I think the bigger question is—should we really care? Frankly, I am perplexed by the recent trend of conservative and evangelical-oriented women who are adding their voice to America’s political landscape, and even those who are standing on the sidelines in admiration. I’m not taking issue with their involvement or the content of their positions—I’m so pleased to see basic conservative values take center stage at this time in history. But it does strike me as odd the need of this fresh new culture of prolife conservative women to invoke the category of feminism, as if doing so provides credibility to their mission. It appears to be an attempt to appeal to common ground.
Former Saturday Night Life star Victoria Jackson recently wrote how the feminist value of career first ultimately had a negative impact on her life. She bought into the false dichotomy of career and family instead of pursuing both to whatever degree possible. She suggests that Sarah Palin is the ‘perfect feminist’ and tries unpacks what she means by this.
That is Feminism. A feminine woman achieving goals with the blessing of her man, while she simultaneously supports his career endeavors and celebrates his masculinity.
Victoria goes on in her piece by identifying other problems associated with secular feminism including the willing hyper-sexualization of women in our culture that even Christian women are not immune to. And she approaches the topic of single-parenting, a likely reference to Jennifer Anniston, that women who think they can have children without a man in their life just simply look “stupid and desperate.” She concludes her piece with a thought-provoking statement about how she understands the expectations of secular feminists.
Feminism. Such a strange word. When I hear it I first think of the most masculine and angry women, women with not a shred of femininity. Funny how words are. Then, I think of the meaning they want it to hold. And that word is Sarah Palin.
For Victoria Jackson, the demands of secular feminism have been fulfilled by the person and work of Sarah Palin. I want to suggest that while there is irony in this fact, our fancy with feminism really should end there. We need to think about this a bit more deeply. Do we really want to assert that the conservative values, many of which are distinctively Christian, are better off framed in the context of feminism? This is a dangerous compromise as it obscures the source of these values and blurs the lines between God’s authority and the self-ascribed authority tied not just to feminism, but to fallen human nature in general. It only helps to perpetuate the self-centeredness of our society instead of the God-centeredness we as evangelical women (and men) ought to be promoting and encouraging in the lives of other believers.
In this strange new culture of evangelical feminism, even traditionally left-leaning religious feminists have discovered how they can profit from the movement. New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views is a new book of old ideas based in the foundational elements of feminism including a more pluralistic outlook on religion and ethics. And it goes even further as Jeanette Stokes, a Presbyterian ministry and one writer in this anthology states,
…I choose to be a heretic, to remain within the bounds of the Christian faith, to create new forms, and explore new practices…Some of my feminist colleagues have turned in their ordinations. I have no instinct to do that. I still love the religion of my childhood; it is just that when I step into it these days I tend to freeze. I do not want to say some of the words anymore.
One reviewer of this book indicates that some of the Christian practices Stokes is “no longer comfortable with include baptism, communion, forbidding of certain types of art and forms of love-making, and ‘the focus on Jesus’ suffering and dying.’”
Needless to say, by the title alone the new wave of conservative “Christian feminists” will be attracted to it. I only hope they will not be motivated by the appeal to power in its many pages. Other writers in the book include well-known feminists Rosemary Ruether and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.
Who defines feminism does not really matter because the evangelical Christian woman should be more concerned with her definition of Christianity. It matters that culture is listening, but how we get their attention is an ethical dilemma for those who call themselves Christian conservatives. Do the ends (conservative values) justify the means of compromise? By stealing the term feminism for our own pragmatic purposes empowers secular feminism. What ultimately matters is whether we are pleasing God in how we speak and act. While invoking feminism might provide a small amount of credibility to the message of conservatism as delivered by women in our society today, it is a proposal that will ultimately have short-lived results.