Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Questions of "Biblical Womanhood" and Judgment-Free Feminism

Rachel Held Evans is a progressive Christian blogger and a proponent of women in church leadership. Her beliefs and projects may not be your cup of tea, but her work is interesting to say the least. This month Evans concludes a year of biblical womanhood – a year of decisive faith and in-depth exploration of biblical commands directed at women. Evans’ project raises many challenging questions about the intersections of feminism, faith and religious practice.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of organized religion, but I am a faithful person and believe very strongly in an intelligent God capable of compassion. One part of Evans’ project (which will be published as a book next year) references a women-specific “10 Commandments” list and several of those rules are “head tilt” moments for me. I have no problem with a “no gossip” rule – for everyone, but yeah for women. I’m less comfortable with a “no haircut” rule because I think it’s rather unnecessary and kind of gross by 21st Century American hygiene standards. I’m confused by the “no teaching in church” rule, especially since my CCD (Catholic-rules-for-kids class) teacher was a woman and most of the Sunday school teachers I knew of as a child were women. I understand there is an ongoing debate in different Christian sects (and in Judaism) about the role of women in leadership, but my question here is how it jives – or doesn’t – with a feminist understanding of equality. I respect tradition and I don’t pass judgment on other people’s faith, but I see no harm in posing questions: when is tradition more important that achieving and maintaining equality or any sort? Can’t tradition change? Should it?

Of Evans’ personal commandments, the most troubling for me was the last: “Thou [woman] shalt not have authority over a man.” Wait, what? I don’t get it. I personally do not believe that faith/religion/spirituality/god/God is inherently incompatible with a feminist understanding of the world and a desire for a world without gendered violence. Seeing such a stark anti-equality statement phrased as religious law (or a mimic of religious law – or an interpretation of religious law), especially from someone who identifies with some part of feminism and supports women in church leadership, is off-putting.

Religion and faith are complicated. Feminism is complicated. Living without judgment is complicated and I’ll admit I’m struggling with this one. I’m certain there are other points of view on this subject. Maybe one of our readers can help me out here. How can Evans’ project on biblical womanhood spark positive discussions about women and faith and religious rules (which was her intention), and how can other feminists (especially those of us for whom religion/god/God does not factor in a major way) engage in such discussions without judgment?

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