Tuesday Talks:  With Lisa Hunt-Wotton.  What is Feminism?

Why is Feminism a Dirty Word?

Should Feminism be replaced with the more popular term Gender Equality?

Driving to Echuca over Easter this is a bit of the conversation that I had with my husband and my daughter.

To my husband:  Are you a feminist?

No he said, of course not.

I said why not?

He said:  well I don’t like aggressive women who burn bras and don’t shave under their arms.

I said why not?  He said I don’t know.

I asked him “Do you even know what a feminist is?”  He ummed and ahhhhed.   Hmmm not really.

I said.  Do you believe in equal rights between men and women.  He quickly replied, yes of course.  So I replied, well then you are a feminist.

He looked quite perplexed.

This is the story of my 20 year old daughter who is a model.  Earlier in the year she did a job for ‘Spanks’ in the Bourke Street Mall of Melbourne.
As she was promoting the all in one spanks ‘body suit’  a +50 woman stopped in the street and started yelling at her in front of hundreds of people.

Scary Lady:  “Do you know who Germain Greer is?”

Chloe:  “No”

Scary Lady:  “Well you should, your dancing on her grave right now, she worked hard for your rights and you should be ashamed of yourself”.

Chloe:  “I work hard for my money thank you”.

Chloe says to me mum, I agree with Phil.  ‘Feminists scare the hell out of me’.

Its common for people to describe feminism as the stereotype – the outspoken, hairy-legged, unfeminine, outspoken, man-hater.  Or in religious circles you could be called unsubmissive, or out of control, or even a jezebel.

This example shows how much is still misunderstood about feminism.  Admittedly I’m not suggesting that our domestic conversation is a good test case of homes across Australia but I wonder. Also I agree that feminism has a bad name and is misunderstood.  I do however also agree with this statement by Emma Watson.

Last year Emma Watson stood up before the Untied Nations and became the world wide avatar for modern feminism.  How appropriate that the annoyingly smug and bossy Hermione Granger from Harry Potter get up and suggest that gender inequality is our issue to.  She went on to say that;

For the record, feminism by definition is:

“The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Many people I suspect, think of feminism as an unsavoury term.  They think feminists are; ‘too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive’.  Yet if women and men do not stand up for gender equality it will be another ’75 years…before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education’ (Watson).

How did this all begin.  Lets look at the history of feminism.

The first major feminist movement began in the 1890s and led to the right to vote being granted to women in some of the British colonies (New Zealand and South Australia). Although women had no legal vote, Christian feminists agitated for laws to protect women and children living in squalor. They founded social service agencies and promoted education and training—so women could support themselves and their children during the period of social and economic upheaval following the Industrial Revolution (Buckley).  The work of first wave feminists—in partnership with men—culminated in women gaining a voice in society: a legal vote. Their motivations stemmed from a belief that all humans deserve equal dignity and opportunity because they bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Their accomplishments reflected passionate pursuit of a God-glorifying culture (Genesis 1:28) during a turbulent period of history (Buckley).

This was followed by the wider-spread women’s suffrage movement which ended with the right to vote and run for office being granted to most women over 21 years of age in the UK, the USA, France and many other countries. This was dubbed the “first wave” of feminism.

The 1960s brought the “second wave” of feminism.  This second wave feminists pushed for more women in politics, universities and male-dominated professions.

Feminists increased attention to domestic violence, date rape and other sexual crimes against women,inequality: sexism, racism, systemic poverty, human trafficking, domestic violence, among other social injustices.

What are the thoughts of some Christian leaders concerning feminism?

Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is a global community.  It is a nonprofit organisation of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Galatians 3:28 NIV

CBE affirms and promotes the biblical truth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.

herstory

Tony Campolo goes as far as to say that he believes that Jesus was a feminist.

“Women have the same privileges and opportunities as men, given the New Testament. Relegating women to second-class citizenship was abolished when Jesus died on the cross. As it says in Galatians 3:28, “In Christ now there is neither bond nor free, Scythian nor Barbarian, male nor female; all are one in Christ Jesus.”

When the Holy Spirit falls upon the church on the day of Pentecost, Peter says, “This is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel when he said, ‘The day will come when the Holy Spirit comes upon His people, God’s people, and young men”–and then it says–“and young women shall prophesy, (i.e., shall preach).” There is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to both men and women in the New Testament. This is what makes the New Testament a New Testament rather than the Old Testament, in which women did not have such privileges.

Is Jesus a feminist?  Does he believe in equal rights for men and women?

There’s one instance that would validate that claim that Jesus was a radical feminist. It’s the story of Mary and Martha. He goes to visit the home of these two women. Martha takes her assigned role taking care of the kitchen, taking care of preparing food. Mary, on the other hand, decides to go and sit at the feet of the rabbi as only men were allowed to do in those days. Here is a woman breaking the social morés of the society, sitting, learning Torah from a rabbi with other men. Martha complains. At this point, Jesus says, “Martha, Mary has chosen the better thing to do.” Jesus is affirming a role for women that violates the prevailing morés of the day. What a radical thing to do.

One other instance, and I could cite many, is when he goes to Samaria and meets this woman at the well. In the ancient days, women did not speak to men without their husbands being present. It was a violation of Jewish law. Jesus says, “Look, I don’t care about the law. Here is a woman that’s in need. I’m going to minister to her.” He speaks to her, person-to-person. He wants to affirm the equality of women and minister to women just as he would minister to men’.

This is a statement from world vision:

“We have learned that our work fails if women are not among the leadership in a community, freely able to express their thoughts and concerns.  When half or more of our most talented players are benched, we aren’t likely to have a winning record”.

There is an african proverb that says, ‘if you educate a boy, you train a man.  If you educate a girl, you train a village’.   Women are known to spend 90% of their income on health and education for their families while men spend only 30% – 40%” (Stearns).  Empowering women is a matter of life and death in many parts of the world.

What about you?  Do you think that feminism is a dirty word?  Do you think that there is a place for feminism within the Christian faith?

What about the church?  Do women in churches get paid the same wages as men?  Is there equality on the platform in our churches for women in position of leadership, teaching and ministry?  Could we have a church service led by only women?  We certainly have church services with all men.  Male worship leader, male overseers, male preacher?

There are still huge gaps in what we say we believe and what we do.  Surveys on women in leadership in churches say that about 7% -18% of women are in leadership positions in churches today depending on the denomination.

Across all paid church positions, men are compensated 28 percent more than women holding the same positions. Male executive pastors earn nearly 50 percent more than women in this same role… churches still display a gender gap when it comes to compensating men and women ( Liautaud).

In America 51% of women hold professional and higher management positions, in Australia its less with 39% of women holding senior executive positions.  Whilst the gender pay gap in Australia is the worst its been in  30 years.  In the very latest figures out, women in Australia are still earning %19.8  less than men in the same positions (ABS).

We still have a long, long way to go.  I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this issues.

Do you think feminism is a dirty word?

Is there a place in the church for feminism?

Are you a feminist?

Shalom Lisa

References:

Amy Buckley, Why you should be a Christian Feminist

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/why-you-should-be-christian-feminist

Emma Watson, Speech given to United Nations http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/emma-watson-gender-equality-is-your-issue-too#sthash.Y6EBNYzj.dpuf

CBE http://www.cbeinternational.org/content/about-cbe

Tony Campolo Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2006/10/Let-The-Women-Preach.aspx?p=2#CK2RytHk0e6gq1CY.99

Richard Stearns, On Faith November 5, 2014.

Christianity Today, MARCH 29 

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8 Comments on “What is Feminism?

  1. Thanks for your blog Lisa, which I always find challenging and informative. I was especially interested in this topic as we at Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania will be discussing the issue of domestic and family violence at our Summit in mid May. Gender equality of course is integrally related to violence against women. I was horrified to read recently that more than one woman a week is murdered in Australia, almost always at the hands of a man she knows. There is clearly something toxically wrong with the way some men treat women and this is a problem inside as well as outside the Christian Church.

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    • Hi there, so nice to hear from you. I am so heartened to hear that you are discussing the issue of DV. You are absolutely right, gender inequality and patriarchy is at the heart of violence against women. You are also right that gender inequality, domestic violence and many other social issues do not stop at the doors of the church. Well done on your obvious interest and education in these very important issues. clap clap clap. xxx Love Lisa.

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  2. Ooh I loved this – good overview! It is a bit confronting coming across radicals from any worldview, regardless of what view they represent.

    I definitely identify as a feminist. It was a huge part of my sociology studies at uni, where I learned about the notion of multiple feminisms. Unfortunately I find some Christians tend to form the idea that “feminist” is a single, specific worldview and miss the fact that there are many different styles and debates within feminism – kind of like how Christianity has heaps of different denominations. Some really important sociological insights came out of feminist thinking, like taking into account marginalised viewpoints, Indigenous peoples, nonhumans (animals and nature), etc. While academic feminisms differ, they generally circle around the idea of reclaiming and incorporating the ideas and experiences of women, marginalised ethnicities, etc into the traditionally middle class and masculine realm of academia. I personally love ecofeminism which is so much more than environmentalism for women. For example, it critiques such ideas as the notion that pure rationalism is superior to the supposedly womanish trait of having emotions. If takes seriously the views of women in developing nations who are often the first to suffer in such environmental problems as climate change, losing access to food when crops can’t grow. It looks at the fascinating and oddly sexualised marketing of meat products (eg steak house advertising featuring a female cow batting her long eyelashes in a “come and eat me” fashion) [Carol J Adams is the author to read on that topic]. I could go on and on… Actually it formed the foundational worldview for my honours thesis where I researched and wrote about the environmental problems associated with farming in a world affected by climate change.

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    • Regarding your question, “is there a place for feminism in the church?” My earliest exposure to strong activist women came from the nuns and lay women in my childhood Catholic Church! I cannot imagine how Christianity can accept lesser treatment of any group of people based on a set of common factors. However, in practice sadly Christian types are too often the cause of or complicit in the abusive treatment of “Others” – whether those others are women, marginalised ethnicities, people in lower socioeconomic social levels, GLBTQI people, animals and nature. Still, power and control and emotional dysfunction probably go a long way to explaining much of that, as might “Mimetic theory” (which I don’t know well enough to expound at this stage) but as far as I understand it understands Christian theology in the light of the human tendency to scapegoat others. Nothing unites the powerful quite like having a convenient common enemy they can point to (gays and Muslims seem to be the target of choice for a lot of Christians I’ve met over the years).

      Feminist Christianity would have to consider the terrible abuse and violence suffered by women and children in the name of Christian obedience. There’s a number of cult websites that describe those phenomena within the Christian church in more detail. “Homeschoolers Anonymous,” “Leaving Fundamentalism” and “No Longer Qivering” (without the ‘u’ because ‘there’s no you in quivering (theology)’) spring to mind. The site “Cult News” by Rick Alan Ross has a bit of info too.

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      • Another wow, I have a bit of research to do I see. A resounding yes to your point on the abusive treatment of ‘others’ and the abuse suffered by women and children in the name of Christian obedience. I have had a lot of first hand experience in this area. Such a big topic.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, this is fascinating. You are so right this is a very big and complex topic. Although reading this I begin to see just how diverse it is. What an incredible honours thesis. Really appreciate your thoughts and brain. Love Lisa

      Liked by 1 person

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