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.
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.