Feminism

Dear Savoury, from a Christian feminist

pacific nw beach
[photography by Verdance]

This post, titled “Dear Feminists,” showed up in my Facebook newsfeed today, and curious, I read it, since it was from someone I respect. I’ve thought a lot about what she had to say this afternoon and almost decided to leave a comment on her blog, but my response would be a little unwieldy, so I decided to respond to her this way.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Savoury,

You start your post by describing a feminist woman you saw on television whose story called for your sympathy after you found out what had happened to her– that her husband had abandoned her, betrayed her. That’s why your description of her as “hard-bitten” stood out to me, because it doesn’t align with the compassion you seem to be trying to express, and I’m wondering if you, perhaps, saw a “hard-bitten woman” because she identified as a feminist, and it’s a little hard to get around how our culture paints feminists as bitter hags.

You then propose this definition for feminism: “Feminism really at its core means, ‘I can defend myself.'”

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here; you’re young, and from what I’ve gathered of your family, I’m going to make a guess that you haven’t read books like bell hook’s Feminism is for Everybody or Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth or Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman or Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism; which, speaking of, if you have the time or the inclination, please read those books, or books like it. If fiction is more your speed, The Color Purple and Room with a View are also excellent.

However, this definition and the paragraphs that follow it indicate that you’re at least aware of how dangerous the world is for women, and because of the personal experiences I’ve had I can understand how you arrived at this definition.

What you go on to do, though, shows that you are– quite innocently– unaware of what feminism is, what feminism means, and why people decide to become feminists– and that men can be feminists, too.

I want to be honest with you, Savoury. One of the reasons why I am a feminist is that I’m an abuse and rape victim. When I finally started the excruciating process of finding healing, one of the things that helped was my feminist community. They supported me, loved me, and believed me when no one else would. It was a feminist who didn’t call me a liar when I told her I was raped. It was a feminist who counseled me for the first time. And now, as a feminist, I want to work to bring the kingdom of God to earth, to help bring an end to violence against all those who are oppressed, not just women. I am a feminist partly because I look around and see people suffering, hurting, bleeding, dying, and I want make it stop.

You said that you feel that, too.

However, I am not a feminist so I can punish the people who hurt me.

That is not what feminism is. That is not what feminists want. We are not out for revenge. We do not want to take an “eye for an eye,” and we’re not in it to perpetuate the violence against us. We want the world to be a less violent place, not just for oppressed people to become as equally violent as our history’s oppressors.

I am not a feminist because I don’t know any good men. I am married to the most wonderful man I’ve ever met, and my life has been filled with good, healthy, beautiful friendships with men. It would be impossible for me to name all the good men I’ve known. I’m not a feminist because I believe that all men are “bad”– in fact, I’m a feminist because of the exact opposite, because I believe in men.

I’m sure there is a feminist, somewhere, who paints all men as bad. I’m sure they exist, but they are so rare that I’ve never encountered one, and I’ve spent the past few years reading every feminist I could get my hands on, and building relationships in a wildly diverse feminist community. There are extremely radical and militant feminists like Andrea Dworkin who were accused of “painting all men as bad” primarily for the supposed argument she makes in Intercourse, an argument she denies trying to make.

Lastly, you tell feminists like me that we have a “Defender” and a “Protector”– essentially, you seem to be making the argument that I don’t need to be a feminist, because I have God.

I think that’s a beautiful thought, but I don’t think it aligns well with what believers are instructed to do by Jesus. To me, and to most of the other Christian feminists in my community, feminism is one of the ways that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Christians are not to sit around, doing nothing, trusting that “God will take care of it,” but to work with him in building the Kingdom on earth. I see feminism as my sacred God-given duty, my calling. Feminism is how I show love, how I am a beacon of light in a world filled with suffering and pain.

Also, God promised us many things, but he did not promise to protect us. My life is living proof of that; I trusted God to hold to a promise he had never made, and I was abused, assaulted, and raped. I could blame God for not protecting me, for not defending me– and honestly, sometimes, I do. But that’s not being honest about who God is and what he’s said that he’ll do for us. He says that we can trust who he is, that we can trust in his love for us, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to protect us.

In the end, Savoury, it is obvious that you meant well, and you seem to be a loving, caring, kind, and compassionate person. I appreciated the tone of your entire post, and how tender you were. That I disagree with you is not a reflection on who you are, or what you were trying to do. You are young, and intelligent, and I hope you’ll take what I’ve said here to heart.

Peace,

Samantha

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  • Gram Pol

    Well said!

  • I borrowed Full Frontal Feminism fro a friend about a year ago. The author is a bit more liberal than myself, but I thought it was a fabulous, funny, unsettling read.

  • I have to be honest, I admire you for making it through the post. One of the reasons I hate “open letters” is because they always seem…airy to me, I guess. There seems little grounding. For instance, who is this “hard-bitten woman”? What documentary was this? My mind wants to review and analyze it, to really understand where the letter writer is coming from. So I have to be truthful and say, I could really only skim it. The one sentence lines bothered me, and the simplistic way that she talked made me feel like I was being talked down to…like, “I get you, you poor dear soul.” It’s not necessarily critical of the writer; rather, it’s merely my (subjective) interpretation of it.

    I know when I was living under fundamentalism, “feminist” was such a dirty word. In that respect, I’m glad to see a believer who approached it with an attempt at understanding and sympathy. I really enjoyed your response, and I think you have a good point–so often it’s young women, who are just really starting to understand themselves, that make these points. I know for a very long time I refused to identify as a feminist, because it was so ingrained in me that it was a negative term, so I really get that journey and how difficult it can be to make that transition. I too hope that she takes the time, at some point, to really do some reading and delve into what “feminism” really means.

    Great post. Thank you.

  • This is so well said. Thanks for writing it.

  • Although, as I might have said before, I am not a Christian I think this is one of the best arguments I have read in a very long time for Feminism within the Christian community. I continue to learn from you and I just want to say thank you for that.

  • It is really refreshing to come across a person who not only is a Christian Feminist but can also eloquently express herself on the matter at hand. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Totally off-topic, but I’m not on Twitter, so this is the only way to ask. What do you think of Jezebel, Samantha? I ask because it is, as far as I can tell, more or less the primary mainstream (Emphasis on mainstream.) feminist publication out there, but I’m not sure how much validity to attach to what is posted there as far as whether or not it is an accurate representation of feminism. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes it is really interesting, but other times I really don’t like it. (One of the primary instances of disliking it is their worship of celebrities. They are very critical about the super-rich, but then they hyper-analyze and adore celebrities who are just as much members of the mega-wealthy power elite as a CEO is, except they’re from the entertainment sector of it rather than, say, the finance side of it. Quite hypocritical IMO, but that is admittedly unrelated.)

    • Off-topic questions are fine!

      Jezebel, and the blogging family that it belongs to (io9, Gawker) is really nothing more than a niche-ish gossip rag. It’s the online feminist version of grocery tabloids, and pretty much every feminist I know thinks of them that way. It’s part of what intersectional feminists like me critique as “White Feminism,” and we don’t respect it very much, although they can occasionally do something good.

      There are actually feminist media sources, like Ms. Magazine and Bitch Magazine (neither of which are without problems), and lots of other women-friendly spaces that aren’t specifically feminist can still be feminist-idea friendly (like Hello Giggles).

      I tend to get most of my feminist news from twitter, actually (twitter.com/virtusetveritas/lists/new-ideas).

      • I am a huge fan of Shakesville as well.

      • Caroline M

        I’m glad to hear you say this. I’ve read Jezebel occasionally, but it always seemed like the stereotype of feminism rather than the real thing.

  • I often need to correct people who have the wrong idea about Feminism. It is the radical idea that women are people, too! Oh, the conversations which can flow from stating that clearly and simply.

  • Thank you for writing this post. It’s sad to me that so many people have a negative image of feminism, and that image seems to come straight from the mouths of Christian leaders eager to demonize and dehumanize feminism to maintain their own dominance. Even their losing battle against abortion access is nothing more than the necessary first step in peeling back the progress women have already made, an attempt to get a genie back in its kitchen-bottle. So I am a feminist because I believe in equality for all people, and feminists are doing the most to achieve that goal. The biggest obstacle to equality is the worldwide systematic oppression of women. The biggest bang for my activism buck is in bringing equality to women. The folks making the most progress in that arena are feminists. That progress has a number of benefits for all people, especially with regard to raising awareness of Rape Culture and the nasty Purity Myth and rigid gender roles that go along with it, but I have a specific focus because that’s the best way to attack an injustice.

    The biggest myth about feminism there is is that feminists want to dominate men or to hurt and control men the way that they have been hurt and controlled. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. The best way to combat that myth is to be out, loud, and proud about being a feminist. The more of us who speak, the harder it will be to maintain belief in the myth. (That applies to a lot of stuff, doesn’t it?)

  • Caroline M

    I see this attitude not just in Christians but young women in general. So many young women see feminism as this vaguely embarrassing thing that we needed in the bad old days but can thankfully cast aside now. I’m really baffled as to how this happened in secular society (I grew up evangelical so I’m uncomfortably familiar with that side of things).

  • Peggy Trivilino

    That was a very thoughtful, insightful answer, Samantha–probably a little more thoughtful than the rather simplistic worldview expressed in “Savory’s” post deserved.

    My big takeaway from her post was that she equated women with children in terms of possessing agency and self-determination. She basically stated that women, like children can’t be expected to be in charge of their own safety and well-being, that such serious responsibility is the exclusive province of men.

    Savory obviously hasn’t had occasion to face the fact that she infantilizes herself at her own peril.

  • Reblogged this on temporary.

  • This is so compassionate and lovely, thank you. I get so frustrated with the misconceptions about feminism in the Christian community and this really helped me focus back a bit.