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

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Comments

  1. Stephanie Nickel says:

    I look forward to reading more, Sarah.

  2. African Masala says:

    “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.

  3. Jennifer says:

    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

  4. M-Bangalore says:

    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!

  5. 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.

  6. Dorcas George says:

    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.

  7. Rosemary says:

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

    • Yep he wanted to overthrow traditional gender roles. NOT!

      • 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 says:

          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 says:

          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.

  8. Karla Holton says:

    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 😉

  9. Counting the days till your book is out… 🙂

  10. 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

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

  12. Love this post sooooooooooo much.

  13. kathunsworth says:

    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.

  14. oddznns says:

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

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

  16. Sarah Caldwell says:

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

  17. Dotti Carole says:

    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.

  18. Not Gloria Steinem says:

    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.

  19. Sherry Naron says:

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

  20. 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?

  21. Brilliant. Thank you Sarah.

  22. Tabitha says:

    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!

  23. 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’ 🙁

  24. pastordt says:

    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.

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

  26. Amen! I feel the same way.

  27. Jennifer Stahl says:

    Love it! Thank you!!

  28. Anne Marie Wilson says:

    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.

  29. SmallMomentsBigJoy says:

    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!

  30. Brianna DeWitt says:

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

  31. 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.

  32. Felicity White says:

    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!

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

  34. Me too!

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

  36. Kelley Nikondeha says:

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

  37. Amen, amen, amen. Well done, Sarah.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Sarah Styles Bessey provides a bold example in her post, “Reclaiming Feminist”. Sarah’s book on the subject comes out in November: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit […]

  2. […] her subtle, but clear, distancing from second-wave feminists like Betty Friedan. The title of her article, “Reclaiming Feminist,” published prior to the release of her book, speaks to her use of the […]

  3. […] her subtle, but clear, distancing from second-wave feminists like Betty Friedan. The title of her article, “Reclaiming Feminist,” published prior to the release of her book, speaks to her use of the […]

  4. […] and I have, in fact, said the opposite often. But I read a wonderful article by Sarah Bessey called Reclaiming Feminism, and I realized that she was putting many of my beliefs, thoughts and hopes into words. It reminded […]

  5. […] The link to the full article mentioned. I will highlight parts I really appreciate! http://shelovesmagazine.com/2013/reclaiming-feminist/ […]

  6. […] laughter or raised eyebrows and, almost always, surprise.” So said Sarah Bessey in her ‘Reclaiming Feminist‘ blog in SheLoves Magazine earlier this […]

  7. […] For a look at what it means to be a Christian feminist: http://shelovesmagazine.com/2013/reclaiming-feminist/ and http://sarahbessey.com/in-which-i-choose-to-be-a-feminist-in-the-way-that-jesus-would-be-a-feminist/. […]

  8. […] Reclaiming Feminist Sarah Bessey put this into words beautifully. It’s strange – I always thought this was a natural conclusion, to be both Christian and feminist. I learned about Jesus and the value of women all at the same time, and no one ever told me to fear the title of ‘feminist’. […]

  9. […] to perpetuate this us versus them mentality. It yearns for justice, grace, and acceptance. In a post recently written by Sarah Bessey, she defines feminists by three distinct […]

  10. […] me, because it’s a wider tent than she gives it credit for.  Heck, by Sarah Bessey’s definition, she’s a feminist herself. However, she represents and challenges conservative positions with […]

  11. […] and I have, in fact, said the opposite often. But I read a wonderful article by Sarah Bessey called Reclaiming Feminism, and I realized that she was putting many of my beliefs, thoughts and hopes into words. It reminded […]

  12. […] wife, Tina, encouraged me to read Sarah Bessey‘s SheLoves article on reclaiming feminism last week. Feminism has been a touchy topic in our house. Conversations quickly unravel and we […]

  13. […] Reclaiming Feminist – Sarah Bessey at She Loves magazine […]

  14. […] Bessey with In which we are reclaiming feminism. If you haven’t checked out Sarah Bessey’s blog, please rush over here right now and […]

  15. […] Sarah Bessey @ SheLoves: In Which We are Reclaiming Feminism […]

  16. […] Here’s a great affirmation about Christianity and Feminism from Sarah Bessey at She Loves Magazine […]

  17. […] a fair question. So here is my answer… Read the rest of this post at SheLoves […]

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