The F(eminism) Word
Four years ago, a yellow-covered book by a new Christian author began surfacing in my various feeds. I remember seeing the title and dismissing it outright, probably while scrunching up my nose, like, “Nah, I don’t think so,” or “I won’t be reading that.” You don’t put Jesus and Feminist in a Christian book title and get away with it. Jesus I got, and I know. But the feminist part? Feminism, as far as I knew and had been implicitly and explicitly taught, was bad juju. In the Church and outside of it, at least where I have been, we just don’t do feminism.
A friend, whose readerly instincts and heart I trust, let me borrow her copy of Jesus Feminist. I read it and lived to tell. What I found inside the pages and in Sarah Bessey’s words was a place where I could be myself, a safe space where it was okay to love Jesus and be a strong woman. She provided language for things I’d been scratching my head about.
For one, I sat with the actual definition of feminism. Apart from the Femi-Nazi term I knew. Apart from the Women’s Studies department I had avoided like Black Death itself when I was in college. Apart from Gloria Steinem and any other notorious feminist icons. Apart from rhetoric. Just what does the word itself mean?
Definition of feminism
1 :the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2 :organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests
For two, I sat, and I continue to sit, with the ways that Jesus interacted with women. How he allowed a woman to pour the essence of nard on his feet and then wash his feet with her hair. How he sat with the woman by the well, how he saw her and talked to her and shared living water with her. How he included women as traveling companions with him and his disciples. How he noticed the widow giving all she had to give. How he stepped in to stop the stoning of a woman, how he advocated for her, how he did not condemn her. How he addressed women in public. How he talked to and healed a ceremonially unclean woman who had suffered with perpetual menstrual bleeding for 18 years.
Jesus’s posture toward women liberated them from the norms of first century middle eastern culture. He did not panic when a woman with a discharge of blood touched his cloak. A woman washed his feet with her hair, in a social setting, and he commended her for it. He sat and talked, alone, with the woman at the well. This is not the behavior and manner you would expect. It’s scandalous. And it tells me that there’s more to Jesus than what I’d known.
What I can say after reading Bessey’s book, and after more reading and listening and sitting still, is that I’m comfortable being a Jesus-loving, Jesus-following pro-life feminist. But, I’m only comfortable saying it some places, a select few places, because churchy people don’t like the word feminist. Or outliers. It’s not comfortable at all to say it in a public platform. As I’m typing, my brow is furrowed, and I keep pausing and thinking this was a dumb idea, this strong-female-Friday theme on my blog.
But I’m going to risk vulnerability. Green Wilderness is about wrestling with the tensions, about growing together in spite of dichotomies that seek to divide and destroy us. I don’t believe that being a feminist is my primary identifier, but I can use it to describe myself. For me, being a woman who wants to advocate for whole and life-giving treatment of women in our culture and in cultures worldwide is in no way equivalent to demoralization and less-than-whole treatment of men. The vulnerability out in the wilderness sometimes equates to exposure, misunderstanding. Or going it alone. Though I am pretty sure I’m not alone.
My journey with feminism contains more than a singular blog post can hold. And my journey with Jesus grows sweeter and deeper as I go. Friday posts from now on will highlight strong women who have helped me see Jesus in the world, who have taught me courage, who have fueled my faith.
“One needn't identify as a feminist to participate in the redemptive movement of God for women in the world, The gospel is more than enough. Of course it is! But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti's future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist.” –Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist