What is it, this “Feminism”?

I like Laura Turner’s piece in CT:

The word feminist, for some, still conjures up images of second-wave bra-burners and radical leftist politics, forgetting entirely about women like Anne Hutchison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. To let these characterizations define feminism is akin to letting a single denomination define Christianity: it is inherently limiting, untrue, and anathema to unity in Christ.

The church needs feminism because at its core, feminism affirms to us what our faith teaches us about male and female in God’s Kingdom and what Jesus himself preached throughout the New Testament.

Feminism is simply the belief that women are equally as human as men—equal in the eyes of God, equal in image-bearing, equal in ability. (This is why it is possible to be both a feminist and a complementarian, something Elijah Turrell wrote a great blog post about. I don’t agree with him about complementarianism, but still.)

I would add one dimension: feminism is also about rectifying the injustices of male domination or unjust, unequal representation of women. Yes, it’s about equality. That great apostle Paul was one of the earliest to utter this sense of feminism.

Speaking of rectifying…. rectifying means we were wrong in the past; it means repenting; anyone who doesn’t think rectification needs to take place about women in positions of leadership doesn’t believe we were wrong in the past. They’d be wrong.

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  • Adam

    I would argue that feminism is just another -ism. Regardless of the motivation or ideals, every -ism just serves to divide us even more, because either you’re a feminist or you’re not a feminist.

  • pduggie

    So…you disagree with her that you can be a feminist and a complemetarian. Because complementarians don’t think male-only institutional church leadership as a system needs to be rectified.

  • Rick

    Ferris Bueller would agree with you:

    “Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism..”

  • labreuer

    Anyone who says “you are either for us or against us” is claiming to be Jesus or Satan.

  • I guess I should not have been surprised by some of the responses I saw to the piece but I was. They went beyond not embracing the word feminism to asserting that the only way you could claim to be feminist is if you rejected men, became a lesbian, worked to oppress men and must leave Christianity. The fact that we can get so far from actual understanding of the goals of traditional feminism is disturbing to me.

    The rise of extremism as the only method seems to be a part of the problem here. And I am just not sure how we address the fact that you can believe something without taking it to it’s illogical extreme.

  • Amen!

  • Justin Lambert

    But feminism actively fights sexism, and indirectly fights other isms that serve the privileged and oppress the weak. To disregard a movement based solely on your dislike of the structure of a word is extraordinarily entitled.

  • livingmartyrs

    I continue to be troubled that a call toward equality and away from sexism is named after one sex. I think that single factor is an important root of overreactions on all sides, which makes honest, eye-level and experienced-based conversation very difficult.

  • Adam


  • Tim

    Perhaps we should reach a point where we talk of equality without reference to one sex or another, but at this point we are talking about equality because one sex has generally dominated the other for millennia. In that context, it looks like “feminism” is the best and most workable word for those who do not fear it.

  • Tim

    Christian feminism is no more an oxymoron than Christian ministry. In fact, I’d say that Christian feminism is a type of Christian ministry.



    P.S. My take on one way to get beyond the masculine/feminine issues: focus on Jesus as our identity rather than our sexes and genders – http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/biblical-womanhood-is-nothing-and-neither-is-biblical-manhood/

  • Christyinlosangeles

    I don’t know about Scot, but I would say yes, you cannot be a feminist and a complementarian – if she is using the word complementarian in its usual sense to mean supporting male-only institutional church leadership and male headship in marriage. Those are explicitly anti-feminist positions.

    (Perhaps Mr. Turrell, the author of the blog post she referenced, means something else by the term. I found it a bit incoherent, so I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by complementarian, other than feeling women shouldn’t be in combat.)

    And like many things, it’s not an issue of you’re in or you’re out. There are feminists (and many different kinds of feminists – and not all of them get along), there are anti-feminists, and there are a whole bunch of people in the middle who don’t think about it too much.

    And I grew up being told that feminists = bra burning, godless, man hating lesbians who are ruining America, so I’m not terribly surprised at the responses Adam noted.

  • machoMan

    Equality is a two-way street. And equality means equal value, not that two people are identical in characteristics. From anatomy to emotions to brain development, men and women are different. This is reflected in the Bible. The stats comparing kids coming from fatherless households to those with two parental figures present are consistent, pronounced, and very scary. Women currently have a far superior position in both civil and criminal court systems, at least in the part of the world I come from. They get the kids in a divorce, and they get away with less or no jail time for rape and murder. Just as men are capable of sin, so are women. Humility is the one thing often absent from those movements labeling themselves “feminist”. Perhaps is different in the states? (From Canada)

  • livingmartyrs

    Thanks for the comment, Tim. While I do not deny that there were and are power imbalances, there are problems any time inequality becomes the sole focus. One problem is that the pushback can easily go too far in the other direction with supposed impunity. But power imbalance is not fixed with a different power imbalance.

    But the bigger problem is that focussing on injustice doesn’t help us arrive at justice. It’s a good motivational tactic. It can get people moving. But because there is no cohesive “why” to accompany the “why not”, people almost certainly won’t move together.

    So instead of focussing exclusively on the problem(s), let’s ask “What is the dream?”

    If we believe in equality, let’s live into it. With everything. Including our language.

  • I think we really need to invent the word “equalist” (it sounds probably better than egalitarian 😉 )

    For feminism literally means caring for the concerns of women and in Western society, this means that the idea that men could also be the victim of discriminations or injustices is utterly UNTHINKABLE.

    Theologian Roger Olson (here on Patheos) did quite a nice job documenting injustices plaguing boys in America.

    In France we observe the same phenomenon but also a pseudo anti-racism which teaches that white people are always the perpretators but never the victims of racism:


  • patriciamc

    I felt sorry for the author of the article. I felt she was being bullied and even noted without naming names if sometimes we as Christians unintentionally make idols out of our opinions. The Hermeneutics site can attract some interesting people when it features articles on the roles of women. After reading the article on feminism, I did a brief Google search, and some of the people leaving comments on that article have left other, shall we say, passionate comments on other blogs and even question other Christians’ salvation if they’re egalitarians. I have no doubt that many of these people are normal, every day people, but I do think there are a couple here and there with real emotional problems.

  • livingmartyrs

    I think that’s a noble goal, Lothar. I think it would still lead to trouble if it attempted to become a monolithic label, and tried to indiscriminately label non-equalists. But on the face of it, and being aware of the contradictions that it would be steering away from, it would be an interesting and probably worthy experiment. 🙂

  • But since I am very unlikely to introduce a new word in a language which is not my mother tongue, it’s probably much better to encourage people to use the word “egalitarian” 🙂

    2013/10/2 Disqus

  • livingmartyrs

    Well, not quite. Because, at least in the church, egalitarian has the baggage of being opposed to complementarian. Equalist could potentially transcend that schism.

  • Great, do you think I would become rich if I protected this word by copyright? 😉

  • Tim

    One of those folks even followed me from my comment at her.meneutics to my twitter account. Very tenacious in her sense of assurance of being right while I’m wrong. Oh well. Makes me think of Psalm 56:11.

  • livingmartyrs

    Yes Justin, feminism actively fights sexism. But feminism also actively reinforces sexism. Taking the posture that feminism is a pure virtue, and therefore that any cautions levelled at it are a manifestation of entitlement, is itself a manifestation of entitlement.

  • patriciamc

    LOL! I can probably guess who it is. You though are always one of the voices of reason.

  • Thursday1

    rectifying the injustices of male domination or unjust, unequal representation of women

    These accusations are all too easily thrown around. The big question is always this: is it true?

  • Thursday1

    Full book here.

  • Thursday1

    This is why it is possible to be both a feminist and a complementarian

    Turrell’s blog post was pathetic. Sex roles are something to rejoice in and celebrate, not the regrettable result of sin. They are a wonderful part of the created order, a gift.

  • Westcoastlife

    Well Complementarianism is also an ism, so I guess the choice is feminism or complementariansim in the evangelical church these days.

  • MatthewS

    We watched “The 1900 House” some time back (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/1900house/ ). I confess I have some concerns back and forth on the feminism issue but regardless, it seems to me that almost all of us would be considered feminists by the standards of the culture of the 1900 house, which is a good thing.

  • MatthewS

    I didn’t say that right. I was meaning to say that the great majority of even staunch complementarians would find themselves “feminist” by the standards of that culture, perhaps even to their own surprise. As problematic as things may still be today, the inequality experienced there seems so obvious and wrong to modern eyes.

  • MatthewS

    “Sex roles are something to rejoice in and celebrate, not the regrettable result of sin. They are a wonderful part of the created order, a gift.”

    How would this line of logic differ from saying that human beings are a wonderful part of the created order, a gift, and that anyone who thinks human beings are somehow fallen or sinners is impugning God’s good creation?

  • Steve

    Or Anakin Skywalker