That Radical Notion

I love the quotation, usually attributed to Marie Shear, that, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” In the news lately there has been a lot written about gender inequality, particularly in the tech industry and in our current political climate. If you step back and look at history, in many ways it is staggering to think about how far we have come in gender equality in even the last century. The 19th amendment granting women’s suffrage was adopted only in 1920 – not even 100 years ago.

I attended an all boys high school, and yet the English curriculum, probably by design, included many thought-provoking books from women’s literature. The most transformative for me was “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” a 20th century novel about a teenage African American girl who struggles against racial and gender inequality in her young adult life. The protagonist, Janie, is repeatedly stuck in relationships with abusive and deeply flawed men. The reader wants to scream at her, “Just get out! You’re so much better than them!” And yet, Janie finds herself in a culture and a social system that made women dependent upon men and set up for struggle and inequality.

Or a book I read in college, “Egalia’s Daughters,” helped to turn my conception of gender roles upside down. Written by Gerd Brantenberg, the book tells the story of a land (Egalia) where all gender roles are the complete opposite of the world we inhabit. Women are the dominant sex, and hold most of the corporate, military and political power, but even the language is flipped. Instead of women there are “wims.” Men are “menwims.” This subtle change points out that even our language is designed to give the upper hand to men.

I’m grateful that our daughter Inga is growing up in 2017. Not only do women have the vote but women hold some of the most powerful offices in the world (Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen). After centuries of misogyny on the part of religious institutions, it’s not uncommon for some young people with female pastors to remark in my presence, “Wait a minute – boys can be pastors too?” Equality in relationships is the norm for younger generations. And in many once male dominated fields, women continue to break in and succeed and thrive.

Still, it is readily apparent for so many, we have an incredibly long way to go. Sexual harassment and assault, openly misogynistic comments in the public sphere and overtly sexualized advertising and media should give us all pause. Even in the Church, I need only speak with my female colleagues a short while before I realize just how much easier a time I have in ministry simply because I am a man. This is true in all fields, some more challenging than others.

In the past, feminism was viewed by some as a radical viewpoint. Today, and particularly among younger generations, most see it as no more “radical” than the view that “women are people,” just like men. Feminism doesn’t mean that our daughter has to be an engineer or that she can’t have her own children some day and stay home to take care of them. But it does give her that choice – to be the person she wants to be, the person God has created her to be. And to pursue the life that best suits her instead of the life others would tell her is appropriate.

First published in The Wilbraham-Hampden Times, October 2017.

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