Okay, it’s been a couple weeks on Catchy Title Goes Here (if anyone has any suggestions for a better name, I would love to hear them; I’m horrible with titles) and the folks who have been regularly reading have probably picked up on something that I didn’t mention in my introductory post.
I’m a feminist.
Of course, those of you who know me personally already knew that.
And since ‘feminist’ is one of those terms that’s loaded with tons of different meanings, I should explain what I mean when I say it. Put simply, I think that men and women as groups are equal in capability and value. The sexes are both equally rational and emotional on average, and any perceived sociological differences arise from our cultural upbringing instead of our inherent natures. The only differences between the sexes that can be generally applied are biological ones, i.e. sex organs. Concurrent with these beliefs, I believe that women, as half of the global human population, deserve equal opportunity, compensation, and representation within society. A culture that promotes such equality would be a better one than what we have currently.
This hasn’t always been the case. I went through a very anti-feminist phase starting late in college around the time that I became a Christian. That’s not coincidental. I live in the American South, and the type of Christianity that’s most prominent in these parts is a very socially conservative brand of evangelicalism. Part of the package of beliefs that I initially picked up included the idea of spiritual differences between the sexes with an implicit hierarchy of leadership that places men above women.
According to the model as I received it, men are supposed to be active leaders and protectors who do the hard work and make the tough decisions. Women should be passive and gracious, and their primary purview is within the home. The two sexes fulfill different roles in the Church, and without both of them things break down.
After graduating I spent a couple of years working a cubicle job while building my life with my wife Rachael. We got married about six months after college, and in our pre-marriage counseling we were advised to adhere to the model above as closely as we could in order to make our marriage fulfilling and Godly.
We quickly learned that the model didn’t work well for us.
I was supposed to be the “head” of the marriage, but I’m not an assertive person, and I realized quickly that I didn’t want to be the one responsible for making all the important decisions. Rachael wasn’t happy with the idea that she was supposed to be responsible for maintaining the house when she was also working full-time. I acted very much like a man-child during those first couple years, and after much fighting we eventually decided that the one head model just didn’t work for us. We needed to be partners.
That’s not the end of the story. I was still a long way from reaching full anti-feminist recovery. I had to deal with the hurdles of being one of a handful of men in a cohort of women when I went to graduate school for my teaching degree. I like to think of that period as my “men’s rights” phase, which is to say that I felt my privilege being impinged upon in my professional environment, and I resented it. It was around this period that I read John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart, a book that was very popular in certain Christian circles a few years back. I bought into the idea of innate masculinity, and it soured my attitude towards my schooling. There was a great deal of dissonance between thinking that I had a uniquely adventurous spirit and sitting in a classroom learning how to be an educator, a career that oozed with the trappings of a feminine domain.
Fortunately for me, that phase didn’t last long as I watched Rachael deal with some issues in her job that led to us both becoming more interested in the problems that women face in the workplace. It’s hard to hold on to anger about your own loss of privilege when you see up close what conditions are like for people who don’t have that privilege in the first place.
By the time I graduated and found a job (a long, grueling process that would be better left to a different story), I had pretty much reversed my anti-feminist stance. Rachael did a lot to help with that, because she took an interest in it first, and we discussed it constantly. We’d remodeled our marriage to be an equal partnership (my spending a year unemployed and responsible for the housework while Rachael worked full-time helped with that), and I gradually became amenable to the idea that women are not only men’s equals, but that the only discernible differences between the sexes as groups are biological ones.
This had some implications for my understanding of theology, and eventually I learned that the position that I’d grown into was a model known as egalitarianism, and the model I’d originally learned was called complementarianism. Rachel Held Evans has a fantastic blog that highlights issues surrounding the tensions between these two theological models.
I think that brings everything up to date regarding my story of becoming a feminist.
Of course, being a feminist carries with it some difficulties, especially given my personal interests. I’ve written before about problems with how women are portrayed in comics and video games, which, despite those problems, are, objectively, some of the best things. I think about these issues a lot, because I think that our culture shapes and defines us in very subtle ways. Our society does not have gender equity, and part of that is due to the fact that we portray ourselves as not needing it. That’s a mistake and, within the subcultures that I associate myself with, something that leads to not only inequity, but implicit misogyny. As a Christian I find myself unable to abide that inequity, and as a feminist I try to point out the problems that I see.
So yeah, I write about feminism a lot in context of my other topics.
What do you guys think? Do you have any personal experiences with feminism that have shaped how you see the world? What do you think of the feminist label in the first place?