Sunday, July 25, 2010

Read-through Blogging, Part Two

Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia. Ed. Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

"Christian Feminist or Feminist Christian: What's Feminism Got to Do with Evangelical Christians?"

The above is the title of the first chapter of the book I'm blogging my way through, and it's written by one of the book's editors, Bettina Tate Pedersen. The chapter begins with a series of "introductory anecdotes" that seem to be meant to situate us as readers within both Pedersen's personal feminism and her personal theology, while the rest of the chapter attempts to tease out the ways those spheres intersect. In the anecdotes, she discusses conversations with a student I know quite well, "the I'm-not-a-feminist-but student" (10). Pedersen notes that this student isn't only present in Christian schools, but thinks that that identity "has a particular significance and currency in [a Christian] context" (10). As someone who uttered this phrase in high school, before the occurrence of a series of what third-wavers have taken to calling "click moments" in college, I feel like I have a foot in both camps of this predicament, and though that should perhaps make me empathetic to such students, I think it just makes me confused about how to communicate with them.

Pedersen says that a similar experience has taught her to be tolerant of such students' evolving consciousnesses, to shove down an impulse to begin preaching at them about the benefits they reap which are direct results from a movement they are unwilling to acknowledge (More women in universities! In big business! In politics!). It calms me greatly to know that this pedagogical give-and-take is a common one. Her discussion of that give-and-take continues when she focuses on the importance of using the word "feminist." She says that most of her students either think feminism is a dead issue or antithetical to "the Christian 'man-as-head' paradigm for relationships" (12). She then lists feminist accomplishments of the recent and not-so-recent past: women outnumber men in colleges, can vote, can dress "for practicality and comfort," have control over their own reproductive processes (14). She goes on to say that "[dismissing] the term or ideology because improved (some what more egalitarian) conditions exist in some measure and in some places, we fail to understand the depth of feminism's critique, and we risk losing sight of the very conditions and manifestations of sexist oppression that a feminist critique has helped us to see" (14).

The greatest thing about that quote for me is the consciousness of other places and viewpoints that it presents. Pedersen acknowledges many waves of mainstream feminism, as well as Womanism and Global Feminism in her chapter. This acknowledgment seems particularly relevant to her religious position to me. As Christians, we're taught that Christ wants us to acknowledge "the least of these" as an act of worship, to look beyond our privilege. If I had to pick a flaw that I think is academic feminism's biggest, it would be that lack of perspective and dialogue between multiple feminisms.

Pedersen ends the chapter by acknowledging that her experiences in Wesleyanism paved the way for the development of her feminist consciousness. Because she sees her religion as primary to her politics in both chronology and importance, she calls herself a Feminist Christian, not a Christian Feminist. This book is the first thorough explanation I've gotten about that linguistic choice, and I'm grateful for it. If anyone reading this identifies as both Christian and Feminist, what do you call yourself, and why?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Read-through Blogging

Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia. Ed. Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

In an effort to think more about how my politics and my theology should be/are intersecting, I'm reading through the above book. Its chapters cover the personal, the political, and the pedagogical, among other focii, and the fact that others who identify as both religious and feminist seem to be thinking through similar issues that I'm struggling with makes me feel a little better on the whole. For the next few weeks, I'm going to be devoting the blog to a discussion of Jules and Pedersen's book as I read it, most likely a chapter at a time. Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments, or to email me at

The book's epigraph is Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I'm not sure what this is doing yet, what it says about the book's project as a whole. On one hand, it seems a cry for equality; labels don't matter and we shouldn't use them because the grace of Christ frees us from the restriction that such labels necessitate. That sounds nice. Looking a little deeper, though, what place does such a sentiment have in a book whose very title suggests reconciliation between two seemingly conflicting labels? Why title the book that way if the book is going to say we need to dump the labels through which we define ourselves? Just something I'll be considering.

The introduction proper is a collision of the personal and the political in which Jules and Pedersen recount their own backgrounds and the circumstances that made religion and feminism collide for them, as well as try to make since of the increasing global importance of religion in a post 9/11 world. I really like the inclusion of the personal here; I probably wouldn't have wanted to read the entire book if that dimension wasn't present. I believe that both religion and politics cannot be responsibly practiced without a connection to the personal. A connection to the intellectual or philosophical is also necessary, of course, but for me, the personal came first in both cases, and the rest has developed and is developing as I experience life.

A bit of the introduction that make me think this book is going to be amazing for my political and religious development:

Like others of our time, we grew up surrounded by a stubborn myth at work in Western society: that one's faith undermines one's thought and scholastics, that one cannot believe and think. If one is a 'Christian,' then one must adhere to certain performances of that identity; if one is a 'feminist,' then one cannot have a dynamic religious faith because religious faith is too patriarchal and demeaning to women. To be a woman inside Christianity necessitates the role of submitting, while to be a woman committed to feminist ideals necessitates a role of assertiveness or aggression (5).

WOW. Just wow. That paragraph pretty much sums up every problem I've had from age fourteen to now. I like so much about it. I like that this incompatibility is going to be questioned from multiple angles. I like that the editors are not afraid to employ quote marks in a Poststructuralist way that questions the validity of group labels (or "metanarratives," just so I can exercise my Derridean cred). I really can't wait to dive in to the rest of the book.