On letting my feminist flag fly

image courtesy leeraloo.files.wordpress.comIf someone were to go back and read everything I’ve written on the subject of gender over the last 25 years – a tedious sounding enterprise if ever there was one – they’d be able to see shifts in my thinking and in my use of language, particularly in the way I identify myself.  I started out as a complementarian in marriage and an egalitarian everywhere else.  After a few more years of study I moved to being an egalitarian across the board.  But it’s only been very recently that I’ve begun to identify myself by the loaded word “feminist”.  I’m aware that some of my Christian friends have strongly negative associations with the word.  Heck, I’ve got some.  I’m old enough to remember feminism when it was a high profile movement.

Anyone remember these ladies?

image courtesy womenshistory.about.comimage courtesy marxists.orgimage courtesy people.com

Of course, being a child at the time my strongest impression of feminism probably came from this.

image courtesy timvp.com

Feminists are loud, masculine, man-hating, bra-burning, baby-aborting, goddess- worshiping zealots.  AmIright?

Well, there may be some who come close to the stereotype.  There are women who say that to be a feminist you must be pro-choice.  I’m not; I’m pro-life.

There are women who believe that feminine spirituality and consciousness and experience are superior to what men bring to the table.  I am not among them.  To replace patriarchy with matriarchy isn’t progress; it’s payback.

There are women who view the institution of marriage as inherently unequal and oppressive.  I am delighted to be married to Mr. Right, and to have been (primarily) an at-home parent for 20 years.

There are women whose central identity is “feminist”.  Mine isn’t.  I am first and foremost a child of God and a Christ-follower.  That immediately puts me outside the camp of many other women who call themselves feminists.

So why use the term at all?  Good question.  It’s problematic, and I may change my mind down the road.  But here’s where I’m at right now.

1.  Those other terms are so darn clunky!  “Egalitarian”, “mutual-headship” – are they really any better?  They’ve got as much misunderstanding around them as “feminist” and they’re harder to say.  Don’t make light of that:  clunky words get in the way of clear thinking.  I’m just glad I’m not saddled with “complementarian” anymore which is an awful word.  Not only does it not roll off the tongue, it’s chronically misspelled (at least by me).

2.  The basic meaning of feminism, stripped of added agendas, is one I embrace.  I believe in equal economic, political and social rights for women.  That’s not so crazy, is it?  I understand that the devil is in the details, and so, for instance, the argument over reproductive rights will follow.  Those of us who agree with the basic principle may disagree on its implications.  But still; you get the point.

3.  I have heroes to inspire me.  We’re all born into a particular time and have no choice but to work within it.  So, no, Priscilla, Lydia, Junia, Phoebe – they wouldn’t have called themselves feminists.  I imagine, in fact, that they accepted many of the cultural assumptions within which they were immersed.  Nevertheless, they were “blessed exceptions”.  They were women who went against the grain and stretched ideas about what women can do, and be.  And they weren’t the only ones.  My heroes include Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Susanna Wesley, Catherine Booth, Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Day.  I want to be as courageous as those women were.  I want to pursue the Kingdom of God without worrying that I’ll be misunderstood or ridiculed.  They had it hard:  I’ve got it easy by comparison, and I don’t want to shy away from stating plainly who and what I am.

4.  I have brothers who’ve encouraged me.  There are male theologians, activists and thinkers who had the guts to embrace the term “feminist” long before I did.  They helped me get past my fear of the stereotype.  So thank you, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, Jon Trott, and especially John Stackhouse, whose book Finally Feminist played a key role in my journey.

5.  There’s work to do.  Particularly on a global scale, the status of women in society is still at the heart of many of our problems.  Want to address poverty in the third world?  Make sure that girls have access to education.  Want to fight human trafficking?  Provide job training and business opportunities for women.  Want to reduce sexual violence, child marriage, and honor killings?  There’s no way through but to address the ideologies (some of them religious) that regard women as “weak…manipulative…morally unfinished…at the very least, expendable” (Thanks, Joss).  The flourishing of the human race depends on the flourishing of the entire human race, both male and female.  This is not the time to worry that someone might think I’m an angry lesbian because I call myself a feminist.  When we are living in the fullness of God’s redeemed and restored creation, when “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”, I promise to stop calling myself a feminist.  I won’t need to anymore.


About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in gender, religion, spirituality and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to On letting my feminist flag fly

  1. Sylwinn says:

    Wonderfully put. I think we define this pretty similarly. I have to credit my father for removing the taboo from the word “feminist” for me. I had picked up on some negativity surrounding the word somewhere in late grade school and I remember bringing it up one way or another. I was rather taken aback when my father clearly refuted that negative image by declaring himself a feminist and essentially presented me with a similar perspective to the one you delineated above. (God made us both and endowed us with our differences for His own purposes but that makes neither better or worse, simply different). I am forever grateful for that shaping moment. It’s a lot easier to embrace one’s full identity as a woman if you’re taught that that is beautiful by your feminist father!


  2. Jordan Rhea says:

    Hi Sharon. I just finished reading Finally Feminist and it was so encouraging to hear a man of God defending the dignity and value of women. I was wondering if you had any other book recommendations on this topic.


    • Yes! “Finally Feminist” is probably my favorite, partly because it’s short and sweet. But if you want to go more in depth I’d recommend “Gender and Grace” by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, “A Woman’s Place” by C.S. Cowles – and for a collection of essays from a wide variety of writers, “Discovering Biblical Equality”. Scot McKnight’s book “The Blue Parakeet” is really about biblical interpretation, but he has a section that is a case study on women in ministry, and it’s very good.


      • Jordan Rhea says:

        Thank you so much. I grew up in a very conservative evangelical context and I’ve always had this feeling in my heart that there was something wrong with the way that women were treated in church, but I haven’t always had a clear way to articulate that feeling in a way that is consistent with scripture. I’m still somewhat fuzzy on a few things, but I’m hoping to learn more. Thank you again. You’ve graced me with your humility and wisdom.

        Also, I loved your Joss Whedon seminar at Cornerstone. God bless.


  3. Thank you for leaving me this link, those kind words and prayer. I think I may have found a place where I fit in after all! I enjoyed reading your post!


  4. I was raised as a feminist, in fact I’d have been shocked to hear anyone identify herself as a nonfeminist, but gradually came to feel alienated from that word due to the sickening positions of NOW and other prominent feminist groups. Currently I’m involved in the fight against human trafficking. I disagree with the statement that the way to fight it is to provide job training and business opportunities to women, because women now actually have more training and opportunities than men have, in the USA and plenty of other countries, yet trafficking is increasing. It’s done by fraud and abduction. The way to fight it needs to be based on awareness.


    • I appreciate that you’re doing something real and practical to help women. I think the circumstances behind sex trafficking probably vary from country to country, and even from woman to woman and I don’t claim to be an expert on that issue. It sounds like you’re focus is on prevention – which is obviously important! I think job training and business opportunities for women are more important once a woman has come out of trafficking and is trying to start over. One of my sisters lived in Cambodia for many years and saw how difficult it can be to break the bondage of sex trafficking. You might be in interested in the work the Madgelene Community. I heard the founder, Rebecca Stevens, speak about ministering to prostitutes and she was so inspiring! Here’s the website if you’re interested in what they’re doing: they’ve got a good track record.

      By the way, I understand your alienation from the word “feminist”. I think we often frame our identities in reaction to certain things – whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but I think it’s human! I’ve reacted against patriarchy in the church – you’ve reacted against extremes in the feminist movement. But who knows – maybe you and I aren’t so far apart?

      Thanks for the comment and for reading!


  5. Pingback: Talking back to patriarchy, part 2: Watch your language! | Strange Figures

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