Why I Need Feminism, and the Church Does Too

Some time ago, I engaged in a social media comment exchange with a particular person who argued that we did not need feminism, because gender equality already existed, at least in most Western countries. The exchange was short. I could not deal with the ignorance that oozed from his words.

So, in honour of the man that will remain nameless, here is the beginning of a list of reasons as to why I need feminism.

  • Because people somehow think gender equality exists
  • Because female objectification still exists
  • Because women who have been raped are asked what they were wearing, as if somehow being raped was their fault
  • Because I’m tired of being told that I should be careful how outspoken I am for gender equality, as men don’t want to marry a woman like that. After all, women are, by nature, gentle, nice, and submissive, right?
  • Because people scoff when I speak up for gender inclusive language
  • Because feminism is treated like a joke
  • Because men who are sensitive and nurturing are thought of as less manly, and women who are strong and outspoken are thought of as bossy and aggressive

After considering why I needed feminism, I started to think about the [Christian] church. Does the church need feminism? Ultimately, I believe the church needs Jesus, not a human construct. But I still believe it’s a helpful construct to consider. Here are my reasons why the church needs feminism.

  • Because Jesus is a feminist (See my article here)
  • Because the female leaders in the Bible are said to be an exception. Or used because God couldn’t find a suitable man. Or that they were going against God’s plan. In reality, they are people who responded to God’s call and used their gifts.
  • Because we still treat the part of the curse that refers to female subordination as prescriptive and not descriptive
  • Because we treat gender roles that originate in culture as Biblical, and therefore unquestionable.
  • Because gender dictates service opportunities more than gifting and calling
  • Because women are told to endure abuse due to the need to “submit to their husbands” (See, for example, John Piper in this YouTube video)
  • Because there are double standards. For example, women doing the same role as men have a lower title or less pay just because of their gender. Or women who are allowed to preach are told they are giving a talk, not a sermon.
  • Because we still use strongly androcentric language that excludes women
  • Because people need to hear about Jesus and we need to use everyone we can to their best ability, regardless of gender

These lists, of course, are just a start. There are many more reasons why you, the church, and I need feminism. What would you add?

Semantics and Gender Equality: When it Really IS a BIG DEAL

I never used to notice it, and if I did, I thought it was a rather inconsequential detail. “It’s not a big deal,” I would’ve said, complete with an exasperated sigh and eye roll to signify my time being wasted on trivial matters.

Actually, though, it was a big deal, and it still is. What is it? The androcentric nature of the English language.

Androcentric (male-centred or dominated) language is evident in many ways. Here are just a few examples…

  • Using words like ‘man’, ‘men’, or ‘mankind’ to supposedly include women and/or all humanity
  • Using male pronouns such as ‘he’ or ‘him’ to supposedly include both genders
  • Saying ‘man and wife’ at a wedding, instead of ‘husband and wife’ [speaking of which, this is a good example of ‘focus fronting’ – the tendency to put the male first]
  • Words and phrases like ‘fireman’, ‘policeman’, ‘chairman’, ‘middle man’, ‘man down’, or ‘businessman’ to refer to both women and men

Have you noticed this in your circles? Or perhaps even in your own speech? You can probably think of loads of these occurrences and more if you give it a moment or two.

But why is this such a big deal? Isn’t it just a few inconsequential words? Shouldn’t I (and others) just understand that ‘it is meant to include women too’?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that language actually functions as a way of defining experience and shaping the worldview of its speakers. This means that language is much more than words. It can expand or limit your worldview. It can include or exclude. It expresses who you are and what you believe. So, when I observe the androcentricity of the English language, I see a symptom of a much more fundamental problem: a deeply rooted gender inequality.

So, what can we do? I believe it is important to not just define a problem, but also propose a solution. Critiques must be matched with vision and practical suggestions for change, otherwise it’s just complaining. Here are some of my suggestions (feel free to comment with your own as well):

  • Be inclusive in our own language. Use words like ‘people’, ‘humankind’, ‘humanity’ and others that include rather than exclude.
  • Speak up. Language will not change magically or if only a few people do something. When you notice language that excludes men or women, say something. Call it out.
  • Dig Deep. Language is powerful, but suggests a deeper belief system. How do you believe and act for greater gender equality in your world in all areas?

As always, remember this: “Patient persistence pierces through indifference; gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses.” Proverbs 25:15