Introduction: What is Feminism?

Aug 18, 2016 by Josh de Keijzer

This article is part of an explainer about feminism

This explainer is about feminism and how Christians should relate to it. Feminism is a major movement in our societies today and the Church simply cannot ignore it. Feminism addresses the core relationship between women and men and indirectly forces Christians to rethink held traditions and customs. The topic of the relationship between feminism and Christianity is therefore an important one.

But what is feminism? What is the relationship between feminism and Christianity? Many Christians simply choose to ignore feminism because what they see and hear in the media is weird, incomprehensible, or simply unsettling to them. Surprisingly feminism has at heart something in common with Christianity: a desire for justice for all people, men as well as women.

Before I delve into the question of how Christians should evaluate feminism we need to first briefly delve into the question what feminism is. As with all things there is no unanimity about what feminism is let alone about whether this is a good or a bad thing from a Christian perspective. So, besides an explanation of feminism, in this explainer you will also find an article on why certain Christians reject feminism and an article on why other Christians embrace it. Lastly there is an article about a movement within Christianity that is not feminist per se but does seek to provide a biblical basis for the full co-equality of women with men.

Definition
Feminism is not one movement. It is better to speak of a whole range of feminisms, some are Christian, some anti-Christian, some are moderate, some radical. What they all have in common, however, is a desire to see women have an equal opportunity in society. Some feminists want to achieve this through radical protests, others through bringing about change slowly by changing laws one by one.

Some feminists are philosophers, sociologists, and anthropologists who analyze human societies in order to expose and eradicate the evil of the patriarchy. Others are simply citizens who are trying to change things from below by living their lives in a different way. All feminists, however, are united in their struggle against the patriarchy, a term that denotes the structure of our societies and cultures in which men take the lead and rule with power and where women follow, serve, and submit to this power.

Three waves of feminism
There have been three waves of feminism. The first wave took place in the 19th and early 20th century and concerned itself with the right of women to vote and to own property. As crazy as this may seem today, women were not allowed to vote in those days. And if it wasn't for this first wave, things would be the same today.

The second wave in the middle of the 20th century concerned itself with equality for women socially, economically, culturally, and politically. Women ought to be able to work without their husband's permission; there was to be no 'marital exemption' for rape, etc.

The third wave of feminism began to include non-white women as it realized that its notion of essential femininity was based on what the male-dominated world had imposed. The idea of female heterosexuality was attacked as well. Feminists also realized that their discourse was really only that of white middle-class women.

Feminism and Christianity
More conservative Christians find a lot of the feminist talk weird and strange. Yet, there is a shared concern: justice. Justice may not be understood the same way for Christians and for feminist, but one can hardly argue against the call for justice for women. One can hardly object to the struggle to stop abuse against women and to make sure that women receive equal pay in the workplace. Who would not agree with the idea that rape within marriage is still rape?

It should be no surprise, then, that there are feminist theologians, such as Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Johnson, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, who have done and are doing a lot of work trying to examine Christian faith and practice from a feminist standpoint and who attempt to unearth in the Bible this same radical justice for and on behalf of women.

Read more
- Introduction: What Is Feminism?
- 6 Reasons Why Christians Should Reject Feminism.
- 6 Reasons Why Christians Should Embrace Feminism.
- Two Biblical Approaches To The Position Of Women

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