Friday, September 3, 2010

Did the Evangelical Christian Woman miss the Great Awakening? (generally speaking)

So I have a theory, and well it comes from revisiting the book, "Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan. I will admit that I have been quite lite on any of my women's history and/or gender theory knowledge so I thought it would be beneficial and important that I re-read, re-discover, and read for the first time many of the books both Christian and non-Christian on the subject.

That is what has lead me to re-discover the "Feminine Mystique." (side bar I am only a few chapters in). As I was going through the chapters and making sure that I looked at it from the perspective of today's society and understood the historical concepts of when and why it was originally written. It hit me that I felt I was some how caught in the stories and related as if they were happening in real time, but why I wondered? Why are some of these stories, the expectations, confusions, emptiness, anger, and questions ringing true to me within my own mind and within my own circle of experience? How could I be relating at least on some level to these women? Wasn't this book written almost 40 years ago and published over 30 years ago or so? Hasn't society and the women's movement come so much further, that as a young woman in 2010 I should be reviewing these stories simply as historical context determining where we have come from to give me a base of understanding? How am I deeply connecting with the roles and expectations placed on women with regards to getting married and having children. To look upon being a wife and mother as the utmost and most euphoric experience I could desire as a good Christian Godly Woman.

That's it...Is it possible that Evangelical Christian Women never went through the great Awakening in discovering how much more their value as a woman really is outside of the titles of just wife and mother?

Sure we say that we encourage young woman to go forth and be who and what they want to be, but truly the under tones the belief system when you get beyond the ones on the surface tell a much different story. One of which I as a woman in order to be a good Christian Woman must fight the desires of the world and understand the true tradition as to what I was created for and that was to be a wife and mother. Being too strong meant that I was fighting against what I was called to be and that I was embracing too much of what those worldly women wanted for me to be.

Is it possible that the reason I for one don't totally understand everything that has occurred with regards to the women's movement is because the under tones and belief systems of what I was raised within have yet to fully embrace the essence of being fully female created in God's image as well to accomplish anything and everything that our Lord and Savior has asked of her (me) no matter what that role may be?

Could this be why so many young Christian women including myself have had to fight with feeling guilty about our talents, dreams, accomplishments, and ambitions. Feeling ashamed of our bodies and our sexuality because as women we are supposed to hold our selves pure and be stronger for men to not tempt them with impurity. But after getting married as a wife we are supposed to understand how to fully please our partners?!? Why did so many question my desire to attend the university I attended and study in the area I chose...too many whispers were about how my area of study would not be complimentary to my "someday" husband and that too much ambition makes her proud and of course we all know how pride is such a shameful characteristic, but why were my ambitions considered prideful... They were goals and desires I had set for myself and felt utilized the talents the Lord has blessed me with...but I did still feel guilty after hearing so many other men and women tell me that I was not fulfilling the appropriate role as a Christian woman...

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with me? Have any of your experienced something like this? Did we as Christian Woman miss the movement? Do we need an awakening of our own and a movement too?

So many of the great movers and shakers of the women's movement were strong Christian women... How then did we in this present time get stuck still in the 50s and 60s?

One theory I have and I alluded to it above is that I believe when the second and third wave occurred of the women's movement Christian women were being told don't go that way or down that path, don't follow those feminist they are worldly we (Christians) must stand separate, hold onto your traditional values... but were they really traditional or something created in the 50s and made to be traditional...


Turtle Woman said...

This was one of the most interesting posts you have writen Brenda. Your questions really amaze me, because they make me realize how much of even recent women's herstory has simply vanished for a new generation.

I will say, that the feminism I first engaged in, was completely secular. It wasn't until I lived abroad in a completely non-western context, that I seriously questioned christian beliefs about women.

The sad thing is, that while Catholic nuns, who were on the forefront of christian feminism decades ago, seemed to have not come into contact with secular feminism.

There is so much to say about your post, I don't even think I can do justice to it. Although I must admit that after being lesbian all my life, and a feminist all my life... that those two parts of myself are the most dominant.

It is really hard to understand young straight women today, or even what it would be like to be in the "wife/mother" culture of conservative christian churches.

Feminist women have always been a part of American christianity, and women have broken out of patriarchy through evangelical prophetic calls -- the temperance movement, the missionary societies-- anti-slavery and women in christianity is huge.

Why does Betty Friedan seem so contemporary today for you Brenda? I read the book over 35 years ago, and would have to return to it.

I think the answer lies in where your personal search is leading you. I don't know you well, but I know that in your struggle to realize that perhaps you might not have children, this might be awakening you to new knowledge.

It's very very hard for me to understand the appeal of having children or being married to a man. It's outside my pay grade as President Obama once said :-)

So your questions are interesting to me. I think a lot of conservative christian straight women believe the world has changed for women. But it hasn't really changed in terms of the foundations. To be simplistic, there may be a black president, but obviously racism has not disappeared.

There may be women in all kinds of jobs, but that doesn't mean that a male ruling class doesn't prevail or control access to information.

Evangelical women may had had their innocense protected, and don't forget, it's been 40+ years
since the beginnings of second wave feminism. The women who led the movement were born in the 20s and 30s and 40s. Your group might have missed out on a lot of what was written about straight marriage and motherhood, or the critique of the cult of marriage.

Sarah Palin fills the gap, because she reaches out to women who were overlooked by secular feminism.

More to say... you'll be surprised at what you find out Brenda.

Anonymous said...

In the last few decades, I have NOT seen a pattern of Christians discouraging women in whatever career they want. There are various Biblical rules about women in the church, but not in careers. Even the stricter Old Testament speaks of women in leadership. Of course, there were more men leading, but the women were leading the day-to-day life at home! They were still leading!!
Because I have had children, & see how sensitive & needy they are(& the fact that I think they should be nursed a very long time), I have little respect for women who rush back to work after havng a baby(unless they really have to).
I have tried to analyze the roles we often play. I instinctively know that God thinks both sexes are equal. The nature of God could not be otherwise!
I think that both men & women do not realize how much stress there is in pregnancy, labor, birthing, & caring for children. Many men wonder at how we do it. God places great value on children, yet he made them so frail & needy of adults to care for & guide them.
Well, guess who gets to start this process & usually do most of the daily work, therefore setting the example???? Yep, it's the women!
So, don't feel you are put down or relegated to 2nd class status!

What if you are single? Well, go ahead & be the president of the company! In the company where my husband works, the best president they had was a woman! He says that as one who is foreign-born from a culture that is quite macho.
Speaking of presidents, I have noticed that many of the US presidents in my lifetime have smarter wives. Someday we will have that woman president we seek. It may take longer as many women raise children, therefore putting outside interests on hold. Maybe they did a greater job without realizing it.
Best wishes, Brenda. All these recent events & trauma will work together for some reason. As you read & study these issues, do it prayerfully & seek real truth.
Mrs T

Nathalie A. said...

i can totally see what you mean about evangelical christian women missing the great awakening. i think in an effort to keep separate the holy from the secular, i find in christian churches, the LOOKING OVER AND ASSUMPTION that women are now equal and having greater access because of our society so its NOT an issue in the church. OR we DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE BLATANT INEQUALITY in the church between men and women and EXCUSE it as BIBLICAL or TRADITION which is more frustrating.

we find liberation in God but anytime change happens it seems to come from secular means and I:M NOT saying this in a negative way at all, and influence the church.

my heart goes out to you being told by others that what you were doing is outside of what is appropriate for you to do as a chrisitan women. i mean that's the damage the church causes. NOT of God. it then confuses you about what God would want you to do in the first place. i also said before in each camp the word feminism and christianity have negative connotations.

i've had the that's not appropriate to do come more from my mom then my church in my experience. i think my church says things more subtly. for example- i would like to speak more sermons at church, see more female pastors. my church will not OUTRIGHT discourage me from speaking more sermons but I may not
be seeked out for such a purpose as other men may be expected to do. i may get overlooked or not taken as seriously. or may not recieve as much support and guidance. that's the sublter way. and i have not seen as many women speak, especially pastors (for we commission but do not ordain female pastors). the lack of women leaders sends a message to me as a young women.

by the way to give my church credit, i did say one sermon at church but I"D LIKE TO GIVE WAY MORE! it's a personal dream of mine. to be a leader in the capacity of teaching and guiding to the congregation. i don't know about being a pastor per se yet. all in God's hands.

that is why it irks me when people tell me or other women/men what women can do or not do and or according to the Bible. i ALREADY feel and recieve messages from church and society that i am limited in my freedom to do things. i'm already challenged in that front. i'm already expected to dress a certain way to church because i am female. act a certain way. it gets on my nerves. i wish i could talk to my mom about this. its like she wholeheartedly accepts this without an opinion or challenge or issue. it seems ALL okay to her.

by most regards i fit the mold, but i feel like i try to rebel, you kind of have/need to. i want to be free to define me, independently. confidently. with the guidance if whomever i choose. I choose God's wisdom and intellect and some other woman may not. but WE ALL deserve the freedom.

well that gets into the debate between freedom and security. which would you want more? choose one. in 9th grade, i chose security. a tangent.

good thoughts and questions brenda.


ps. any update on the email notifier that lets you know if someone replied to your post or comments on a post you posted on?

thanks. it would be really helpful, to keep people engaged, keep conversation flowing. Andrew has it on his blog. i'm sure it won't take too much to get it added to yours. please let me know.

much love.

Turtle Woman said...

Thanks Nathalie for your ideas here. I guess I kind of wonder what kinds of churches your are going to? It does seem odd to me to have legions of christian women out there who might very well have missed the entire great awakening of the second wave feminist movement.

And this is odd to me, because obviously the secular world was at the forefront of feminism, and legal changes that allowed little things-- like girls being able to play in basketball leagues in high school without being spit on by boys.

The thing is, the bulk of the civil rights movement was led by christian black men, with women being behind the scenes in the fight for black male rights. And MLK was a christian minister, but you didn't really have a powerful woman in ministry who changed the world for feminism.

Women fought for changes in many churches so that they could be ordained in the first place. And several churches had women ministers since the 19th century.

So it is kind of strange to read the stuff Brenda writes, and it often seems as if 30-something women are blindingly more conservative than my generation.

It even shocks me to see young women so willingly take on the last names of their husbands, without even thinking of the implications of this. The men of course could rebel, and say "honey, no way, I want to take YOUR last name!" I meet 30-something women with hyphenated last names-- that tells me a bit, or hetero couples where the last names are merged into a new name.

It's perhaps a small thing, but I notice this right away with hetero women. Remember, feminism is going to be demonized because it is so radical. Civil rights is not demonized it is honored all over the place. But the feminist movement is still pretty much an underground movement that is rarely covered in a sophisticated way by mainstream places.

Women want to believe things have changed, but they haven't really.

Turtle Woman said...

And what puzzles me is why women would stay in churches if there were no women pastors? Why stay, when you could find so many churches where women led the church? It's not as if every church has a male only policy? Or are evangelical women more wedded to a particular style of worship where males rule the roost, and are willing to put up with this?

Lesbians of my era would not tolerate male dominance of any kind. Even in MCC, we would be brutal in our attacks on any hint of male supremacy, any mistake in calling god "he" and we'd be on those men in two seconds with knock out radical lesbian blows.

I know of no lesbian couple where one woman ever completely erased her last name, for example. Not one. We either keep our birth last names, or we merge the names, or we create new names. This idea of naming is a very subtle way that patriarchy erases women's existence. Not even male MCC pastors ever batted an eye over this lesbian practice and tradition. They knew lesbians were into a radical equality unknown in the hetero world.

So the great awakening of feminism... it could be that 30-something women aren't as well educated, or they might be very conservative? To have a christian feminist education means you have to do an incredible amount of reading... mainstream churches aren't going to have this as a part of their programs. The book lists aren't even there, the retreats for women using these texts non-existant. Nothing.

Radical feminism is largely secular, but there were women who came from christian backgrounds who did the reading and study, and found out that christianity was really about male supremacy. When they finally realized this, they just left the church forever.

Other feminists started their own christian feminist organizations.

The most passionate christian feminists I've ever met have been lesbians. It's rare to ever hear a straight female minister give a knock down drag out feminist sermon, for example. They aren't up to it, are too afraid, or too uninformed... or perhaps too afraid of really challenging male authority and too beaten down.

I don't know what the deal is, but I do know change is very scary. As a lesbian, I really have nothing to lose. I have no social status and hardly any legal protection at all. My partner and I have no civil rights on a federal level and also very few on a state level, so I don't have much invested in a status quo that gives me nothing at all.

And that might be the key to feminism's success-- because women who are married to men might have more to lose. Your husband could leave you if you wanted too much freedom. Too much freedom for a lesbian couple is a good thing. And studies have revealed that lesbian couples have the most egalitarian relationships of anyone on the planet-- we are radically equal in ways gay male couples are not, hetero couples are is common in MCC for both lesbians in a couple to be ministers, for example.

Now I'm at the point in my life where I will never listen to another man give another sermon ever again. I just won't. I can't listen to them anymore, and really want as much time with women in our search for freedom as possible. It's as if I can't stomach the condescention, and if you are heterosexual, perhaps you can't push as hard as lesbians do.

Turtle Woman said...

Judith Plaskow-- I had forgotten her groundbreaking 1979 book "Womanspirit Rising
She's a Jewish feminist professor of religion. One of her most famous works is "The Coming of Lilith" still being widely used in feminist worship groups.

The great awakening of feminist consciousness in the mid to late 20th century also traveled to the academy. Plaskow is considered the very first Jewish woman to call herself a theologian.

All of these women have great academic brilliance, were the early women to get advanced degrees at Harvard and Yale. A friend of mine was from the very first women graduating from Princeton in the early 70s. They officially let women into Princeton in 1969.

I always find it very sad, that large groups of women coming up today seem so cut off from this scholarship, and so isolated in conservative churches. Surely women should be able to build a tradition all our own, and continue this work generation after generation.

Anyway, if you get several of these names on a list and follow google links, it will make for a spectacular adventure. There is no substitute for hard work, solid reading, and persistent understanding of just what women have accomplished within Judiasm and Christian feminist traditions, as well as the Wiccan women and goddess women's groups.

It all fits together in terms of the liberation of women, and it is something that men ignore, don't know about and don't really want to know about for the most part.

Women must educate other women or we'll be held captive to a tradition that really doesn't address our herstory at all.

Super Spy For Jesus said...

I think that we as Christian women don't always know how to live in the tension of what God has called us to versus what tradition tells us we should feel. So we read the Bible and see the powerful women that rose up there. However, the truth is that we, straight women, choose to live integrated lives with men. So we are subject to the voices that are pulling at us to telling us what we should and should not be.

The messages about "leadership" feel mixed. Where are we allowed to lead? We understand that we can lead at home- but what about other venues of leadership. We are told that we can "lead" our children when they come- or "lead" in the home once we are married. However- "leading" in the corporate context should be left to single women. We should just put all of those dreams aside when we go another way. Then there those of us who step out and may be allowed to "lead" in the church but in a limited context. Sometimes that can feel even worse than simply just not stepping out at all.

I think it is because men almost always understand their place in society. Women are sent a variety of messages. We don't know which ones to believe if any.

So in the end we feel like we are jumping through everyone's hoops to simply be who God meant us to be. If I jump through this hoop- then maybe I can be seen as a leader. If I jump through that hoop then I will be a good wife and everyone will get off my back.

But- why do we have to choose? Why can I ONLY stay home OR go out and be a "leader" in my career? Why can't I live in the tension and see different seasons of my life? When my kids were babies they were all nursed and I spent more time at home. Now I am in a season when they are in school and I am in a different form of leadership. I would love to travel more than I do, but my children and husband couldn't handle it. That is called living in community and now there are not positions in play, but relationships that matter. I am in a place in life where I don't get to think just about me.

Yet- the awakening feels missed, because Evangelical women have trouble accepting times in life and places and living in the tension. Instead- we try to box each other in and tell us what we should and should not do. Then you add the reality that we feel like we should please those that lead (which are often men) and we are constantly fighting and pulling each other down as opposed to rising up.

Yes- I do think in many ways we have missed the awakening. I don't think we know how to be awake. You are correct Turtle Woman, I would not stand in the pulpit as a straight woman and give a full purely feminist sermon. I would not know how to do that graciously. Because I know that what we are undoing a traditional view of who does what and why and how in the home and beyond. They are interwoven. What I am waiting for is a time when i am allowed to just be me. To not again be told that I am intimidating. To be told that I need to dial back who I am so that it won't step on toes. I want to have my husband make dinner for us and for the world to not think he just climbed Mt. Everest. He made dinner. We run our family how it works for us.

Mostly I do want our young girls to really believe that they can be WHATEVER.. that may mean that there are times in life when things look differently than we imagined. I did not imagine that I would have three babies in 2 1/2 years. However, God orchestrated it that way. In the early years they needed different things from me. But- that is not my position. That is my life.

Anonymous said...

can anyone share a list of feminist literature that every Christian woman should read? I have to admit I'm a bit afraid to take any secular list of feminist literature out of fear of what I will find...

Turtle Woman said...

Read through this blog, I have written several times about feminist christians and their books, from high level academics to just plain women.

Get to work. Otherwise the default position for women within conservative churches won't be a pretty sight.

It's the education of what is actually in women's best interest as leaders, as scholars, and as agents of change.

Authors: Rosemary Radford Reuther,
Mary E. Hunt, Judith Plaskow (old testiment), Elizabeth Schusller Fiorenza (check spelling for her name), Mary Daly, Rita Finger of Daughters of Sarah magazine, Nancy Wilson, and follow the google links until you have a complete list of all the christian feminists who have been ground breaking for decades now. This laziness and ignorance has got to end women. Will you just step up and do the reading, otherwise you will be stuck in male authored texts forever, you will not know, and yes, I am beginning to think that the great awakening might have passed millions of women by.

It is still not too late, but you have to do the work, the studying, the reading. I don't know what it will take, and I get so frustrated with the willful ignorance when the Internet is this huge resource.

You can get books and documents online that would be very hard to find in the past, but they are all there if you start researching all the authors I listed above, and then follow the footnotes to get more feminist christian scholars.

And also, what's wrong with plain old secular feminist writers? You know, the women who helped get the laws changed so that if your husband rapes you he can now go to jail, the women who created rape crisis and domestic violence shelters, the women who changed church cultures so that women can get degrees in theology. All of this hard work for social change was done by powerful and committed feminists, both secular and religious. Catholic nuns-- Joan Chisiter-- there are hundreds of feminist catholic nuns and networks of women who have done great things, and they faced a church that is far more male dominating than anything evangelicals can imagine.

Wow, it's scary reading stuff here sometimes. Remember, being wives and mothers is the default setting, being shut out of leadership is status quo-- real change first requires knowing what the women of the past have done, and you're not going to have your local male pastor teaching a class using all these texts, because he's never heard of these women either. And report back: as in, hey Turtle Woman, I checked Judith Plaskow out of the library, I just started reading Rosemary Radford Reuther. Go get the books and tell this blog what you are reading!! :-) Knowledge really is power.

Turtle Woman said...

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote The Women's Bible for heavens sake!
Stanton had more than six children I believe, and yet she and Susan B. Anthony worked together on incredible political strategy that won women the right to vote.

Stanton was a straight woman, Anthony was a lesbian; they changed the world. Both had religious backgrounds. Stanton faced the same sexist men in power, the same male dominating religious leaders of her day. She might be able to teach you about conditions for women today.

The past may seem distant, but things have not changed all that much for a lot of women in America.

If Brenda can get out there and do some serious reading on this topic, there might be hope for this next generation. I know you all can do it, it's just a question of how badly you want to know. And yes, the information is scary, and it's going to push your buttons, but you've got to get out of the bubble and see the big picture.