About the “F-Word”…
That’s the “F-word” you were thinking of, yes?
When it comes to labels, I have mixed feelings. You know, when someone says, “I’m a reformed theologian,” or, “well, so-and-so is a right-wing conservative,” or “yeah, Bill, he’s a post-evangelical, anti-establishment theocratic nihilist.”
Sorta helpful, sorta not.
On one hand, labels can be useful conversational tools. After all, it’s time-consuming to parse every person’s position on every issue in every conversation. In addition, identifying with a particular label can helpfully group individuals into tribes. And in these smaller groups, positions can be clarified and readied to engage with the larger community.
On the other hand, labels can be toxic. After all, as soon as you reduce someone down to a particular type of thinker, you can put them in your box and be done with them. Because, truth be known, all labels have baggage, and the great danger is misunderstanding someone based on your understanding of their label. Alternately, when someone self-identifies with a specific label, there’s the inherent risk that they will therefore not be open to engagement, unless you identify with the same label.
Too often labels put up walls, and walls limit dialogue.
All of this said, my goal with labels is to always seek to understand what is underneath someone’s given or chosen label. That way, I stand a better chance of remembering that there is a person behind their ideological position.
As a label, “feminism” certainly has baggage. And, let’s be honest, that’s particularly true in the church. In the church, as a movement and as an idea, by and large feminism has been vilified, marginalized and dismissed as a prime perpetrator of society’s evils.
For example, here’s a doozy from evangelical standard-bearer Pat Robertson in 2011:
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
Extreme? Yes. Over the top? No doubt. Representative? Maybe. Because it’s not just Pat. It’s been awhile since the church and feminism have gotten along.
To be sure feminism has lots of stripes, offshoots and tribes. But what is feminism at its core? Take it from Gloria Steinem. Gloria Steinem is a feminist icon. In many ways, Steinem is responsible for defining the feminist movement. Here’s Steinem’s definition:
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
Doesn’t that sound like something we should all endorse? Recently, I came across this article, where the author promotes the idea of “freedom feminism.” She writes:
Though the major battles for equality and opportunity in the United States have been fought and largely won, the work of feminism remains unfinished. Across the globe, fledgling women’s groups struggle to survive in the face of genuine and often violent oppression. In the West, popular culture contains strong elements of misogyny. Women, far more than men, struggle with the challenge of combining work and family. Despite women’s immense progress, poverty rolls are disproportionately filled with women with children.
Who needs feminism? We do. The world does. But an effective women’s movement needs to be rescued from its current outcast state. Anyone who cares about improving the status of women around the world should be working to create a women’s movement that resonates with women. A reality-based, male-respecting, judicious feminism could greatly help women both in the United States and throughout the world.
Perhaps it’s time to reclaim the F-word. Until we get to the point where power is equalized and privilege is shared, we need feminism and the conversations that go with it.
So, if you must label me, call me a feminist.
And then let’s talk about what that means to you and to me.