As we saw in yesterday's post, a recent article made the argument
that feminism is unnecessary for Christians, and I gave my view on why that’s
not so. As promised yesterday, I want to spend this post examining the second
main objection that Walsh raised against feminism (again, with the
understanding that I am picking on his article because it represents a
widely-held view among many Christians, not just Walsh himself).
His other question is equally legitimate and also deserves
a serious answer. Even if feminism is not redundant to the Christian faith, is
it worth it, if it comes with so much baggage?
He brings up several different points included in this
notion of baggage, and I want to deal with them in order of importance. So,
let’s start with abortion.
Walsh, like many other Christians (comp and egal alike), is
suspicious of feminism because it has so many ties with the pro-choice
movement. Lots of peole feel too uncomfortable with that to identify as feminist. That
is their right. I must leave it to every individual to decide where their
comfort level is with that, and I'm not trying to gloss over how seriously many people take that issue.
But Walsh goes a little further and claims that no
Christian anywhere should be able to hold a different opinion or level of
comfort. His claims, plus the amount of time he spends on the abortion issue,
make it sound as though abortion is about 95 percent of feminism’s purpose:
The concepts are contradictory, [feminists] argue, and I
agree — though I’d say the term ‘pro-life feminist’ could be more
aptly compared to ‘abolitionist slave trader’ or ‘free market communist.’
Personally, I have to disagree. I believe, through reading
feminist blogs and having conversations with women who identify as modern-day
feminists, that feminism’s main focus is to explore the ways in which society
has unhealthy beliefs about gender. That can include certain beliefs about the
rightness or wrongness of abortion, but abortion certainly is not the only (or
even main) focus for most of the
feminists that I personally deal with in everyday life. And it is certainly
not the only social concern that feminists are working to affect (other social
concerns include equal pay, sex trafficking, female representation in
government, the portrayal of women in the media, and more).
Most of the feminists that I speak with talk to me about
unfair policies toward women in the workforce; about the horrors of rape
culture; about expectations for how women should dress and act; about dynamics
between husbands and wives, etc. Those are the issues that many of my personal
feminist friends seem most concerned about, and they’re the issues I see being
written about and broadcasted by feminists in the wider media. In fact, I have
gotten into many more abortion discussions with Christians than I ever have
Now, I don’t want to be disingenuous here. There are indeed
some (many?) feminists who don’t believe you can be a feminist unless you are
pro-choice. However, the reality is, there are
feminists who agree on every other issue except the abortion one. Those
people do exist, and I see no law or Gestapo preventing pro-life Christian
women from identifying as feminist. So, why not? To me, saying that the
feminist movement is focused on or inextricably tied to abortion just doesn’t
ring completely true.
Now, again, if someone else feels differently, s/he has
every right to reject the feminist label. But where I think the line is
crossed, is where that person tells other people that we are not allowed to see feminism as being about more than
abortion, just because s/he doesn’t.
Moving past the abortion issue, the next largest issue that
is often brought against feminism is that it doesn’t square with a
complementarian view of the sexes. “Complementarianism,” coined in the 70s
(see, I can read about the history of gender theory, too), is the belief that
God ordained a high degree of difference between the sexes and intends men for
one type of “role” within the family and church, and women for another type of
“role.” Men are leaders; women are supporters.
I think a belief in complementarianism is why Walsh said
the following against feminism:
To be equal is to be the same. Women are not equal to men
because they are not the same as men. Therefore, a woman’s freedom is really
slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and
characteristics that make her a woman. The same could be said for men, if his
freedom requires him to shirk that which sets him apart from women and makes
him a man.
The problem with using complementarianism to prove that
feminism is un-Christian is, of course, that not all Christians are
complementarian! Many egalitarian Christians (in organizations like God's Word to Women and Christians for Biblical Equality) believe that complementarianism
is an incorrect interpretation of a handful of Biblical passages. They believe
in mutual submission between husband and wife, in the leadership capabilities
of women, and in the rights of husbands and wives to divide traditionally
feminine and masculine “roles” within the home however they want. And as for
not being the same, egalitarians believe that Adam’s delight with Even was because of her sameness to him, not
because of her difference. “Then the man said, ‘At last, here is one of my own
kind—bone taken from my bone, and flesh, from my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23, Today’s
Thus, I’m not sure that feminism is incompatible with
“being a Christian.” It may be incompatible with “being a complementarian
Christian.” To prove that Christians shouldn’t be feminists, Walsh would first
have to prove that they shouldn’t be egalitarians. Until he and other
anti-feminists can do that, they can’t really use the complementarian line as
an example of feminism’s evils.
And while we’re on the subject…why does Walsh get to define
what Christian feminists mean when they say the word “equal”? He seems to think
that word means “having no difference in their essence.” Actually, many
Christian feminists do accept a difference in gender makeup to some degree (and
others don’t), but that has nothing
to do with what they mean when they say “equal.” The word “equal” in Christian
feminist discussions is often employed to mean equality of opportunity (such as
ministering alongside men, being able to get a job after motherhood, and not
viewing your husband as your authority). It’s bad rhetoric for a writer to
claim that the term must mean interchangeability of essence or being, when the
people he’s arguing with don’t use the term that way. To truly engage someone,
you have to address what they’re actually saying, not some cliché you pretend
they’re saying (that’s something we cover in my freshman-level writing class
Perhaps I could say that every time Walsh uses the word
“women” he actually means “tyrannosaurus.” I could then claim that his argument
makes no sense, since tyrannosauruses don’t exist anymore, and aren’t, in any
case, human. But that wouldn’t make me right.
And speaking of bad rhetoric…
To Walsh’s other points about the baggage of feminism, I
simply have to disagree with most of them. They read like the outdated
caricature of second-wave feminism that preachers crafted to scare parishioners
during the 70s and 80s.
From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism
was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them.
Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes, while
feminism preaches competition and exclusion.
Oh, okay, so we’re just going to start saying things now and saying
them will make them true just because? Well I’m going to say that the highway
is made of snakes, and my husband is actually a unicorn, and the square root of
cheese equals a Tiffany lamp.
Sorry to lose my cool, but this was the point at which my
patience with this article evaporated. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz was
less a straw man than this argument. I don’t personally know any feminists who
want dominance over men or treat men that way. Feminist culture is actually
against such things, believing men and women to be equal in value and
capability, with neither deserving to dominate. It is dangerous to equate the
pursuit of equality with grasping for dominance. By that reasoning, you’d have
to say that the Civil Rights movement was about black people wanting to
dominate white people. Today, all of us recognize that for the unfair, bigoted
scare tactic that it was, so why is it okay to make the same argument about
And as far as competition and the destruction of harmony…do
you know where I learned to roll my eyes at men, bash husbands behind their
backs, and believe that “Men are from Mars; women are from Venus?” From pop
culture and, ironically, watching other Christian women. In fact, the women
I’ve known who were the most prone to hold bitterness against men, and to
struggle with feelings of competition toward their boyfriend or husband, were
women who were farther along the spectrum of anti-feminism.
It was feminism that helped me see the destructiveness of
such behavior. Feminism helped me see the harmony that can exist between the
sexes, and has trained me out of the eye-rolling and husband-bashing that women
are expected to engage in. Other feminists are often the first to join me in
complaining about commercials and shows that make dads look stupid and
inadequate; they’re often the first to insist that rape culture degrades the
character of men, too. And let’s not forget that plenty of happy, confident,
well-adjusted men are feminists and don’t feel threatened by it.
Again, I came to realize that these harmonious attitudes
between the genders were God’s intention, and soon saw how it lined up with
Biblical truth (Galatians 3:28, anyone? Ephesians 5:21? Or how about Eve
being an "ezer kenegdo"?) But the rhetoric of feminism assisted me in seeing the
truth that was already there, and gives me language to explain myself when pop culture (and yes,
church and complementarian culture) wants to re-introduce elements of
There are also a lot of hot-button phrases mentioned in the
article, such as wedges being driven between husband and wife, and chasms being
opened between women and their children. Actually, I’ve seen feminist living
arrangements close the chasm between moms and babes, as child-rearing duties are
shared equally by the dad, allowing the mom to be less overwhelmed and
frustrated and more able to enjoy her kids. Most of the feminists I know have
close, happy relationships with their spouse. In my experience, marital
troubles come just as easily to people who don’t identify as feminist as those
I’m getting a little exhausted, so I think I have to stop.
I hope I’ve made my point by now. This hung so heavy on my mind last night that
I started working on it first thing this morning. Then my computer installed
automatic updates, shutting Word down suddenly and losing everything, but my
husband found the lost file for me over his
lunch. Go team! Just another example of the bitter, competitive, selfish
marriage partners that feminism produces, I tell ya.
The bottom line, though, is that no one must identify as
a feminist. I really, truly respect people who are uncomfortable with the term,
including other egalitarians. But if you’re going to attempt to convince
everyone else that they should be uncomfortable too, you need to fight fair and have good reasoning behind you.
Consider these two feminist posts part of my 40 Days of Easter Project. Because really, I can’t think of a better way to have spent
these hours of the last two days than writing about a topic that makes me so
passionate. I am truly a lucky person!
Labels: abortion, bad arguments, complementarian, egalitarian, feminism, gender, good arguments, theology, women