Reclaiming Feminist

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FeministThe first time I said it out loud, it took courage. It felt weird, a bit risky and daring. I was trying the word on, like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes, to see if it fit me: feminist. And it did fit; it grew to fit beautifully, and so I turned this way and that, admiring the way the word clung to my voice and my thoughts and my work like we belonged together.

I’m a feminist.

Even now, all these years later, when I say the word in my “of-course” tone of voice, it can be met with disbelief or nervous laughter or raised eyebrows and, almost always, surprise.

Because really? a feminist, eh? so what kind of feminist are you? Meaning: Are you angry? Are you bitter? Are you a lesbian? What’s your stance on abortion? Are you against marriage and motherhood? Are you “one of those feminists” responsible for everything evil I’ve heard about feminists from Christian culture radio shock-jocks and straw man arguments on Sunday mornings? After all, we’ve heard feminism blamed for everything from day care to rape, from bikinis to tornadoes, from abuse to childhood obesity.

What kind of a feminist are you?

It’s a fair question. So here is my answer: I’m a Jesus feminist. I’m a feminist precisely because of my love for Jesus, because following Jesus turned me into a feminist.

And if you believe that women are people too, then technically, well, I hate to break it to you, but you are a feminist. After all, at the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.

That’s it.

Not so scary, is it?

It may surprise both anti-feminists and anti-Christians equally to know that feminism’s roots are tangled up with the strong Christian women’s commitments to the temperance movement, women’s rights to personhood under the law, suffragist movements, and–in America and England in particular–the abolitionist movements of the nineteenth century. Christian feminism predates the works of second- and third-wave secular feminist writers such as Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gloria Steinem.

We have a legacy of Christian women behind us, all drawn to feminism precisely because of their deep Christian faith. Our foremothers knew that the mistreatment and dehumanization of women was not–and never would be–part of God’s plan and purpose for womankind, and so they were moved to act for justice in both big and small ways all throughout history. Now we continue that legacy.

Of course, feminism has gained popularity as a result of “secular” work and scholarship, but the line between sacred and secular is man-made. Because God is the source of truth, Christians can still give thanks to God for any and all good works associated with feminism, such as the gaining of status for women, as “persons” under the law, voting, owning property, education, maternal health initiatives, and defending themselves in a court of law against domestic violence and spousal rape.

As Canadian theologian Dr. John G. Stackhouse Jr. says, “Christian feminists can celebrate any sort of feminism that brings more justice and human flourishing to the world, no matter who is bringing it, since we recognize the hand of God in all that is good.” Modern Christian feminism is alive and well, from social justice movements to seminaries and churches to suburban kitchens, worldwide.

One read through Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s agonizing and brilliant book Half the Sky will confirm it for you: feminism is too necessary in our world to languish without the participation of the Body of Christ.  As Christians, we were part of the original women’s movement, and I believe that we–the people who carry hope in cracked pots and love in our earthen vessels–are able to advocate and rabble-rouse and make peace on behalf of women like none other. We are people of love, joy, peace, patience and kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I would love to see the Church reclaim our historic place in the feminist movement, to become fierce champions for the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women again. 

The daughters of the earth are crying out for God’s justice and peace. People in the first world and third world and caught somewhere in between, both men and women are buried in the world’s power structures, tensions, histories, the old empire fallout of authority and patriarchy, war and economic injustice, hierarchy and systemic evils generation after generation.

So as David Bosch beautifully explains it in his classic book, Transforming Mission, we, the people of God, are called to bravely “erect, in the here and now and in the teeth of those structures, signs of God’s new world.” Those signs include the women of the world, walking beloved and free.

My name is Sarah. I am a happy-clappy Jesus lover. I am a wife and a mother. I believe women are people. And so I am a feminist.

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Sarah Bessey

Sarah Bessey

Sarah Bessey is the author of Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith and Jesus Feminist. She is an award-winning blogger and writer who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia with her husband and their four tinies. You can find her online at SarahBessey.com or on Twitter at @sarahbessey.
Sarah Bessey

Latest posts by Sarah Bessey (see all)

Sarah Bessey
  • Amen, amen, amen. Well done, Sarah.

  • Kelley Nikondeha

    I’m a feminist, too. Walking right alongside you, Sarah!

  • Holly

    Thank you for wrapping words around the beating of my heart, friend. This is exactly it. That is all.

  • Me too!

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  • PREACH, Sarah! Yes, yes, I am a feminist, too. And I’m that way because of Jesus 🙂

  • Felicity White

    I’ve also taken on the title of feminist with some trepidation and lots of excuses when I finally admit it to someone. But you’re right, it’s as simple as championing the equal status of women. My poor dad will worry that’s it’s the result of my liberal college education, but I think it has more to do with Jesus and the way he treated women. Looking forward to this book!

  • Thanks for this post Sarah & for reclaiming feminism, showing people what the word really means & how significant it’s meaning is. I’m a feminist too.

  • Brianna DeWitt

    Feminist is such a baggage-laden word, but this is a breath of fresh air. It really doesn’t have to be so scary.

  • SmallMomentsBigJoy

    Jesus loved and respected women. He didn’t view them as inferior. I agree that “feminism” has been hijacked, and we need to take it back!

  • Anne Marie Wilson

    Just when I think, “She could not have said that better,” you go and do it again. Thank you, as always, for your words and heart.

  • Jennifer Stahl

    Love it! Thank you!!

  • Lisa

    Amen! I feel the same way.

  • Amen. You explain the roots of Jesus feminism so well. Non scary. Simply and beautifully put. Thanks, Sarah! 🙂 xx

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  • pastordt

    I have read this before, right? I love it – clear and true and strong. Like a few other good words I could name, this one has gotten a very bad rap and I thank you for helping us to reclaim it. Excellent job.

  • Lovely, lovely, lovely!!

    I was so sad when one of the bloggers I love started a series on why she’s not a feminist, and the answer was basically ‘because she’s a Christian, and the two are incompatible’ 🙁

  • Tabitha

    I love this!!! I’ve internally struggled with loving Jesus and the idea I could possibly be a feminist. I didn’t know the two could go together. Thank you for this post!

  • Brilliant. Thank you Sarah.

  • DWC

    thank you for taking this courageous step to name and define your feminism. it’s not an easy identity to own in Christian and secular circles. as you allude to in the fourth paragraph, feminists are always at risk of being marginalized as exaggerations of themselves, therefore, not to be taken seriously. i noticed that you have referenced four authors above and three are male. one thing i have always struggled with as a Christian feminist is reading and referencing books by women, as my perspective has long been shaped by masculine voices. i’m wondering if this is something resonates with you, or with your readers?

    • Dee

      Men can be feminists, too, though!

      • DWC

        dee, i’m not saying that men can’t be feminists.

  • Sherry Naron

    ohhh..I so am a feminist too! Thank you so much, Sarah!!

  • Not Gloria Steinem

    Seems to me that’s kind of an outdated term, more appropriate to Gloria Steinem’s era. The characteristics of an old-school feminist are expected of women today. On the other hand, I am a Christian, but not churchy, so maybe it’s still a raging-fire issue in Churchianity.

  • Dotti Carole

    God created us, man and woman. I am a feminist by nature, fully ordained by the God of the universe. Justice is to set things right-to reclaim, repair, and restore the broken identity that sin has hurled on us. I too, am a Feminist.

  • Sarah Caldwell

    SO, so , so fantastic! Yes, and Amen! (Oh, and I LOVED your sermon – gurl betta preach! 🙂

  • Now that is truely a new thought for many! Yes, I am a feminist too!

  • oddznns

    Sarah … I loved this and am going to reblog it right now. Thank you!

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  • kathunsworth

    I like your style, and agree we are equal and deserve to be treated as such, which does not happen all over this world of ours, one day it will because of smart warm hearted individuals like yourself, who can spread the word of love.

  • Love this post sooooooooooo much.

  • You rock, Sarah. I love how clear and articulate you are. Well said, friend.

  • I love this! Thank you so much for writing about the coexistence of Christianity and feminism. I have been defending my beliefs for 10+ years now. My own take on Christian Feminism can be found here. Confessions of a Christian Feminist

  • Counting the days till your book is out… 🙂

  • Karla Holton

    Thanks! I’ve been speaking that word more lately… Guess I am trying it on to see how if feels and sounds coming from my mouth. I think I like it 😉

  • Rosemary

    Jesus is a feminist – he loved females enough to live and die for them.

    • will

      Yep he wanted to overthrow traditional gender roles. NOT!

      • will

        Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have
        not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. – Matthew 5:17

        • thirtyonenine

          Sorry Will, but Jesus did many things to break down traditional “gender roles” and demonstrate the value he placed on women. I think you have a false view of what feminism means (did you even read the article?) and perhaps even of the value of women in your life.

        • African Masala

          1. Which part of the Law or the Prophets sanctions the oppression of women?

          2. What does it mean to fulfil? What does it mean when a car loan is said to be fulfilled?

      • Actually, he did exactly that.

  • Dorcas George

    Reposting to my blog soon. And hoping that some day this term will not be a dirty word to most of my friends–and that I can wear it with pride. I’m a bit of a coward, I guess. Love the post, and the reminder of our roots in Christians fighting injustice.

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  • Beautiful post, Sarah! I find I have to work so hard to justify both my feminism and faith to both Christians and feminists about my beliefs about the other and I just don’t believe that they are irreconcilable, but rather, (socially) have the same goal.

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  • M-Bangalore

    Thank you for this beautiful article, Sarah. Happy to know that there are others who believe as I do and not all feminists are cut in the mold of Eve Ensler. Honestly, she made the word “Feminist” quite scary to me. We need more people like you in this world – balanced and sensible speaking words of wisdom. Keep writing!

  • Jennifer

    Just discovered your blog associated with shelovesmagazine. I am probably the only one that didn’t quite catch the clear definition. And, it may be because as a Christian woman I have related feminism with selfishness, mainly due to the abortion/women’s right movement. What you are proclaiming is different than that, yes? My heart has always been to fully understand my worth to God as a woman, but the mere word feminism has such an ugly connotation that it’s hard for me to embrace. Could you help clear this up for me? Thank you, Jennifer

  • African Masala

    “It may surprise both anti-feminists and anti-Christians equally to know
    that feminism’s roots are tangled up with the strong Christian women’s
    commitments …” It would have been nice to include the names of some of these strong Christian women.

    Jesus, Feminist is one of the books I’m looking forward to reading soon. I don’t know how one can be a Christian and not a feminist.

  • Stephanie Nickel

    I look forward to reading more, Sarah.

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