Friday, February 26, 2010

The Real F Word

Today on facebook someone posted an article about a woman who was murdered because she was stalked by a man who was obsessed with her. That man took her life, and sadly, this is the norm for so many women as domestic violence is rampant in our country. You wouldn't believe it, but the numbers are frightening, and nobody talks about it. It effects all women of all races and social classes. In reflecting on this horrible, and unnecessary event and what it means, it makes me think about how very important feminism is.

I guess it's time for me to "come out" on this blog as a feminist. Feminism is considered a bit of a dirty word, especially it seems in Christian circles (in my experience). That's why I usually refrain from using that word for the most part, because people carry such negative assumptions about what it means. The thing is, feminism is of utmost importance, and is so vastly misunderstood. Feminism is this beautiful idea that maybe we're all equal and should be treated the same and with the respect that each human being deserves--regardless of your race, social class, gender, sexuality or what have you. Don't think you're a feminist? Take this quiz:

1. I think women and people of color should be allowed to vote.
2. I think women and people of color should be allowed equal access to jobs and education
3. I think men should be involved in their children's lives.
4. I think all people are equal/should be treated equally.

If you said "yes" to any of these questions then say it with (in the simplest of terms). I love feminism because it has given me so much: I had this fantastic realization that maybe I was more then my body weight, and just maybe I didn't need to be in a relationship to determine that I was valuable. Maybe I WAS smart. Maybe men didn't have to live up to this silly expectation of being "real" men--maybe they could be compassionate and loving--maybe they were more then violent, angry muscle "manly" men. I would have told you all of these things pre-fem Jess, but I don't think I really believed it. Feminism has made me appreciate the full worth of human beings, and helps me make the world a better place for those who are undervalued and have been cut some bad breaks just because of their social status. The biggest reason I love feminism is that it has given me my faith back. I think I see Jesus a lot more clearly then I used to, and that is a beautiful thing. I can see a kinder, gentler Jesus who loves people equally. I think because of the beliefs I carried about men and masculinity, and what I had been told about it in church, I never really thought I could really know Jesus fully. He seemed sort of mean. We say we believe in equality today, but if we look at how we really treat people who are poor or of a different race or gender and what the unconscious assumptions we carry about them, we'd find that maybe we're not as egalitarian as we think. I say "we" because I am part of the problem. But we are so much more then our genders, and I think feminism looks beyond the social expectations and wants people to move past stereotypes and wants them to be whole human beings, not limited to one set of characteristics for one particular gender. One of my favorite professors from college wrote this article, and it has been one of the most pivotal readings in my college career (and I love it because it is so simple). After I read this article it made me look at Jesus in such a different way...and realize that maybe feminism wasn't as bad as I thought it was. This is why I can believe in Jesus, because He was (is) the only one who could completely treat people as equals. I love this because it's just that simple.

"Why I am a Feminist" by Dr. Kevin Neuhouser (September 2006)

Because Jesus is.

That's the short answer, but hardly a very satisfying one without some explanation. After the flurry of attention to gender issues on campus last spring, I decided to study how Jesus treated women. So, this summer I read through the four gospels and noted every single recorded interaction that Jesus had with women. From the gospel accounts, I can only include that Jesus was a feminist.

Now, I know full well that the term "feminist" did not exist when Jesus walked in Palestine. But according to the gospels, Jesus treated women in ways that meet the basic definition of the term. Although there are many different kinds of feminism, differing on both the explanation for why the problem of gender inequality exists and how it can be solved, at the heart of every feminist is the belief that gender equality is to be valued and pursued. Thus, the basic idea of feminism is simply that women should have access to the same resources and opportunities as men and that they should be treated with the same respect as men. And this is exactly what I found Jesus doing in the gospels.

In his recorded interactions with women, Jesus incarnated three basic feminist principles: 1) In his teaching ministry, Jesus presented the same content in the same form to women and men, and 2) Jesus never relegated women to the domestic sphere, and 3) Jesus fully incorporated women into his ministry.

The gospel writers focused the majority of their content on Jesus' teaching ministry. Never once, in all the accounts, whether teaching large crowds or individuals, did Jesus present separate gendered messages to men and women (e.g., women should be/do one thing while men should be/do something else). In every single case, Jesus presented a single message that demanded a single response from both women and men. The required response for everyone was faith and obedience. And Jesus recognized and praised women's responses to this teaching message, implicitly calling his male listeners to live up to women's righteous examples (e.g., the Canaanite woman of "great faith," the widow who gave God her last penny, the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany).

Not only did Jesus teach the same message to men and women, he also taught women and men in the same way. Jesus never "taught down" to women or patronized them by softening the message, In fact, at times Jesus seems almost rude to women as, for example, when he pushes the Canaanite woman to express exactly why he should heal her daughter (Matt 15:21-28). In doing so, Jesus demonstrated a belief that women had the same spiritual and intellectual abilities as men and therefore could be pushed just as hard to use and develop them fully (e.g. the Samaritan woman, John 4:1-41).

In none of the gospel accounts is there a single example of Jesus separating men and women into mutually exclusive spheres of activity--women to a domestic sphere of caring for men and children, men to a public sphere of work and ministry. In fact, when Martha tries to enlist Jesus in her attempt to force her sister Mary back into the kitchen, it is Martha who is reprimanded and Jesus announces that it is Mary, who is sitting with the male disciples to listen to Jesus, who "has chosen the right thing." (Luke 10:38-41). In addition, all four gospel writers record that not only male disciples, but also many women left homes and family to follow Jesus in his traveling ministry. Some of these women even supported Jesus financially from their own economic resources. Neither Jesus not the gospel writers express any concern that this choice to leave the domestic sphere might be inappropriate behavior for women. In fact, Luke (8:1-3) reports that these women "were with Jesus" in the same way as "the twelve." Thus, Jesus provides no support for a division of women and men into separate spheres as an act of Christian obedience.

At the core of the gospel "good news" is the pronouncement that "Christ is risen!" This is fundamental to the message that Jesus' followers have been commanded to share with the whole earth. Thus, it is striking that on the morning we now call Easter, Jesus first entrusts this message, not to the male disciples, but to his female followers (Luke 24:1-11). Jesus gives the women who have come to the tomb instructions for "the Eleven," in effect, making them apostles to the apostles. Mary magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the "other women" obey Jesus' instructions, but then something unfortunate happens--the men fail to believe the women "because their words seemed to be nonsense." Luke implies that the men are at fault for their disbelief because the women faithfully relayed "all these things" that Jesus had spoken to them. At the very beginning of the Church era, then, male followers of Jesus underestimated women's Christ given role in the ministry of the gospel, unable to believe that Jesus could or would use women to instruct men.

Thus, Jesus--in his teaching, in his refusal to divide women and men into separate spheres, and in his incorporation of women into the fundamental ministry of preaching the good news--fits the definition of "feminist," a man who treated women as equals to men. Unfortunately, men who follow Jesus today face the same temptation as his first male followers--to fail to hear the voice of God speaking through women who are faithfully accepting their full equality in Christ.

If Jesus was a feminist, then I need to be one too. (end)

I also love this article. It gives me hope on so many levels:

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