Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Learning To Be a Feminist

TW: Abuse

I started this blog about a month and a half ago in order to (1) document and work through some of my own spiritual questions and (2) practice and improve my writing skills. I expected to find other LGBT bloggers, and I have found some lovely people who write about the topics of spirituality and homosexuality. An unexpected (and very positive) outcome has been exposure to bloggers writing about a topic that wasn’t in my sphere of consciousness: feminism.

Note: Many of my favorite bloggers who write about this topic are listed in the Recommended Reading section, and I will add to it as I discover new writers.

I was introduced to many of these writers when Tony Jones wrote a blog post wondering why more women didn’t comment on his blog. Many women DID comment on that particular post. (For full context, read the blog post and comments for yourself.)

At first, I thought that the commenters critical of Tony were unfair. I was also very surprised. I had no idea there was a problem with gender inequality in the emergent church movement. I was new to Tony’s blog and new to the emergent movement; in fact, I had not been moving in any kind of Christian circles for years. The churches I went to in the past were conservative and taught that women should not be ministers or even deacons. Men were to be the head of the household and the spiritual leaders of the home. I just assumed the emerging church was all about equality.

I’m not quite as na├»ve now. Even though equality and diversity are values in the emerging church, that doesn't necessarily mean that these values are always being put into practice. I’m grateful for that post of Tony's and the ensuing discussion, because it was the springboard to my own awakening to the feminist cause. The post gave me a chance to read the blogs of the commenters, from the most critical to the most supportive. From these blogs I discovered even more writers.

I've read and learned so much over the past few months. At this point, however, I don’t feel qualified to write deeply and profoundly about feminism with any amount of confidence. (Still so much to read, learn, and experience!) I can share with you, however, a few of the concepts and values I have been trying to apply over the past few months:

Engage with Humility

I was born with advantages that many others don't have in our society. Simply being male and white and American gave me unearned merit in a world that often mistakes appearance and wealth as virtues. I’ve come to learn that this unearned, societal privilege doesn’t inherently make me a bad person, but it does mean that I have more to overcome in order to understand and support those who have not had the same privileges. Therefore, I approach this topic with humility and as one willing to listen and learn.

Understand What May Trigger Negative/Painful Feelings

I’ve learned from reading feminist writers that there is much work being done to bring healing to those who are victims of abuse; these writers and activists also work tirelessly to prevent this type of abuse from happening again. Christian writers are especially mindful of this type of abuse in the church. Related to abuse, a trigger was a concept I didn’t understand at first. I saw the initials TW and had to ask someone what it meant (Trigger Warning). I’ve read some heartbreaking stories about abuse. I’ve also seen insensitive and judgmental comments: some inadvertent, some proud of their ignorance.

As a gay man, I’ve had my own experience with triggering words. Three years ago I wrote a very long coming-out letter to my family. I poured my soul into that letter. (I plan to share more details about my own coming-out process, why I used a letter, what my follow-up was, etc., in another post.) A couple of family members wrote me back with language such as “choose” and “lifestyle” and “open rebellion.” Those words were definite triggers for me, and I responded hastily and angrily. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret that anger because it was authentic and allowed them to better understand my boundaries on the issue. But the words, and the attitudes behind them, were definite triggers for me. To this day, these family members think I overreacted, and it’s very difficult for them to understand why their words hurt me so badly. Although it isn't as traumatic as someone who has gone through abuse, my own experience helps me to better understand the anger involved with triggers.

Understand That Following Jesus Goes Hand-in-Hand with the Feminist Cause of Equality

Helping victims of abuse and preventing future abuse is fairly obvious Kingdom-building work. Further, the Kingdom of God does not "rank" members based on whether they are male or female, Jew or Greek, etc. In fact, Jesus was harshest against those in power, and worked tirelessly for the poor and oppressed. Working to make God’s Kingdom a reality on earth (as it is in heaven) means working against the earthly power structures that put people of one race and gender above everyone else. Feminism is not just working against abuse, but against those more subtle forces that unjustly elevate one group of people over another.

Above All, Listen

I still have a lot to learn, but I will keep listening and engaging. If that means getting embarrassed because I stick my foot in my mouth, so be it. If it means I am misunderstood once in a while, so be it. If I feel like I have to "walk on eggshells" once in a while, so be it. What a miniscule price to pay for the greater good of healing for the oppressed, tearing down unjust power structures, and making real progress toward reconciliation!


Unknown said...

As a gay man, you've suffered covert sexual abuse on a level most people (gay or straight) aren't aware of. Sure, it may not be overt abuse, but covert abuse is just as damaging, in much more subtle ways by virtue of it being so unacknowledged. Being gay and having to hide it to conform to a heterosexist society, having to deny a part of who you are on a fundamental level, creates a cognitive dissonance that's terribly damaging. It isn't any different than a woman feeling she has to act a certain way that's contrary to who she is in order to fit in. You have a lot more in common with woman suffering cultural abuse through their lives and their church than I think you give yourself credit for.

Certainly you can hide your sexuality better than a woman can hide her gender, but either way, you're both denying a part of what makes up who you are to fit in to someone else's worldview.

Kevin said...

Hi Kyler - I hear you. I know one mistake someone learning about this will often make is trying too hard to minimize one's own experience while trying to reach out and understand another's experience. (A symptom of liberal-white-guy-guilt syndrome.) I don't want to try to "rank" these things, either. The points I'm making in this particular post still stand, though. Thanks for reading this and your thoughts/encouragement!

Emily Maynard said...

"Above all: listen."

YES. All of this! So glad I found your blog in this #femfest link up. I look forward to hearing more of your story, Kevin.

Kevin said...

Thanks for reading this Emily and taking time to comment. :) Still lots to learn.

Unknown said...

I, too, am learning how to be a feminist. Not sure if I got it right yet or not (probably not), but I'm working on it. And you're right, listening is the most important part.

Kevin said...

Right on, Travis. :)