September 17, 2014

Christianity and Feminism: Are they incompatible?


I've gotten myself in a bit of hot water in other blogospheres this week, because apparently I am too hard on religion. But alas--I can't help it. Well, I could, I guess. But I also can't.

One hot button topic that people debate is the compatibility of religion with feminism. In light of how hard I am on religion, it may be hard for people to believe that I do not believe they are fundamentally incompatible. Not in the slightest, actually.

When The Bible is taken as a cultural text, that is to say, when believers understand it in relation to its time, the two are not incompatible.


The Christian Post does not agree:

The problem with the Feminist movement in the Church starts with an overemphasizing of women's sexuality as the only form of liberation. It is this obsession, re-branded as "reproductive freedom" that drives popular "Jesus feminists" to point to Jesus to advocate for taxpayer funded abortifacients, and at times, sympathize with abortion. This distortion, though popular, is simply not Scriptural. 
Borrowing from the pro-abortion rhetoric of mainstream feminism, feminist evangelical and blogger Jennifer Crumpton wrote, "No one wants abortions. But life is extraordinarily complex and often very unfair to women, especially poor women, on many levels." Crumpton also wrote that women's "right to control our own bodies and make decisions about our own reproductive systems is an economic issue." Sound familiar to Beyonce's right to control, or in this case objectify, her own body? 
Trying to fit the Bible into feminism doesn't work. As Mollie Hemingway over at the Federalist rightly noted, "It's not magically made OK when one woman co-opts the meaningless term 'feminist' and slaps it next to it." 
Yes, some men have twisted Scripture to oppress or harm women. But as I have said and will continue saying, these men are not accurately reflecting the Gospel. The charm of feminism is that makes us feel as though we have control, when in reality it is controlling us. As Christian women, we chose to become servants of Christ. 
Women—Christian or Atheist alike—certainly are people too. But we don't need to embrace feminism's double standards. Christian women are already liberated not by ideology or a worldly status, but by Jesus Christ. "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1)

In this respect, I do agree to an extent. If you believe that reproductive freedom is not a basic right, if you do not understand how essential it is to women's progress, then you cannot be a feminist.

I have to be blunt about that. This is a foundation of feminism, and it is rightly so. Motherhood and maternity are the great distinguishers between males and females biologically. The ability to control that is what allows us to begin to gain ground and establish true equality.

So yes, these concepts are essential to feminism. But they are not, as the author would have us believe, incompatible with Christianity.

One of my favorite blog posts on this subject was written a few months ago by Samantha Fields of Defeating the Dragons. The post titled "Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist?" makes a great point:

If you want to make all abortion illegal (like it is in Ireland and some Latin American nations), then no. Absolutely not. If you think that “partial-birth abortion” is a medical term and want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks, then no. If you want to make it impossible for international aid organizations to offer women in developing nations hormonal contraception, then no. If you think that a company has the right to dictate to their employees what medicine they are allowed to use, then no. If you think that legalizing rape by use of a medical instrument in the context of a doctor’s office is ok, then no. If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no. If you think that women who have abortions are just lazy sluts who have been brainwashed by money-hungry doctors, then no. 
However, if you have personal moral and/or spiritual reservations about the life of the unborn and you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion no matter how desperate you were, but you are aware that all making abortion illegal does is kill women, then yes. If you believe that life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued, but you also acknowledge that woman are people, too, then yes. If you want to do all you can to reduce the abortion rate through education, through access to effective contraception, through pursuing policies that will help working mothers keep their jobs (like subsidized day care, either through employers or government-sponsored programs), if you believe that life outside of the womb is just as important as life inside of it, then hell yes.
In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist. 
But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.

 Samantha's blog is one of a handful I follow that are written by believers, in this case a beautifully progressive Christian. Samantha shared her journey to being pro-choice in her series The Ordeal of the Bitter Waters. I won't highlight them, because I want to encourage you to read them if you are interested in knowing more.

The post details that journey, and how she reasoned her current position. She considers herself both a Christian and a feminist, and is, in my opinion, an excellent example of both in the blogosphere.

We've talked before about how abortion is in The Bible and how it isn't exactly cohesive with the pro-life message we tend to here from corners of Christianity today.

So all in all, let me sum it up by saying this.

I agree with this author in spirit, actually. I do believe that certain concepts are foundational to feminism, and I do believe that reproductive freedom is one such concept.

On the other hand, I do not, however, find any significant reason that Christianity is incompatible with feminism on those grounds. While pro-life has become a clarion call of some Christian sects, it's still an issue that provides much fodder for thought, and that others--either through their religious beliefs themselves or through their feelings that religion and state should be entirely separate--are quite able to sync them.

And that, as evidence of the evolution of religious thought, is a truly beautiful thing.

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