Saturday, November 24, 2007

Claiming the F-Word


Its a scary word, isn't it?

For quite some time, I have been reluctant to accept the "feminist" label. The main reason is the problem of miscommunication and misunderstanding. For most, "feminist" conjures up images of angry, screaming women, bra-burning, abortion rights, Mary Daly, and goddess worship. Right or wrong, these images offend most people, especially the evangelical Christian community with whom I identify, serve, and fellowship.

But, according to the dictionary, the definition of feminist is: "Someone who supports the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, economic, and social equality to men." Although I am not an objective observer of my writing, I'm fairly certain that anyone who reads my blog knows that I fit this description. (At least, I hope I do.) For me, the Kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, means the liberation of women from oppression and their equal place in God's worldwide reign. If that makes me a be it.

I know my more conservative friends are frightened by this label. Right now, you're thinking, "Emily, what are you saying?! You can't call yourself a feminist!" I know and appreciate this concern. But, here's the problem: Any label you choose for yourself is open to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Let's try a few.

Conservative. In religious circles, most who claim this label see it as a badge of honor, meaning, someone who seeks to "conserve" the vital beliefs of Christianity: the scripture, the nature of Christ, the Trinity, etc. For those outside conservative circles, however, conservative means hard-nosed, rigidly fundamentalist, and intolerant. Most who claim this "badge" know that this is an issue, but they choose to wear it anyway.

Calvinist. Most who call themselves Calvinists understand themselves, at the very least, to be in line with the so-called "five points" of Calvinism. They emphasize the sovereignty of God and the glory of God in providence. For those who are not Calvinists, however, Calvinist means someone who believes God is an egotistical control-freak who delights in receiving glory from human suffering. Most who claim to be Calvinists do so with pride, despite the possibility of such gross misunderstanding.

Southern Baptist. Most who claim this designation are proud of their heritage and their denomination's historic commitment to biblical sufficiency and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone. They are eager to speak of Southern Baptist mission endeavors and generous relief efforts in times of disaster. And yet, for those who are not Southern Baptist, for those who watch Southern Baptist "representatives" on TV, Southern Baptist means narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, Republican, and caucasian. Still, those who claim to be Southern Baptist, do so despite such stereotypes.

Southern Baptist. Calvinist. Conservative. How many are willing to claim these badges because of their deeply felt convictions, misunderstanding be damned? Do you see my point? Like it or not, misunderstanding or not, miscommunication or not, I am a feminist. I am a feminist in the classic, historic, and, I think, biblical sense of the word.

Several years ago I never would have "owned" this designation. Never. So, what has changed my mind? Many will relish the thought that it was my "liberal" education at Truett Seminary. "Aha!" they will say, "She went off to that moderate seminary and became a feminist! We told her this would happen!" I hate to disappoint you, but its just not true. Being educated at Truett did not make me a feminist.

As I reflect on my journey, I recognize that two factors have pushed me in this direction: (1) Serving with marginalized women in a very conservative Southern Baptist church; (2) Living in a largely misogynistic and patriarchal world. As I grapple with these experiences in light of the trajectory of the Bible, the decision is clear: I am a feminist.

I will close this little post by referring you to a recent story from world news. For those of you skeptical as to whether there remains a place for women's liberation, for those of you who think that I am exaggerating the plight of women worldwide, for those of you who think I'm nuts for claiming the label "feminist," read this story and think again.


UnderMidnight said...

All I have to say is...Girl Power!

allhokie said...

For all the reason you give and a few more, I am a feminist too!

Natalie said...

Re: the article you linked to, isn't kind of scary that our country, the US, is a close ally with Saudi Arabia?! Looks like we STILL have a long way to go!

traveller said...

Sadly, this world still reflects the intrusion of sin resulting in the broken relation between women and men. While it is wonderful that Father is redeeming this situation, it remains very difficult for women until that redemption is complete.

Emily, a feminist we all should be as followers of Jesus.

Joseph said...

On your illustrations concerning the debasement of labels -- I am fascinated with the way some use the word "liberal" as a pejorative. I have always responded that, in theological circles, typically liberalism has meant a low Christology and an unrealistic anthropology, and does not properly refer to a theory of revelation that does not need the category of "inerrant Scripture". But I can seldom make that stick!

I have the luxury these days of no longer feeling a need to defend or to identify with Southern Baptists, but that separation does come with much wistfulness about what once was and what might have been.

As for feminism -- I simply hear a commitment to justice. Concern for the treatment of women is of one piece with concerns about racism, economic deprivation, and all the other justice issues.

CharlieMac said...

I had read the story a couple of days ago. It is unbelievable that modern humans would hold to such beliefs. Can a man join the ranks of feminism?
Mac McFatter

Tim said...

One of the stereotypes of Southern Baptists is also Racist. People like to point out that we separated from the Northern Baptist because we wanted to keep slavery.

Tim Dahl

Susy Flory said...

Great post, and something I think many Christian women struggle with. (I just wrote a blog post on a very similar topic, feminist spiritual awakenings, at I like your guts! I was raised Southern Baptist and now attend an evangelical church in a different denomination ... but I bear some scars from an early church environment which was somewhat repressive. However, I'd still hesitate to identify as a feminist because of the issues you've raised--there is a stigma and in the interests of Christian unity I'm not sure I want to take on the label. I guess the label I'm most comfortable with is simply "Christian," in the hopes that someday that will come to include a sublabel of "feminist," because Christ was certainly revolutionary in his view of women!

Strider said...

Rock on Emily the feminist. Jesus uses people who are free to set others free.

Strider said...

Rock on Emily the feminist. Jesus uses people who are free to set others free.

UnderMidnight said...

I'm not afraid of Feminism. heck, I've recently been given a pair of breasts by the bulimic community I haunt.
Now I just have to figure out what to do with them.

Alycelee said...

Emily, thanks for 'fessin' up.
I think everyone who reads you and has any discernment at all already knew this.
and....what Strider said.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Undermidnight, you're a nut. :)

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


I'm glad I haven't encountered any tar and feathers yet. :)

I should clarify that, like most people, the "f-word" does not take primary place in my list of self-identifying words. "Follower of Jesus" or "citizen of God's Kingdom" definitely comes first. I hope that my feminism follows after (and as a result of) this commitment and not vice versa.

Grace and peace to all,


Anonymous said...

I like the sentence from Joseph . . . "I simply hear a commitment to justice. Concern for the treatment of women is of one piece with concerns about racism, economic deprivation and all the other justice issues." I continue to pray for you and your husband.


Emily Hunter McGowin said...


You and I are on the same page. If we are supposed to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness-justice, then that includes the well-being of all people. The Gospel of the reign of God brings liberation and peace for all who are oppressed.

You're a great encouragement, Judy. I cherish your love and prayers.



Debbie Kaufman said...

Well said Emily. I read this several times since you posted it letting it all sink in as you are so correct in your examples. I guess now we women can say thank you when someone says you sound like a feminist. :)

Rex Ray said...

I like your post, but I was hoping you would include ‘Moderate’ also.

The story about the Saudi gang rape was shocking that the victim was sentenced 100 lashes for being in an unrelated man’s car at the time of attack. Then the sentenced was increased to 200 lashes for trying to use the media to influence them.

While visiting my missionary son near Beersheba, I criticized my son for not responding to a woman waving for a ride. (My son was driving a vehicle that looked like a taxi.

He said, “Daddy, you don’t understand. If she had gotten in our car and realized who we were, she would have jumped out regardless how fast I was going.”

Steve said...

If despairing of ever seeing young female ministers leave the SBC because they couldn't employ the gifts God had given them makes one a feminist, them write me down as feminist.

Only by learning more about Islam since Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" came out have I realized just how Satan-oriented the practices of "correct" Muslims can be. To think that a homicidal bomber is in much greater stead with Allah than the most devout student of Islam! It will take Jesus to fix such a mess.

Paula Womack said...

Thanks so much for this post! I agree that there are many stereotypes of what a "feminist" is, indeed, the other F-word. I am a Feminist as well, and proudly so. thank you for holding on to who you are and making space for others as well! we are far from making this world a place where everyone is equal and has been restored to her or his full personhood, as created to be. power on, sister!

Anonymous said...

I once heard a Seventh Day Adventist (male) preacher state that every culture that treats women with any degree of dignity is a culture that has at some time been influenced by Judeo-Christian thought and practice.
As far as the 'F' word is concerned, we have become far too concerned with categorizing people under brands and labels. "Love thy neighbor" is unlimited by categories, right?