Speaking as a Woman


Hardly anything bothers me more than women dismissing other women’s concerns.

“Oh, come on. You’re not that oppressed. No woman know deals with that. Women and their victim complexes these days….”

And I get it. Sexism, misogyny, and oppression are not often words that describe my personal day to day experience as a woman.

I have never experienced workplace discrimination. I am paid the same wages as my male counterparts. I have never been catcalled, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or raped. I have never felt slut-shamed or body-shamed. My husband wouldn’t even think to tell me to submit or remember my place as his wife. I can think of only two guys in my life who treated me differently than they treated men (or perhaps I imagined it).

The only real sexist discrimination I faced came from a fundamentalist church that I no longer attend and ideologies from my past that I no longer submit to. I notice sexism around me, but it doesn’t cut too deep. I see that my Christian school asks only men to pray at our meetings, for instance, but I would guess they would welcome a woman praying in public as well. And I didn’t even attempt to look for a teaching position that corresponded to my major (Christian studies), simply because I’d never heard of a female religion or Bible teacher in a secondary school.

I don’t feel that I am actively oppressed. I don’t often blame the patriarchy or think of the patriarchy or discuss the patriarchy outside of critiquing explicitly patriarchal views circulating in fundamentalist Christianity. Except in the Christian community, I feel free to be who I am and do the work I’m called to do, .

So if you asked me, as a woman, to weigh in on whether my plight looks like the oppressed female life feminists bemoan, I’d have to say no, not really. I notice sexism around me, of course, and how it sometimes ripples up in my direction, but it’s not screaming in my face at all times in all places. (Except in the Christian community. Gosh, I hate having to clarify that.)

But if the theoretical you that asked for my experience as a woman stops there, you would get a very privileged, lopsided view of what women face in the world, your country, your state, your city, even your circle.

I am, after all, only one woman among billions. And women’s issues is comprised of more than my experience and the women who chime in, “Me too!”


Women have incredible power to shape discussions on women’s issues. They have the power to create empathy and awareness in men and other more privileged women, and they have the power to dismiss, deride, and distract from real issues women face.

Almost everybody nowadays is somewhat sensitive to minorities, somewhat aware that things weren’t always done right by minorities, that white, male, cis, and/or middle-to-upper class people need to tread a bit carefully before speaking authoritatively about what minorities experience.

People get it.

And at the same time they don’t, because they grab hold of the stories and the experiences that fit their narrative of how things are — usually a narrative that downplays or denies the experience loudly protested on the streets and social media.

If women aren’t careful or if the conversationalist is on the hunt to hijack narratives, one woman could end up representing the whole of female experience.

“Well, my wife gets paid even more than the men at her workplace.” “My female friend has never been catcalled in her life.” “Bailey’s a woman — a feminist, even! — and she doesn’t consider herself oppressed.”

But worse than a man using one woman’s experience to gloss over other women’s problems? A woman doing the same thing.

I’ve seen women use their minority status to completely dismiss real problems women face. You have too — every time a beautiful woman films herself giving an anti-feminist rant, every time a confident woman writes the why she doesn’t need feminism trope, every time a woman implies or says straight up, “Well, I’m a woman, and I don’t feel that way.”

I wrote a letter to that fundamentalist church about how it felt to see only men in visible church positions — greeting visitors at the door, passing out the offering plate, reading the announcements, leading worship — and how it felt to slowly realize that nobody ever asked me to read the Bible on Sunday morning like the other teen boys got to, not because I wasn’t capable or even more capable of doing so, but because I was a girl. (Yes, I do realize that the full rationale was “because you’re a girl and the Bible says only men should lead and God wouldn’t say something unless it’s for the best,” but that extra reasoning doesn’t negate the utter sexism of the first part.)

I expected the men to get upset about it. (They did.) What I didn’t expect was the women feeling just as offended and incredulous. Women do all kinds of things in the church! Here’s a list! And you failed to address these Bible passages! Here they are! And even if this was a real problem, there are so many bigger problems to worry about.

And a woman can say that.

A woman can say hurtful, sexist, dismissive things, she can openly support a patriarchal system in a way a man cannot. A woman can say them in an authoritative manner. A woman can say them bluntly, shamelessly.

She can say them, because she is a woman, and what woman would actively support her own oppression? She wouldn’t (the thinking goes), and so the thing that another woman (or many women) feels is sexist or oppressive is deemed acceptable. And if a man is looking for an excuse to keep his ideologies the way they are, he can gently point all “oppressed” women by the way of the women loudly and proudly defending his ideologies.

I truly believe that little will change in communities where women, speaking as women, shut down other women’s experiences.

There’s already incredible pressure to not look like a chauvinist pig, so men are careful. I’ve noticed that many complementarian or patriarchal men honest-to-God respect and honor their wives, daughters, and other prominent women in their communities. If every woman spoke up against complementarian or patriarchal views, men would have no choice but to listen and conform.

If their wives were opposing it, if their daughters and their sisters and their mothers and the woman next to them at church and the pastor’s wife and their liberal coworker and the conservative neighbor across the street — if everywhere men turned women were vocally opposing or questioning certain ideas and practices that discriminate against women, communities would change.

But that isn’t happening. Men, genuinely curious about women’s experiences, can hear a feminist painting a picture of female oppression and go home to his wife, who rolls her eyes at feminism and the modern victim complex.

That is the danger and the responsibility of speaking as a woman.

P.S. Why reasonable, confident women support benevolent sexism

The Need for Prominent Women


In a rather hostile, one-sided “conversation” about feminism and female priests, a priest noted that confession is one reason why female priests would be unhelpful: men would be more comfortable confessing sexual sin to a male priest. I can grant that, though I have been the unlikely confessor for young men’s sexual sin in the past.

But if that’s true, what about the opposite — what about the women and their discomfort with confessing their sexual sin to a male priest? Would that not be an argument in favor of the need for female priests?

What about women wanting female pastoral care, period? Would that not require a female pastoral staff?

As an academic and wannabe theologian, I got used to male mentors. All the pastors were men. All the Bible students were men. All the religion professors were men. Many of my theologically-inclined friends were men.

It was my male pastor who answered all my theological inquiries as a kid. It was a male professor who stopped me outside of Delp Hall to ask about my feelings, because I had been crying during his class the night before (and not, he had intuited, about the Summa Theologica). It was a male professor who oversaw my thesis on gender and spirituality. It was a male professor who heard all the angst about my spiritual life. It was a male counselor who walked me through relationship quagmires.

And yes, I even had dispassionate and theological conversations about sex with men. Was it uncomfortable? Slightly, in the sense that I was wondering whether it was uncomfortable for the man and whether it should be uncomfortable for either of us. But there was nobody else to talk to.

Ministry and academia are dominated by men, and I adjusted to that. I don’t regret any of those friendships or mentorships. I don’t resent my mentors for being men.

At the same time, I did want female mentors. Women have different perspectives than men. Women can talk firsthand about being a wife or a girlfriend or a female, about motherhood, about feminine spirituality (or even if there is such a thing). There are problems and questions I had that I wanted to address to a woman as equally thoughtful, intelligent, and educated as the male professors, pastors, and counselors in my life.

And there were certainly such women at my college (and maybe at my church). They just weren’t obvious fixtures in the community. There were the deans of women, there were pastor’s wives, yes. But those were titles with which I wasn’t familiar. They didn’t connote a pastoral or professorial nature. So I never went to them.

It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I finally stumbled across these female mentors and struck up equally satisfying friendships with them. Those friendships with intelligent, thoughtful, caring people — both men and women — are what I miss most about college.

All of this leads me to say: We need prominent women in every community that cares for souls — particularly women’s souls. 

I developed relationships with the people who taught and guided me — pastors, professors, and counselors — that is, those readily available. They were advertised as counselors. They stood in front of the class every other day. They addressed the congregation each Sunday. They were visible. Their beliefs and concern for their students or congregants was visible. And that made them prime candidates for mentoring.

In the churches I attended, that was not so. Women were not allowed to lead or teach in any way, shape, or form, so there were no prominent women. You didn’t know if a woman held a theological or counseling degree, and even if she did, whether she wanted to be a mentor or would be a good mentor. You never heard her teach, never could evaluate from afar whether she would be a safe person with whom you could confide.

That, to me, is a travesty. Even the early church had female deaconesses for the care of women before baptism. There’s historical precedent for an organized, prominent group of women for the spiritual life of other women.

It’s all very well and good to talk about the Titus 2 model of mentoring, but the reality is that many women don’t know who those “older women” could even be — because they’re not prominent in the church’s pastoral life. In many churches, there is no opportunity to walk up to a woman after her sermon and kickstart a relationship with a question about her main point — because women aren’t even allowed to read through the church announcements.

Like it or not, the people who look “prominent” in a church or a community are those up front — those you see and those you hear on a regular basis. If communities are serious about providing female mentors for women, they need more prominent women in their community.

Black Feminist Inspiration for #BlackHistoryMonth


My friend Stephanie was born and raised in South Africa by her American missionary parents. She works for iThemba Projects and writes about race, missions, and social justice at her blog Bridging Hope. We met at a summer camp several years ago — co-counselors for a cabin-full of girls. We went separate paths globally, but we keep reconnecting as our spiritual and social justice journeys cross paths. Here’s Steph. 

Since it’s Black History Month, I’ve been learning a lot about black women in American history and the contributions they’ve made to the feminist movement. I thought I’d share my mini-history lesson (which mostly came from Paula Giddings’ book Where and When I Enter).

Maria Stewart: The first “Jesus feminist” was black

Sarah Bessey’s popular book Jesus Feminist makes the argument that we should primarily be looking at the way Jesus treated women when forming views on the role of women today. Well, flashback to 1832, when twenty-nine year-old Maria Stewart from Connecticut — who was the first American-born woman to give public speeches and leave extant texts of her addresses—stepped into the public sphere to talk about women’s rights and the abolitionist movement. Stewart had experienced a religious conversion; today we’d probably call her an evangelical, or “born again,” person, not just a culturally religious person like so many in that time period.

At the time, there was strong cultural and religious pressure for women to refrain from speaking in public. But that didn’t stop Stewart. “What if I am a woman?” Stewart declared. “Did [God] not raise up Deborah to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdalene first to declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?”

Paula Giddings, in her book Where and When I Enter says, “Stewart was confident enough to challenge the exhortations of Saint Paul, whose words had long been used to justify slavery and sexism.”

Stewart, well, simply went over his head: “Saint Paul declared that it was a shame for a woman to speak in public,” she noted, “yet our great High Priest and Advocate did not condemn the woman for a more notorious offense than this….”

In any case, Paul’s words were of another time, and Stewart was convinced that if he had understood the urgency of these times, his attitude would have been different. “Did Saint Paul but know four songs and deprivations,” she said confidently, “I presume he would make no objection to our pleading in public for our rights.”

Ida B. Wells: Who says you have to choose between kids and career?

While white women (who had the economic privilege of not having to work) have throughout the centuries seen a dichotomy between having children and working, black women (by sheer necessity) have not. They’ve always balanced work and family, and their contributions to the greater society have been massive.

Even highly educated white women have throughout history shown a reluctance to engage in the larger workforce because marriage and family were seen as exclusive (and highly prized) occupations. A study of an Ivy League women’s university in the late 50’s concluded that women were “convinced that the wrongs of society will gradually right themselves with little or no intervention on the part of women college students.” A study in 1956 revealed “that 60 percent of all women college dropouts left school to marry or because they were afraid too much education would be a bar to marriage” (Giddings).

It wasn’t until the “Women’s Lib” movement of the 1970’s that white women “got woke” to the problems embedded in this idea.

But black women?

In the 1890’s, Ida B. Wells-Barnett single-handedly led an anti-lynching crusade, owned her own paper, and began investigative journalism into lynchings, which forced her exile to the North. She had her first child just before the founding meeting of the NACW (National Association of Colored Women).

But 1896 was an election year, and soon after the meeting, Wells-Barnett was asked to campaign through Illinois for the Women’s State Central Committee, a Republican political organization. She accepted the invitation on the condition that arrangements be made for a nurse for her six-month-old son, Charles. The committee agreed to provide someone to take care of him in all the cities where she was scheduled to lecture. “I honestly believe,” Wells-Barnett recalled, “that I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled through the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.”

She said a year later, when she was pregnant again, that she was retiring from public life. But this lasted about five months. “A brutal lynching in South Carolina compelled her to lobby the President and Congress in Washington, D.C. Again she took a nursing infant along. This was followed by her work for the Black soldiers in the Spanish-American war, activities in the Afro-American Council, her continued anti-lynching campaign, and the birth of two more children in 1901 and 1904″ (Giddings).

Unlike the white women of the 1950’s who thought social problems would go away on their own, Ida B. Wells did something about social injustice. She loved her kids— but she realized there were other families out there besides just her own, and her contributions were needed to bring justice and safety to them as well.

How Sexist Men Change


I read an article sharing an experience with a male internet bully who called the author a “c***” for being liberal. Her sister jumped to her defense, calling out the irony of this man, a recent father of a daughter, calling another woman such a degrading term.

The point of the article was that by using degrading language toward a woman, he is fostering a culture of disrespect that will eventually harm his own daughter. He is, more or less, making it okay for someone to call his daughter a disgusting word.

He didn’t respond after that.

I thought that was brilliant. I’m a big fan of humanizing issues for others who fail to see people as anything more than living representations of evil beliefs.

But then, of course, someone responded with the oft-heard feminist complaint, “I’m frustrated that the author is encouraging the idea that women are only valuable as mothers or wives or sisters. Women are valuable because they’re human beings. Period.”

And sure, I get that. That’s the goal, isn’t it, of all efforts for equality — people are valuable as people, period. It doesn’t matter if they’re related to us or connected to us or connected to anybody else we value or connected to any other kind of person we value. We respect, honor, and protect them as humans. I agree with that. That is ideal.

But I disagree that comparing a woman to a man’s daughter or wife or mother is counterproductive to that end.

Sexism, prejudice, hate, and fear run deep. They’re also hypocritical and blind and lacking in empathy. They’re incapable of viewing people as people.

But love is powerful, even in a sexist, prejudiced, hateful, fearful person.

When we ask a man to think about how his sexism would affect a woman he loves, we are arousing love. We are arousing empathy. We are arousing protectiveness and anger on behalf of someone, even if it’s partially selfish because it’s “his” someone.

And we aren’t just inviting him to put the woman he loves in the place of the woman he just degraded. We’re inviting him to put himself in the shoes of the kind of man he would punch in the teeth on behalf of somebody he loves.

That’s a clarifying, powerful experience — to realize we are what we hate most, to realize we are perpetrating what we hate most, to realize that our actions contradict our deepest held beliefs.

If you haven’t grown up with sexism, you don’t realize how reasonable it sounds. You don’t realize how the world is taught to you, how your femininity or masculinity is explained to you, how sexism makes perfect sense given certain fundamental beliefs.

If you didn’t grow up with sexism, you don’t realize that sexist people, both men and women, really do believe in loving, respecting, and honoring other people as people. That’s a core Christian teaching — loving the other as human, standing up for them no matter what. But here’s where it gets twisted: if you’re taught that liberalism is evil, if you’re taught that God designed men and women to be happiest within distinct, predetermined roles, your “love for others” will look a lot like hate.

This is how we get devoted fathers calling other women “c***s.” This is how we get women lobbying against who they and their fellow women are. This is how we get demonstrably false ideas like men are inherently more capable of leadership than women. This is how loving, decent, God-fearing people perpetrate hate against others — all in the name of love.

This deception runs very, very deep, and only empathy and love can break it. Only by invoking the true love one has for others can someone see that the so-called “love” they have towards people they hate is horrific.

Perfect love really does cast out all fear.

It’s a process, a deconstruction, to recognize that that your “love” and “decency” and “logic” can be hateful, inhumane, and illogical. We’re really good at mixing up those things. All of us. Even those who lay down their lives in the name of equality. All of us do this, to varying degrees.

We must be patient with each other. We must celebrate the small victory of, for instance, a man seeing the horror of his comments to another woman by invoking his love for his daughter.

Later we can demand that he respect women as humans, period. But for now, we must celebrate this small victory of empathy, this small moment of awakening, this small act of love against hate.

That’s the only way a sexist man will change.

When Protecting Rights Is Immoral


Trump’s travel ban.

It’s the next thing, in a long line of things, that’s getting me to think about the difference between rights and love.

As a feminist, I obviously advocate for equal rights. I think I thought that “rights” were the highest form of justice: nobody ought to cross anybody’s rights, and once rights are “equal,” the fight’s pretty much over. Taking a stand for “rights” is always the ethical position, I assumed.

But I kept bumping up against issues and situations where ensuring “rights” not only seemed inadequate but inhumane.

The first thing was listening to pro-choice arguments. I keep a wider circle now, and the entry level pro-choice argument, the aha moment for many, is this: in no other situation is a person obligated to donate their organs, bodily tissue, or the like. It’s a noble thing to donate blood for a good cause, or give up a kidney for a dying sister, but nobody can force you to do it. You have the right to refuse. In the same way, a woman has the right to refuse “donating” her body to the fetus residing in it. It’s a noble thing to carry a fetus to term, but a woman is not obligated to do so.

Since it’s convinced so many pro-lifers to go pro-choice, I try hard to understand this argument, but frankly, I don’t. There seems to be another level of ethics beyond merely ensuring “rights” — a moral obligation that obliges you even when your “rights” excuse you. For me, that is why the pro-choice rallying cry of “my body, my choice” moves me so little.

There’s a similar attitude of “rights” when it comes to the refugee debate.

One of my friends made the connection that being pro-life involves protecting both the unborn and the refugee. Someone countered with this: “The unborn have the right not only to life, but to citizenship. Refugees do not.”

I’ve seen this sentiment in various other arguments. It boils down to “we don’t have to care, because refugees don’t have any right to be here. This is a government, after all.”

I hate this attitude that as long as it isn’t people’s “right” to our care and protection, we can turn them away, we can let them suffer, we can ignore their problems, and we can feel morally justifiable in doing so.

It’s a heartless sort of morality, a cold, technical, calculating sort of morality.

It breaks my heart, these sorts of arguments. “You don’t have to carry your child to term, so murder is totally okay.” “You don’t have to welcome refugees to your country, so sending them back to the horrors of a war-torn country after potentially robbing them of their only chance of a better future is perfectly justifiable.” “You don’t have to help that person bleeding out on the side of the road, so just walk right on by.”

Obviously, things get more complicated when it’s a government acting under moral obligation rather than individual citizens, and we can debate to what extent governments as governments fall under moral obligation to welcome refugees, especially if and when it threatens the safety of its citizens.

Obviously, things are more complicated when conflicting obligations cross paths, period — like choosing between the life of the mother and the child, or stopping to pick up a hitchhiker when you’re a petite female with no self-defense skills, or any number of situations where it’s not clear what’s heroic, what’s stupid, and what’s unhelpful.

I don’t want to make an easy proscription of what to do or not do in all the complicated, conflicting ethical situations we face as a nation, as a pregnant woman, or as individuals in our day-to-day lives. I don’t want to simplify any of this.

But I do want us to think about the possibility of being morally obligated to do something even if it transgress our rights.

Our morality should be empathetic, human, and, yes, sacrificial. Our morality should protect not only people’s “rights,” but also people themselves.

We are morally obligated to protect and care for others even at the potential cost of our rights, even if they have no right to ask.

Women’s March

qc6vnbe4jqs-jerry-kiesewetterI thought about entitling this “Why I Didn’t March” to practice my clickbaiting skills.

I didn’t march because I forgot it was happening. And I didn’t say anything about it because when it did happen, it was by turns so embarrassing and empowering and confusing and controversial and awesome that I didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

I have three thoughts:

(1) Some of the signs, attire, attitudes, and rhetoric made me think of an Onion article called “Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years”:

“I’d always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-crazed deviants was just a destructive myth,” said mother of four Hannah Jarrett, 41, mortified at the sight of 17 tanned and oiled boys cavorting in jock straps to a throbbing techno beat on a float shaped like an enormous phallus. “Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong.”

I feel the same way with the feminist movement, sometimes. I try so hard to convince my friends, family, and acquaintances that feminists are just normal people with normal concerns about legitimate issues, and then women wear vaginas around their heads, march naked, and scream about nasty women.*

Of course those are the only incidents of the march that the anti-feminists will see.

Sometimes feminists complain about how anti-feminists view them as angry, loud, obnoxious women with no moral compass, and I just glare at vagina-head.

* I get that the nasty women and pussy power rhetoric was ironic. Anti-feminists don’t.

(2) That said, it’s freaking awesome to me that something called the “Women’s March” spawned the largest U.S. protest, with zero arrests reported; it occurred on every continent; and it brought together a ton of different people. That massive accomplishment is associated primarily with women, the “weaker sex,” the ones “Biblically unfit for leadership.”

That’s a satisfying historical moment.

(3) Speaking of which, one of the most grating things about all the Christian anti-feminist responses is the ignorance about female oppression and sexism within Christianity itself. Someone wrote a many-times-shared “list” of all the freedoms women in America have compared to women elsewhere, implying that it’s ridiculous for American women to claim any sort of systemic oppression from patriarchy. (We’ve all seen similar posts.)

Personally, I have not experienced workplace discrimination. I have not experienced sexual harassment or assault. I am underpaid because I am a teacher, not a woman. I have, for the most part, encountered respectful men. I am not a person of color or an immigrant or a Muslim.

But I have experienced sexism and discrimination, and I experienced it all within Christianity.

Whenever I see this argument, that don’t see any real female oppression happening, I want to say this:

Open your eyes. Now look at your church. Now look at your beliefs. Now look at mainstream Christian culture. Now tell me, with a straight face, that there isn’t any real female oppression happening.

You won’t.

The worst part is that most won’t, because sexism within Christianity is so bad that it’s not even recognized as sexism. It’s Biblically sanctioned sexism.

Christians have told me and many other women, “You can’t do that because you’re a woman.”

That is straight-up sexism.

Our voices, our personalities, our gifts, our perspectives, and, in extreme but all-too-frequent cases, our lives have been repressed. That’s not even getting into the mess certain complementarian and patriarchal beliefs have made of people’s identities, marriages, and families.

Sure, women can pretty much “do as they please” in the secular world, give or take the challenges, but in mainstream Christianity, the majority still think that women are subordinate to men in some way, shape, or form. A vocal part of Christianity is even willing to risk Trinitarian heresy rather than revoke their views on women’s eternal subordination to man.

Even women support these things.

You know you’ve got a problem with patriarchy when it’s the women who argue most vehemently for the subordination of their fellow women.

I know, I really do know, that respectful, thoughtful men and women believe the Bible does not support women in leadership, whether in the home or in the church or in the secular world. I see how and why they came to those conclusions, and I see how and why they still hold to those conclusions (see first point, for example).

But it’s still sexism, no matter how you hermeneutically slice it.

Last Saturday, I hope there were feminists marching to protest Christian sexism, because that patriarchal beast is still alive and well.

Stay-at-Home Daughters


Ashley Easter and I both wrote for the patriarchal, stay-at-home daughter site called “Raising Homemakers.” Unbeknownst to each other, we both left patriarchalism (and subsequently the stay-at-home daughter life) and became egalitarians. Just last year, we reconnected and shared our whys and hows of leaving.

She recently invited me to write a guest post on why I left the stay-at-home daughter ideology behind, and added a helpful addendum on the three waves of the stay-at-home daughter movement. Pop on over!

Girly Girl Feminist

A photo by Leonardo Wong. unsplash.com/photos/7pGehyH7o64

I felt a little silly writing about pretty things as a feminist.

We fought so long to wear pants, dig in the dirt, and kick off our high heels. We collapsed the naive idea that all women fall or ought to fall into traditionally feminine categories. Can’t boys enjoy more feminine things too — pink and paisley and skinny jeans? Shouldn’t we encourage girls to go hunt dragons instead of find wonder in pretty things?

There is, admittedly, nothing revolutionary about me as a woman enjoying pretty things. I’m not making counter-cultural waves by stepping out in pearl studs, pink pants, and a floral top. I’m not advancing women’s rights to be whoever they are by frequenting fashion and style blogs and buying more than one lipstick color. I fall into many generic female stereotypes, particularly when it comes to how I dress.

But I believe, however contrary this fits into perceptions of feminism, that egalitarianism is about letting a woman be her own person outside of the pressures of female stereotypes.

Every group has its stereotypes and its own pressure to fit them, whether that comes from actual demands or just glancing around and realizing most people in a group looks this one way.

I lived the stay-at-home daughter life, with the stay-at-home daughter wardrobe of long skirts and feminine-cut blouses. (I missed the memo on “tight enough to show you’re a woman, loose enough to show you’re a lady.” I lived too much in my head to know the first thing about makeup, style, or buying clothes in my correct size, so I rocked the frumpy fundie look for most of my life. The pillars of the stay-at-home daughter movement would have surely shaken their heads at my inability to be feminine and modest.)

When I became egalitarian, I learned that many feminists hated dresses and skirts — an impractical hindrance, an invention of patriarchal man. My mom’s general guideline was if you can’t do it in a skirt, you shouldn’t do it at all, so I managed to find a way to do everything in a skirt — climbing trees, hiking, sledding, volleyball, you name it.

Long skirts and I are well-acquainted. Before I discovered fleece leggings, I even preferred long skirts for winter months — they were built-in blankets for my freezing toes. On the coldest winter nights, I miss the fleece nightgown I lost during a winter/spring wardrobe transition.

I walked away from that mandated style stereotype still loving skirts, even long skirts. Now, as a liberated female, I know they’re called “maxi” skirts and come in more fabrics than khaki and denim. But as much as I thank the good Lord every day that I now own a comfy pair of skinny jeans, I can’t join in with my feminist friends’ diatribes against skirts.

Despite the Biblical mandates to dress femininely in my patriarchal circle, I didn’t discover a love for feminine things until my post-patriarchal years. My then-boyfriend, being the good soul he is, didn’t start teasing me about my frumpy homeschool outfits until after I revamped my wardrobe.

Pearls and pastels and nude heels — that’s the style I expressed my new egalitarian self as.

Feminism doesn’t mandate a specific way of dress the way patriarchalism does, but there’s still unintentional pressure (mostly in my head) to be as disassociated with stereotypical femininity as possible. I wonder if I’m complicit in the sexualization of women by buying makeup and wearing high heels and finding joy in pretty things. I wonder if I’m selling myself short.

And yes, absolutely, no woman should feel forced to wear makeup, and sure, a man invented high heels, and of course, a woman’s worth isn’t and shouldn’t be wrapped up in her appearance. I will fight for that and support any woman who hits the streets make-up-less in Nikes, a pixie cut, and boyfriend jeans. I don’t think a particular style has anything to do with a woman’s true femininity, her true womanliness.

So for me, my particular style, as stereotypical as it is, is how I express my personhood and my femininity. As a feminist, I style how I style not because I’m required to, not because it makes me a woman, but because this is me, this is my art, this is my interest, this is where I find some goodness and beauty in an ugly world.

Even with the dowdy, bra-burning stereotype still dominating the public’s view of feminism, there’s plenty of room in the egalitarian ideology for me, a girly-girl, the not-so-girly girls, and the women who resent the word “girl” in reference to themselves. Egalitarianism is about personhood, not maintaining stereotypes, even if a woman looks like an anti-feminist stereotype.

What’s your relationship with the stereotypical feminine style? Love it, hate it, somewhere in between?

Coming Out Egalitarian: When Relationships Change


I married a somewhat Catholic man. By “somewhat,” I mean that he no longer receives communion at Catholic churches. By “Catholic,” I mean that he still values his Catholic background (as do I, now that I’ve gotten over my prejudice). We navigated our relationship from my anti-Catholic Calvinism to our mutual love of Orthodoxy. We married in a Baptist church without a Catholic dispensation and without Erich formally renouncing the Catholic Church. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, that makes our marriage invalid.

We’ve had quite the ride with Catholicism, and I occasionally get asked for Catholic/Protestant relationship advice. I got asked, once, how to build relationships with Catholic in-laws who were upset their son left the Catholic Church.

I shared a general truth that I think underlies almost all relationship tiffs regarding religious beliefs: do your best to affirm their lives and choices, because they’re afraid of your rejection and judgment.

It’s a hard thing to see someone you used to agree with take a turn she swore against taking, especially if she joins forces with the opposite “side” like Catholicism — or egalitarianism.

Things get awkward. Words no longer have the same connotations, so “feminism,” “trigger,” and “rape culture” are now legitimate concepts rather than the butt end of jokes. You can’t rant about the same things in the same way without one of you feeling a little uncomfortable. You now avoid topics you once spoke about solely with that other person. You rack your brain to remember if complementarians agree with the side comment that almost came out of your mouth. Your heart-to-hearts sometimes sound like polite discourse between two strangers sharing “interesting opinions.” You find yourself saying, “Well, kind of” rather than, “Exactly!“, and you get familiar with that frustrating phrase, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

You don’t want it to, but sometimes, when issues and positions are so polarized, it feels like a Yankee and a Confederate soldier meeting over the river at Christmas to share a cigarette. You’re both Christians. You both ought to feel like you’re on the same side, but there’s that obvious egalitarian/complementarian battle between you, and your camps lie on opposite banks of the river.

I wish I could say that was hyperbole, but in my experience, it isn’t.

It breaks my heart when complementarians begin, “I’m complementarian (please don’t shoot me).” They feel the need to apologize or go into a submissive posture so they don’t get gunned down by angry feminist rhetoric. They’re used to hearing how sexist, oppressive, and unjust complementarianism is, without hearing a calm, reasoned explanation from Scripture. They worry if egalitarians view them as less-than women, as illogical, as stupid, as whatever negative stereotype operates behind egalitarian lines, these days.

Because of this, some complementarians walk on eggshells. But some of them come at you with both barrels blasting.

They call you “liberal.” They insinuate you’re going to hell. They bully, name-call, and manipulate. They question your motives. They see you only as an egalitarian stereotype instead of their friend, sister, daughter, and fellow Christian.

I’ve seen that same thing over and over again with women who leave hyper-complementarian and patriarchal families and churches.

And I want to tell them, to tell any woman who’s coming out egalitarian, that it’s not you. It’s them. Particularly, it’s their fear of rejection. They’re afraid you see them as misguided and un-Christian. They’re afraid you’ll call them “fundie” and “judgmental.” They’re afraid they, their convictions, their beliefs, and their relationship with you will be lumped in with what you feel oppressed you,* that you’ll begin to fire away at them in your war on patriarchy.

So they shoot first.

That’s what I told the girl who asked me about her Catholic in-laws: above all else, demonstrate understanding and respect, and make it clear that your husband’s rejection of Catholicism is not a rejection of his family.

The dynamics will shift a bit, yes. There’s definitely isolation and awkwardness when you part ways with, much less oppose, something fundamental to your family or social group.

But personally, I’ve found that grace, openness, and respect go a long way to maintain and even deepen relationships with people who no longer share all my convictions. You start to build a new, better foundation — one built on your commitment to each other and to those fundamentals, whether human or Christian, that will always unite you.

*Obviously, many women have experienced oppression from their families and churches and must make the hard decision to walk away from the people as well as the ideology. That’s an issue I’ve never personally faced, but my heart goes out to those women. I hope this post doesn’t seem simplistic or discouraging in light of their more difficult situation. 

Why Honoring Woman Might Be Keeping Women Down


I ran across this article a few days ago, hailed as a “spot on” understanding of gender and marriage. It’s called “Why Man and Woman Are Not Equal.”

I thought, at first, it was a click-baity title, but no, for real, the point of the article is

Man and woman are not equal. He owes what he is to her. … Woman is the most powerful living force on the globe. She creates, shapes, and sustains human civilization. The first step in weakening her power is to convince her that she must overcome her femininity.

This article is a typical complementarian trope I call “pedestaling woman” — elevating the feminine, “the woman” singular, to untouchable heights on account of her world-changing femininity.

It seems nice, of course, for a man to say that man and woman are not equal, but then name woman as superior — the moral force, the hand that rules the world because it rocks the cradle, the good woman behind every great man. This sort of humility and reverence feels refreshing after all the catcalls and the criticisms for women’s career and home choices.

I think pedestaling woman is a major draw for complementarian and patriarchal women. Finally, a gender theory that values women for their more “feminine” side, their contributions to the home and family, their homemaking hobbies and heart. In this circle, women don’t feel second-class because they choose to homeschool or manage the home full-time. Women don’t need to climb corporate ladders to gain power. They just need to marry, rock the cradle, and bake the homemade bread to be “the most powerful living force on the globe.”

I’m glad for safe places that honor so highly the “feminine” (and with it, marriage, motherhood, and homemaking), especially for women who face opposition in those areas.

But that is the problem with this gender theory: it values woman but not necessarily women. It values femininity but not necessarily females.

Those who pedestal woman see next to no problem affirming the awesome value of femininity in the world and getting red-faced at the idea of a woman actually using all of her gifts, particularly in the church. Women like me, whose gifts and personality do not easily lend themselves to the “woman” this theory pedestals, are criticized on the grounds of their lack of femininity. Unladylike. Unwomanly.

It’s an awkward moment when your own personhood conflicts with womanhood, and womanhood wins.

According to this theory, regardless of women’s virtues, gifts, or personality, they fall short as persons if they fall short of “woman.”

This is an ancient idea, present in even the most oppressive, misogynistic cultures. Prudence Allen, author of The Concept of Woman, calls this gender theory “reverse sex polarity”: men and women are different, and women are superior.

For example, the Neo-Pythagorean female philosopher Perectione I (a rarity, since most philosophical schools prohibited women on account of their “mental and spiritual inferiority”) juxtaposed the lascivious, intemperate husband with the virtuous, pure wife who maintains the household, the marriage bed, and the family reputation. This situation makes woman the superior gender.

Since woman is the largest moral force on the globe, you see, a lack of femininity will cause the world to collapse under the weight of immoral single men in want of a wife.

As I quoted above, a woman’s greatest contribution to society in this theory is her “femininity,” loosely defined in this case as her moral reforming force on men. Above all else, the article warns, women must preserve their femininity. And yes, sure, of course “woman should have equality in the workplace, in politics, and in the public square,” but none of that matters if a woman is in any way unfeminine.

In other words, inequality isn’t great, but it’s not as devastating as the blurring of the feminine with the masculine.

Pardon my feminist interjection, but seriously?

This article operates on the naive assumption that “equality” and “inequality” are easy words to bat around when discussing gender, as if equality still isn’t an issue for many men and women today, as if misogyny and discrimination don’t exist, as if it’s not offensive in any way, shape, or form to call anybody, male or female, “unequal” on account of their gender.

In fact, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why, after writing an article on how men and women are different and how women, in particular, make men better, the author concludes that men and women are not equal. Why not conclude that men and women are “different” or “dependent”? How does men and women being different and dependent make them unequal? What is the correlation between difference and equality?

But then I remembered all the times sensible complementarians told me they couldn’t ever be egalitarian because they believe men and women are different. It seems that complementarians struggle with the concept that being equal does not exclude being different and that saying someone is “unequal” is offensive, period.

Unwittingly, complementarianism has emphasized the importance of women staying women and men staying men at the expense of pursuing equality. Complementarians tend to err on the side of worshiping the woman on the pedestal rather than seeking justice for the women right next to them.

I don’t buy into the flattering but laughable idea that women rule the world and reform people in any greater way than men do. It’s not true that the women in my life are any more nurturing and morally influential than the men in my life. Every man and woman affirms and contradicts what’s “feminine” and “masculine,” to the point where those terms are nearly useless.

I can’t say with a straight face that I’m more virtuous and responsible than my husband. I’m more Type A, yes, because I’m me. I’m nurturing enough to work with kindergartners because I’m me. And my husband has always taken care of me, particularly when it comes to eating, and he has always been great with comforting, supporting, and accepting others in a distinctly Erich way.

There’s a dark side of pedestaling woman, the shadow from the pedestal, if you will. It ignores injustice against women, plural. It hurries over the individual virtues, gifts, and personalities of actual women and men. It wants to preserve something nebulous — the difference between the sexes — sometimes at the expense of promoting actual virtues and protecting actual people.

Honestly, reverse gender polarity is just as sexist as regular ol’ sexism. Any theory that limits, maligns, or misunderstands men and women on account of their sex — that’s sexism. And that’s exactly what pedestaling woman does.

In the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. — St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:11