Kate Wallace is a co-founder of the Junia Project (juniaproject.com), an adjunct professor in political science, a fellow at the Humanitarian Intervention Center, and Coordinator of the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium’s anti-trafficking network. She holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor of Arts from Azusa Pacific University. This post originally appeared on The Junia Project on October 4, 2013: juniaproject.com/feminist-and-egalitarian-not-the-same.
Feminism vs Egalitarianism
I am both a feminist and a biblical egalitarian. These two are not the same. In fact, I believe that they are very different. I also believe that they are both needed.
Feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Considering the gender imbalance in governance, the stats on gender based violence, the gender wage gap, and the fact that until the rise of feminism around the world women were not considered full human beings by their governments, the need for feminism in the world is not hard to recognize.
Egalitarianism is a theological standpoint that the Bible, when translated and interpreted correctly, teaches the full equality of men and women. Egalitarians believe that in Genesis, man and woman were both created in the image of God. We also believe that patriarchy and gender roles were not a part of God’s original design for humanity but were a direct result of sin, as they are not mentioned in the creation account until after sin is introduced (Genesis 3). Because Jesus’ death and resurrection freed us from the results of sin and restored our relationship to God and to one another (Romans 6 & 8:1-2), egalitarians believe that there is no hierarchy between humans in God’s Kingdom. As a result, egalitarians conclude that women and men are meant to serve together equally in the Church and to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21).
Both feminism and egalitarianism resist patriarchy as a corrupt and abusive system, but they do so in different ways and for different purposes. In the words of Gilbert Bilezikian, where feminism fights for equal rights, egalitarianism advocates for “equal access to servanthood”.
We need feminism outside the Church to fight for women’s rights.
We need egalitarianism inside the Church to advocate for mutual servanthood.
The “Feminist Muscle”
Last summer I spent a week house sitting for some friends in Dana Point, California. One day, as I was leaving the local Trader Joe’s, I walked to my car and an older man pulled up in the spot next to me. As he stepped out of his sleek new BMW, he winked at me and started to make small talk. I simply smiled at him as I put my groceries in my car. He proceeded to tell me that he was a very wealthy man and that there was nothing he couldn’t buy. I closed my trunk and began walking to the driver side door, putting my car in between us.
Then he said it.
“I could give you a good time tonight. Have you ever been with an older man?”
My blood boiled. My first instinct was to ignore him. I mean, if I ignored him I could pretend it didn’t happen and could try to continue my day without feeling violated.Then my “feminist muscle” kicked in and I said, “I pity you because real men don’t have to buy women”. Then I got in my car, locked the doors, and drove away.
Every woman goes through this. You walk down the street and someone yells at you from a car. You go into a store, or wait in line at a coffee shop, or order a drink at a bar and a man stares unashamedly at your body. It is just one manifestation of patriarchy in our culture that women have to deal with every day. It is called “street harassment,” and it is a big problem (see the Everyday Sexism Project).
I have talked to some of my male friends about my experiences with street harassment. Most of them are great about it. They try to envision how it must feel to be in those situations, and they express sympathy for me and frustration with their fellow men. But some of my guy friends tell me that this behavior is a compliment. They say I should be thankful for it because it means I am attractive.
As if that was my goal in life. As if my value was tied to some arbitrary standard of female beauty.
The world needs feminism because patriarchy – a social system that implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination – has taught us that the subjugation, objectification, and abuse of women is socially acceptable.
Obviously this mindset is problematic, but it is not only my non-Christian friends who have said this to me. Some of my male Christian friends have expressed it as well. The sad truth is that sexism is not left at the church door; it gets dragged in with all of our other baggage.
What do you think? What patriarchal messages have you heard coming from the Church? How do these messages affect the way people interact with one another? Are you an egalitarian or a feminist, or both?