Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why It Matters: Feminism is for my little sisters

Today's post is about why feminism matters. To answer the question, I could talk about my negative experiences at conservative bible college, about the men who had no idea what it was to look at women like Jesus did, about the hopelessness in girls' voices when they lamented being unable to serve God to their full capacity because of their gender. I could talk about global issues of systemic injustice, about the millions of baby girls missing all over the world due to selective abortion, about the tragedy of the sex trafficking industry. I could talk about politics or pop culture, about how women are still underrepresented and underpaid, about the gross double standard forced on women in the media. I could talk about a lot of things.

But instead, I want to talk about my little sisters. I have five of them.

Here are some of us going roller skating in a blizzard last week because YOLO

That makes six of us (plus our one brother, God bless him). And my parents have done an excellent job raising strong, independent daughters. We were never told that we couldn't be or do anything simply because we were girls. We were raised to pursue our dreams, think critically, and yell about theology at the dinner table. I wish my parents' messages were the only ones my little sisters were receiving.

But I know they're not. Because they're not the only messages I received either. In spite of my parents' best intentions, I picked up a few other messages along the way as well, whether through friends, the media, even church. Messages about my position relative to men, about the danger of my body, about submission to authority, about what I needed to be and do and look like to be acceptable to God and his people.

And you know what? Those messages screwed me over on more than one occasion. I don't want them to screw my little sisters over too.

Not only that, but one in six American women will be a victim of sexual assault at some point in their life. (EDIT: These are just the number of sexual assaults that get reported. The actual numbers are probably much higher.) There are six daughters in my family. If statistics are correct, that's at least one of us. And that is a sobering thought. I hope it's something my family never has to face. But if this kind of tragedy ever happens to one of my little sisters, I do not want them to be asked questions like*:

What were you wearing?

Were you in a compromising situation?

Did you tell him no?

Did you resist as much as you could?

*These are all questions that I have either heard Christians ask, or victims of sexual assault have told me that Christians asked them.

I do not want them to be loaded up with shame by ignorant people who think that a woman who is a victim of sexual assault must have been "asking for it" somehow. I do not want them to be led to believe for even a moment that God is angry with them for what happened. I want them to be hugged, affirmed, reassured, fought for, protected, healed, lifted up, and loved. I want them to be told that Jesus would never treat them that way, that their pain is the opposite of his will, that the only person at fault is the person who hurt them.

Yesterday I argued that feminism is the radical notion that women are people. Which is true: feminism says that you are a person. But feminism also says that you are still a person, even if other people have treated you like you are not.

So feminism is for all the women in the world. Feminism is for all the men in the world. Feminism is for people of various religions, races, and sexual orientation. Feminism is actually for everyone. But feminism is especially for me and my little sisters.

This post is part of the three-day Feminisms Fest linkup, which today is being hosted at From Two to OnePlease 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!


  1. Wow... this perspective really brings it close to home. 1 in 6 American women are victims of sexual assault- this isn't about some scary thing that happens to people far away, people who are much different than me- no, this is about our own friends and families.

  2. I love your rollerskating posse! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Emily,
    First of all, I am sorry that you have encountered so many bad relationships and conversations with men. And I do not excuse any kind of behavior like the ones described in this post or your last, but I do want to look briefly at where your hope is seemingly found in these dark times.

    In your last post you commented, "Blessedly, it was during this time that words of grace and truth and freedom were first spoken to my heart," followed immediately by a discussion on your first encounter with Christian feminism. Let me be clear, freedom is not found in feminism, nor is it found in any other notion outside of the gospel. Christian Feminism may have some gospel roots, but its focus is not the gospel, it is women's rights.

    Let me explain, the gospel is first and foremost, as sinners, we receive undeserved, unrelenting grace. It is not primarily, as victims we receive love and care. I will not disagree with the notion that in the gospel we receive love and care, but not because of what we have done, or what we have experienced, but rather IN SPITE of what we have done. The feminist gospel (especially from what you seem to propose over and over again in your blogs) is a "rescue the victim" gospel, not a "show grace to the sick, twisted, undeserving wretch" gospel. Again, I do not want to sound like I don't think there is a need for social justice, nor do I want to sound like the gospel allows for people to be treated sub-human, but that is not the primary message of the gospel, that is an outflow of the gospel.

    I would also like to propose that in your "comment policy" section you give a link to a Wikipedia page describing logical fallacies, saying that these will not be tolerated, yet in the phrase, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people" you use a logical fallacy yourself - the straw man. In stating that feminism is the *radical* notion that women are people, you are implying that your opponent (anyone not a feminist) does not think that women are people. I know plenty of people who are not feminists, who believe that women are people.

    Thanks for your time,
    Jase Tunell

    1. When Jesus healed people, did he make a point of telling them "actually you don't deserve this, you are a sick and twisted sinner and I'm giving you mercy"?

      I do believe that as individuals, people all sin and need God's mercy. This is the part of the gospel that gets emphasized in American culture, which is very focused on the individual. But the gospel is also about working to overturn the world's systems that perpetuate injustice- systems that exist because of the brokenness of sinful nature of humanity. As Jesus said in Luke 4, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

      The idea that "the gospel" is ONLY about individual people repenting for their individual sin strikes me as very American (because everyone interprets the gospel through their own cultural lens, and American culture is SO focused on the individual, compared to Asian culture for example). Christian feminism goes beyond that and looks at the bigger picture, pointing out the ways that the sinful nature of humanity oppresses entire groups, and works to end that injustice and bring healing to victims.

    2. Wow, Jase. Um. I'm not sure where to begin.

      First of all, I'm not sure if you've been reading any of the other posts for FemFest besides mine, or any of the posts over the last week or two leading up to it, but one of the things that those of us who identity as Christians have been adamant about from the start is that the "feminist" message that all people are created equal and have equal standing with each other and before God is actually an ESSENTIAL part of the gospel itself. I can't speak for everyone, but I most certainly would never try to posit feminism as something that is needed "in addition to" the gospel.

      Also, let ME explain, my hope is found in the gospel alone. I just happen to see a lot of overlap between feminist concerns and gospel concerns, and because Christians have given themselves a bad name by NOT supporting the full equality and value of women in every sphere of life, especially within their own doors, I'm comfortable being called a feminist as well as a Christian.

      And perfectnumber described better than I could have when she said "People all sin and need God's mercy. This is the part of the gospel that gets emphasized in American culture, which is very focused on the individual. But the gospel is also about working to overturn the world's systems that perpetuate injustice." That's exactly what I mean. To look at the gospel as only individual atonement for the wrongs we have done is a narrow view that stunts our understanding of the full implications of the kingdom of God. Of COURSE I believe that people are sinful and do bad things and need to be forgiven, but people are also victims of situations outside of their control. A woman gets raped because we live in an evil world in need of redemption where rape occurs, but she did NOT get raped because she somehow sinned and deserved it, or sinned and caused it. The gospel saves sinners, yes, but the gospel also speaks life and hope and truth and peace to the broken, the victims, the downtrodden. And if you don't see that in scripture I don't know what to tell you, because it's all over from Genesis to Revelation.

      Lastly, "feminism is the radical notion that women are people" is not a straw man because if you'll notice, it actually says nothing about the views of its opponents. It's simply challenging others to think about what "people" actually means. Of course I think most if not all people would say that yes, indeed, women are people. The slogan is meant to challenge us to think deeper about what being a "person" actually means, and the rights and inherent worth and value and equality that come along with that.

      Thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking the time to engage, but I think your view of the nature of the gospel is extremely narrow and doesn't do justice to God's vision of redemption in the world.

    3. Also, on the rape thing, I realized I may need to clarify, by "A woman gets raped because we live in an evil world in need of redemption where rape occurs," what I mean is an evil world in need of redemption where RAPISTS RAPE. I want to make clear that I don't think rape just "happens." It's a very intentional act on the part of the rapists. Rape exists because people rape, not just because the world is bad. That is all.

    4. Thanks for your responses. And again, I want to force the idea that I believe that we must advocate for social justice which includes equality among men and women. And I do not want to, in any way, minimize God's love and his incredible care for the oppressed and hurt. However, a person's hope and freedom and value is ultimately not found in having equality (that would be a liberation gospel). It’s a horizontal gospel, one that is human centered.

      And yes, I believe that God has set out to redeem the world, and not just the people of the world, but even the world itself as well (Rom. 8). And in God's redemption of the world, relationships between men and women, blacks and whites, poor and rich should be mutually edifying and equal in value. But these aren't the radical ideas of feminism; these are the radical ideas of Christianity.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think you need to be careful about what you are calling people to. Your aim is not to win them to feminism, but to Christ. I agree with a lot of what you are saying, but the world doesn't need feminism, it needs Jesus. And I could be wrong, but from a reader’s perspective, what you are communicating is that feminism has answers that the church is messing up.

      You said “I just happen to see a lot of overlap between feminist concerns and gospel concerns, and because Christians have given themselves a bad name by NOT supporting the full equality and value of women in every sphere of life, especially within their own doors, I’m comfortable being called a feminist as well as a Christian.”

      What this communicates to me is: “Christianity does a lot of things right, but right now the church is failing at valuing men and women equally, therefore, I’ll call them to the concerns of feminism so that they can see what is right.” What is right is not feminism, what is right is Christ; what is right is Biblical truth; what is right is the gospel. That’s what they need to be called to, not feminism.

      And while I’m not excusing the sin of the church in any way, the answer isn't to ascribe to a different belief that has some good morals. No, the answer is to, in love, reform the church today; not under a different title (feminist Christianity) but simply Christianity. When you incorporate “feminism” into your identity, you are bringing along a lot more baggage than just equality among men and women. Feminism has good and bad qualities to offer. Biblical Christianity does not. And you can feel free to define what Biblical Christianity is, but what it is not is feminist Christianity.

      And again, thanks for engaging in responding to my post. My goal is that through this conversation (not debate) we can be mutually edifying to one another.


    5. Jase- it sounds like we have the same goal- equality, bringing the gospel to the world, etc, but the disagreement is in the terminology used to promote those ideas. Emily and I believe using the language and ideas of feminism is helpful and addresses an area that the church normally doesn't talk about. :) It's okay with me if you disagree with us about that, because you seem to be advocating justice/equality/etc.

    6. Jase—I would agree with you that ultimate hope is found in reconciliation to God… it's just that I also believe that reconciliation with God, if it is real, NECESSARILY issues in reconciliation with others. The vertical leads to the horizontal, if you will.

      And no, you're absolutely not wrong in inferring that I'm communicating "that feminism has answers that the church is messing up." I believe that. I believe the church has dropped the ball on this one, that if it really believed what the gospel said about men and women and our relationship to God and each other, that we wouldn't necessarily need to be using the term "feminist" because we would all understand "Christian" to mean "someone who is passionate about and believes in the full equality of all persons in all spheres of life at all times." (On this, I HIGHLY recommend this post by Amy Lepine Peterson for Christ and Pop Culture:

      And yes, I do believe, in your words, that "Christianity does a lot of things right, but right now the church is failing at valuing men and women equally, therefore, I’ll call them to the concerns of feminism so that they can see what is right." The language, categories and concerns of feminism provide a very helpful framework for Christians to begin engaging the church in ways that can lead to greater understanding of the issues at stake and more equality for men and women.

      Also, I would argue that in the same way that I bring "baggage" when I incorporate "feminism" into my identity, I also bring "baggage" when I incorporate "Christian" into my identity. If we refrained from calling ourselves something because others who also adhere to that label believe things we disagree with or make choices we disagree with, then we would never be able to call ourselves anything. In spite of the fact that there are pockets of Christianity I disagree with and think are harmful, I still call myself a Christian. Same with feminist. Same with artist. Same with theologian. I would think that someone who calls themselves a "Calvinist," for example, probably does not agree with everything every Calvinist has ever said, and probably thinks there are some manifestations of Calvinism which are harmful, but nonetheless accepts the label because overall it describes what they believe. I am not one to throw out labels entirely. All labels will come with "baggage" of some sort.

      Feminism provides a useful framework TO reform the church. I'm not arguing we all jump ship and give up Christianity and the gospel and only believe feminism. That would be counterproductive the goal I have in mind. However, I stand by my statement that there are overlaps between feminist concerns and gospel concerns, and any Christianity which purports to be remotely "biblical" (though I hesitate to use that word at all) must share the feminist concern of the equality of all persons in all spheres of life.

    7. Also ditto to everything perfectnumber said. She knocked it out the park, again, more politely than me, again. :)

  4. Emily Joy,
    I love your blog but as an advocate for women survivors of sexual assualt and domestic violence and a rape survivor myself I need to point out that your numbers are not actually quite correct, sadly. 1 in six women will report rape during their lifetime; but one in three will be raped- many (like me who was raped as a child) do not report rape or molestation. We often don't talk about it until years later. This is in no way to diminish the importance of your post which I loved just a little shock/wake up for people who think it isn't that common. You can view the statistics here

    1. Anna, thank so much for the clarification! I figured the numbers were much higher but just took my statistics off the reported ones from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. I'll amend my post to acknowledge that the numbers are probably much higher. Thank you!!


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