Why I Pursue Christian Feminism
Feminism sounds weird. Christian feminism sounds weirder.
Christian feminism? Isn’t Christianity against feminism? It’s a religion that says wives to submit to their husband to begin with — and isn’t it the religion that have all the controversial issues from not having women pastors to anti-abortions?
I am a Christian. And I pursue feminism.
What is feminism?
The first step should be defining feminism. Looking at the Internet, feminism seems to be one of the most misunderstood concepts of the current age. According to the Internet, feminism is overreacting, male-hating, selfish movement of some women for their own profits.
Well, no. That’s not feminism.
Feminism, in the simplest definition, is the recognition and denial of patriarchy in our society. Then, what is patriarchy? Patriarchy is not just where male is dominant over female. If that is the whole story of the patriarchy, feminism would really be overreacting, male-hating, selfish movement for some women’s profit.
However, that is not the whole story.
Patriarchy, in the simplest definition, is a system where ideal image of masculinity is imposed to everyone. Let’s call the “most ideal male” as “Aurelius” (just because that is the first name on my bookshelf that caught my eyes). In patriarchy, everyone should be Aurelius. Everyone is compared to Aurelius. Further away a person is from Aurelius, she (or even he) is considered inferior in the society. This leads to less opportunity, and thus, discrimination.
So feminism is to say that “no, we don’t have the Aurelius to compare ourselves to”. It is not for the profit of some women — because stop imposing “Aurelius” benefits everyone who is not like Aurelius; male-hating — because it is the patriarchy feminism is against not the masculinity, and not all males represent patriarchy; and not overreacting — because our society does use the “Aurelius” which creates clear pains.
Feminism is not a fight against masculinity; it is a fight against patriarchy.
Isn’t Patriarchy Biblical?
But the question is: isn’t patriarchy biblical? Because the Bible says:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. (Ephesians 5.22–23)
There are some verses such as this which seem to imply male dominance over female — or, even further, imply that male image is superior than female: after all, it was Eve that was from Adam, not vice versa.
There are some verses like the one quoted above in Paul’s epistles that create somewhat controversy. One might take them literally, concluding that female have to “submit” to males. I won’t have my opinion on that here, but it is clearly possible, and I respect such understanding.
Another way of understanding would be taking consideration of the cultural context — to understand that the verses mean to keep the social norm, so that people in the church may make the best use of the time (Ephesians 5.16). Then, what Paul meant by those verses is to be cautious in breaking social norms, rather than necessarily feeding the patriarchal order. Please note that this way of understanding is also possible.
Yet, what if this understanding is wrong? What if those verses are to be taken literally? Does this means Christianity is pro-patriarchy and thus anti-feminism? Am I being a terrible Christian by pursuing feminism?
I would say no. “Submit to husbands”, but this submission is not onewayed. For instance check out what directly follows the previously quoted verse: Ephesians 5.25 and following. Paul speaks about the husbands’ duty to love their wife right after the order for wives to submit to their husband. Then, he shows the image he really wanted to show — it is for wives and husbands to become one body in Christ.
A husband makes one body with his wife. If two form one body, then they should submit to one another. Legs should move according to the head. Legs should submit to the head. In that sense, wives should “submit” to her husband.
But if husbands are to be heads, doesn’t it mean that male idea is more desirable? Paul even says of the husbands to be like Jesus to the Church! So clearly male is superior to females, because Jesus is superior than the Church. Right?
Well, not really. What is “head” does not necessarily mean to be superior. If head was superior to the body, than the head should be able to live on without its body. Now that the head is superior to the body, everyone can magically function only with their head. What a good news for everyone beheaded! But sadly, we know it is not the case.
Even though husbands are to be heads, they are not superior to their wife. They cannot function properly without their wife — their body. Husbands are, in fact, dependent to their wife.
But why did Paul told wives to submit while husbands to love? I must be wrong with all the things I’ve said so far, because it clearly shows that husbands are superior to their wife, because you submit to someone superior. Right? So I’m a terrible Christian, am not I?
Well, what did Jesus taught us? He is clearly superior than us, mere sinners. Yet he lowered himself, and washed our feet — he submitted himself to us. Jesus taught us that submission, for Christians, is not matter of who is superior and inferior. While the secular conception is that the inferior submits to the superior, Jesus acted otherwise. Conforming one body, members of the Church — or the Kingdom of God — submit to one another.
So wives, submit to your husband — not because he is superior, but because you form one body with your husband. Husbands, love your wife — love your wife so much like Jesus did to you, so that you shall lower yourself to the point of submitting to your wife.
And this is the male image the Bible suggests. Even when understood literally, the Bible suggests ideal image of male and female not as one dominant over another, but as equally interdependent to each other. If there is to be “Aurelius”, he might be ideal for men to pursue, but he is not the dominant ideal everyone are to be compared to. Bible is not for the patriarchy. Even the literal understanding of it is against the idea of the ideal male image to be imposed to all.
Why I Pursue Christian Feminism
So the Bible is not really for the patriarchy. But why bother with it from the first place? Why should I be so overreacting to care about the issue that nobody cares? Why should I even stand against the social norm for the sake of it? Didn’t I say that Paul told the church to be careful when going against social norm? Why should I care about feminism — not just as a human being, but as a Christian?
The main reason I want to insist Christian feminism is to do justice. Why justice? Because our God acts justice.
Justice is to do what is right. We’ve seen that the Bible finds it wrong of patriarchy. Let’s assume men are the “heads” of the household. Does it mean that as the head, they are to be superior than women? Nope, the life of Jesus proves otherwise. He was the head of the people following him. However, he did not keep himself superior than them. Rather, he lowered himself to the point that he became a criminal. Just as Jesus lowered himself, even if there is “Aurelius” — our ideal man — , he is not to be raised up, but to live with the others equally. Doing justice is to get away from that wrongdoing.
Justice is to care for the weak. Some might disagree and try to avoid the reality, but in our society those who are far from the ideal image of maleness are weak — and this includes most of the women, also some of the men. In our society, their voices are so quite, since for them to have their voices they have to prove themselves to be similar with “Aurelius” by any means. Their voices often go unheard, or even when heard, soon get neglected and forgotten. #MeToo was the weak shouting out to the society which was lucky enough to be heard, but people easily forgot about it. Doing justice is to listen to that small voices.
Justice is to relieve the pain. Patriarchy, or comparing someone to the ideal image of masculinity brings pain to everyone who is different from that image of masculinity — and there are many who are different. There are many people suffering out of patriarchy — from mild discrimination to sexual crimes. Under the patriarchy, many women (and men) are compared to the “Aurelius” and treated inferior to the standard. In our cruel society, treated inferior gives so much pain. Doing justice is to try to relieve that pain.
Pursuing feminism is a Christian act of doing justice. We often ask What would Jesus do? to determine our action. When thinking about Jesus on this issue, I believe he would proudly become a feminist. And that makes me pursue feminism as a Christian.