This week I’m linking up with J. R. Goudeau, Danielle Vermeer, and Preston Yancey for Feminisms Fest. Today we’re sharing our stories—about how we came to recognize ourselves as feminists and how feminism fits in our lives and beliefs. Head over to Love Is What You Do to see what others are posting today.
Here’s my story.
I was raised with a particularly strong sense of justice. My parents did a pretty good job of treating us fairly and teaching us about fairness. Of course, I learned growing up that life is hardly ever fair. Some of it I’ve been able to accept; some things I haven’t. I’m convinced that some things are worth fighting for.
I started noticing in high school that I was restricted. Not because I wasn’t qualified or smart, but because I was a girl. There were more rules I had to follow. I had to act a certain way, because that’s what was expected. The many boyfriends I had were a huge part of this. I remember one telling me that he was working out two hours a day so that he could protect me. And I just thought, “Well, that’s stupid. What are your muscles going to do against a gun? If I got attacked, I’d probably be alone anyway.” It was mostly this idea that I was being restricted for my own good, for my own safety, that I kept running into. Many men told me I should just let them handle the hard things in life. But I knew that life could be hard for me no matter what, so I’d rather learn to tackle it on my own and experience some great things, thankyouverymuch.
During my senior year of college, I took Literary Criticisms, one of the most challenging classes ever, in which I was exposed to feminist theory, race theory, gender theory, and all those other wonderful theories. It was like all of the puzzle pieces floating around in my head came together; I finally had a vocabulary and a valid method of interpretation to use instead of just saying, “This doesn’t feel fair.”
Andrew and I got engaged and we went through premarital counseling with my lifelong pastor, a very dear father figure in my life and staunch complementarian. Andrew and I had to talk about what we saw our “roles” being in our marriage. At this point, I was really taking the lead on this issue. Andrew had never really thought about feminism or cared; he valued my skills and opinions and happiness. We were equals in his eyes, but the real expectation he had was that we would take traditional gender roles. Unfortunately, that’s not me. And I didn’t think that that expectation was fair. Eventually we decided, against our pastor’s wishes, that we would both feel more loved, honored, and respected in an egalitarian marriage.
But working all of this out became even more difficult after we got married. We moved up to Portland and quickly got involved in a very traditional complementarian church. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and hospitable to us. We made great connections. And yet I always felt the implicit judgment when they spoke of family. It was as if, because I was on birth control, I must not respect God’s sovereignty over my body and my marriage, and I must not like children very much. It was as if, because I wanted to work outside the home, I must not have my future children’s best interests at heart. It was as if, because I believe my husband and I need to make decisions together, I was ignoring Paul’s mandates. It was as if, because I believe that women are just as capable as men of leading, I must take a “loose” view of Scripture.
Obviously, not all complimentarians are this extreme, and I know that no one meant to be judgmental. I know that most of the complimentarian marriages I know of are quite happy. I don’t understand how, but they are. So I have to realize that for some people, this works. And that’s fine. I have to respect your decision for your marriage. But I wish they wouldn’t teach that complimentarianism is the only way to have a happy, God-honoring marriage. Because it simply isn’t true.
Andrew and I ran a huge risk in moving to Portland right after we got married, leaving the support of our friends and family in California. Constantly surrounded by this view of marriage, Andrew for a time was almost convinced it was right for us. I felt so alone, betrayed even by my husband. So I seriously questioned what I believed. One of my friends at that church told me to open my heart to the possibility I might be wrong—and I did. I took her advice and held that conviction with open hands. I listened to what they were saying, but the soft patriarchy I saw everywhere just didn’t align with what I knew about the Kingdom of God, and what I’ve continued to learn.
Thankfully, Andrew and I got our heads back together. We re-acknowledged that we are a team, and that the only authority over us is God. We had to make decisions that were right for our family. We decided that it would be better for our marriage and for our future children if both of us were able to utilize our strengths freely.
Soon after, Andrew and I decided to return to California for job and family reasons. My parents and many of our close friends are complimentarians, but we do have more support from egalitarians down here as well. I’m most happy to say that both our complimentarian and egalitarian friends encourage us in our marriage in a way that is healthy. We’ve started attending a church that is egalitarian. I’ve started to learn how to have healthy dialogue on this subject with complimentarians.
Part of my journey has been figuring out how I define feminism for myself. To be honest, most feminists probably wouldn’t call me a feminist. I’m still pretty conservative in other ways. My feminism is tied intricately to my faith. I believe every woman has the right and obligation to listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings for her life and obey them. It is not for a man to tell her what her spiritual gifts are. Husbands and wives have mutual authority over each other. I will not get into a detailed Scriptural analysis right now, but I truly believe God calls and ordains women for leadership and ministry, inviting them to participate in Kingdom life just as much as men.
Tomorrow we’ll be posting about why feminism still matters, and why it’s worth talking about.
So what’s your story?