“Why am I here? What is the purpose of me?”
These are normal questions we expect a lot of teens to ask, and I certainly did. But I didn’t begin by asking them from a broad existential point of view. I started by questioning my gender. No, not a gender identity crisis, but a gender role crisis.
Around the start of my teen years, my multi-cultural family, parents and younger brothers and I, were living in small town, southwest USA. My teacher dad was working full time at school, and in the evenings studied for his master’s degree. One of the topics he studied was brought to my attention. Girls versus boys in the classroom, and the issue of gender bias and subconscious sexism in the educational field. My parents encouraged me to be aware that a bias will often more naturally happen against girls. I was glad to be given their attention on that point. But once I was made aware that there was ever anything amiss in the way girls are treated, I began to notice even more.
Then came church. I had been singing for over a year with some grown up women, me the token young person, in a four part ladies’ choir. It was a tiny little church, one of those new church plants that spring up from time to time, and my parents started taking us there. I love to sing and I have musical talent, so I was quickly involved in the choir, and in playing flute sometimes, too.
And then one day, it stopped. The little church was changing shape under the hire of an official pastor, and my parents gently informed me that the women were no longer to be allowed to sing for the congregation. Why? Not because there was an issue of pride being raised. Not because it didn’t fit the service. Not because there was doubt about my faith (which, at the time, was more token Christianity by way of my parents’ faith). I would have been disappointed but I would have understood those reasons. It was simply because we were female. And female “should not” lead or teach male. So saith the bible, the pastor taught. The choir was disbanded. Flute accompaniment to the piano was stopped. My connection to church as a place of joy and safety was severed. I began to quietly breed hate for the ritual and routine of Sunday morning, attending without voiced complaint to my parents purely because I felt so deeply the lesson with which they had raised me: Mum and Dad say they are equal, but Dad is still head of the house, and his word is law. Dad said that as long as we live under his roof, we attend church. So, I attended. Quietly. Mistrustfully.
My relationship with church did not end there, thank God, but for the sake of this story I need to fast forward a few years to my late teens. By this time, I had established a personal relationship with Jesus and was attending university in England. I chose to attend a non-denominational church that clicked with me, and the leadership happened to include a woman as one of the pastors in training. I didn’t even bat an eye at that. A woman teaching? Well, why not? She gave excellent, engaging, and thoroughly researched sermons.
A shock came during a residence hall bible study when a guy turned to me and said, “You’re a bit of a feminist, Jean. What do you think?” I was flabbergasted. I had never considered applying that word to myself. By this time I had come across chauvinism, personally and on paper, but my main experience with feminism was in the terms of an ugly word. An insult. A degradation. A mockery. You know, “Those Feminists”, the man-haters, half of them lesbians, who Burn Bras in a Big Public Display to excite the media and make the church even more reactively chauvinistic. I had no love for self-proclaimed feminists at 19. “What?! Oh, um, no, not really,” I replied to my friend, with a familiar notch appearing in my left hand brow. “It’s okay,” he said. “Jesus was a feminist. ” The conversation didn’t really go any further because I had no reply. Nothing to say. My boat was quite thoroughly rocked.
It wasn’t until years later that I felt safe enough and bold enough to apply such a word to myself. It wasn’t until years later that I really dug at what bothers me about Christian relationships between men and women. It wasn’t until I was married, mothered, raising a son to be a Feminist, that I was willing to readdress that old question to myself: Why am I here? Not me, the person, but me, the woman.
Why am I a woman? You see, I’m not compliant. I’m not nice. I am stubborn, and difficult, and punchy. I have a low word count and I don’t small talk easily. I like being in control. I can put people at their unease just by walking into a room. My mother is one of those lovely, sweet, fun, bright, gentle people, with an innate gift for understanding children and playing games at their levels. And she’s slender, lithe, soft cheeked, always in makeup, every bit the lady when she dresses up. Next to her, I didn’t make such obvious sense in a woman’s body. I never wanted to be a man, but I felt that too many of my qualities were considered acceptable manly behaviors, not ones that fit into a so-called “woman’s role”. So why me as a woman? Where do I fit, when the Christian church wants to fit the adult me into a mold of complementarianism to a husband, obedience to a father (not a mother, I noted) or male pastor, second in everything of life to boys and men even to the point of being told off for not letting them “serve” me by holding open the door for me to pass through first? Where was ME, the woman? Where was MY purpose?
I finally have an answer. I expect to be working over the details until I die, really, but at least I have an answer now. I am Feminist. There is no head of my family and household except Jesus. I am not second to my husband. I am not more accountable to a male person than a female person. I have more confidence in the validity of my own personhood now than ever before. And yes, part of that is to do with embracing feminism.
The reason I finally embraced the title of Feminist, though, isn’t to do with men. It’s to do with God. I am a child of God. I am adopted and redeemed by the King Himself. I am equally enabled to come to Jesus Christ as any of my male brothers. And as such, I am equally enabled and called to serve in the body of Christ with whatever talents and gifts I possess.