Thursday, February 28, 2013

What I Learned: Like a fish needs a bicycle

You know that old feminist saying, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?"


My bicycle AKA my baby AKA The Moneysaver

As someone who believes that men and women are both made in the image of God and thus equally valuable to each other, I have to disagree. But over the last several days, I've seen a lot of bright, passionate Christian feminists tell their stories, and in response, I've seen a lot of comments like:

What are some examples of how you felt hindered in the church?

Specifically where do you feel inequality as a woman, and who has made you feel this way?


In Muslim countries, women are often treated as second class citizens. In the United States, this is not the case.


Men are held to the same standards.They just don't talk about it like women do and for some reason women think men have it better.

Sometimes, it feels a little like Christians are saying, "The church needs feminism like a fish needs a bicycle."

I'll be frank. I do not know what planet the people who say these things are living on. That someone can simply not see that gender inequality in the U.S. is actually a THING is flooring to me. That I somehow have to defend or validate my own experience of injustice is nothing short of appalling. It's as if because women can vote and don't have to wear burqas they think there is no more work to be done. As Danielle pointed out yesterday, "if why feminism matters isn’t clear to you, it’s either because you don’t actually know what feminism is or you’re wearing blinders."

I have mixed feelings about Jezebel, but Lindy West really hit the nail on the head with this article about sexism and the Oscars:
I am tired of being called a shrieking harridan for pointing out inequalities so tangible and blatant that they are regularly codified into law. I am tired of being told to provide documentation of inequality in the comments sections of a website where a staff of smart women documents inequality as fast as our fingers can move. Like, you might as well write me a note on a banana peel demanding that I prove to you that bananas exist. I am tired of being asked to "cite sources" proving that sexism is real (that RAPE is real, even!), because there is no way to concisely cite decades and decades of rigorous academia… Do your own research like the rest of the grown-ups.
This is how I feel. When someone asks me why I believe inequality exists, I want to scream, "Why do I believe you exist? You're standing right in front of me!"

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But the church cannot even do that. From where I'm standing, it looks like the church is shutting its eyes and covering its ears and singing la la la la I can't hear you. Either that, or they don't even realize there's a song being played at all. And both possibilities are extremely damaging to its cause and mission in the world.

I'll put it this way. I am already a Christian. I have been for much of my life. And even I had to look for validation and affirmation outside the doors of the church. There was none to be found within. Within, I was less than. Within, I was restricted because of my gender. Within, I was not respected or taken seriously. The most painful rejections, abuses and injustices I've experienced have been at the hands of church people. Even the people inside the church who love me are usually people who have been rejected by the church themselves and who, like me, for whatever reason, are still in it.

Why would I want to invite somebody to that?

The church's reticence to affirm the full equality, worth and value of all persons in all spheres of life is draining it of any meaning and any ability to speak hope into the world. It is not offering a different way of living or a new mode of being, it is simply "Christianizing" the world's idolization of power and backing it up with bible verses. And it cannot even begin to sew up these gaping wounds until it first admits that it is bleeding.

If there's one thing I've learned from Feminisms Fest this week, it's that much of the church has no idea that it's bleeding. It has failed, willfully or otherwise, to see the injustice of gender inequality both inside and outside its walls. And in so doing, it has left the accomplishment of one of its primary goals—to communicate the sort of radical love and acceptance the gospel offers—to the feminists.

So actually, Christian church, you need feminism like the dying need a tourniquet. But I need your attitude like a fish needs a bicycle.


This post is part of the three-day Feminisms Fest linkup, which today is being hosted at See Preston Blog. Please do yourself a favor and peruse the other blogs participating; they are really wonderful and encouraging. Join the discussion by adding your own blog to the linkup or on Twitter using the hashtag #femfest!

16 comments:

  1. I have loved every single one of your posts this week, but I think this one tops them all. My favorite quotes:

    "When someone asks me why I believe inequality exists, I want to scream, 'Why do I believe you exist? You're standing right in front of me!'"

    and

    "So actually, Christian church, you need feminism like the dying need a tourniquet. But I need your attitude like a fish needs a bicycle."

    Amen and amen.

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  2. Ah, feminism.

    At the risk of quoting Inigo Montoya: "You keep on saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." And believe me, I agree with you on basically everything but your choice of vocabulary.

    Here's a very loosely related, but interesting article I recommend to just about everyone:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/308135/

    ~ Jameson

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    1. Hi Jameson,

      Thanks for your input, but I actually do know what feminism means and I assure you my use of terminology was 100% intentional. If you check out some of the other blogs from FemFest this week, you'll see we've actually been having a really excellent conversation about the definition and significance of feminism(s). Thanks!

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  3. Edit: just perused the first blog post you linked and realized that you're probably well-aware of the existence of "The End of Men." I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

    Diving deeper, I also got to that post on Patheos, "The F-Word: Why Feminism Is Not the Enemy." I agree with her that it's intellectually shallow to completely dismiss any ideology as carelessly as the Church has dismissed feminism, but I'm uncomfortable with her cherry-picking of the aspects of feminism she likes and still calling the result "feminism." There's a lot of good ideas in Marx, for instance, a lot that I agree with, but I wouldn't call myself a communist. There's too much stigma attached to that label.

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    1. I'm comfortable with the stigma attached to "feminism" in the same way in the same way that I'm comfortable with the stigma attached to "Christian." Both are too important to me to do away with the label altogether.

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    2. This response in and of itself is one of the most challenging things anyone has ever said to our generation about our faith. In risk of being completely off topic, people need to hear that being a "Christian" is too important to do away with the label because of the stigma attached to it.

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    3. WOW!

      "I'm comfortable with the stigma attached to "feminism" in the same way that I'm comfortable with the stigma attached to "Christian." Both are too important to me to do away with the label altogether."

      This in and of itself says so much.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to this conversation!

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    4. Touché. Although I don't think there's anything unbiblical about doing away with the Christian label.

      It's not just about stigma. Back to the Marx example, for all I agree with, there's enough I find distasteful in communism that I wouldn't use those labels to describe my socio-political/economic beliefs. I feel the same way about feminism.

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    5. And realizing that I have once more failed to restrain my gut impulse to critique (I'm a literature major, it's what we do), I would like to say that this quote:

      'It is not offering a different way of living or a new mode of being, it is simply "Christianizing" the world's idolization of power and backing it up with bible verses.'

      hits the nail right on the head. This is true of so many spheres that the Church influences, at the political/national level, in its interactions with pop/contemporary culture, at the congregational, and even (perhaps especially) in family life. A control-freak, man-centered mindset has usurped the biblical, God-centered one. You summarized a lot of thoughts I've been having on the subject, but far more concisely and articulately. Bravo.

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  4. "[The church] cannot even begin to sew up these gaping wounds until it first admits that it is bleeding."

    It is saddening to see such an opportunity for healing just passed over. I remember a sermon a few months ago about facing trials and staying faithful. The pastor listed trials such as balancing your budget, raising children, etc. I thought, "The woman next to me is a single parent and just got out of an abusive relationship. The woman two rows back was raped a few months ago. Who knows what other people in the congregation have experienced. Why won't he preach on facing trials like that?" I weep when I think back and realize that I've only heard rape mentioned in a sermon once---and I was the one preaching.

    Thank you for speaking out.

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  5. "It is not offering a different way of living or a new mode of being, it is simply 'Christianizing' the world's idolization of power and backing it up with bible verses."

    Oh goodness. So true. A while back I wrote a post called Without Jesus, would I even be a feminist? where I said, "There is a way to use Christianity to reinforce one's own ideas and maintain the status quo of oppression. Whenever someone is doing something that makes me mildly uncomfortable, I can quote 1 bible verse that vaguely relates, and say obviously what they're doing is WRONG." And for most of my life that's what I did- until I started reading feminist blogs and realizing that injustice is REAL and you can't just quote a verse and say "nothing to see here, move along" and ignore someone's problems.

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  6. OMG I understand. That's why I love blogging. I've met friends who think more like me as opposed to all the anti-feminists I knew growing up!

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  7. Emily, I've so enjoyed your blog posts! You're refreshingly honest and make me smile every time I read your thoughts. Thank you for holding fast to Jesus and not running when the church has hurt you and others your love. Your example matters--probably more than you'll ever know. We should get coffee sometime :).

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  8. You make me smile, too. Glad I got to read all three of these posts.

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  9. I spent 10 years as an evangelical Christian (and now, many years later, would call myself a progressive Christian - after not knowing WHAT to call myself in the interim), and it makes my heart sing to see the feminism that is springing up among Christians (and all over the globe in many cultures/religions). It's time! Thank you for writing this.I wanted to be a minister when I first "came to know the Lord," and I was so sad to find out that I couldn't because I was a woman. I didn't identify that as a problem in the church - I thought it was God's Word on the matter. I'm so glad to know all these years later that it just isn't so. But there's still lingering pain for that wrong (as well as many others) that were done to me and other girls/women who were and are treated as less than in the name of God. Keep on writing!

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  10. "It (the Church) is not offering a different way of living or a new mode of being, it is simply "Christianizing" the world's idolization of power and backing it up with bible verses."

    ^ THIS! THIS RIGHT HERE! A THOUSAND TIMES THIS!!

    That statement perfectly sums up what I think is the biggest shortcoming of so many forms of organized Christianity today.

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