gender equality

CFN at UK Feminista Summer School

Natalie Collins blogs about facilitating a workshop entitled ‘Religion, Faith and Feminist Activism’ at UK Feminista’s Summer School last weekend.

As a Christian it is often a struggle to feel fully part of the feminist movement. With many feminists stating that religion is a patriarchal construct, and having personally having been told by a feminist organisation I worked for that it would never be appropriate for me to mention my faith during my work, it is difficult to feel part of the sisterhood. Similarly in the church, I often feel like an anomaly as I bring a feminist perspective to sermons, songs and home groups, to the point where I often avoid small groups as I know I’m unlikely to fit in.

So it was great to be able to be involved in running a workshop at UK Feminista’s Summer School in Birmingham. The weekend-long event had a rich and varied programme, a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere and lots and lots of wonderful feminists. I was originally asked to participate in a panel with feminists from different faith and religious communities, as a representative of the Christian Feminist Network, however I ended up facilitating the session, with two Muslim women, Maria and Ujoor, sharing their experiences alongside me sharing mine.

The session was wonderful. We had over fifty people attend, with individuals self-identifying as Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, spiritual, exploring faith and atheist. Some people felt committed to their faith, whereas others felt that their faith was something they had inherited and in that way was a part of their identity.

The dialogue was open and respectful. The Summer School organisers had shared with me that some issues of Islamophobia had been raised in other sessions, and so we ensured the session was introduced as a space for respectful dialogue. People shared their views and experiences of being people of faith, and how for some, feminism was an extension and complemented their faith identity. Some people couldn’t understand why feminism seems to be seen as an atheist movement, which allowed those who self-identify as atheist to share their views.

One woman commented on how women who wear very little clothing are seen by society as “sluts”, whereas women who wear the hijab are seen as being oppressed. She said she felt it would be wonderful if, in the same way as feminists had started “slutwalks” to declare that women should be able to wear little or no clothing and not be victimised, feminists could also stop seeing women who choose to cover their heads or bodies as oppressed.

It was wonderful to hear Maria and Ujoor’s stories of being Muslim activists, and Maria discussed how we shouldn’t blame Islam for oppressing women, focusing instead on the fact that it is those who choose to use Islam as an excuse to oppress and abuse women. Maria and Ujoor shared how they felt frustrated when people think that Muslim women are a homogenous group, when each woman and their individual communities have very different experiences and values.

We discussed our various experiences of being feminists of faith, and those within the group who were atheists listened and heard our views. The session finished with me sharing some of my story, of how I grew up in a Christian home and how Christian teaching had disabled me from making good choices, leading to me experiencing abuse, but also how it was through my faith in God that I was able to make it through the most difficult period in my life. I shared of working within the feminist world and the challenges I had faced and also the Christian leader who had told me she had to have the “spirit of feminism” cast out of her.

I concluded by talking about the similarities of faith communities and the feminist community. Each is full of flawed people, with a shared set of values and principles, which are perceived differently by every individual, a community of people trying to be on the same page, though with different priorities, perceptions and life experiences. My observation is that the feminist dialogue about trans* people looks very similar to the Christian dialogue regarding the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people.

After I finished, we separated into groups of people with the same faith and had some time sharing and discussing. Some of us swapped details and hope to stay in contact. Many shared with me how useful the workshop had been and how much they appreciated the space, both people of faith and those without.

A big thank you must be given to UK Feminista for being intentional in creating a space for people of faith and as we continue to have respectful and open dialogue I hope and pray, as do all those at the Christian Feminist Network, that we might get to a place where people of faith truly know we fit within feminism and are more equipped to challenge misconceptions within our faith communities.

Weekly round-up #2

If God invented sex, how come it’s so complicated? – El Edwards at Threads

“We were taught how difficult it can be if you’re having sex when you’re not married. At Friday night youth meetings in church it would be drilled into us how messy and complicated and heartbreaking sex before marriage is.

What no one ever told us is how complicated sex can be when you are married.”

Reform appoints Susie Leafe as its first Director – Reform

“Susie Leafe is a member of the General Synod and played a prominent role in the debate on women bishops. Organising a campaign under the banner ‘Proper Provision’, Mrs Leafe gave voice to over 2000 female lay members of the Church of England who believed that the now failed legislative proposals on women bishops did not make adequate provision for those who had theological objections to this development.”

Feminists still have to do stunts to be heard – Barbara Ellen

“I’m not telling anyone to sit down, shut up, or put their tops back on. There is a place in this world for the audacious guerilla-feminist. I’m just wondering if sometimes this approach plays into enemy hands, in a way that is counterproductive. Is there room for a debate about the tipping point where intention is trumped by perception. After all, feminism isn’t supposed to be some ideological pop-up shop, on an endless recurring cycle of suddenly appearing and (just as suddenly) disappearing.”

Wendy Davis channels anger of millions as new Texas makes itself heard – Guardian

“The day’s dramatic events that captivated people across the country – the 11-hour filibuster, the dramatic fight over arcane Senate rules, and the decisive 15 minutes of ear-splitting whooping and hollering from the gallery – were the result of political tensions building in Texas for years.

There’s a saying: ‘Texas is paradise for men and dogs, but hell for women and horses.’ That’s a little outdated and not completely accurate: in fact, horses are treated pretty well here. Women in Texas have had a difficult time.”

What armchair commentators say about your feminism doesn’t matter – Karen Pickering

“Your feminism needn’t be immune to new ideas that will challenge and strengthen it. But crucially, it’s yours. It’s yours to work on and work through and it takes energy and thought every day. It may thrive if you harness your energies alongside other likeminded people and organise collectively, but it will still be valuable if you perform it by having mind-changing conversations at your kitchen table, back fence, church or union meeting.”

Modern feminism – Woman’s Hour

“Jenni Murray meets the young activists getting involved in feminist campaigns. What the issues which are uniting feminists? What subjects divide them? Is feminism too white, too exclusive, too middle class or are new voices being attracted to the cause? Why are feminist groups making the headlines now and what can they learn from the earlier waves of activists?”

Sun’s Page 3 photos of topless women will stay, says new editor – Guardian

“Speaking on the radio station LBC 97.3 on Wednesday morning, Dinsmore said that Page 3 would remain in the paper despite growing criticism from campaigners.

 He compared Page 3 to a new exhibition of erotic Japanese paintings at the British Museum in London and said: ‘This stuff at the British Museum is far more explicit and raunchy.’ “

The Patriarchy: is the concept still relevant to feminism? – The Quail Pipe

“So, viewing The Patriarchy as the enemy is no longer crucial to the feminist agenda. A trans women isn’t going to have equal protection from the authorities until there’s no transphobia. A black woman isn’t going to have equal job opportunities until there’s no racism. If feminism is all about women being equal to men, then intersectionality is essential. By focussing too heavily on the patriarchy there is a risk of ignoring intersectionality and fighting for middle-class straight white women’s rights while larger issues go unaddressed and many women benefit much less from the achievements of feminism.”

A review of Nefarious: another misguided approach to sex trafficking – From Two To One

“We all need to come to terms with the why of human trafficking. For the makers and proponents of the message behind Nefarious, the why may be the battle between good and evil in the world. From a Christian perspective, sin and the subsequent brokenness of our world is absolutely the root of this evil. But saying that human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, exists because our sinful nature — it being a spiritual and moral issue primarily — is not the most precise answer, nor is it the most actionable.”

What gender equality looks like in practice: a call for responses

by Jenny Baker

If you ask people whether they believe in the equality of women and men, most of them are likely to say ‘yes’. If you look at the way those people live – and I include myself in this – I wonder if you would see that equality put into practice. It’s so easy to fall into patterns of living and behaving that follow the entrenched gender stereotypes of society rather than modelling the equality and partnership between men and women that God intended. 

So how can we be intentional about putting equality into practice at home, in the church and at work? How do we resist stereotypes and play to our strengths rather than following prescribed roles? Who are the people who have wrestled with some of this and can show us the way? Where are our companions on the journey who can challenge us, support us and talk things through? 

I’m writing a book on the equality of men and women and what that looks like in practice. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences and want to include some ‘real life’ stories in the book. I’ve set up a survey with the following questions to capture responses, and you’ll be able to specify how you want me to use your contribution. You don’t have to answer all the questions – just those where you have something you’d like to say. Click here to see the survey and let me know what you think.

• How have you tried to put equality into practice at home, church or work? How have you been intentional about sharing responsibilities or making sure people have the same opportunities? 

• Where have you experienced inequality at home, church or work – for example people having different expectations or standards for women or men, or treating them differently?

• Where do you see inequalities between men and women that you think Christians should be addressing?

• Are there areas where we should accept inequality between men and women – that’s how God designed us?

• Do you have any tips on practicing equality for specific groups of people – single people, married people, men, women, parents…? 

Thank you very much in advance. If you want to contact me directly, please email jenbaker@btopenworld.com. 

Jenny Baker has been championing the equality of women and men in the church for many years. She has a masters in gender studies and is co-founder for the Sophia Network for women in leadership. She works for Church Urban Fund and lives in London.