Most people think of profanity when they think of a bad word that starts with the letter F.
Where I grew up, I never even knew what swear words were, much less heard them till after I had moved out of the house as a young adult. In my house we got in trouble for saying crap, or butt, or stupid, or heaven forbid– shut up.
As a child and a teenager if you had asked me what word I associated strong negativity with that started with an F – it would have been Feminism.
Feminists are selfish, evil, man-hating women.
Feminists are women who hate God and hate families.
Feminists are out to destroy the moral fabric and family structure of America.
Feminists only care about their careers to the detriment of their husbands and their families.
Feminists have rejected God’s ordained role for women to be mothers, wives, and daughters at home serving their fathers, husbands, and sons.
Feminists don’t have souls because they are pro-choice. They are going to hell for sure.
Hilary Clinton is the most evil Feminist of all.
This is the ugly, hateful rhetoric I grew up with. These are the hurtful words my friends and me would toss around as common knowledge and pithy jokes, completely ignorant of the women we were so determined to undermine. We would laugh at anyone who believed otherwise. Of course we knew some moms who had to work, but that was for financial reasons only and they were to be pitied instead of judged.
The older I got in the hyper-conservative, Christian fundamental environment I grew up in, the more I internalized the message that women are really only good for a few things – cooking, cleaning, having babies, raising babies, and being quiet. Women are to be submissive, always thoughtful, always modest, always pure, always giving, always kind. College, if you had to go, was where you went to learn a practical skill for being a homemaker like nursing or teaching, and hopefully found your husband.
We held up passages in Scripture like Proverbs 31, Titus 2, 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Peter 3 like weapons of honor that we wielded as proof that diminishing ourselves was somehow good and holy.
But believing the lie that one must be small requires you to make others small too.
If there were women out there speaking up and standing out, it was too threatening as it made us yearn, or question, or wonder. Especially for those of us working hard to already stifle our own secret desires to lead, to speak up, to challenge, to use our minds, to build skills outside of the home, and to contribute to the community and world at large. All of this was dangerous, so it was safer to want less and to suffocate yourself in order to fit the mold.
This was our cross to bear.
So we struggled instead to like housework, sewing, gardening, canning, and children without question and without argument. Some of us shined, some of us performed adequately, and plenty of us failed miserably in one aspect or the other.
Some may wonder what kind of horrible men did you live with, making you believe that your value as a woman is only in how you reproduce and serve in the home? While I wont deny there were men in the community that took full advantage of this mindset, using it as a means to control and be served, most men never had to say anything. Yes it was the topic of sermons, often occurring on Mothers day, when a male Pastor would share on the qualities of a Godly woman.
However, most of what I learned was not from men – but from women and other girls around me.
I learned it in church, in Sunday school classes, in Bible classes at home, in girls magazines I read, in Christian literature I read, in Christian conferences I went to, from adult women in my life, and from girls I grew up with. Everywhere I turned these messages were emulated, taught, and expressed.
To give you an example, I pulled some excerpts from an old, well – worn, much loved book from my girlhood. This book was given to me on my 12th birthday and was one I read over and over, holding it up as the standard for attaining true and beautiful Godly womanhood.
It is selfishness that makes a girl think it a burden to help with the ironing because it might mar her pretty hands. Or, again, it is selfishness that causes her to spend a whole hour arranging her hair in the morning, leaving her no time to help with the dishes. And when evening comes and someone must stay with the little brother or sister while the rest of the family go out, she is selfish if she feels ill-used when her turn comes. …When her mind is so full of her own desires, she forgets that others have wants or rights…. The great foe of these years is selfishness, and the girl who comes to the most perfect womanhood learns soon to fight selfishness with all her might.
Out of the many traits let us choose together the ideal woman. First, she must be pure and noble…. She must be sweet-voiced and gentle…. Her clothing must be modest and becoming… She must be a good housewife and a good mother… If every girl would set up such a pattern for her ideal, how different many lives would be.
She must remember that to fill her place in life she must be first of all a woman, with all that can mean, and to undertake any work that would make her less womanly, less able to fill the ideas of her gender, would be both unwise and sinful. There are many things a woman could do, but which in doing she would be thrown into the company with all kinds of men in a way so intimate that she could neither keep their respect nor her own. Such a choice would be madness; for she would be destroying what in women is the most beautiful—modesty and purity.
Just skimming through the pages of that book brings back so many memories. Who I was then… Who I am now… It brings back so many emotions. The pressure. The performance. The exhaustion of never reaching that perfection I was trying so hard to attain. Why do I still have it, you might ask? So I remember.
When I look back now, I realize I was not only taught a very limited view of women’s role in the family, society, and the world – but I was also taught a very limited version of the history of women.
I studied women who were Christian women – women of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries who were mothers, nurses, teachers, and missionaries. I barely learned about the women who fought for women’s suffrage. Women in the 1940s and 1950s were held up like poster women as the perfect housewives and mothers. Because of course everyone wanted to be June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver — a wholesome TV show we could actually watch. 😉 Women of the 1960s and 70s were depicted as selfish, careless, sex-crazed, drug addicts – women not even worth studying. Beyond that women of the modern world I heard about were all selfish, worldly, and evil – seducing men and failing society as wives and mothers.
Needless to say – my education and knowledge of women’s history was biased and skewed. It wasn’t until college that I began to discover, what women all over this world had accomplished, had been struggling for, and are still fighting for. The more I realized how ignorant I was, how judgmental I was… I grew ashamed and overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of literature, art, history, adversity, struggle, triumph, sacrifice, and progress I had missed learning about.
So with heart trembling, this is what this series is about.
Finding Feminism is about sharing with you the works and authors I have discovered so far.
It is about discovering new ones.
Finding Feminism is a journey into the past to learn from women before me who gave everything so that I could be anything.
It is about owning the privilege and prejudice of my past, calling out the lies, and finding the truth.
Finding Feminism is about learning from women within the church today that are leading us into a freer, more loving, more courageous understanding of women as people.
It is about challenging our concepts of gender and marriage, even within Christianity, to see how men and women are inherently created to fulfill a diversity of roles rather than be diminished to a mere few.
Finding Feminism is about rediscovering my heritage as a woman and learning the history of women’s movements around the world I was never taught.
It is about learning from an army of women filled with compassion that fought for the oppressed, downtrodden, abandoned, and forgotten.
Finding Feminism is about people, family, identity, compassion, passion, and purpose.
If you grew up with a similar view of women like I did, I hope that you will consider joining me on this journey to rediscover what was lost in the rhetoric, hatred, judgment, and fear.
If you grew up the opposite, being told you could go and be anything as a young girl, with an amplitude of women both present and historical to stand out as heroines to model – then please join us and share your wisdom and experience.
If you are a male, and assume this post isn’t for you because we are talking about women’s issues or that this will be some kind of male-bashing series – please recondsider, as feminism is not about exalting women to the hatred of men. That is rhetoric that only hurts and distracts from the truth.
If you are a spouse or parent at home – please join us as we would never want to forget that parenting the next generation and creating a safe and loving home are treasured gifts in a world of brokenness, lack, and violence.
If you are a career woman with ambitions to excel and lead, please share your voice. We want to celebrate you as you conquer new heights, face new challenges, and make a place at the table for all of us.
If you are both – please share with me how. My past world of black and white, wants to divide everything into a binary view of only one choice or the other, while my present world and optimistic heart whisper…
You can do both. You can be more.
So now to the practical details:
This series for the first six weeks is going to be a fast and furious, where we will take a week at a time to pull insights from a series of authors. Each post will come out on a Wednesday and discussion for that post will ensue over the next week. The last three weeks of the series will then move from book discussions to gaining perspective. First, I will be working behind the scenes to research material for presenting an overview of the history of Feminism. This is where we will pull in some of those iconic voices such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Virginia Wolfe, Betty Friedan, Maya Angelou, Simone de Beauvoir, and more. Second, we will look at where Feminism is active today and what battles are being waged and won. Finally the series will culminate in what I hope will be a synchroblog of other bloggers and writers I love sharing their stories of Feminism, what it has taught them, how it has shaped them, and why it’s important.
Our schedule will look like this:
- July 2nd – Half the Sky – by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
- July 9th – Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use It by Naomi Wolf
- July 16th – Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
- July 23rd – A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
- July 30th – Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
- Aug. 6th – Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics by Bell Hooks
- Aug. 13th – Feminism – A Historical Review
- Aug. 20th – Feminism – On the Front Lines.
- Aug. 27th – Feminism – A Celebration
So now it is your turn to weigh in.
- What were you taught about Feminism growing up?
- Do you tend to have a positive, negative, or indifferent view of Feminism?
- Which Feminist authors or activists have impacted you the most?
- Which book(s) in the series coming up interests you the most and why?
See you all next week, as we open with Half the Sky!