We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 2]

Some social conservatives (Christian ones, at that) argue that feminism is to blame for the breakdown of marriage and society. One well-known evangelical sadly suggests that feminism turns women into “lesbians who hate their husbands and kill their children”. But I’m sure he means that with love.

Some Christians, reading into admonitions for women not to teach or speak in church from New Testament epistles, have used scripture to legitimize their culture’s own existing sexism, settling for the status quo instead of envisioning a kingdom of Heaven culture where “there is no male nor female, slave nor freeman, Greek nor Jew” (Galatians 3:28).

These narrow-minded and ill-informed views couldn’t be more wrong. Feminism neither destroyed marriage nor created abortion. Feminism is mistakenly blamed for abortions, but in China, third trimester abortions and even infanticide takes place regardless of the rights of women. Women’s rights is not some kind of culprit. The subtext of the argument against feminism is that it’s a bad idea to empower half of our society – that somehow women cannot be trusted to handle freedom. It reeks of fear and manipulation. Feminism isn’t responsible for breaking marriage, either. Marriages have been deeply broken for a long, long time, and children die where patriarchy (a force that generally opposes feminism) reigns like a lion. In some regions of Somalia, the men take the first portion of food and whatever scraps are left over – if there are any – are given to the women and children. The family friend who witnessed this tragedy said it reminded him of child-sacrifice cultures associated with the god Moloch.

One cannot quote the Letters to the Corinthians or letters any other 1st century church with disdain for context. The people of Corinth wrestled with a pagan culture whose association of women’s involvement in religion was as temple prostitutes. Further, women were largely uneducated and untrained in literature, speaking, teaching – things necessary for a woman to teach in church. Paul’s admonitions, offensive when read void of context in modern times, actually safeguarded the reputation of Christian Corinthian women and prevented poor teaching from being spread through the church in its fragile early years.

Nowadays, the story is quite different. Recent studies concur that higher education is tipping heavily to the side of women, with females comprising more than 60% of enrolment in higher education. Modern women are articulate, empowered, and educated, and St. Paul’s reasons for cautioning women in Corinth are absent in today’s Western context. Is it possible that God is asking us to be rational about it?

To entrust our education to female teachers at school but not at church is to hold a pretty laughable double standard.

So, what’s Christianity’s problem with feminism? The biggest kickback seems to be the link between feminism and humanism. Fine. Humanism is an ideology underpinned in naturalism, with a bone to pick with Theology. But for the moment, let’s look at the common ground between Christianity and feminism, since it’s pretty clear that some Christians have found a way to harmonize their beliefs with feminist thinking. After all, we are called to be peacemakers.

Dr. Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University‘s Gender Studies Institute helped me to see how both Christianity and feminism desire for fullest human flourishing, freedom from all forms of oppression and compassion for the powerless. Both involve aims of justice and self-reflection. Both involve seeing others as equals. That’s significant common ground. From this, I would gladly argue that Christianity and feminism can inform and empower each other.

Let’s just consider one important distinction. While there are lots of intelligent, well-spoken, wonderful, prayerful Christian feminists, there is a temptation to claim Christ was a feminist. People who do this usually point to the book of Luke, seeing how Luke the physician made careful note of how Jesus interacted with women and with the disempowered. The problem is that we apply a 20th century school of thought to a 1st century man (who happens also to be the omniscient Creator of the Universe whose ways are above our ways). According to Christian belief, God is infinite, eternal, and transcends all of our notions. To apply the label “feminist” to Jesus is actually to limit his scope. It’s a bit like saying “God is a builder”, “God is an artist” or “God is a parent”. While these things are true about God, he is not limited to any one of them. There is a great children’s book about this called Old Turtle, which I recommend highly. He is, in the words of Pura, “all balances struck”. While Feminism has been helpful in critiquing injustice, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing equality, Jesus is God, and his plan to restore humanity is larger than that of Feminism. Instead of forcing Jesus into boxes, no matter how nice they look in the catalogue, let’s allow Him to deconstruct ours. He promises “behold, I make all things new”.

We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 1]

As I write this, Malala Yousafzai lies in hospital the victim of Taliban gunshot wounds, and she inspires me to reiterate some thoughts from last year on the state of equal rights for women:

Women now make up more than 50 per cent of those attending post secondary institutions, but very few are making it to the top. As The New Yorker pointed out last year in ‘A Woman’s Place’, “Among the hottest new companies— Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Groupon, Foursquare — none . . . has a female director on its board.” This isn’t only true for Silicon Valley. In politics only thirteen per cent of seats are occupied by women while in the corporate world many women are stuck in C-level jobs. The majority of women, it seems, fill what have been named “pink collar professions”, industries like clerical work or childcare that are often low-paying.

At the school where I teach, a female colleague shared with me that she was glad that I was taking a job in the elementary school. Her reason: because males carry a natural authority that women don’t possess. “The boys just don’t respect women teachers as much as male teachers”, she expressed. Regrettably her observation may be true, even if her reasoning isn’t. I am the first male teacher many of my elementary students will have had thus far, and many others have expressed their satisfaction that a man will lead this rambunctious male-heavy class.

Females have fought hard to gain an equal place in society. Now, in the 21st century, women appear to have equal rights (at least on paper). But how much has actually changed?

Conflicts surrounding gender challenge every society. Westerners gasp at the concept of cultures forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe or to undergo circumcision. Yet even in the perceivedly liberal West, our patriarchy is as notorious as any for diminishing women in the worst way possible: by silencing them.

Through history, there have been witch hunts, church splits over appointments of female clergy, and omissions of influential women from history books (see The Book of Women by Lynne Griffin and Kelly McCann). Yet unlike other revolutions, (and we believe women have had their revolution), it hasn’t really been considered cool to be an “f-word” . . . a feminist. Does the word stir up a glamorous image?

Women maintain the same basic rights as men. However, they remain constrained by our ingrained social values. Let’s be candid here: can we celebrate equality when a strong man is seen as “powerful”, but a strong woman is seen as a “bitch”? Or conversely, a passive man is seen as “weak” and a passive woman is the booming pornography industry’s bread-and-butter? If the majority of males view sexual content in which the woman’s role is degrading, it’s no wonder that diminishing attitudes towards females continue to prevail, or even worsen in our society. I was disgusted this week at a youth rally when a young supposed “world-changer” grabbed one of my female high school students… somewhere he shouldn’t be grabbing.

Listening in 2011 to Vancouver station The Peak FM the radio ad for the census form caught my attention. First, a female voice gently reminded citizens that the deadline was drawing near. Then an authoritative male voice came on and said, “by law, all households must complete a census form.” At first I thought nothing of it; coincidence, surely. Yet our common mental associations with females and males respectively are motherly compassion and fatherly authority. The radio ad, knowingly or unknowingly, played to our gender identity associations. Two weeks later, the roles were reversed on the ad. It made me wonder if someone else had picked up on it…

Reflecting back upon my elementary school anecdote, are we still teaching our children to respect dad (the forceful one) but not mum? If so, we are deeply ingraining attitudes that continue causing problems for women in an old boys’ world.

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