Writing As an Act of Feminism
Note: In this Religion Roundtable, we've asked the authors of three prominent faith memoirs to write about their views on—and experience of—female spirituality. Check back here every few days to hear Jana Riess, Lauren Winner, and Sarah Sentilles discuss the unique religious questions facing women today.
In the words of Rosi Braidotti, "I wish that feminism would shed its saddening, dogmatic mode to rediscover the merrymaking of a movement that aims to change life."
Of course, women do not have to write explicitly feminist books—to suggest as much would be, in my view, profoundly unfeminist. Women should be able to write about all kinds of things, from all kinds of perspectives—a woman should be able to write a book about corporations of gardening or geometry that does not make explicit feminist concerns.
That said, the very act of women writing and publishing may itself be said to be a feminist act—especially when the topic is religion ("author" being related to "authorship"—and many of our communities being, tacitly or explicitly, still ambivalent about women's spiritual or religious authority). (For this matter, given the gendering of science and math, maybe a woman writing a book on geometry may also be considered a feminist act?)
It seems fair—indeed, helpful—to make a distinction between, on the one hand, a work such as Flunking Sainthood (and also, by my reading, Breaking up with God) where a feminist point-of-view is part and parcel of everything the author writes and thinks; and, on the other hand, a work whose concerns are explicitly, closely tied to classical (and/or recent theoretical) questions about gender and feminism. I would say Sarah's previous book, A Church of Her Own, falls in the second category (and, from the Woolfish title, the reader knows she is to read it as such).
When I look at my own writing, I feel I can say with Jana that feminism is part and parcel of how I approach the world, and it will show up, in various forms and fashions, in most everything I write, but very little that I have written overtly tackles questions of feminist theology.
I wonder about how Christians with feminist commitments can or should engage—or at least acknowledge—the many Christian women with explicitly anti-feminist commitments. I am not talking here about some mythical sisterhood. But if I see myself as part of the body of Christ, and that body includes women with very, very different views of gender, what do I do with that? Indeed, setting aside the question of the body of Christ, what does feminism bid us to do with the anti-feminist commitments of other women?
Finally, I note that both Sarah and I have at various times used romantic metaphors to describe our spiritual lives—I talk about a sense that I divorced Judaism in Girl Meets God, and Sarah uses the break up metaphor. I wonder if, in so doing, we are actually figuring ourselves as the "romantic heroine" literary archetype—inscribing our spiritual narratives in a set of metaphors that is, in some ways, unfeminist. I wonder—would our most thoroughly feminist move be to move to wholly different metaphorical landscapes?
Lauren F. Winner's newest book is Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith crisis. Her other books include Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath. Lauren teaches at Duke Divinity School, and lives in Durham, North Carolina. Lauren travels extensively to lecture and teach. During the academic year of 2007-2008, she was a visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, and during the academic year of 2010-2011, she was a visiting fellow at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. When she’s home, you can usually find her curled up, on her couch or screen porch, with a good novel.