Intersectional Feminism and Christianity. Boom.
This is going to be one of those posts where I need to remind you that you can take my opinion with a grain of salt. Seriously.
Alright, as you can see from the title, this week I’m spilling all the MulatTEA (get it?) and talking about intersectional feminism and Christianity.
As always, I like to begin by defining the terms that we’re working with. I like to do this so that people can put aside their conceptions about a particular term and understand what’s at the root of it.
The f word. People don’t usually like to call themselves a feminist because of that mental image of a woman with long armpit hair burning her bra on Capitol Hill. It's hard not to, after all of the negative publicity that second and third wave* feminism has received. I’ve heard many of my guy friends say, “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I do think that women should be treated equally.” In response, my face will usually look like this:
Seriously. Did you not learn anything from Beyonce’s feminist campaign? The definition of feminism, pulled straight out of the Merriam Webster is, “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
Feminism is important. It combats things like rape culture, institutionalized sexism, domestic abuse, harmful gender roles, workplace discrimination, and insecurity in young girls.
So forget all of the negative connotations; forget the fun-hating tight-lipped feminist, the image of this angry misandrist lesbian. Just understand that at the base of the feminist movement is a belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Here's the thing, though, I'm not downing the fun-hating tight lipped feminist or the angry misandrist lesbian. More power to them. Every movement should know that there are different people who hold different ideas as more important. Think of environmentalism, which could support a variety of things from animal rights to recycling. It’s a matter of perspective, which brings us to our second definition.
Intersectionality is one of my favorite things to discuss, yet little people actually know what it is. Let’s start with an example from history.
The year is 1851, and first wave feminism** is in full effect. White women are buzzing from the recent developments established by the Seneca Falls convention in 1848. Revolutionary ideas such as women’s suffrage and the right to own property were new and exciting. Among white women’s chief concerns was being treated too daintily, as if they’re too fragile and delicate to do anything on their own.
Then this woman takes the stage. A woman that many people knew as an anti-slavery activist, not as a feminist.
White women saw Sojourner Truth and were disgusted, remarking, “Women’s rights and niggers!” and, “Don’t let her [speak]… it will ruin us. Every newspaper in the land will have our cause mixed up with abolition and niggers…”
Sojourner went on to deliver an electrifying speech now called, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Here’s an excerpt:
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?” (Stanton)
While these white women were concerned over being treated as frail creatures, as was their experience, Sojourner introduced her experience of womanhood: being beaten, lashed, having her children sold off to slavery.
Both life experiences are legitimate.
So again, what is intersectionality? Intersectionality (in feminism) is acknowledging that there is no one female experience, but rather a collection of experiences that intersect and overlap.
Sojourner was a woman. She was a black woman. That would be considered the intersection between gender and race. When considering intersectional feminism, you’re considering the intersection between gender and a plethora of contributing factors, like religion, class, disability, and sexuality. A Muslim woman’s experiences as a woman will be different from a Christian woman’s experience. A lesbian woman’s experience will be different from a bisexual woman’s experience. These are all intersections that are important to acknowledge for the same reason we acknowledge privilege: people are going through things that you won’t always understand, and it’s important to realize that before passing judgement and taking action.
So that’s great. That could be an article of it’s own. But I wanted to explain why I, as a Christian, participate in intersectional feminism.
What do I mean when I say I’m a Christian? (Just to keep us all on the same page.) It means I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible. I believe Jesus is God’s only son, and that God sacrificed His only son for my sins. By believing in Him, I will have everlasting life. John 3:16 backs me up on this.
There are many women that God uses throughout the Bible to further His work. Ruth, Esther, Rehab, Mary, the list goes on. I’m not going to talk about how awesome Esther was and how she’d be an awesome example of a Christian feminist who heard God’s call and defied a patriarchal system to protect her people (Esther 4:16, Esther 5). I could, but I won’t. Here’s what I will say:
I do acknowledge that the Bible denounces certain practices, calling them sin. These practices are woven into intersectional feminism, surrounding topics of sexuality, gender, religion, and class.
Let’s go to I Timothy, where Paul writes about these topics.
I Timothy calls homosexuality “sexual immorality.” This affects the intersection between gender and sexuality.
I Timothy also says there is, “one God.” This deals with the intersection between gender and religion.
I Timothy notes, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” This can be seen as the intersection between gender and class.
So no, I’m not going to tiptoe over those passages. They’re there! I know! But not once in the Bible does God command Christians to hate our neighbor for these reasons.
Intersectional Feminism and Christianity
Jesus said the second greatest command was to love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t say love people like you, the straight Christians, as yourself. How then can you further His kingdom? How then will your life reflect Christ's love?
This Jesus, who spoke with a Samaritan woman who lived with a man she wasn't married to (John 4).
This Jesus, who saved an adulterous woman from being stoned to death (John 8).
This Jesus, who said, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7).
Intersectionality operates on the assumption that people will be different from you, it’s inevitable. But Christianity takes this assumption and uses it as a basis to share the gospel, because how else will your life serve as an example of Christ's love?
As a Christian that participates in intersectional feminism, I love my neighbor as myself. I will love my neighbor, whether they’re white, Asian, Native American, Latinx***, Indian, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, male, female, non-binary, transgendered, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, pansexual, able-bodied, disabled- literally it doesn’t matter what people are, I’m going to practice love. When it boils down to it, we are all sinners. "For all have sinned and fall short to the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). So yes, I'm going to serve my sisters in love. I'm going to defend their rights as fiercely as I defend my own, because I love my neighbor.
Jesus’s love is unconditional, why should my love be any more selective?
Whew. Heavy stuff.
Also, if you didn't notice: I FIGURED OUT HOW TO USE GIFS. GET READY WORLD. YOU ARE NOT READY FOR THIS FUTURE BUZZFEED WRITER.
Notes, Sources, and Afterword:
If you disagree with me or think that I'm overstepping some theological boundaries here, let me know. I tried to keep this article as close to the source materials as possible, but I don't want to be disrespectful in the way I present that information. Also, it's my opinion so get over it.
I couldn't have completed this without my awesome roommate who is an expert on all things feminism, thank you Maggie!!
**First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and it focused mainly on women's suffrage and the right to own property.
* Second wave feminism occurred in the 60's, and dealt with female culture. Third wave feminism sprouted in the 70s and 80s and addressed minority inclusion, gender, and sexuality.
***Latinx is a gender neutral term that refers to people of Latin American decent.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. New York: Arno/New York Times, 1969. Print.