Feminism is sometimes seen as a dirty word, not only in the subculture I grew up in (evangelical Christianity), but also in our culture as a whole. Feminists are painted as “shrill” or “whiney” or “aggressive.” People perceive people who call themselves feminists as men-hating and ruthless. Some even fear that they are trying to disrupt the natural order of things -- the creative order of things. I, myself, almost saw the fact that my now-husband went to a church where a woman was ordained as a deal breaker for our relationship. In college, when I was a youth leader at my church, I struggled with the appropriateness of leading a small group that included high school boys. Was it okay for me, as a woman, to be any kind of spiritual guide for young men? I understand these struggles. I understand wanting so badly to think and be and do the right things. But in recent years, especially since my studies and experience as a doula, my ideas about what it means to be a woman, what women are “allowed” to do, and how women are and ought to be valued have really grown.
I fear making strong statements like, “I am a feminist” because I realize my own ignorance. I know that I don’t know the history of the movement. I know that I don’t know all the nuances of the movement. And I know that there are certainly different kinds of feminist ideologies. I know that I disagree with many people who call themselves feminists on certain things. For example, I am pro-life. I also know that some feminists are not happy with women who choose to take on more traditional roles. For instance, there are some, but certainly not all, who have all but abandoned advocating for the rights of birthing women, perhaps because this isn’t the image of a feminist they want to promote. I don’t believe we should be trying to be more like men or that there is something undesirable or weak about being feminine or taking on traditional roles. That feels like the opposite of empowerment. But here’s what I do believe. I believe that we need feminism.
We need feminism, even in America where we are admittedly privileged. We need it because in 2017, when a woman goes to her doctor complaining of pain, she is less likely to be taken seriously than a man is. She is told she is hysterical -- a word which literally means “wandering uterus”, meaning your womanhood is making you crazy. Women of color are given even less credibility by the medical community. We need feminism because our culture sees childbirth as something that ruins your body -- because, of course, women’s bodies are only useful as far as they are sexually desirable by men. Not to mention the fact that we are conditioned to believe the false idea that the changes that pregnancy and childbirth can make in our bodies make us undesirable. We need feminism because women with pelvic floor injuries related to childbirth shouldn’t be told “well, that’s what happens with you have kids” any more than athletes should be told “that’s what happens” when they tear a meniscus. We need it because we actually have representatives who think reproductive health and maternity care shouldn’t be covered in every healthcare plan because “why would a man want to pay for that?” We need it because pregnancy is now considered a pre-existing condition. We need it because we have a disgustingly high maternal mortality and morbidity rate in this country, and few people seem to know or care. We need it because informed consent and refusal sometimes goes out the window when you’re pregnant or giving birth. We need feminism because birth rights are women’s rights are human rights.
Our daughters need feminism because girls are taught from a young age not to trust or appreciate their bodies. They are given ridiculous standards of beauty. They are told that they have to control how their bodies look, how they grow, and how they appeal to others. They are taught about menstruation as a burden -- something that is painful and messy and the best you can do is clean it up and keep it hidden -- instead of something that is one of the greatest instructors about the health of their bodies. Our daughters need feminism because too many people don’t know the difference between a vagina and a vulva, and until recently some college biology textbooks didn’t even have full illustrations of a vulva. Our daughters need it because I feel nervous and embarrassed about typing those words, and it shouldn’t be any different than typing the word “elbow”.
Our sons need feminism because they deserve more respect than for people to assume they will turn into out-of-control animals when they see a girl with a bare midriff. Our sons need feminism because they are strong enough for the responsibility of respecting a woman’s body, mind, and spirit. Our sons need it because they should know that it’s okay to dance or to be artistic or to cry when they’re sad. Our children need feminism because they all deserve to live in a world where consent means something.
We need feminism because rape survivors need to stop being subjected to questions about what they were wearing and how much they had to drink, while authorities worry about the future of the rapists’ careers. We need it because we still have to worry about where we park at night and whether or not we have our keys strategically placed in our fists. We need it because our daughters should learn to dress in ways that reflect respect and pride in their bodies, instead of reflecting fear about how their bodies might cause others to stumble or even put themselves in danger.
We need feminism because Christian women are told they will probably not enjoy sex, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. We need it because sometimes Christian women are shamed because they do enjoy sex, even if it’s in the context of marriage. We need it because Christian women are taught to be always sexually available to their husbands “to guard them against temptation” -- if you’re not available or desirable, it’s your fault if they cheat. We need it because we somehow forget that Song of Solomon exists and it’s not told just from the perspective of the man.
We need feminism because the Bible says, “there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, jew nor greek” and yet women are still being told that they cannot teach men in spiritual matters just because of their gender. We need it because if my daughter decides she wants to become a pastor, I don’t want her salvation or worth to be called into question.
Finally, I need feminism because I catch myself treating my daughter in misogynistic ways. I don’t always take her feelings or pain seriously. I’m more likely to feel like she should “get over it” than I am to feel that way about my sons. I have told her, when her brother hits her, to “just stay away from him”, thereby putting the responsibility on her instead of him. Yes, of course, I talk to my sons about being kind and respectful and treating people with dignity. But I do see myself being just a little bit more dismissive of her, and I realize this is something I need to fix in my own home before I can do something about it in the country and the world.
I believe we need feminism because if we are not able to see the worth in ourselves, it will be harder to fight for the worth of others.
What is Simply Sisterhood?
A campaign to end