feminism & me, whether i knew it or not.

“I am a feminist.”

This, from a short, balding old guy in front of a room of about 150 college kids.

Everyone laughed nervously, the energy in the room saying,

 but you’re a dude, bro.

I’m not even sure how the rest of the lecture proceeded that day, but that first moment has stayed with me all this time. A stir that said, if a man can be a feminist, maybe that word contains multitudes.

My earliest understanding of the word is wrapped up in a strange conflation of bra-burnings, no makeup, penis envy, and some female rockstar pulling out a tampon onstage. Some of these have nothing to do with one another, but basically, any time a woman did something off the wall crazy-sounding, it got reassigned to the brain-file marked “feminist.”

Not a well-educated middle-aged man with a wife and kids wearing tweed in an outdated lecture hall.

————————-

Maybe it was because my connotations with the word “feminist” were so extreme and misguided that it wasn’t until recently I realized that I was one, that maybe I had unconsciously been one for a long time, in a lineage full of powerhouse women.

The marriages in my family to which I have borne witness are ones of equal footing, equal opportunities, flexible roles, teamwork, and mutual support, respect, and grace. Normally gendered issues such as professional ambition and domestic responsibility were never exclusive to one side of the bed. At least, not in my memory.

I had an aunt who was a Boy Scout, a mother with an M.B.A., and a grandmother who decided to start her own wildly successful literacy consulting business after retirement from decades as an educator in southern New Mexico (and still does this kind of thing as a ministry to missionary schools in Central America.) These were also the same women who threw tea parties and baked pies and handmade clothes from nothing. I mean. Eshet chayil.

And the men in my life? Engineers, businessmen, educators, but also nurturers, crafters, criers and cooks, lovers of art, romantic comedies, and musical theater.

Now, there’s more to these stories, and these characterizations are certainly sweeping. I still think most of my family would cringe at this five-syllable F-word, even the ones reading this (hey guys!)

But we are all loudmouthed creators and cultivators, protectors and caregivers. Men and women alike.

————————————–

And then there were the prophets and the preachers: high-heeled at the pulpit, with manicured hands to lay. They were beautiful, smart, strong, and spoke with authority.

Because the Spirit moves where the Spirit moves. 

I was taught a fiercely loyal Ruth and a wise Deborah; through the bravery of Esther a nation saved, through the bravery of Mary, a world saved, a multitude reborn.

Because the Spirit moves where the Spirit moves.

There’s a lot of my spiritual past I still have to sort through, even as it relates to women in the Church. It’s not all so tidy, but it does mean that when I approached the rail for the first time to receive the Eucharist, it was the most unconsciously natural thing for there to be a woman with the Body and Blood in her hands, just as a woman held the Body and Blood two thousand years ago.

It means that pursuing Divinity School as a woman didn’t faze me until someone asked me about it.

Likewise, someone had to tell me that the way these pictures of my past informed my present made me a feminist. 

But, a feminist is a woman who does something off-the-wall crazy-sounding, remember?

It took some exposure to realize that for a lot of people, crazy-sounding includes having a voice, sharing rights, owning a business, being an authority on a subject or in a sphere, being an adventurer, standing behind a lecturn or an altar rail.

I guess if advocating for these things makes me a feminist, so be it. Call me crazy.

There’s a lot I’ve left out of this post, and Shaney does an amazing job of covering some of the definition bases I wish I could have. But that’s the beauty of this link-up, eh? We’re creating mosaic of posts over the next few days, so head over to J.R. Goudeau’s space to read what others have said about some of the definitions of feminism.

But now I want to hear from YOU. Is what I’ve said shocking, or not enough? Bring your own definitions and stories, friends. I want to hear them.

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38 thoughts on “feminism & me, whether i knew it or not.

  1. “It took some exposure to realize that for a lot of people, crazy-sounding includes having a voice, sharing rights, owning a business, being an authority on a subject or in a sphere, being an adventurer, standing behind a lecturn or an altar rail. I guess if advocating for these things makes me a feminist, so be it. Call me crazy.”

    I had to untangle feminism in the same way. My parents watched Rush Limbaugh when I was growing up and I equated feminism with something awful and inappropriate. But when I look at the way my parents raised me, complementarian and conservative though they may be, they never placed limits on what I could do or be. They raised me to be fiercely independent. (Sometimes I think this backfired on them.) They raised me to care about the poor and downtrodden, the orphans and the voiceless. I look at all the pieces of my life and wonder how I ever equated feminism with something that it is not.

  2. Oh, the mess of misappropriated connotations! Growing up, feminists were the radicals, the power suits and cropped haircuts–all eschewing their “natural” roles of wives/mothers. It clouded my view of feminism and being a feminist until college when my faculty advisor wasn’t into bra burning or tearing away men’s rights–she simply wanted equality. I called myself a feminist too!

    Right now, our church has 2 female pastoral interns both in Duke’s Divinity school. I’m beyond excited that they will be leading Holy Week because it is step toward equality in our faith.

  3. my story sounds like Leigh’s. I have always been a feminist, even before I knew what it meant, was comfortable with the moniker or applied it to myself. It’s the insane notion that women should be treated like people.

  4. Hey Antonia,

    I love your way words it’s amazing. What you are describing as is great but to me that does not equate feminism. Esther, Ruth and Deborah were strong intelligent women but I don’t think they would be considered feminist. Woman’s rights have done great things for women all around. However, it comes to a point when feminism begins to emasculate men. I know women have been put down for so long, but now it is almost the reverse and we are constantly putting down men and putting limitation on who they are. This is were I see feminism can be taken too far. To me what you describe is being a Woman I consider myself a strong woman, but I don’t consider myself a feminist simply because I am a woman and that’s what I want to be called.

    • Feminism is not a zero-sum game unlike the typical power structures that dominate our world (e.g., patriarchy). As Shaney said in her post (Antonia linked to it above), it’s not about “emasculating” men so that women can seize power since they haven’t had it. It’s about leveling the entire system that gives power to some (men, whites, Westerners, etc.) at the expense of others (women, people of color, non-Westerners, etc.).

    • I’m with Danielle entirely in her response to your comment here. the only thing I would add is that I agree (perhaps in a different way) that the work isn’t over: society can also put men down and limit who they can be– for example, in a lot of ways, I see that our culture is growing more comfortable with women in business, but still sees male theater majors and poets as “not manly.” I’m not sure if that’s what you meant, but seeing a problem with that kind of limitation as well belongs to a kind of feminism, too.

      Regardless, I encourage you to read Shaney’s post (linked above) as well as J. R. Goudeau’s host post that deals with the whole conversation, and the very idea that there are different views of “feminisms,” : http://loveiswhatyoudo.com/2013/02/26/feminisms-and-me-femfest-link-up-day-1/

  5. There’s a story here that I am so into. When there’s a thing, that at it’s heart is kind of beyond words, but we have to give it a name, because how else do you get through life, so I call it Frank, but you call it Joe, and we spend years thinking that we disagree. And then, one day, you’re telling me about Joe, and I’m actually listening, and I say, WOW, that sounds like the thing I call Frank. Is it…? Is it the same thing? MAGIC. I love it.

  6. Antonia,
    I remember seeing my first pastor in Iowa Park, TX at a cousin’s funeral in the late 70’s and thought it strange to see a woman in robes. I did not see my next one until 1999. It did not seem strange to me at that time. It seemed intriguing and inviting. This was one of the two women who helped steer me toward seminary.

    I do remember debating my Baptist youth pastor in high school about the role of women in church and giving him a run for his money. It never made sense to me why a woman did not have the right to be or do anything that God had called her to do.

    In the scriptures I never saw gender assignments to any of the gifts of the Spirit or any of the five fold ministries. I did see that God created us, male and female, in the image of God, examples of women spiritual leaders in both the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament, and an abolishment through Christ of the divisions between male and female…”Now there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free…” It also is prophesied in Joel and later repeated in the New Testament that in the last days God would pour out His spirit on all people, both male and female, young and old would participate in the glorification and revelation bearing of God.

    I remember writing a college paper on feminism and was drawn to many feminist writers because of their strength, their depth and their refusal to be silenced. In the midst of Rush and other conservative indoctrination, I too was influnenced by my long ancestory of strong, bold, fearless women and truly saw no better way to be.

    I am a feminist. I support gender equality and truly believe that men need us to be right beside them, not in front or behind, for them to be the best men they can be and for us to be in the only position where our full completely femine selves can be fully alive. I believe the pre-fall model in the garden with man and woman walking side-by-side naked and unashamed, spending time fellowshiping with their God in whose image they were made is still God’s desire for us and is still the best way to live. I am proud of you. Keep pursuing the abandance of woman God has created you to be.

    • Angela, I love this story from you. I am now realizing that I have left out a hugely important part of this story–that I consider you (and a few other choice mentors) as part of my powerhouse lineage as well. Your unique strength, you perceptiveness into the lives of others, your caring as well as prophetic poking and prodding (not to mention that one time you ran Bible? 🙂 ) is in no small way a part of this mosaic of what I believe a woman can be. So, thank you. Love hearing from you! xoxo.

  7. Isn’t it such a strange thing that we can be so ‘for’ a concept, and still so scared of word. Very much identify with, while completely living the equality, still trying to work on being okay with identifying myself with ‘feminism’.

    And this…
    “And then there were the prophets and the preachers: high-heeled at the pulpit, with manicured hands to lay. They were beautiful, smart, strong, and spoke with authority.”

    LOVED that. Great post, thanks!

    • Jessi, I think I’m still scared of casually identifying with “feminism,” that is, without the need to explain or justify myself…which is a tendency I need to examine in itself. But I do want there to be a conversation.

      I wish I didn’t feel such a tension between identity and practice myself.

      Thanks, Jessi!

  8. Pingback: why feminism matters, for me, for her, for him. | stuff antonia says.

  9. This sounds so much like my story, especially the part where my family is still a little uncomfortable with the label. My dad, while being incredibly supportive of my future as a doctor and of my mother as a woman in ministry still pokes fun at me for claiming the term. Thanks for sharing your story!

    p.s. I think you’ve mentioned Duke Div School as somewhere you’ve applied/want to go. I’m here at Duke for undergrad and have finally taken a religion class and I’m loving it. I don’t know the Div School all that well, but I have friends who do, so if you have questions about it/Durham/life at Duke, I’d be glad to try to help!

    • oh yeah– I have a few male friends who poke fun with the term, even though supportive. I would like to think that one day it might lose even that kind of power.

      Thanks for the Durham reach-out! It looks like I am headed to Duke Div after all, so I will keep you in mind as I move out east!

      Thanks, Anna!

  10. This is beautiful – and especially this:
    it was the most unconsciously natural thing for there to be a woman with the Body and Blood in her hands, just as a woman held the Body and Blood two thousand years ago

    Thank you!

  11. Pingback: what i’ve learned, about voice. | stuff antonia says.

  12. Pingback: Notable News: Week of February 23-March 1, 2013 | unchained faith

  13. I’m late catching up with all the #femfest posts but gosh, I love this. “Because the Spirit moves where the Spirit moves.” Amen. Loved hearing this bit of your story.

  14. Pingback: Our Current Fix: Feminisms Fest | Oral Fixation: Dallas' Storytelling Show

  15. Pingback: Equal? | dizzydaisydoo

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