Where I live, “feminist” is a dirty word. That was practically the first thing I realized when we moved here. But, honestly, maybe it’s been a bad word everywhere I’ve lived. Feminists are held up as women “trying to be men”, unsubmissive, rabble-rousing and prideful. And, truth is, all of those things have described me at some times in my life (well, except trying to be a man because, really, why would I want that?). So, in many ways, I think my entire life has been a kind of struggle between who I wanted to be in Jesus and who I knew myself to be as a feminist. It’s a struggle I still deal with nearly every time I gather with my fellow believers at the worship-house. Because the group I gather with, the group of people I love and call family, they love Jesus and they want to serve him wholeheartedly…but they still think feminism is a dirty word.
Let’s think about feminism a little more. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the definition of feminism is: “the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” I actually think everyone I know would call themselves a feminist, if that were all there is to it. Because even in my little church, we all think women should be treated equally in social, economic and political ways, at least I think we do. I can’t remember a time in my life when someone told me I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be (except an astronaut. My dad dashed my astronaut dreams pretty early when he told me that my crappy eyesight would disqualify me…this was in the days before Christa McAuliffe and other non-pilot astronauts. But, I digress.) I think we all agree that women should receive equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities in education, the right to vote, etc. Sure, there are disagreements on exactly what those things mean and how they should be accomplished, but the bedrock is that men and women are equal.
Here’s where it become a problem: spiritual equality. I feel like we have managed to say, “sure, women are equal socially, economically and politically but I just don’t know if they can be equal spiritually.” We trot out ideas about women being created second and needing to be quiet in church, about how we are the “weaker vessel” and shouldn’t have authority over men. Then we work hard to parse out exactly what it means to have “authority”…well, women can speak in this situation but not that, from this spot on the platform but not from over there, to this age group but not that, and definitely to other women, that’s fine.” And the excuses for these restrictions range from singled out Bible verses to tradition to worries about how easily misled women are. And, honestly, I don’t have the energy to deal with it anymore.
And so I am quiet, or at least as quiet as I have the ability to be. And I keep the gifts God has given me to myself, which is surely a sin, but I don’t know how to express them, how to use them. Once a year there is a retreat or other women’s event and I’m asked to speak at it (is it an example of this lack of equality that even I balk at using the word “preach”). And so I speak. And my spirit sings. I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I love the preparation. I love the throw-up-a-little-in-my-mouth feeling as I’m getting ready speak. And I love seeing the look in people’s eyes when they really “get” what I’m trying to communicate.
But after my once a year opportunity I go back to my little box and pray for the day when people will believe that God speaks to women too. That maybe if we all put our gifts together we just might work better as a whole. And that God’s kingdom might just have a place for me, a little girl from Oregon.
So I’m a Jesus feminist because I love Jesus, because I believe God has given me some gifts and I ache to be able to use them more full. Because I want my son AND my daughter to feel free to preach the gospel in whatever capacity He calls them to. Because even though I am an imperfect vessel, I am still a vessel for God’s glory. All for God’s glory.