I invited someone I admire and respect, who considers herself a feminist, to provide a guest blog post about feminism. It follows here. I have to say, as with all guest posts, that it does not necessarily reflect my own views. But I wouldn’t post it to my blog if I didn’t think it worthy of serious consideration. (P.S. I will not post to my blog responses that are not constructive in some way: at the very least civil, respectful and aimed at continuing the conversation in a truly dialogical manner.)
Kyndall Rae Renfro is a seminary educated pastor of a Baptist church in Texas. She also has her own blog. This is her guest post:
We Are Not So Terrifying:
a feminist talks about rage, matriarchy, and faith
Feminism is a diverse and living movement, and I am no expert. Thank goodness you do not have to be an expert before you join a movement, or no movements would ever get off the ground.
Certain feminists may squabble about who can rightly be labeled a “real” feminist, so I will expose my predisposition right now and tell you those fights do not interest me. Movements grind to a halt when you intensify border patrol; the movement becomes more territorial than active, more imperial than marginal, and thus less transformative to society. So here I am, an amateur feminist offering up her perspective on a movement she holds dear, in hopes that the better we understand one another, the better this world will be.
The heart of feminism, or, at least, the version of feminism that attracts me, is the notion that women and men are both fully human, worthy of dignity and equal treatment. Feminism is more than simple egalitarianism, however, because it recognizes patriarchy is far more pervasive than most of the population recognizes, and feminism wants to challenge patriarchy wherever it is found. (By patriarchy, I mean the suppression of both female persons and feminine ways of being under the coercion of male dominance, granting a distorted masculinity excessive power and legitimizing the disparaging treatment of women based on gender.)
But even among some egalitarians, feminism is still a naughty word, wrought with negative connotations, despite its basic orientation towards justice and human dignity. I would like to offer one feminist’s perspective regarding those aspects or caricatures of feminism that may be stirring the waters of anxiety for others.
Feminism is comprised of both women and men, but it is the angry women who get a bad rap, so I would like to take a moment to pay them heed. I remember the first time I read truly enraged words from a feminist writer. At first I was appalled, disturbed and terrified, but then, surprisingly, her fury struck a chord. Intimately, in my depths, I understood exactly what she meant, even if I did not wish to camp in such anger myself. I do not know if is possible for white straight men in this country to feel the vibrations of rage like this or not. Maybe it is possible; maybe it isn’t. But those who have suffered silently can often relate, even if it is a rage they themselves will never show or give way to.
Women are culturally conditioned to behave: to mind their P’s and Q’s, to be nice, to speak soft. We are often never told that it is okay to be angry (even when we are being threatened), nor are we taught that it isn’t actually wrong if our words cause emotional discomfort to others. This is a documented reality, but I know it from personal experience. The thing is, our anger towards patriarchy is legitimate and right, but the anger has been suppressed over the span of generations.
Personally, my anger at patriarchy is alive and real and even raging, but I do my best not to direct that agitation at individuals or even institutions. Not all feminists would agree with my stance here, and I respect their divergent opinions. But in my perspective, oppression itself is the problem and even the persons and institutions who perpetuate patriarchy are often caught up in a system bigger than they are and in need of liberation themselves.
I believe if I ostracize people, I am attacking the wrong evil. That being said, such moderation is not always easy. I am not known to have a violent bone in my body; even still, I can think of a few “pastors” I might roundhouse kick in the balls if I had the chance, given their abhorrent perpetuation of severe patriarchy. I do not fault women with less restraint than I; reservation has been both my gift and my cross to bear my entire life.
Feminists sometimes bellow, rant, rage because there is a lot bottled up inside that is absolutely true. If the world were more kind, maybe such outbursts could become unnecessary. Extreme language might settle into civil discourse. But when you have been kept out of civil discourse for centuries, your two choices are often to go home or to shout.
I implore you, try not to be terrified of our intensity. We have been raped, caged, beaten, ignored, belittled, enslaved, and murdered. We are not monsters; we are “volcanoes erupting” (in the words of Ursula K. Le Guin). When you label and dismiss anyone as an “angry feminist,” you are claiming her outrage is not valid, when truthfully, you have no idea how valid or invalid her anger might be. No, not every woman has been personally ravaged, but sometimes is it our collective consciousness that drives us to passion and what is more enraging, than say, the sex-trafficking industry? No, you probably do not deserve to be personally attacked for the worst atrocities of patriarchy, I will give you that, and if that has been your experience, I truly am sorry. But please do not belittle an entire vibrant and necessary movement because of a personal affront.
I remember watching a documentary on race with two white male participants. One man was clearly racist from the outset; the other more polite and seemingly more cultured. But when the people of color started expressing their honest and utter fury, it was the overtly-racist man who was altered and the “polite” man who fought back to contain the anger of others. The polite man became upset and offended and reactive. I was captivated by this surprising turn of events. Could the expressed anger of feminists be eliciting the same startled reaction from otherwise gracious egalitarians? Maybe anger seems a little too messy for the educated and the well-behaved. Rage is not wrong. Jesus himself expressed rage on certain occasions. Rage is highly uncomfortable and difficult to hear, but that doesn’t mean rage deserves to be silenced.
I have less to say on the subject of matriarchy, but I do think it worth mentioning. The feminists I know and read do not wish for a world in which women rule; they wish for a world in which men and women share power equally. That doesn’t mean matriarchy might not serve as a metaphorical dream. (For example, if slaves talk about becoming kings, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to become the oppressors or even “be on top.”) Oppressed people need a way to visualize a different future. I do not literally agree that the world should turn matriarchal. But I understand and agree matriarchy can be a useful as a symbol.
Again, not all (not many?) feminists would agree with me on this point, but I thought it might bring a bit of perspective to share my own view. Personally, I am not alarmed when women talk about being goddesses, for example, because I understand the power that comes from visualizing a world in which we truly are revered for being women, as if womanhood was something honorable rather degrading, as if womanhood was worthwhile rather than second-rate.
Feminism and Spirituality
Despite the convincing social benefits of feminism, I was personally hesitant to join the movement for a long time. I was quite fearful of wreaking havoc on my faith, concerned that feminism would be incompatible with Christianity. But something (the Spirit, I would say) prodded me, and gradually my fears were alleviated and my faith was enlivened.
Years ago I began praying to God (on occasion and in private) as “Mother.” This was a mental, theological exercise. I believed doctrinally God was male, female, both, and neither, but I was pretty stuck talking about God as He and praying to God as He. I tried to match a bit of my practice with my theology.
Only recently did this begin to affect me spiritually. All those times I tried praying to Mother God, I kept a wall between my head and my head. I knew theologically God was not just male, but it felt like betrayal to view God in my heart as female. All those faithful and sincere years of praying “Our Father” made it feel like stepping out of bounds, and who knew where such a trail might lead?
At long last, the wall broke down and I heard Her voice. Interestingly, my most personal encounter with Mother God brought me straight to the feet of Jesus, but that is a story for another time. I can tell you that knowing God as Father/Mother, Brother/Sister has transformed my faith for the better.
My spirituality is more alive than ever. My relationship with God is deeper. My insight into Scripture is richer. My understanding of Jesus is fuller. My sermons are more creative and more powerful. My self is more healed and whole. My whole entire world feels more alive.
There is more to this than I can ever write in a blog, more to this than I ever would write in a blog as it is intimate and private and personal, and I tell you even this much with fear that someone will tread my sacred ground with unsympathetic backlash. I tell you this personal bit because I want you to know that feminism has spiritual depths, for those willing to plunge them. I even believe what feminism offers faith is vital and critical, but like the rest of life, you will never grow if you stay afraid of what you do not know.