I am learning to be a feminist.
I didn’t know how sexist I was. I didn’t grow up thinking a woman’s place was in the home. I did believe, however, that Eve was different than Adam — and this wasn’t just about boobs and penises. The assumed differences were all about relationships: the daughters of Eve were meant to somehow complete me and the rest of Adam’s sons. The idea of the women as the helper, as the companion, as the helpmate to man was ingrained in me. The relationship between the sexes had clear boundaries, there was no need to question it. After all the Bible was clear about this issue: God had designed men to be the head like Jesus was the head of the Church. Men were the pastors, men were the leaders, men were the decision makers. To question this was absurd, and the powers that sought to overturn the God-ordained order were really out to unravel society. You never wanted to be identified with those kinds of people.
Feminist was a dirty word.
It was an insult, a label to exclude, to separate the heathen “them” from the faithful us. Fueled by culture warrior scare tactics, I learned to respond with fear and repulsion to the word feminist — or, at least, my characterization of the idea. I learned lies about what a feminist is: they are lesbian man haters who seek to ruin traditional family structure; they are in league with the “homosexual agenda” to convert the young generation to their perverse thinking; feminists are overreacting, playing the victim, trying to make themselves more important than men, families, and God.
I heard nothing of privilege, power, and position. The ideas of equality in practice (as opposed to lip service) were never discussed. I learned from a white, male world that as a white male, I was correct in my thinking. The world was my oyster, and the right woman would be my help-mate. I could be one of the strong, godly, called, young men to stand against the onslaught of the secularist threat that was overtaking society under the name “feminism”.
So now, when I say I’m a feminist, I’m standing against all that shit.
But, feminism is bigger than my baggage.
While it is good to separate ourselves from the unhealthy indoctrination that sometimes occurs in youth, it is not healthy to simply run the opposite direction, open arms ready to embrace whatever may meet us. See, I might stand against the lies and subtle sexism of my childhood, but that is not the entirety of my reasons for self-identifying as a feminist. This isn’t some reactionary phase, being swept along in the latest buzz issues and social justice trends. I am joining in something older, bigger, and more weighty than my baggage. I call myself a feminist because willfully I choose to stand beside and with women for the sake of equality.
When I say I am a feminist, I am saying that I cannot be the champion for this cause. I am not the great male hope of feminism. I am not the hero of my female friends and family because they don’t need a hero, male or female. The have their own voice, and their voice is worth hearing in whatever way they choose to speak.
When I say I am a feminist, I am saying I want to listen. The women in my life have their own conflicts, their own struggles, their own victories, and their own defeats. The narrative of their life as a human belongs to them. I want to hear their stories, their wisdom, their fear, their pain. It is not my story to steal and turn into something else. If I believe women can and should speak up on any and every topic they choose, then I must listen when they speak.
When I say I am a feminist, I am saying I believe that equality is about more than equality of the sexes. Intersectional justice; true equality for all. This means that I am not allowed to turn my feminism into a way of finally letting the girls into the boys club. If I will stand as a feminist, with others who identify as feminists, then we will stand against discriminations based on sexuality, race, color, health, body type, world views, religion, disability, language…. To put it simply, we will stand with each other against discrimination and for equality.
I used to hear these kinds of words with suspension, expecting them to hide an agenda. Sweet words that would entice the unsuspecting away from the truth. My ears were raised to be hard, to hear lies in everything that was not my indoctrination. Speakers about equity were subjected to a higher criticism because I was sure they were really lying, determined to tickle the ear and pull people into some liberal agenda.
Then, I heard the gospel.
When I came face to face with Jesus as the reconciliation of all humanity to God, I begin hearing the voices of the people God loves to save. I began to listen to their stories of injustice, pain, persecution — stories that I would never know first hand because I am white, male, American, lucky enough to be born without a disability, Christian. I finally accepted that discrimination actually still actively exists and that it is an affront to God when we choose to disrespect and ignore someone’s voice and value because “they” are not like us. When we fail to take seriously the truth that all people are created in God’s image and all people deserve respect according to God’s love for them — the love that is defined in the Crucifixion of Jesus; when we fail to see the image of God in all people and act accordingly, we sin against the high king of heaven.
I became a feminist because of the way a Jesus theology is continually shaped me; I remain a feminist because equality and justice are work that belongs in the kingdom of Jesus, among the humanity he loves.
When I say “I am a feminist”, I am saying I want to love my neighbor as myself. When I say I am learning to be a feminist, I am admitting I need to learn from my sisters, from my brothers, from my fellow humanity how to love my neighbor as Christ has loved me.