The Case of the Reluctant Feminist

Jerri Dyer

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Reluctant Feminist Post

Reluctant Feminist Junia Project

I don’t really like to identify myself as a feminist.

I am – to borrow and slightly modify our priest’s description of herself – an outspoken, straight, white woman with a slightly ridiculous collection of education and degrees.  I am somewhat uncomfortable aligning myself with feminism, mainly because feminists have gotten a pretty bad rap from the people in my former evangelical circles.  I am, for the record, also still somewhat uncomfortable with saying I have a priest, and that said priest is female.

Saying that I am uncomfortable with those things, however, does not make them less true.

It is true that at this moment, I am very happily attending an Episcopal church which has a female priest.  And it is also true that I am a feminist.

I have been one of the fortunate women who has never been told by my parents that I cannot do something just because I am a woman.

I’ve not really been constrained to behave differently or fill a particular role simply because I am a daughter.  As a child, I was pretty much uninterested in things inside the house, unless it was too hot, too cold, or too rainy to play or read outside.  I was active, preferring dirt, a gun, or a ball to dolls or cooking.  I read voraciously.  I was intelligent.  And in my family, it was not just OK, it was encouraged that I do my best and pursue the things that interested me.  I did not have to be something I was not simply because I was a girl.

Also in my family, my mom worked and my dad was at home due to a life-altering condition called Crohn’s disease.  This meant that my dad had to learn to cook, clean, and do laundry and that my mom had to figure out how to take on the role of bread-winner.  There is little doubt that this juxtaposition shaped my views on traditional family roles – growing up in the context of a rural Appalachian culture, this upheaval did not allow me the luxury of remaining apathetic about gender roles.  From an early age, my family faced scrutiny and unkind comments regarding our family structure from people who had no idea about my family’s struggles or the hurt inflicted by their words. Even though we rarely responded publicly, a quiet defiance toward the constraints of the culture grew within me.

Perhaps this quiet defiance is why I tried out for baseball in middle school in protest of the fact that there was no softball team available or why I studied science AND English in high school and was the only female chemistry major on my GSP campus.  Perhaps that is why sometimes my house is a mess when the weather is warm and there is dirt to be played, um, I mean dug in.  Perhaps it is why my mouth still gets me in trouble.

This also likely contributes to why I don’t find it comfortable to fit into the gender roles typical for conservative Christianity.  And why I question and sometimes challenge the constraints that my world has tried to put on me for the past forty years.  Though I am single, it doesn’t mean that I am not attracted to men or that I am opposed to the traditional family structure.  Though I enjoy mechanically-inclined activities and working outdoors, it doesn’t mean that I dislike dressing up in pretty clothes with nice make-up.  I just don’t want to be told that there is only one way – the traditional way – to do things, to be, to live out the life God has given me.

For me, feminism means that I – and all women – need to be allowed to be the humans God created us to be, within the context of the family and culture in which God has placed us.

It means that I need to be able to play sports, build my own raised garden beds, be intelligent, have a voice, and not be thought odd in the process.

It means that I want to be able to speak out, and that my voice, along with the amazing range of voices of women, needs to be heard and respected.

I am finding this voice again – the voice with the passion of a middle schooler and a missionary, the emotion of the defiant child and the angry teen, the range of the undaunted twenty-something and the broken thirty-something.

The voice of the reluctant feminist.  

Slowly, I am beginning to rediscover and become reacquainted with who I am, with the words that rattle and flow inside me.  I am a child of God.  A daughter of a fun, if culturally upside down family.  An intelligent woman who has dreams for how to impact the world, and a word or two to say about my role and that of other women.

These words have been buried for too long under the doubt and confusion that came from a too-intense time of ministry, a good dose of hurt and disillusionment, and a whole mountain of burnout.  It is exciting – intoxicating, almost – to find that my voice hasn’t died, that it hasn’t been drowned out by broken dreams and grief.  It is nearly beyond my ability to express myself to find that there are words to write, maybe one day to speak.

Feminism takes on many forms for many people:

For some, it is an angry cry.
For others, it is a plea for justice.
For me it is the necessity through which my family lived, survived, and eventually thrived.
It is the medium through which I speak the beliefs formed from the life I have lived.
It is the reality that not only can I explore these things I love, but that God created me to explore and love them.

Feminism speaks to me, saying that perhaps God is pleased when I begin again to grow into the woman He created me to be, born from the family through which He molded me.

Through this, through these experiences and this raspy voice, I am beginning to recognize again and reclaim who I am and who God has molded me to be.  Because of this – and comfortable with the title or not –  I have little choice but to acknowledge that I am a feminist.

 

Image Credit: Kaboompics.com

Jerri Dyer

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21 Comments

  • Jeri – Your article deeply resonated with me. Over the last few years, I too have been on a journey of re-discovery and re-claiming the truth of who I am created to be. It is amazing to me how life experiences and people can gradually erode the courage and passion and essence of who we are. How we can eventually get buried under the expectations, criticisms, pressures from our culture and others, even from within our church communities. We need to be attentive to any messages that try to conform us and attempt to dim our light. Like you, throughout my childhood and early adulthood I was an independent and original thinker and doer. I engaged in sports and eventually made the Canadian Nationall and Olympic teams because I was prepared to follow a unique path with dedication and focus. I am a life long learner who got my Masters in Counselling Pyschology by the time I was 24. And then I spent most of my career in the public school system as a counsellor, teacher and administrator. But gradually, over time, I lost bits and pieces of myself by allowing others to infuence how I viewed myself, my faith, and the world around me. But over the last few years I have begun to recognize that I want to re-claim those bits and pieces! I am now 60 and last spring I decided that with what time I have left – I am going to spend it re-connecting with, and nurturing, the unique woman God created me to be. I have just gone back to university – in a seminary program – and am taking a Masters of Christian Studies. I am thrilled to be learning and growing and being in an environment that encourages and challenges me. Thank you for encouraging others to own that they are the uniquely created beloved of our Heavenly Father. I imagine that He is smiing as each women steps into the beauty and originality of who He created them to be!

    • This is awesome! Thank you for posting – how exciting to be entering into this part of your life – back in school. May this be an amazing experience for you!

  • Encore! Thanks for sharing your story, honestly and unapologetically. What a testament to the freedom and light that God has ushered you into and invites all of us into.

    • Thank you, Grace. Yes – this freedom is quite amazing. Writing about getting to where I am right now has been a lot of fun.

      • Yes. I have to say I too became a reluctant Biblical Feminist. Before being saved I was a Feminist. It was through salvation that I rejected feminism and lived 30 years rejecting feminism. After those long years I realized that by rejecting gender equality, our churches were creating male monsters (not in all the men but in certain ones) by giving them complete freedom to get their own way. I thank God for opening my eyes to the sin we women were “creatiing” in men by putting no checks and balances on their sin natures. I am now a Biblical Egalitarian and will attend no church were there is all male leadership…It leaves women gasping for air and dominant men oppressing both men and women.

        • Thanks for your telling part of your story here. It does leave women – and many men – gasping for air because of the tight box we all must fit into.

  • Previously someone said : “Although Genesis 1 – 3 do not mention male authority or leadership prior to the fall, later scriptural passages do support the idea of male leadership (even prior to the fall). Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 both place the blame on Adam as the cause of sin entering the world.”

    Not so hasty!

    “As in Adam all die” can be read two ways: Genesis 5:2 says God called THEIR NAME Adam. We cannot know which Adam Paul was referring to in this passage, the man or the woman…so the doctrine of Federal Headship cannot confirm that the man Adam was the Federal Head of the human race…but in fact, both man and woman took their place as “Federal Heads” if one chooses to believe this doctrine. When the other passage says by one man sin came into the world, again Paul says by one “anthropos”…one human being…Paul does not say sin came by a man or a woman but by a person.

    Therefore Genesis 1-3 DO indicate that both men and women were equal before the fall…and this is verified by Matthew Henry in his Full Commentary on the Bible regarding Genesis 1-3.

    • Original language is SO VITALLY IMPORTANT to this portion and to all of theology. Thank you for pointing this out.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your story! As I was reading, I found so much with which I identify. And then, I came across this: “These words have been buried for too long under the doubt and confusion that came from a too-intense time of ministry, a good dose of hurt and disillusionment, and a whole mountain of burnout.” I found myself wondering if you were telling my own story. That sentence could’ve been written by me! So glad the internet provides a way to connect with and hear/read the stories of others who don’t quite fit into the conservative, evangelical roles that have been assigned to women.

    • For a long time I fit into those roles. And then I didn’t. And when I no longer fit, my faith community became a lonely place. It is so important to hear the voices of those who experience similar things. Thanks for commenting.

  • I am a Biblical feminist because of Jesus. Feminism is not a dirty word because of Biblical feminists and never has been. We have been hijacked by secularists and by disgruntled disenfranchised men who cannot let go of their view that they are entitled to power and control over others, including women.

    But Jesus. Jesus came and set them straight, but they didn’t listen. So He raised us up to let them know that He has already broken down the wall of partition between men and women. Hello! To undo the work of God is not advisable for Christian men…so we are here just to let them know that if they follow the Christ of the Bible, it is time to stop their CULTURE of obtuse patriarchy from interfering with God’s work…NOW.

    • There are a lot of voices beginning to find a place to make that happen – and that is good – amazing to think of the range of women’s voices speaking out from the depths of who we are. Thanks for commenting, Judy.

  • Thanks for sharing your story so beautifully. I’m sure it is an encouragement to many women! I grew up in a loving conservative parsonage and it wasn’t until my forties, in a traditional marriage and raising a large family, that I began to address a growing sense that I was not created to be ‘lesser’ after all! It took a long time to own the word feminist, but own it I did! Now at 77, still in the church of my birth, I continue to find my voice for equality and have watched many things change here. I hope my stance – joined with other voices – has made some small difference along the way.

    Keep writing and God bless you! Every voice is important! -JoMae

    • Thank you, JoMae! As I begin to find my voice again, what an encouragement to hear a part of your story. I am sure that your voice – along with the amazing voices of other women – has indeed made a difference. It makes a difference that you share your voice here, as well.

  • Nice Job Jerri! Funny, when I first started blogging, I was a bit reluctant to use the word feminist and patriarchy, but The Junia Project showed me it was OK to embrace the terms! I cannot wait to see what God does with us Christian feminists! We are on the rise! 🙂

    • Thanks, Jory! Yeah – patriarchy and feminism… dirty words in the evangelical church. Well, feminism, anyway. Patriarchy was kind of spun as a good thing in my circles.

      And yes, Jory, I cannot wait to see what voices God will continue to raise up within the church. It is already amazing, I believe.

  • Jerri! This is beautiful on so many levels. I relate to your sense of reclaiming identity. For too long, the world and most sadly the church has sought out to tell women (and men) who we are. Traditionalism built a mold, a coffin of sorts, and demanded that we live in it. It’s a beautiful thing when we and our dreams are resurrected in light of God’s Word to us. I believe that God put treasures in all of His children, and I don’t believe that He discriminated when He passed out His gifts. It’s a gift to the world and to the glory of God when we can freely share what He put inside of us. Blessings to you!

    • Thank you, Leah. Yes, it is a coffin of sorts, and many are dying or have died within its confines. How beautiful that God does the amazing work of resurrection, bring life to dry bones, water to desert places.

  • sounds like my younger daughter. When she went to pre-school the teacher gave her a “matching” exercise; she was to match members of a family to objects – she matched the car to the mother, and the kitchen to the father. The teacher told her she was wrong; she wasn’t – her father liked to cook, her mother took her everywhere. She is now 17, and she is still a feminist. She went to pre-school at 2 years old.

    • Viveen – How wonderful that her experience at that age was that women and men aren’t stuck in categories! Of course, I would think so, but what an open world she has in front of her.

      • What a warning for teachers! We really need to THINK carefully before making judgments like this teacher did…Sometimes being ‘wrong’ isn’t wrong….Just like the woman at the well…could it be in a time of warfare that she was widowed 4 times and ended up living with her brother or was she a ‘bad’ woman as she is portrayed in many churches? Or again, perhaps she was a bright light and her husbands couldn’t take the wisdom and cleverness, preferring a more pliable woman…and hence divorced her…either way on has to wonder what is the ‘right’ answer??? I think Jesus picked her for all the right reasons, and knew that when she brought the message to her people THEY WOULD LISTEN…Makes one question the ‘porridge’ version of the sermons we hear. The people trusted her and came to Jesus…WHY if she was so immoral as we have often been taught?

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