The Christian Feminist Contradiction

In checking my incoming links page this morning, I was kind of intrigued to find myself favourably linked in this blog post, which starts by asserting general agreement with a Guardian article that says, among other things:

…the term “Christian feminist” is an oxymoron; it’s a glaring contradiction in terms on a par with “compassionate conservative” and “pro-life anti-abortionist”…

Christianity is and always has been antithetical to women’s freedom and equality, but it’s certainly not alone in this….

From the very first days of feminism there’s been a recognition that religious doctrine is incompatible with the quest for women’s rights….

In any society where religion dominates it is women who pay the price: we can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether or not any particular religion sanctions so-called honour crimes for example, but what’s unarguable is that men’s interpretation of religion, and the patriarchal values that religion instils, has led to the murders of countless women.

The blogger goes on to talk about more of her own specific experiences within the Roman Catholic church in Canada, and they’re experiences to which I can certainly relate, having been raised in that community. She also talks about what she finds to fill in for what she misses about church, through things like poetry, and being the freewheelin’ kinda Christian (heretic) that I am, I’m cool with whatever experiences of the divine people go for.

The main argument I want to make with regard to this “Christian feminist contradiction” thing is that whenever it’s asserted, it gets pointed out over and over that “mainstream religion” has always been misogynistic, has consistently been used to uphold misogyny, includes countless examples of male dominance and the male paradigm for an image of God/God’s will, and has not, to say the least, been kind to the feminist movement, which is all true, but it doesn’t seem to occur to any one making these points that the problem is the mainstream, not the religion. Religion is the tool here, misogyny is the problem. Atheists and atheistic regimes can find plenty of ways to be misogynistic, and if we somehow manage to get rid of religion because it’s misogynistic instead of getting rid of misogyny, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

It’s not all that different from my reasons for frustration with feminists who talk about eliminating pornography and prostitution because the mainstream industry is misogynistic. I’m not denying that it – or the church – is. The mainstream is misogynistic. This is the starting place from which I’m operating as a feminist – that society as a whole is plenty full of sexism, and it’s worth working to eliminate that. Naturally, you’re going to see the threads of misogyny in religion, as well as in pop culture, in education, in politics, in everything. Fuck, you’ll even see them in feminism. The world has “always been” antithetical to women’s rights, and feminism exists, imo, as a force of hope to change that. Any argument that starts with the premise that because something has always been that way it must inherently be ever so is one that doesn’t place a lot of real hope in feminism, from my perspective.

Quoted above, the Guardian article claims that it’s inarguable that “…the patriarchal values that religion instills [have] led to the murders of countless women”. I guess that would be inarguable, if it didn’t originate from a faulty premise – religion does not “create” patriarchal values. Patriarchal values are imposed on religion (and everything else) by a patriarchal society, and I think the author gets that, because right off, she points out that as men get ahold of religion and begin envisioning a God that goes with it, that God is inevitably shaped as male.

I go through waves of thinking that calling myself a Christian is maybe a little misleading, since, in addition to all that feminism, I do take a lot of my faith practice from other, radically different, traditions, sometimes more than I take from the Bible. And sometimes, someone at my church says something from the pulpit or in conversation about the nature of Christianity and Christ, or I read myself some CS Lewis or something, and I think “fuck this, I’m out”, because if what they say is true, I want none of it. Me and God will get on just fine, perhaps better, without all that “Christian” baggage getting in the way. But then I come across some reading or some passage that really does emphasize the loving, accepting, radically transforming, hopeful faith that I do want to share in, and I sigh and stick the label back on again.

In general, I’m not a fan of being called deluded, or stupid, or condescended to (trackbacks being what they are, I’m sure mirabile dictu will read this, and to be clear, it is apparent that she’s not doing any of those things), but actually, it occurs to me that I’m fully okay with being a glaring contradiction.

Consider this the manifestation of my glare.


13 thoughts on “The Christian Feminist Contradiction

  1. hysperia says:

    Yes, I’m reading! I read you all the time anyway you see. Your glare is a good one. I’d like to respond to what you’re saying here sometime, but I’m too tired from last night’s revelations! Truth is, I do think that Catholicism is misogynist at its roots – but as always, there’s room not only for the contradictions, but also for the differences between us. Thanks for being out there.

  2. purtek says:

    Ah! I couldn’t find the blogger name on that blog, so I didn’t clue in that it was yours! Sorry ’bout that. Predominantly laziness, I’m sure.

    To be fair, I might agree with you on Roman Catholicism, personally, and even if it’s not, I feel that, at the core, it’s an authoritarian religion, which I would find problematic even if it weren’t misogynistic in its current (and historical) structure. But I’ve met feminist Roman Catholics, and I would expect that they would agree that there is tons of misogyny in the current church, but that something in that religion as a whole is worth trying to hold on to, something that to them represents the true heart of Catholicism.

    As I mentioned, I do appreciate being able to talk about this without the tones of condescension, because as you say, they are important questions, and I agree that they’re important differences. So thanks for that.

  3. Good points. Bottom line:

    Misogynistic religion wouldn’t be popular if people didn’t want to be misogynistic.

    Misogynistic TV wouldn’t be popular if people didn’t want to be misogynistic.

    Misogynistic stuff would fade if misogyny wasn’t popular.

  4. […] enjoying this conversation, of sorts, with purtek.  I think because it’s real and true and respectful at the same time.  A rare thing these […]

  5. Rachel says:

    This is a really great post!

  6. purtek says:

    Jenn – pretty much, yes. As usual, you say in fifty words what I can only do in five hundred. 🙂

    Rachel – thanks.

  7. Yes, but only after you’ve said it, without which I’d never quite thought it through just that way. 😀

  8. antiprincess says:

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

    galatians 3:28.

    et voila! christian feminism!

  9. A very good post. I wish you well in your journey with the contradiction. I must confess that after many years of struggle with the contradictions, I left Christianity behind. I do not regret doing so now – but the process was exceedingly painful so i would not wish it on anyone unless they cannot avoid it.

    I discovered your site on Debi Crow and look forward to reading more.

    PS – the title of your blog – are you, like me, a Leonard Cohen freak?

  10. purtek says:

    Thanks for the compliments, Brian, and for the sympathetic view of the struggle with the contradictions. In all honesty, I can’t say I blame anyone for making the individual choice that you did, but what I do wish is that, as a structure, Christianity could become such that we wouldn’t *have* to. But then, I’ve always been crazy like that. 🙂

    I am, in fact, quite the fan of the Cohen. The man has a brilliant way with words, and Hallelujah in particular, is probably on my top five all time favourite song list. I think I have about fourteen different versions. Good catch on the reference.

  11. roger says:

    That same defence could be made of communism or fascism. Many people supported these things too, some would today, arguing that the world they were operating in, influenced them and made them more violent than they would otherwise have been.
    However that doesn’t let them off the hook. And it shouldn’t let religion off the hook either.

  12. aaron says:

    Fantastic blog, I’ll be citing you in my paper in favor of feminism within the church setting if you don’t mind. I especially like that you say “Fuck!” in the middle of your blog, just my style.


  13. purtek says:

    Roger – you talk like “religion”, “communism” or “fascism” are entities in and of themselves. What does it mean to let a philosophical concept “off the hook”? I’ll grant that some are so heinous – and fascism, I would suggest, falls into this category – that they certainly shouldn’t be advocated, but you’re creating a rather hyperbolic false equivalency, here. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is exactly what I find problematic from so many angles.

    Aaron – thanks! I’m flattered to be cited in, like, a real paper. I think you should also write a paper in favour of the word “fuck” within the church setting. 🙂

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