My friend and I just finished speaking at a conference when a woman approached. She said, “I really enjoyed that, except when your friend said Jesus was a feminist – there is no way He was a feminist!”
I replied that I disagreed. I explained that a feminist is a person who advocates for the equal opportunity and rights regardless of gender, and I believed Jesus embodied that in his life.
She earnestly looked at me and said, “But if you really knew what a feminist was you would not agree”.
I continued. “Well, what kind of feminist do you mean? Marxist feminist, lipstick feminist, liberal feminist, radical feminist?”
She looked at me as if I was talking gibberish and said, “You know – a real feminist!”
I realized we were talking about a single topic but coming from two very different places.
If feminism was the elephant in the room, I was pulling the tusk and she was pulling the tail.
I assume her definition of a feminist was an aggressive, man hating, abortion promoting, militant left-wing, scary woman with studded wristbands and army boots as weapons. In which case, I agree, I don’t think Jesus would have been this kind of feminist.
This conversation showed me that any discussion about gender equality in Christian circles can be fraught with emotional bombs.
Step the wrong way with semantics and watch an explosion of anger and passion blow up. It’s a minefield of mixed definitions and a powder keg of perceptions and paradigms.
There are as many forms of feminism as there as many forms of Christianity. To make broad sweeping statements about feminism would be like saying all Christians are rosary bead praying, tongue speaking, conservative voting, Calvinistic, tee-totaling, gun toting, homophobic, party poopers.
Diverse Forms of Feminism
In the same way, we can lump all feminists in the same box. Yet there are many different types of feminism. Different types include:
Socialist feminism which is influenced by Marxist ideology.
Liberal feminism seeks equality through political and legal reform.
Black feminism argues sexism, class oppression and racism are bound together.
French feminism pursues equality through literary and philosophical efforts.
Radical feminism want to dismantle the entire system because it is patriarchal.
This list is in no way exhaustive. They take different approaches and emphasize different underlying philosophies.
Diversity of Leaders of the Feminist Movement
Even major leaders in the feminist movement are not homogeneous. If they were all at a dinner party together I’m sure the evening would end in loud and fervent debate. Imagine trying to form a cohesive group from this bullet list of prominent feminists.
-Mary Wollstonecraft: 1700’s, author of “The Vindication of the Rights of Women”, philosopher, liberal, deist/Unitarian
-Catherine Booth: 1800’s, co-founder of the Salvation Army, fought for safe working conditions for women and children, Christian preacher
-Emmeline Pankhurst: early 1900’s, fought for the right to vote including using violent protests such as bombing churches
-Betty Friedan: wrote the “Feminine Mystique” in 1963, writer, journalist, Marxist Zionist Jew
-Germaine Greer: wrote “The Female Eunuch” in 1970, writer and academic, Catholic atheist and anarchist
-Naomi Wolf: wrote “The Beauty Myth” in 1990 author, journalist, Pulitzer prize winner, political adviser to Al Gore and Bill Clinton, liberal progressive.
Here is another one for the list: Jesus Christ: 1st century, Jewish Rabbi, son of God, dismantled gender barriers by teaching and debating theology with women despite this being prohibited (John 4:19-25, Luke 10:39), fought for Judeo-legal rights of an alleged adulterous women (Luke 8:1-11), economically supported by women (Luke 8:3), took women as part of his mission team (Luke 8:1-2), interacted intimately with women regardless of race (John 4:27), promoted women as role models for faith and wisdom (Queen Sheba Matthew 12:42, Matthew 26;13).
Reading the above list of Jesus`s gender barrier breaking behaviours could we then define Jesus as a feminist? This would depend on how we define feminism.
How do we take a range of ideologies and synergise them into one simple defining statement? Perhaps in the same way Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians could unify under the simple statement of belief, that is: Jesus is God, that he died on the cross for our sins and he was resurrected from the dead so we can live eternally.
In the same way we then could pull together different schools of ideology and simply define feminism as a term, “used to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women” (1).
Given this definition, I believe issues such as trafficking women and girls, domestic violence, preventing child marriages, exploitation of women in media and the full releasing of spiritual gifts in women would be high on the Christian feminist agenda.
Here is another interesting definition of feminism with a Christian bias. In 1914, The New York Times published this definition by women’s suffrage activist Carrie Chapman Catt:
“What is feminism? A world-wide revolt against all artificial barriers which laws and customs interpose between women and human freedom. It is born of the instinct within every natural woman’s soul that God designed her as the equal, co-worker, the comrade of the men of her family, and not as their slave, or servant, or dependent, or plaything”. (2)
I wonder if Jesus may define Christian feminism as something like this: Women are my sisters, my daughters. Love them as I do. They are made in my image. Treat them as you would treat me.
This definition, if fully embraced in action, would be a bomb of love that would blow apart gender injustice.
By Elissa Macpherson: author, speaker, Jesus lover, injustice hater, coffee drinking, sequin wearing, beauty embracing God gurl