Our culture seems to be in a tug of war over who represents the truest form of feminism. The political landscape has no doubt opened up this can of worms with Bachman and Palin being discussed as examples of “evangelical feminism.” Both of these women have proven that women are capable and competent in politics, business and family. Perhaps they are the best possible portraits of “having it all” while “having it all” is probably the best definition of feminism. You can follow more of the conversation on “evangelical feminism” here and here and here.
At one point in my own life, I was seduced by the idea that maybe my views represented the truest form of feminism. After all, my view of humanity is one that embraces ontological gender equality. There is no qualitative difference between men and women and God’s love isn’t gender specific in application. Of course, my position as a complementarian is the cause for colleagues and acquaintances to wonder how I could actually claim the feminist moniker, because no one could possibly hold that there are different roles for the sexes while still holding a strong view on equality. But if complementarianism feels like inequality, it’s because feelings are the barometer.
As a seminary graduate, I have been proud to say I could play with the “big boys” in the world of evangelical theology. While many of my male peers in seminary were primarily focused on getting into the field to pastor without much concern for their grades, my desire and ability to excel academically proved that I was far from intellectually deficient. My appreciation for the authority of God and Scripture, however, set me apart from first wave feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton who struggled with the idea spiritual authority to the point of believing that the Bible was the primary cause of the subjugation of women. This sad legacy from the first wave of feminism gets little acknowledgement from any kind of feminist today but certainly deserves bold rejection.
My claim to feminism also depended on my unapologetic pro-life stance with derivative positions against the use of IVF, egg donation, surrogacy, etc. If women have ever been the target of objectification before, what the fertility industry is doing at the risk of women’s health is sinister and hardly pro-woman because each year billions of dollars are made on the backs of financially and emotionally vulnerable women. The irony of it all is that the fertility industry finds its justification through the cultural legacy of secular feminism. If women had not been encouraged to aspire to career before or in place of family, or if women had not come to embrace the new concept of family without father, likely science would not have had the market motivation to provide for every possible situation of childlessness (at this point, not necessarily infertility). Certainly rejecting anything harmful to women in any manner makes me a “true” feminist.
After seeing the recent discussions on the rise of “evangelical feminism,” I have finally concluded that evangelical women are being taken for a ride in this conversation on who is the true feminist. To take cultural ownership of the term “feminist” seems to suggest that secular feminism has been disarmed and left powerless. Maybe this is some of what’s going on—women are wising up and finding the virtues of secular feminism really aren’t so virtuous after all. But perhaps in this conversation there’s been too much emphasis on “feminist” and not enough on “evangelical.” There is a sense of credibility with culture tied to who actually has the most right to the term “feminist,” but that plays into the hand of secular culture entirely. While the gospel-centered ministry of the church cares about conversations with culture, we ought not actively make secular culture more alluring through our dependence on language and definitions rooted in secularism itself.
While I don’t know anything about the spiritual lives of Bachman or Palin, I am pretty sure they are Christian based on things they have said or I have heard said about them. Whether they claim to be “evangelical feminists” is also unclear to me. But they are merely a blip in history and the course of women’s lives is not best impacted by the best representations of feminism, but rather the best representations of Christianity. I’m not sure that Bachman or Palin are the best representatives of either, but I do know that evangelicalism with a respect for the authority of scripture is the best there is to offer to any woman.