Recently, a friend asked me an unexpected question. “Do you identify first as a Christian or as a feminist?” I was surprised by but not unprepared for her question. I’d considered it before, and the answer is complicated. Stick with me here.
Many Christians believe that Christianity and feminism are incompatible. But this assumption is drawn from biased definitions of both feminism and Christianity.
Some Christians have an extremely negative perception of feminism. Feminism conjures up images of angry, man-hating, bra-burning women fighting for unnecessary ends. After all, they argue, what more do women need when they can work outside the home and vote?
They believe that women are already equal, but need to accept their different roles. With this skewed definition of feminism squarely in mind, it is easy to see how some Christians feel that the subversive nature of feminism does not fit the purpose of a peace-and-love-oriented Christianity.
There are also those who reject Christianity because they see it as advocating for oppressive patriarchy at worst and soft complementarianism at best. The idea of Christianity reinforcing feminist ideals is ludicrous. They see Christianity as a relic of the past with no use in a progressive society.
Interestingly, these opposing positions both judge Christianity and feminism as irreconcilable. But I believe both groups are working with flawed definitions and thus creating a false and unnecessary dichotomy.
Simply put, feminism advocates for the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It asks difficult questions about gender socialization, gender roles, and systemic inequalities. It examines how gender is impacted by the nature/nurture debate. It speaks into issues like child marriage, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, rape culture, and the gender pay gap. Although some use feminism as a covering for destructive, radical activities, the majority of feminists, including myself, do not.
When I read the Bible, I see this type of feminism modelled from the very beginning. Genesis 1:27-28 reads:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
Both men and women were created in God’s image and given the same mandate: to rule over creation. This is the way God intended things to be before sin entered the world. After the fall, we see evidence of God’s restorative movement throughout history. The ongoing restoration work of God hints at the “already-but-not-yet” reality of the kingdom, marked, among other things, by equality in identity and purpose.
Jesus, God in the flesh, showed us most clearly what gender equality looks like. Women financially supported his ministry (Lk. 8:3). He re-interpreted laws to protect women socially and economically (Mt. 5:27-32). He selected women as the first witnesses of the resurrection (Jn. 20:11-18). All of this took place in a culture where women were essentially second-class citizens. Christianity does not support patriarchy. It defies it and turns it on its head.
So, if I had to self-identify as a Christian or a feminist, I would choose to identify first as a Christian. However, because many do not perceive the gospel’s mandate for gender equality, I would also explain what Christianity means to me. I identify as a feminist second, but it is precisely my faith in God that fuels my passion for feminism. Gender equality is part of the “already-but-not-yet” of God’s kingdom. I want to advocate for it because I believe that it is what God wants.
Christianity and feminism are not opposites. They are interconnected. So I’m a Christian first, a feminist second, and both at the same time.