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Rethinking Feminism

This week I am linking up with Faith Feminisms, a weeklong “flash mob” of faith and feminism. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #faithfeminisms. I will also post on Thursday and Saturday of this week on the topic of feminism, so be sure to check back later in the week! 

No one ever said the “F” word in the church when I was growing up. Even though I was a member of a church that ordained women, the word feminist carried a negative connotation. It seemed to be a word reserved for liberal, sinful, man-hating women. Certainly not a word for Christian women.

Yet I look at the history of Christian women in my life and I see the fingerprints of feminism everywhere.

My great-grandmother Granny Agee raised most of her kids on her own after her husband died of cancer, making a living by cooking for people, taking in people’s laundry, and later running a nursing home. She was a hard worker, an infamous trickster, and a woman of faith. They say the one time she got up and gave a testimony in church, she said, “God didn’t ever call me to preach or anything like that. But he called me to raise my children to love him, and I have done that.”

A woman who worked hard on her own to raise her family and stood up and said, “I did this”: That’s feminism. 

My maternal grandmother “Mammy” was the valedictorian of her high school and desperately wanted to get an education, but her family couldn’t afford for her to go to college. They did send her to beauty school, though, and she was a hairdresser in the 40s, 50s, and 60s when many women were being housewives. She used the money she made to buy clothes for her children, save money for their college, purchase groceries, and eventually, help pay off their house.

A woman who chooses to work outside the home, both for personal fulfillment and to provide for her family: That’s feminism. 

My paternal grandmother, Grandma, is a prayer warrior. When her kids were young she stayed home as long as she could, taking care of the house and children, but eventually, with four children, she needed to go to work. For many years, she ran a daycare, coming up with innovative ways to train the teachers and save the daycare money. Later, she kept the books for a doctor’s office, continuing to innovate and improve his practice.

A woman who chooses what is best for her family by staying home, and later by going to work and displaying a creative and committed work ethic: That’s feminism.

My Thai friend Siripawn became a Christian even though she was from a Buddhist family. She was a spiritual leader and a nurturer of young people from the beginning. She took me and many of the other younger people at church under her wing, befriending and guiding us. As far as I know she was the first female Nazarene ordained in Thailand, and both her pastoral spirit and her knowledge of theology and the Bible make her an incredible minister.

A woman who goes against the grain and becomes a leader in her own right: That’s feminism. 

My mother was a pastor’s wife for many years, playing a supportive role in ways like playing the piano and offering the hospitality of having people in our home. Yet she also got a seminary degree alongside my father. I still remember the days back in the 80s when a table and computer were set up in our den so that my parents could write their theses. Once we moved to Thailand, my mother came into her own, ministering to women, training church musicians, and teaching at our Bible college. In my mind I have an image of her at the dining room table, the Bible and a commentary open in front of her as she prepared a series of talks about women in the Bible. I watched my self-proclaimed “wallflower” mom blossom into a talented and sought-after speaker for women’s groups, meetings, and conferences. My father was supportive and encouraging of my mom’s ministry, even asking her to come preach for his preaching class at the Bible college.

A woman who finds her own voice and her own talents and is brave enough to use them: That’s feminism. 

I don’t know that any of these women would call themselves feminists, but the spirit of living from their own convictions and finding their own voices inspire me. I would love to change the negative perspective of feminism that exists in some areas of Christendom, and to encourage Christians who are anti-feminist to consider that we probably have more in common than they think.

I am not a bra-burning man-hater.

I don’t think women are better than men.

I don’t have a victim complex.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a woman staying at home with her children.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a woman working outside the home.

I am not against family life.

I am not pro-abortion (in most cases.)

I actually began calling myself a feminist in the midst of a feminine failure: a miscarriage. As I dealt with my lost child and a sense of lost motherhood, what I found was a renewed hope in the my own value and influence. (Read that story HERE.)

I am a feminist because I believe that women have a voice, and that voice should be heard.

I am a feminist because I believe that women are a creative, life-giving force in the world.

I am a feminist because I believe that women should be able to make their own path, whether or not it is the stereotypical path laid for them by their culture.

I am a feminist because I believe that women should be treated with equality and have opportunities equal to those of men.

I am a feminist because I believe in the equal value of all humans.

 

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5 comments

  1. Well written, as always, Karissa. I agree with your reasons for being a feminist, although I don’t call myself one. But I’m not “anti-feminist,” either. I guess I’m just not a fan of tags. Should well-rounded men call themselves masculists?

    Would Saint Mary Magdalen, whose feast we celebrate in the Orthodox Church today, care that people call her “equal to the Apostles”? Was she concerned about what she was not allowed to do? I don’t think so. She was too busy risking her life to anoint Jesus’ body and standing up to Tiberius Caesar (and miraculously turning an egg red to prove Christ’s resurrection) and traveling with Saint John the Evangelist, helping him spread the Gospel.

    I appreciate your struggles with the Church’s traditions (as you I know I share many of these concerns) but I guess I just choose to focus my energies on doing what I CAN do… in the church, in society, and in my home. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom for a number of years, but I also chose to work outside the home when my children were school age. I held just about every position a woman can hold in the Orthodox church (or at least in our parish) over the years, but I never coveted the roles of the clergy. I see our priests as representatives of Christ, the SON of God. I see women as representatives of Mary, the MOTHER of God. I’m not concerned with equality or rights, but only with trying to love, forgive (that’s the hardest one) and serve others. You know that there are plenty of “rules” that trip me up, but rules about women not being ordained or serving in the altar just aren’t the ones that concern me. But hey–I’m so glad you are on this journey and I applaud your courage and enthusiasm as you move forward.

    love you,

    Susan

    • kksorrell says:

      Susan, maybe I was too hasty to use the term “anti-feminist.” If so, I apologize. I do think Christian feminism has a little bit of a different flavor than secular feminism, which can seem brash. I would say it’s about advocating for all women more than some meaningless shout for equality. As far as “masculinists,” I guess since historically men have been leaders of just about everything and have been somewhat immune to acts of violence and discrimination compared to what women have historically experienced, I don’t think there’s a need for a label. Even today, white males in America often have more opportunities than anyone else. However, I am quick to say that I am in NO way against men, and I think men have much to contribute to society and also to family life. I love and value the men in my life, especially my husband, son, and father – but I also have a few cherished male friends as well.

      I would call Mary Magdalene a feminist, even if she wouldn’t call herself that. She forsook tradition to follow a crazy preacher around and then approach a man – not just a man – the Emperor – to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection!

      I think most Christian feminists would agree that our truth in Christ comes before our truth in feminism, but I also think most Christian feminists would assert that Christ was a feminist, or at the very least, he treated women as if they had value.

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