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feminism and the chaos of labels

We’re in such a crazy time of labels in flux aren’t we? Evangelical, Post Modern, Egalitarian, Feminist, Christian, Emergent, emerging, missional, liberal, conservative, fundamentalist…and on and on it goes. All of these terms are from an era that is moving into another era and have been corrupted by time and humans inserting their own motives and ideas. Many of us are dropping labels we currently embraced as defining us and many of us are holding on to labels in spite of the fact that they no longer define us completely because we lack any other way to identify the core of our passions.

I hear from people a lot how they don’t like labels. I can appreciate and even identify with that sentiment but the fact is, sociologically, we can’t really function without labels, without categories…it’s how we identify with one another and even part of how we view ourselves. Even those who refuse to be labeled are being labeled in their refusal…as people who refuse to be labeled *smirk*.

One thing to keep in mind is that labels are self identifiers, they’re really not intended for us to place on others - they’re for others to place on themselves. In other words, they’re not supposed to be used as a way to judge others or put others in a box based on OUR understanding of that label.

Geoff asked about “Christian feminism” or the more broader title of “feminist”. What is it? What does it mean? and embedded in those questions is that of whether or not it still has meaning in our current culture.

For me, feminism is one of those labels I continue to hold onto because my understanding of it and experiences with it still speak to my passions about gender issues that still exist today. I’m a “Christian feminist” simply because I’m a Christian and a feminist. *clever eh?* The deeper implications of being a Christian and a feminist are pretty subtle but important in my way of thinking. Believing in a Divine Creator who created us to be male and female affects how I live out “feminism” in a way that is unique from a purely secular feminism (not necessarily better, just different).

Dictionary.com Unabridged
fem·i·nism /ˈfɛməˌnɪzəm/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[fem-uh-niz-uhm] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
3. feminine character.

And from Wikipedia

Feminism comprises a number of social, cultural and political movements, theories and moral philosophies concerned with gender inequalities and discrimination against women. Feminism is also described as an ideology focusing on equality of the sexes.[1] Some feminists, like Judith Butler, have argued that gendered and sexed identities, such as “man” and “woman”, are social constructs.[2]

According to some, the history of feminism consists of three waves.[3][4] The first wave in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the second in the 1960s and 1970s and the third from the 1990s to the present.[5] Feminist Theory developed from the feminist movement.[6][7]

I’m too young to really have experienced the feminism that is associated with the social and political movement of the 60s. My mother wasn’t a radical feminist nor do I have any friends who were. This is probably why I don’t have the baggage that many women have associated with the term.

It’s also important to remember that the feminism of which we speak is generally that of white, middle-upper class American and European women. There are many alternative feminisms that have thrived and continue to thrive all over the world. These feminist movements speak to their cultural context and take on a very different look and action. Just like it’s important for Christians when discussing missiology to be sensitive to the fact that we bring our culture with us, it’s important for feminists to realize that one woman’s idea of gender oppression in America, might not be shared by a woman in Africa, South America or any Third World nation. This makes the issue increasingly complex of course, but it’s important to factor in…and in all fairness, I think many American and European feminists have failed in realizing this.

Back to why I still call myself a feminist. Doing so quickly allows me to identify with other women for whom social, political and other rights for women is an important fight. In my social context, it also allows me to separate myself from those in Christianity who hold more “conservative” or “fundamentalist” ideas about gender roles and women’s rights. This is important for me to do because I live a life fully engaged with those outside my chosen faith and belief systems. If I am engaging with fellow Christians for whom “feminism” is offensive, I generally refrain from using that label because it puts up unhelpful walls but for the most part, I find it a helpful way to connect with women.

I know that there are women who call themselves feminists who are basically just man haters but in my experience, it’s not the majority and it’s not enough of a reason for me to abandon the label.

As for what role feminism plays in our society today? Well, since there are still many hurdles for women, glass ceilings, lower pay and an overall attitude of objectification and subjugation in many sectors, I feel it’s as important today as it ever was. In fact, I think it’s an important movement to revitalize in a healthy way for the very reason that there have been abuses and pendulum swings.

Feminism was far from ideal. Women throughout history have missed the mark in their attempts to gain equality and even the most basic of human rights but they were doing the best they could and for that, I’m thankful!

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  1. Tia Lynn — October 16, 2007 #

    Good post mak. In my expereince most conservative evangelicals are oppose to feminism becase they deem it synonymous with pro-choice and female dominance over men, instead of equality among the sexes. So because some feminists are pro-choice and others are man-haters, the whole concept kind of gets chucked out the window.

    If only they would look further back, before the 60s, and see that the church aided in “feminist causes” such as suffrage, safety codes in factories, child labor laws, etc. etc.

  2. Geoff — October 16, 2007 #

    Thanks Makeesha - I must admit I had you in mind when I posted - very glad you took the bait! And your little off-side point about labels needing to be self-identifiers was perfect!

  3. Mak — October 16, 2007 #

    thanks Tia, and your point is a very important one. “feminism” has existed in some form for as long as we know but esp. in the late 1800s early 1900s

    Geoff - I knew you did ;) Glad you popped over to read my ramblings.

  4. Anita Wright — October 16, 2007 #

    Labels are a tricky thing. So many women label themselves as a feminist yet we all have such a wide variety of beliefs, politics and goals.
    Great post Mak!

  5. Mak — October 16, 2007 #

    yep, which is why the onus is on the other to engage in dialog before making a judgment about the person claiming that label. Very rarely does someone just say “I’m a feminist” and refuse to articulate if asked what that means to her/him. So again, labels are intended for people to put on themselves, not so others can put them in a box of judgment.

  6. Paul — October 16, 2007 #

    thanks Mak, i like your point on the segmentation of feminism, that what works in the states might not else where. I wonder if that goes deeper and therefore amongst american feminists there might also be a different pov or amongst christian feminsts etc?

    I ask merely from observing the culture in the UK which broadly has a very progressive equality legal framework and it is almost normative portrayal of men and women to objectify each other and seek to subjugate the will of the other to their own.

    The equality bit seems pretty much taken for granted - my favourite example is in public transport where even a decade ago you could pretty much guarantee that some man sitting would offer a woman who was standing his seat. Now that never happens, unless say the woman is say obviously heavily pregnant (interesting aside here the london underground are piloting a sticker programme for pregnant woman who were fainting from standing up as no one would offer their seat as research found out that people were afraid to insult them if they were just overweight). Equality has been assumed in that a woman can stand just as well as a man, whereas the motivation before was that a woman was weaker than a man and therefore needed to sit.

    Even the whole church conversation has moved away from women in leadership on to other matters, largely thanks to the anglican decision to allow the ordination of women back in the early 90s.

  7. Ryan — October 17, 2007 #

    Keep it comin’ Mak.

    Some similar thoughts to a recent post of mine, “Girls Gone Wild Go Home” at http://www.thecoredowntown.com/2007/10/girls-gone-wild-go-home.html, or just click on the link above.

  8. Mak — October 17, 2007 #

    thanks ryan

  9. Pingback - Calacirian » Women Are the New Women — October 19, 2007 #

    [...] I’m not quite certain how to begin this post.  It’s been fomenting for a while now.  There were posts by Makeesha and Julie earlier this week that fed it.  Then Bro. M. posted on EMasculinity yesterday, quite independently of Mak and Julie.  I know it was independently because he’s at a Missional Order Gathering in Washington this week and had pre-loaded his posts.  So it just so happened. [...]

  10. Athanasia — February 12, 2009 #

    I stumbled upon this blog. I agree with you. I too am a Christian woman and a “feminist” in so far as I believe God made humanity equal and that this equality needs to be pursued. I felt happy to read that your expression of feminism is shaped by the belief that God made us male and female. God knows I wouldn’t be a Christian if I believed he made (or wanted) women to be second class citizens.

    All the best,

  11. Pingback - labels, the f-word, and splitting hairs « christian feminism — April 27, 2009 #

    [...] 26, 2009 awhile back mak had an excellent post on her blog about feminism and the chaos of labels. something she said has stuck with me all this time. she said: One thing to keep in mind is that [...]

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