Women’s month – Summary of Feminism
Sermon by Rev. Karen Uitzinger
August is women’s month, and as most of you know, our liturgical focus has been on the honouring of women. Our youth have been leading these services, and Mo our Youth Pastor, has asked me on this last Sunday in the series to sum up the topic of Christian feminism - which Yvette and Margie have both touched on in the previous two Sundays.
I’d like to begin by saying that I am empathetic and aware, that some men feel unfairly targeted by feminism. They have shared with me that they hold feminism responsible for family breakdowns. And therefore they oppose feminism, and would even support something like the “Mighty Men campaign” that Angus Buchan runs in KZN, to help them take back the power and control they feel they’ve lost. Perhaps they see feminism as being nothing more than a role-reversed patriarchy in which women are now seeking domination over men. (but let me assure you, that’s not Christian feminism).
Christian feminists are not opposed to men having power (or women having power)
But this needs to be power that has its source in the egalitarian spirit of God. It’s the kind of power that Jesus operated in and through.
It expresses itself in equal partnership in marriage, and complete equality in society, and this is certainly not power that is weak and lacking, .it’s the strongest power of all - because it wins people over through dignity, respect, and freedom rather than control.
And my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what Kingdom living is all about!
Then there are also some women who feel opposed to feminism because perhaps they’ve been acculturated to accept (that for them,) their rightful place in society is to be subordinate to men.
Perhaps they are the product of a society that is so stuck in a patriarchal mind-set that they have no idea the world could exist above one group dominating another, and that relationships that are domination-free….. are actually a blessing, and a feature of the kingdom of God
Christian feminism is not about man-hating at all- it’s about taking down a toxic system that works against women and other minority groups in society (such as for example, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters).
The other day I came across an article entitled, 6 Things that Feminists hate - that aren’t men. The writer confirmed that feminists are really so tired of defending themselves against the accusation that they hate men. “Feminism, said the writer, is about seeking equality and justice on the basis of gender, sexuality, and race. It’s ridiculous that this is still something we have to defend ourselves over. It is true that we regularly critique some concepts that are related to men, but our goal is to analyse how these concepts are hurting everyone- and in the process of doing this, we are able to prove that it’s not men that we hate at all, in fact, dismantling these concepts can only help men.”
Let’s take a brief look now, at the 6 things this article found problematic for feminists.
The first is: Toxic Masculinity.
This refers to all of the negative aspects of our culture’s definition of masculinity, and of course this doesn’t mean that every man is brought up in this negative way. But basically for those who are, toxic masculinity asserts that for men to be considered men, they have to be dominant, aggressive, violent and never cry or show emotions. It also assumes women often invite and ask for abusive treatment by men, and that all real men are to be condemnatory of homosexuals and other gender minorities, and this is bad for everyone.
It’s bad for women, and other gender minorities who are often the victims of toxic-masculinity fuelled violence.
It’s bad for rape survivors, who are blamed for what has happened to them.
And it’s harmful for men because it limits who they are allowed to be(It limits them from living out the values of the Kingdom of God.)
The highly acclaimed theologian and feminist Elizabeth Johnson (whose work I am studying in my doctorate) confirms that toxic masculinity is still rife in many cultures across the world including Africa.
Another example Johnson gives us is of the Hispanic culture with its so-called “machismo” element (which is where we get the word “macho” from). Here, a woman’s place is to live a life of self-sacrifice in order to please men.
Some of the 10 commandments for women in this culture are: do not be independent-minded; do not forget a woman’s place; do not forget that sex is for making babies not for pleasure; do not ever be unhappy with your man; do not ever criticize him for infidelity or verbal or physical abuse which is his right.
Sadly, toxic masculinity forms a large part of our own local cultures too. (Latest stats show that 3 women are battered and killed by their partners in SA every day).
The second concept that feminists oppose is…… patriarchy.
And of course this is a big scary word that is always associated with feminism. In its simplest form, Patriarchy is a social system where men hold the most power. In our societies that’s obvious in a number of ways: the majority of elected officials are men; the majority of presidents are men; most big CEO’s are men etc etc…
When feminists talk about dismantling or destroying patriarchy, they aren’t talking about destroying men: they’re talking about achieving equality through justice. Since patriarchy is a system where men are held as superior, surely we all should want to destroy it?
Jesus strove to destroy it. In our Gospel reading this morning- (Jesus asks us all to be humble and respectful of each other, rather than to rate ourselves as being superior over the another)
Fighting patriarchy isn’t about fighting men. It’s fighting inequality, and wanting to live on an equal playing field.
The third concept that feminists oppose is…. gender roles.
And this is a concept that we see clearly laid out for us, in most toy shops.
Blue is for boys …….pink is for girls.
Guns, tanks, and cars are for boys; dolls, flowers and make-up are for girls.
To begin with these distinctions at their core, are for feminists quite illogical - because, for example, did you know blue once used to be a girls’ colour and pink a boys?
But what alarms feminists even more here, is their awareness that gender roles go beyond simply determining material possessions. Gender roles tell us how to act and behave – and in that way they’re closely linked with toxic masculinity.
Men are supposed to be dominant, and women are supposed to be submissive.
Men are supposed to work a “real” job, while women are supposed to stay at home and take care of the kids.
And yet this all has the incredibly detrimental effect of putting people into boxes and we know that men and women are far more diverse than that.
When feminists say they want to dissolve gender roles, it doesn’t mean that they want to stop a man from “being a man.” Or a woman from “being a woman.”, or that they want to prevent you from engaging in traditional gender roles if that’s what works best for you. What they are saying is: People should feel free to do whatever they want. (and of course their choices in whatever they do need to be godly and responsible)
Feminists just want men to be able to decide what being a man is for them - and women to be able to decide what being a woman is for them.
In the Mary and Martha gospel story, Jesus broke gender stereotypes when he refrained from rebuking Mary for sitting at his feet (because traditionally this was a place reserved only for trainee male rabbis) And yet Jesus was ok with it….and he even affirmed Mary in her alternative role.
The 4th concept that feminists oppose is…….. sexism.
And Sexism in a nutshell …………. is institutionalized discrimination- Its discrimination that is built into the very fabric of our societal systems.
It’s baked into everything we do
And of course both sexes can be a potential target for sexism.
But as far as women are concerned, some examples here would be: the greater likelihood of women being cat-called and harassed in public; less pay for women for doing the same work; men being preferred for top jobs; men being singled out for leadership positions; women having to work twice as hard to gain the respect of their male colleagues, etc, etc
When feminists say they oppose sexism, they mean they despise how discrimination so negatively affects both men and women.
This doesn’t mean that feminists despise all men and that all men are sexist; it just means that feminists are opposed to the discriminatory acts against them.
One of the most compelling cases for Jesus as a feminist is found in the story of the woman with the haemorrhage. In this story, the Mosaic Law declared this woman to be doubly unclean because of her gender and her untouchable condition. And yet in an act that directly defies the law and its discriminatory social practice, Jesus accepts the woman and the fact that she touched his robe. And he tells her that her faith has healed her.
The 5th concept that feminists oppose is……... Male Privilege.
This goes hand in hand with sexism. And this is not to say that all men have it better than everyone because class, race and ability also play a role here. But there’s no doubt that male privilege is a global societal reality.
One such example would be that: if a man is assertive and demanding, he’s far more likely to be classed as “strong” rather than “bossy.”
A second example would be that: in the relationship game, it is often the woman who far more easily gains the label of being loose.
Having male privilege doesn’t necessarily make men bad people, and feminists don’t hate men for having it. But men do need to be able to recognise it.
Finally the 6th concept that feminists oppose is…… misogyny.
And this in a nutshell- is hatred of women. It’s similar to sexism… but it has more anger behind it.
Feminist theologian r rad tells us that although the “battered wife” syndrome is now being taken seriously in many parts of the world- it is still a massive problem of epidemic proportions in many cultures.
In many cultures she says, there is still an ongoing assumption that men have the right not only to beat their wives, but also to:
*gang-rape women who are found alone, or
*or who are unprotected by a male, or
*or who are out of their place and role as far as acceptable women’s activities are concerned.
In some of our local communities, I know that a number of lesbian women have been raped for this very reason.
By hating misogyny, feminists are literally hating the hatred of women- which is something that we all need to get behind.
I hope it’s clear now that feminists don’t hate men. Saying that we do avoids addressing our real arguments. And that’s sad because our lord Jesus Christ has shown us all how to live in ways that go beyond
I want to end off now by thanking all the wonderful men out there in our church, community and world, who do indeed strive to make the world the wonderful egalitarian place that our Lord strove to bring about in his earthly life - and now in the spirit
As Margie said in her sermon last week, we have come a long way in addressing women’s issues. But we still have a long way to go.