What I Didn't Know I Didn't Know

It should have been some kind of sign that I was equally sure I would have both nothing to teach and nothing to learn from Femfest. On one hand, how was I supposed to define the rich and huge and sometimes cumbersome notion of feminism? And on the other, what were others going to say that I had not already read on the subject?

So, I started the only way I know how: I told my story.  And so, it seems, did everyone else.  The result was not a jumble of chapters to a piecemeal textbook, but vibrant stories of people learning what equality means to them, in their own lives.  Here are just a few of the themes that emerged as I read through dozens of stories of feminism in the words of the people living, and often struggling, with the concept.

Bra Burners and Baby Killers

"As a child, my image of feminism was Hillary Clinton riding on a tank into Washington, imposing regulation of schools, welfare for all, and free abortions on every corner."       ~ Connor Park, Keep the Muse
"When I was growing up there was a vivid picture next to “Feminist” in the dictionary of my mind. She was an angry, man-hating, bra-burning hippie. Bless her heart."       ~ Jessica Bowman, Bohemian Bowmans

Many of the people who readily identified as feminists admit that they were introduced to feminism as a movement of extremists, of bra burners and baby killers. I’m sure I heard those terms at some point, but I don't remember ever thinking of modern feminism as extremist.  In my hazy recollection, I was drawn to the idea of feminism like a greedy little moth honing in on a flame because I was so eager to find something that named what had always seemed just common sense to me. I remember knowing that some people thought feminism was dangerous, but perhaps I was unfazed by that as I knew plenty of people who were scared of words like butt and urine.

Reading accounts of people who overcame the villainous reputation of feminism to embrace it as a movement of equality, love, and faith in all of humankind was more deeply stirring to me than I could have imagined.  For many writers this was a coming out of sorts, the first time they had admitted that they were, in fact, feminists, and watching that kind of bravery play out was unexpectedly emotional for me.

Jesus Made You a Feminist, Too?

“Feminism matters to me plain and simply because Jesus matters to me and He also seemed to believe in this radical notion that women are people. So, if I truly want to be His follower I think I should at least consider the notion as well”      ~ Cogito Ergo Sum
"I'm a Christian feminist because when a prominent youth leader in my denomination raped a young woman, some people considered her the devil's instrument to bring 'a man of God' down."
     ~ Lit-Lass, Frigate to Utopia
“For many secular and/or mainstream feminists, the faith community -- especially patriarchal religions like Christianity -- may seem like a lost cause, unable to come to terms with modernity and the changing role of women and other traditionally marginalized populations. But I want to assure you that a tide is turning for feminism, and it’s happening in our church pews. Couples are promoting mutuality over hierarchical gender roles. They are reaffirming women’s inherent dignity and worth. They are dabbling in the intersectionality of different forms of oppression, even while not using this terminology. They are addressing hot-topic issues like homosexuality and abortion head-on.”      ~ Danielle Vermeer, From Two to One
Well, color me embarrassed.  I kinda thought I was the only one who came to feminism because it echoed what I saw Jesus say and do.  When Rachel Held Evans wrote that she was a feminist because she was a Christian, I read the whole thing with staccato puffs of Yes! and Thank You! bouncing back and forth from my lips to the computer screen.  I was simply unprepared for how many other contributors would echo this sentiment.

But it is also clear that the Christian community at large is not a welcoming place for this growing chorus of Christian feminists.  Many churches have clung so hard to the line that this is an either/or issue - either you are a Christian or you are a feminist - that it's a revelation to hear that you can, in fact, be both.

Feminists aren’t angry. Except when they are.

"I am angry, because I REFUSE to be apathetic, and most days, those seem like the only two choices.  I’m fed up. I’m tired. I could have written this post twenty years ago, because so little has changed. That’s exhausting."~ Coffeesnob
"I’m sorry. But this isn’t all about apologies, either. This is sort of what it’s all about. You get called to use your voice, and it’s messy, but you have to do it anyway. And then you realize, later, how little you understood what you were talking about. And then, as Sarah Bessey sometimes says, then you want to burn down your archives." ~ Esther Emery, Church in the Canyon

When I talk about feminism, I generally refuse to be apologetic. I am not an angry girl, as Ani DiFranco sang on the soundtrack of my teenage years; I am a rational, compassionate, faithful, loving human being who believes that all people deserve equal treatment.  When I think of the relationships I have had with other people who identify themselves as feminists, my mind brings up images of engaging, encouraging, uplifting experiences. I think of people celebrating each other for who they are instead of urging each other to act in some prescribed role.  These are people championing each other in honesty and mutual respect.  These are not angry people.

But at the same time, watching injustice played out over and over does, at times, make me angry. If you spend time and energy speaking or working to keep women shackled, to silence them, limit them, to malign or undervalue them, then it’s true you may be caught in my occasional angry outburst. Put more broadly, if you exert energy to keep anyone else downtrodden, if you participate in hateful talk or acts that demean others, if you spend your time working to keep yourself in a position above others, then yes, I may at times find myself angry at you. If you systematically make others less so that you can be or feel like more, then you are why I am sometimes an angry feminist.

Feminism is for Men, Too.

"Feminism was the first dialect I learned in the language of justice, though it wouldn't be the last. It was the first step of many in reversing the dehumanization I suffered in the army, by affirming my own humanity by recognizing it in others. It was a key tool in reshaping my notions of what it meant to be a man who did justice, who loved mercy, and who walked humbly."      ~ Luke Harms, Living in the Tension
"He never used the word feminism. But he did teach me why it's important.
It was December of 2011. I was sitting with my church's lead pastor, talking over women in ministry in his office, when he became visibly riled and desperately gestured as he said, "Do you really think, Valerie... Do you really think, that our God would have created half the human race, to be subservient to the other half? Does it really make sense to you to think that?"      ~ Of Faith and Feelings
"As patriarchy draws boxes around the places girls can go, it discourages boys from space God intended for them too."      ~ Abby Norman, Accidental Devotional
"I credit my mom’s boldness and faith for instilling me with such a high view of women, but in the same breath, I credit my dad’s gentleness and grace.
And that’s why I tell my girlfriend that her dreams and goals are just as important as mine.
And that’s why I refuse to view women as a commodity.
And that’s why when I have a family of my own I will plant gardens and cook and clean and do laundry.
And that’s why, yeah, I consider myself a feminist."      ~ Cort, Stories & Thoughts

I owe much of my comfort with the title of feminist to my husband.  One of the first Christmas gifts he gave me was a collection of essays called Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation.  When I lent it to a friend and never got it back, he bought me a replacement copy.  When I tell myself I'm not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, he calmly reminds me that I am. When I complain that I am too this or not enough that, he pulls me into his arms and tells me he loves me for everything that I am, already right now.

He is not just a feminist in some lofty, theoretical sense.  He does the exhausting work of stay at home parenting during the week while I am downtown at the office.  He changes diapers and scrubs toilets and listens to musicals while he is cooking dinner.  And, what's perhaps even more remarkable about the arrangement is that he actually likes [most of] it.  He is good at cooking, he is a tremendously active and engaged father, and he is proud of the incredible contributions he makes to our family.

My husband would be quick to tell you that he needs feminism as much as I do because he is as constricted by the typical male gender roles as I am by the typical female gender roles.  In our lives, we knew that feminism was crucial for both of our freedom, but it was such a surprise to read how many other men felt the same way.  Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Femfest for me has been reading the voices of the men who participated and the voices of the men who were quoted by their wives and sisters and daughters.  It was a brilliant reminder that we all need feminism because inequality injures us all.

Today is my contribution for the third and final day of Feminisms Fest.  I hope you will click over and read what everyone else discovered in reading the dozens of essays on what feminism means to us and why feminism is important to our lives.

Image credit one and two, both used under Creative Commons License.


  1. Seriously. There was so much I didn't know I didn't know, and you highlighted many of those points, but especially about your husband agreeing that he also needs feminism. I loved reading men's thoughts on this. It is so so so refreshing!

  2. I also loved hearing the voices of men. I take that for granted, because my husband and brothers are better feminists than I am. But they aren't bloggers. I loved reading men's voices and women's concern for the men in their lives. This is a kind of feminism I can love.

  3. Andrew CarmichaelMarch 1, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    Kudos to both you and your husband for shaping your roles not according to someone's prescribed norms but according to your interests, abilities and needs. You set a great example for your children and others.

    I too have found that feminism has in fact freed and empowered me as a male. Although I will not begin to claim that I have suffered under patriarchal structures as women have, I also have been limited and constrained by them in ways that have kept me from embracing and living in my full identity. We men need feminism and need to support feminism every bit as much as women.

  4. When I tell myself I'm not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, he calmly reminds me that I am. When I complain that I am too this or not enough that, he pulls me into his arms and tells me he loves me for everything that I am, already right now.

    In the last month , I have been in this scene with my boyfriend so many times and not once does he gets tired of smiling at me and telling me how much special i am to him. That i feel is love. and a blessing from God. That guy i know will and does treat all ladies well. Feminist or not. That is the kind of men we all need.

  5. Thanks, Liz. This is important to my life and journey.


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