This one goes out to all my Christian friends who don’t feel like they can quite get on board with feminism, who can’t help but feel that feminism is some kind of affront to God, and that to embrace it would mean bowing just a little bit to the idols of this world. This is for all the Christians who, whenever they hear yet another woman getting on the #MeToo bandwagon and talking about sexual harassment in the workplace, they just get a little annoyed for some reason. This used to be me. But not so much anymore.
Let’s talk about it.
Christianity and Feminism have a very complex relationship. On one hand, original 1st century Christians championed the cause of women. Jesus and his followers treated women with a dignity that had not been seen before in that part of the world. They broke down all kinds of social barriers, including those between the sexes. They treated women as equals and included them fully into the community. On the other hand, over history, many Christians, or people who saw themselves as Christians, have partaken in and even invented new systems of oppressing and subjugating women. Today, I often hear (not from all Christians but from more than you might think) Christian pastors and teachers (male and female) say that feminism is a worldview that is at odds with Christianity. And whenever they say this, I have to wonder what exactly they mean.
Part of the complexity of the relationship between Christianity and feminism comes from the fact that “feminism” can mean so many different things. Feminism is a diverse system that has significant internal disagreement. Two people who call themselves feminists may not agree on peripheral or even central things. There are “sameness” feminists who want to emphasise that women can do all the things men can do, and there are “difference” feminists who want to emphasise that women and men are different and these differences should be taken into account in society. Some feminists kind of seem to hate men, at least at a glance. Most are less radical. But feminism has become so broad that we have to ask, when a preacher says that feminism is anti-Christian, what do they mean by the word, “feminism”? Often when someone villainises feminists, they attribute to feminists a set of beliefs that most feminists wouldn’t subscribe to at all. Feminism seems so hard to define, and thus even harder to have a debate about.
However, at this point in recent history there seems to be emerging into mainstream popular culture a more clearly defined version of feminism than ever. And that is thanks to the #MeToo movement. #MeToo has started a conversation that has brought feminist issues into the foreground in such a way that, from what I can tell, there has never been an easier time to tell what “mainstream” feminism is – what it believes, what it wants, and what it looks like. It isn’t extreme to the point misandry, but neither would you call it moderate, if “moderate” comes with any connotation of acquiescence. Women around the world are uniting around a clear message that is educating and changing the mindsets of many men, but also pushing the wrong buttons of many others. It is this mainstream, popular feminism exemplified in the #MeToo movement that I want to commend to Christians as something we should wholeheartedly embrace.
The Male Objection to Feminism
Leaving Christianity out of it for the moment, why do so many men find the kind of feminism behind #MeToo so objectionable? Well, every version of feminism will make two basic kinds of claim. A prescriptive claim (a claim about values – how things ought to be) and a descriptive claim (a claim about facts – how things are). At its core, feminism has always been routed in the prescriptive value judgement that women intrinsically are, and ought to be treated as, equal to men. Today there are very few people in western society who would dispute that claim. Most people who say they oppose feminism would still agree that women should be treated with equal moral worth and dignity to men. This prescriptive claim is not really where the disagreement lies. Almost everybody agrees on the way things ought to be. What nobody seems to be able to agree about is the way things are. See, in addition to making a prescriptive claim about how things should be, feminism additionally makes the descriptive claim that things are not that way. That things are not as they should be. And it is this claim – that women are currently not enjoying freedom, opportunity, or safety equal to that of men – that some of us really seem to find offensive. In fact, for the most part, it is this description of the world that differentiates the various kinds of feminism from one another. Feminisms agree that there should be gender equality, but they disagree regarding the extent to which inequality exists and the nature of that inequality. It is the versions of feminism that depict the greatest extent of inequality in the world that are seen as the most extreme and, concordantly, the most objectionable to many men.
I think it is quite clear why many men take issue with the idea that women are currently not enjoying gender equality: We take this notion as an attack on ourselves. It is as if feminism is women making an assessment of the world, and finding it lacking. Making an assessment of all the men of the world, and finding them lacking, not enough, that they haven’t done a good enough job of taking care of women, and that they are to be blamed for all of women’s problems. The poorer the feminist’s assessment of the world – the more extreme the version of feminism – the greater failure the man is claimed to be. And the #MeToo movement is precisely this – a very poor assessment of the current state of affairs. It is men getting a bad grade. It is women claiming that things are very much not okay. It is women claiming that they are the the victims of more aggression at the hand of males than we would like to think. That there are aspects of our common culture, in the workplace and in the home, that are contributing to this. It is a claim that can often be reduced to, “You know that thing that you do all the time that you think is normal and harmless? It’s actually sexist in a subtle but powerful way.” Continue reading