Friday, March 9, 2012

What Feminism Means To Me

When I was younger this image would have encapsulated my understanding of what "Feminism" is. What's even worse is that my experiences with feminists has been mostly negative. It wasn't until I met a few who weren't telling me about the evils of men or how everything I do can be pointed back to patriarchy that I realized that feminism deserves a second chance. It's at this point that I believe I should admit that I have not read anything about feminism specifically, but I have read In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan as well as a few suffragist writings. The book I linked to heavily influenced my thinking and I plan to continue to learn and try to understand what this is all about. Just thought I'd give a fair warning before anyone jumps down my throat.

Feminism gets a lot of heat from conservatives, which is really unfortunate since feminism shouldn't be about conservative or liberal agendas; it should be about common sense. This wasn't clear to me until I started talking to my sister. We were brought up with conservative Christian values and as you might imagine, the thought now makes me gag, but all the same it's what we were raised with and I'm not ready to call foul-play on the people who raised us. Unfortunately, there's a rather nasty underlying implication about our upbringing that I am trying illuminate for you. Though it's never directly stated, and in fact many conservative Christians would deny it outright, but the narrative implication is that women are the lesser sex.

This is further complicated by the fact that my parent's church (but not the same church my sister went to) had a female head pastor. Our church was very unorthodox for a conservative Christian church. As a little kid I didn't know that it wasn't normal for women to be pastors, and frankly I had (and still don't have) a reason to think women can't be pastors. Still, I was taught that women do certain things, men do other things. Men lead, women follow. There's a lot of spiritual discussion that I'm leaving out of this, because this entry isn't meant to discuss theology from an egalitarian perspective. The point is that I realized that women in my life who were brought up as I was had been led to believe that they were inferior, and the most incredible thing was that they couldn't see how.

It's not like many of these conservative Christians are trying to be anti-equality. Many of them would make compelling arguments to the contrary, and I was one of them, but over the course of several conservations with my sister I began to find myself saying things like, "No, you have just as much right as anyone else to thing A and no one should make you believe otherwise." I'll use the example of dating because it's the example most forefront in my mind. For a long time and still today, many men and women of the conservative Christian camp believe that men should initiate and women can sometimes feel inhibited by this. I know that when I was high school I would tell my friends that if a girl asked me out, I would have to say no because I believed so strongly that a man should be the one to initiate. But why? Is a woman any less capable of asking me out on a date? Is she any less capable of coming up with something fun to do? Is it so wrong if she pays once in a while? Men have been painted by the conservative Christian narrative as being absolutely evil creatures who, if they don't have Christ and live according to this very narrow conservative interpretation of Scripture, are bound to cheat women out of everything they have. Women are taught that men who follow Christ are the leader, that they are to follow men down the aisle in marriage to the grave. Women are also taught that there is something wrong with them, that their body is somehow evil, and that if they don't cover every inch of it that they will cause a man to do something bad. Really? So if a woman in the nude walks past me, I will be compelled to do something to her? Don't I have say in this? Yes, yes, I do. I have a responsibility to keep my penis in my pants and my hands by my sides; a responsibility that is so much easier than my upbringing would have me believe.

The fact of the matter is that there are lot of great people who don't realize the damage done by these implications. I wouldn't be surprised if there are things I don't know about my conservative Christian upbringing that has taught me some misconceptions about women. It is my hope that more and more followers of Christ will critically analyze their beliefs about the roles men and women in our sub-culture and realize just what kind of nonsensical ideas we've been taught to believe. There's nothing wrong with wanting to treat women with respect, as it is phrased by many a conservative Christian man, but why not just treat everybody equally and then you won't have to worry about how you're treating women?

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

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