Who is a feminist?
The answer is about to expand to include Christian feminists. Zealots who
patrol the ideological walls of established feminism will not welcome the
new arrivals at their gate.
Conservatives are not supposed to have a social conscience or be politically
fashionable. But let me extend a warm welcome to the growing ranks of Christian
feminism. The larger movement desperately needs an infusion of fresh perspective
and I look forward to honest debate over our points of disagreement.
At this point, synapses may be colliding at the attempt to integrate the
words "Christian" and "feminist" because the combination deviates from expected
norms. Remember, however, that those norms were established over past decades
by politically correct feminists, whose critiques of historic Christianity
were specifically designed to discredit the church as anti-woman. Similar
critiques were aimed at discrediting institutions such as the traditional
family and the free market system. Just as PC feminists got it wrong in branding
"men" a class enemy, they are wrong in dismissing the role of religion.
What is Christian feminism? It is a school within the broader feminist tradition
that seeks to define woman's liberation and her equality with man through
reference to the Christian religion. This sounds odd to modern ears. But
it is no odder than trying to define liberation and equality with reference
to post-Marxist theory, the well from which PC feminism draws. Or by referring
to the classical liberal tradition as does the school I favor -- individualist
feminism or ifeminism.
The dominant voice within the current movement is PC feminism. And one of
the myths that such feminists have successfully sold is that any woman who
disagrees with their approach on a wide range of issues -- from sexual harassment
to child custody, from abortion to affirmative action -- is anti-feminist.
Perhaps even anti-woman. That claim is absolutely false.
The truth is, there are now and there always have been many schools of thought
within the feminist tradition: from socialist to individualist, liberal to
radical, Christian to Islamic. These schools offer conflicting views of what
it means to be a woman on a personal level and in relationship to society.
When you think about it, this diversity of opinion makes sense.
Feminism can be defined as the belief that women should be liberated as individuals
and equal to men. It is only natural for there to be disagreement over what
a personal ideal like "liberation" means and how a basic concept like "equality"
should be defined. Indeed, it would be amazing if every woman who cared about
liberation and equality came to exactly the same conclusions.
For example, what does equality mean? Does it refer to "equality under just
law" -- under laws that protect person and property? Is it "socio-economic
equality" that requires legal privileges for the disadvantaged and government
control of the marketplace? Perhaps it is the cultural equality in which
attitudes and social expression need to be controlled and "politically corrected?"
Disagreement on complex political terms and social issues is not only inevitable,
it is healthy because it fuels open, honest discussion.
Yet PC feminists insist: There is no room for discussion on issues like abortion,
on promoting diversity or on how the Bible oppresses women. They proclaim
a specific position to be "feminist" and, then, declare women who fall outside
that position to be "non-" or "anti-feminists."
They know better. Concepts like equality and issues like abortion have been
actively debated within feminism since the movement's inception. The most
cursory review of "inconvenient" feminist history reveals:
B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of the Founding Mothers of feminism,
strongly opposed abortion. Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential
candidate, shared their opposition.
19th-century feminists did not advocate diversity but elitism and racism.
Even Margaret Sanger, who is lauded for bringing birth control to immigrant
women, argued that the world would be better off without "certain types"
of children -- namely, those who were "less fit." Some prominent 19th-century
suffragists advocated adopting educational or property qualifications for
voting that would disqualify most black women.
often constituted the backbone of belief for early feminists, many of whom
were Quakers like Lucretia Mott who, along with Stanton, organized Seneca
Falls -- the first woman's rights convention in America. When Stanton herself
blasted the impact of religion on women through "The Woman's Bible," the
National American Woman Suffrage Association denounced the work.
in pointing to inconvenient history is not to slur the feminist past or to
champion one position over another. It is to confirm that there has always
been a wide range of opinion on key issues such as the role of abortion and
religion in women's lives. And there always should be.
Email Wendy McElroy
Next spring, Vanguard University in California will open a Center for Women's
Studies, thus becoming one more evangelical Christian college to invite feminists
to walk on its campus. I argue from a different perspective than Christian
feminism. But I invite and I look forward to the new definitions of liberation
and equality that will flow from women such as the young feminists of Vanguard.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. Her
new book is Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century.
Reprinted with permission of ifeminists.com.
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