Erin Zoutentam is a fellow Hillsdale College alumna and an intelligent voice on women’s issues. Today, she brings to attention some crucial issues we Christian feminists need to know.
I can’t pinpoint when feminist issues became part of my life. It was a gradual warming that happened sometime after I left college and before I started my graduate program four years later.
During my undergraduate years, I thought “gender studies” was a byword for “liberal” nonsense, but by the time I started my master’s in theological studies, I saw gender as a gift. I experience everything — the world, other people, God, texts that I either read or write — as a woman, and my husband experiences these things as a man. To acknowledge this is to acknowledge our humanity, to affirm the image of God that we each bear.
My graduate studies have taken me to new territory — some good, some bad. I sometimes run across articles with titles like “The Psycho-Sexual Politics of Orifices in Israel.” (OK, that’s not actually a real article, but it’s close!) Frankly, these articles bore me to pieces and seem to serve little tangible good.
On the other hand, some of my work has focused on obscure women whose voices have been lost but who deserve our rapt attention. Being on the margins of theological discourse turns out not to be a disadvantage but a great advantage, and these women have things to teach us that no one else can. My favorite contemporary writers on gender write with one eye to the contemporary realities of women, even when they’re writing about Hagar or Hildegard of Bingen.
I’ve tried to model this same virtue in my own thinking lately. I’m researching Catherine of Siena now, and her involvement in the political situation of her day is both an inspiration and a challenge.
I don’t know how to sort out the mess that is the current presidential election, but I do know that the policies that concern me most when it comes to women are just as important at the local and state level as they are at the national level. I ask different questions of politicians now, because I believe that neither of the current political parties care for women’s well-being in the radical way that the Gospel calls us to.
Even though I’m not Catholic, I recently joined an emerging third party whose platform is based on Catholic social teaching, in part because their platform better cares for women’s well-being. But we can all advocate for women’s safety and equality regardless of our party affiliation.
Here are some of my top issues, and I encourage you to research these and to dialogue with political candidates at every level about these things. Politicians aren’t going to suddenly adopt pro-woman stances unless they believe these things matter to constituents.
- Offering maternity/paternity leave. Compared to other developed nations, the United States has exceptionally poor maternity and paternity leave. Supporting paid maternity leave is part of creating a robust pro-life culture, since women do not have to fear for their financial viability when they give birth.
- Caring for women during pregnancy and beyond. Simply legislating against abortion is inadequate — being pro-woman and pro-life is so much more than this! Calling for better access to education, adequate social services, and reasonable healthcare gives women more confidence about carrying a pregnancy to term. They don’t have to feel as if they are choosing between giving birth and their future well-being (and the well-being of their other children).
- Pursuing justice for women in the criminal justice system. It’s almost hard to believe, but in some states women are still shackled during childbirth if they give birth while they are incarcerated. These women pose no security threat, and this practice is inhumane. Some states have made this practice illegal, but not all. Another issue to keep an eye on is whether women are being transferred to prisons hundreds of miles away from their children. Mothers should be incarcerated as close to their family as possible.
- Taxing feminine hygiene products as “non-necessities.” Many states provide sales tax exemptions for necessary purchases, but tampons are not usually included on this list. I didn’t know until quite recently that many poorer women in the United States use things like napkins from fast food restaurants because they can’t afford tampons. Tampons are a necessity — let’s tax (or rather, not tax) them accordingly.
- Honoring the dignity of women. How do political candidates speak about women? Just as importantly, how do they speak about rape and sexual assault? How we speak matters, and it often betrays how we view women. Hold politicians accountable.
Pro-woman Christians can and do have widely varying political opinions, and that’s OK. Sometimes we disagree about policy or execution even when we agree in principle. But the more we speak up about women’s issues, the more responsive politicians will be.
I believe that advocating for women’s well-being is part of seeking justice, and I hope that’s something that all of us can agree on — no matter who we vote for.
Erin Zoutendam is a ThM student at Western Theological Seminary and the co-chair of the Women’s Committee for the American Solidarity Party. She blogs with her husband (less now than she used to) at Human Drama Thing.