A ViewPoint by Rebecca Dix
Christian feminism gave me freedom.
When I was growing up, the big f-word, feminism, was only spoken of in hushed tones or chewed on as if it had an unpleasant aftertaste. My context was one heavily seeped in the ideals of pater familias. For the most part, my matriarchs— my mother, grandmothers, aunts— had clearly defined roles to fill, based solely on their gender and usually not of their own choosing. They were the ones who cooked, cleaned, did the dishes, changed the diapers, and did laundry simply because they were women and were doing what was expected of them.
Women who were interested and able to do “men’s tasks” (like hunting, mending fences, or changing a tire, in addition to performing their assigned “women’s tasks,” of course) were praised, but any men who lowered themselves to the tasks of domesticity were teased and belittled. Along with this gender-based role system in the home and outside world, the rhetoric braided into my upbringing informed me that God would not call me to any kind of leadership in the church. The reason? Once again, it was because of my gender identity and biology.
Expectations vs. Choice
I came to resent domesticity for no other reason than that doing such tasks was expected of me and not a choice. Yet, at the same time, it was hard to resent it entirely, especially since I was good at a lot of these household tasks and enjoyed some of them, such as cooking. Eventually, I grew to resent being a woman, though I didn’t desire to be a man. I wanted to be who I was, a woman, but regarded as a person who was considered of equal value. And some days I resented the gravitational pull of the church and the call to leadership, which sat simmering in the back of my mind. I was convinced I would never truly belong.
Eventually I sought higher education. I went to a small college founded in the Reformed tradition. There, feminism was tossed around in the curriculum like a hot potato. It was evidently present in the room, but no one wanted to touch it for very long. As a rhetoric major, I decided I had had enough of the lack of definition and decided to go on the adventure of figuring out what this was all about. I should have realized that something major was going to happen, for no one in literary history has ever gone on a journey without being transformed.
A Transforming Journey
I dug deep in the roots of the tree, traveled back in time, traced the moment of women seeking ways to bring change in this world, their world, and finding it was typically linked with religion. I learned that in medieval times amidst an economic and social climate that did not afford women any mobility, taking orders in the church was one way they could choose a different path, learning to read and devoting their lives to helping others. Anne Hutchinson and Antoinette Louisa Brown became my colleagues and sisters. I pored over texts, pressed their words against my spine, wrapped them around my lungs and tasted air as sweet as the scrolls Ezekiel ate (Ezek.3:3).
I was never the same again.
My New Perspective
I began to see that my voice and the choices I made with the life God gave me were as equally valid as those of others. I began to see that there were other voices in this world that had been rendered speechless and knew that I wanted to do something about it and the ache I felt for them. I began to invite others to talk about the hot potato in the room, not to make generalized assumptions about it, nor to demonize it, but to actually think critically about feminism, language, and our view on the world. I was able to do that because I had invited myself to the table to have the conversation.
Valerie DeMarinis, in her book, Critical Caring: A Feminist Model for Pastoral Psychology,
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press,1993) provides one of the best definitions of the core and goals of feminism:
The term ‘feminist’ refers to a system of interpretation, analysis, and assessment that raises critical questions about issues of injustice for human beings, both women and men, and suggests critical answers for envisioning and constructing situations where empowerment and interdependence are understood as essential for human existence. (p.3)
This is precisely what Christian feminism did in my life. I felt empowered to view my reflection as an intelligent, thoughtful, caring individual. I found ways to love the language of my foremothers without compromising my feminism just because I chose to love to cook, crochet, or plant gardens. That empowerment of choice allowed me to let go of the resentment I had towards what are traditionally considered domestic tasks or “women’s work,” to support women’s engagement in them when it was their choice, not a role imposed on them, and to seek to learn to love those who did not act in love towards me—even those who refused to accept the “dirty f- word.” As a Christian, I saw that Scripture was not the enemy and that the freedom I found in feminism was a portion of the true freedom I have in Jesus the Messiah.
Grasping firmly my identity as a feminist and a Christian, I could be confident that I knew God’s call in my life—even if others told me I was wrong or that my interests didn’t make sense. I grew as a storyteller by becoming deeply passionate about people’s stories being heard, especially the stories of those who have become recipients of violence in relationships. I honed my craft so that I could extend those skills to others to lift their voices within their contexts, especially through the medium of spoken word poetry.
Eventually this led me to accept the call to seminary, where God has been working to put together all the gifts God has given me for the work of the Kingdom. I was no longer constrained by the rhetoric of imposed limitations on what God would do with me and with my life. I finally realized that I belonged.
So, without Christian feminism, I would have been lost. I wouldn’t have been able to hear God’s call in my life as readily as I can now, and I wouldn’t have had the fortitude to encourage the voices of others. I wouldn’t have been able to see the value in others, and I wouldn’t have been able to see the value in myself.
© 2015 by Rebecca Dix and Christian Feminism Today
Thank you for your wonderful words. You have done an excellent job of articulating many of the reasons I am also a Christian feminist. I am sorry that you did not have more examples of feminism as you were growing up. Hopefully you will be a light to the next generation.
God’s peace and love be with you always, Patty