my confidence in God’s love for me has grown tremendously, and I have come to see that faith isn’t about being good or being good enough or never doubting; I am still Christ’s, through it all.
As my faith deepened, I began to see that there were more important things than my goals of being a wife and mother. God’s plan is broader. Sure, I still want those things (pretty badly most days), but I began to appreciate that God saw me as a whole person, as much more than a future wife and mother. I also became more in touch with God’s character—God is love, God is just, God is a liberator, etc. These convictions that were coming out of my faith were helping unravel those sexist assumptions I thought my faith dictated.
And now, a recent college graduate, on the other side of this experience, I am proudly calling myself a feminist. I want to see the church become a place of equality and work for women’s rights in the world. I want to contribute to that work. I have changed my mind in ways I haven’t anticipated. I once thought complaining about only male pronouns for God was fussy; I now bristle at seeing a page littered with Hes and am working on not referring to God in masculine language. I have prayed to “Our Mother.” I joined the campus feminist group (even if only for a semester). I have voiced things out loud that would’ve made me hesitate before. I have performed in The Vagina Monologues my own monologue about the way the church discourages admission of female sexual desire and about dealing with my own desire as someone waiting to have sex. I have written poems about gender and the church and living as a Christian woman in very honest terms. I have realized that a bra strap showing or a short skirt every once in a while is not the end of the world. I’ve considered ordination and academia as potential future paths—paths that I would not have been ready to think about entering college.
Of course, there’s still a lot I don’t yet know or understand. I don’t know where I’m gong to end up, and there are questions about the intersection of my faith and my feminism that I’m still entertaining and will probably be for some time.
Through all the questions, though, I am confident in God’s love for me. Not as some person to be molded into a “godly woman,” but as Megan. As a particular individual with all the intricacies that come with that. I believe that I am a reflection of God’s image as fully as any man might be and I best reflect that image through love, not any fulfillment of gendered expectations.
In closing, I’d like to point out a passage that has been significant to me in understanding the centrality of care for the oppressed with the person of Jesus Christ. If our messages about womanhood are contributing to oppression, which I believe they often are, I do not think they’re of God. If feminism contributes to the work of freeing the oppressed (which I believe it does), well, then it’s worth my time as someone trying to be a follower of Christ.
Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)
He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”