Month: August 2013

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 #6

Faith in Feminism is a new website/project set up by Vicky Beeching to host conversations on religion and gender equality. It launched this week and one of the first posts published on the site is:

Isn’t religion largely homophobic? – an interview with Rachel Mann

We do no honour to the Bible if we treat it like the spiritual equivalent of one of those old Hayne’s Car Manuals, simply offering a step by step way to holy living. Feminist scholars like myself have been keen to outline how some parts of the Bible are ‘texts of terror’ against women; black and womanist theologians have done the same with biblical texts which are used against ethnic minorities. We need to acknowledge that the so-called ‘Seven Knock-Down Passages’ against gay folk are texts of terror too – that is, they have been used to legitimate hate, prejudice and violence. 

Kicking the trolls off the bridge – Bekah Legg

And my eleven-year-old is a hero because she has gone back to camp. She’s not going to sleep there but she has decided that one silly little boy is not going to spoil her fun. She is not going to withdraw from a space that she loves, a space where she connects with other people and with God because of a bully who thinks it’s funny to threaten people.

A chat with Mikki Kendall and Flavia Dzodan about #solidarityisforwhitewomen – The Hairpin

The more I typed the more things sprang to mind because I’d been looking at a lot of major issues that just go unreported in magazines that were theoretically by women, for women. Somehow the survival, safety and security of WOC (cis and trans), of poor women, of disabled women, of undocumented women, of anyone that wasn’t a white middle class/upper middle class woman felt unimportant relative to creature comforts and makeup choices.

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen: women of color’s issue with digital feminism – Mikki Kendall at CiF

As the hashtag spread across Twitter, people from all walks of life started joining in – to vent their own personal frustrations, as well as to address larger political issues. Feminism as a global movement meant to unite all women has global responsibilities, and – as illustrated by hundreds of tweets – has failed at one of the most basic: it has not been welcoming to all women, or even their communities.

Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism – Laurie Penny

Somehow, it is still hard to talk to men about sexism without meeting a wall of defensiveness that shades into outright hostility, even violence. Anger is an entirely appropriate response to learning that you’re implicated in a system that oppresses women – but the solution isn’t to direct that anger back at women. The solution isn’t to shut down debate by accusing us of “reverse sexism”, as if that will somehow balance out the problem and stop you feeling so uncomfortable.

An open letter to parish councils and church leadership – Sharon Harding

We heard many stories about wonderful congregations who do a fantastic job of welcoming young children and their families into their midst. Congregations who make a point of encouraging and affirming parents, who value the contribution that children make to their worship. It was wonderful! We also heard stories about people in congregations who were not so welcoming. This message was communicated in a variety of ways and included hurtful comments, eye rolling, sighs of impatience and a general attitude of impatience and annoyance directed towards the lively chatter of young children. The stories broke my heart.

Catholic church turns against feminist writers – Daily Pioneer

The Catholic Church in Kerala has been witnessing more and more calls for freedom and expression of dissatisfaction from among its nuns in recent times. Sr Jesme, a nun who had served the Church for 30 years had in 2009 shocked it with her autobiography, “Amen”, which described the sexual repressions, intimidation, harassment and more in the church and convents.

Restored, in association with Christianity magazine, is running a survey on domestic abuse and the church. Please complete if you can and/or share with people you know.

Southwark Cathedral Feminist Theology Group is hosting an event entitled “A Woman’s Place is in the Re-Imagining of the Church”. The event will take place at the cathedral on 26 September at 6:30pm. Click for more details.

If you’re heading to Greenbelt next week, Sunday afternoon will see a talk entitled “What Women (In the Church) Want” – a discussion featuring Vicky Beeching, Rachel Mann, Lucy Winkett, Marika Rose, and Chine Mbubaegbu. It’s at the Big Top at 4pm.

Weekly round-up #5

The fight for feminism – Vicky Beeching

The Twittersphere is often a nasty place. I fell in love with social media back when I lived in California and the social media revolution was first born on the West Coast. I quickly fell out of love with social media when the police had to move me out of my apartment overnight due to rape and death threats. These were sparked by me simply being a woman who put her head above the parapet on issues of gender equality.

Twitter is not the problem. Porn is – Tanya Marlow

Porn is normal, and by normal, I mean that it has become ubiquitous, not that is is healthy. I was once party to a conversation where soldiers’ wives were choosing the best porn magazines to send to their men away at war. One soldier’s mother had helpfully sent a few magazines to her daughter-in-law. They were chatting about it like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Caroline Criado-Perez: ‘Twitter has enabled people to behave in a way they wouldn’t face to face’ – Guardian

I ask Criado-Perez why she thinks social media has unleashed this plague of misogyny. “It’s been going on for millennia. Women have always been put in their place and kept there through the threat of sexual violence. What social media has done is enable people to behave in way they wouldn’t face to face. There’s a feeling that they are anonymous and people can’t find them, and there’s also research into how people need to see a face in order to feel empathy, and if you don’t have that then you feel you can fire off this sort of stuff.”

When we are more interested in evangelical in-fighting than serious issues of justice – Rachel Marie Stone

Even as I’m writing posts like the one on chaining laboring inmates, I know that they’ll get only a little attention.

And that’s fine. I don’t write what I think will be popular, I write what I think is true and important.

But it does annoy me that when I write posts about ‘biblical’ gender roles or bikinis or modesty or whatever the issue of outrage du jour happens to be, the sparks of interest fly.

A theology of women? What did Pope Francis mean? – Washington Post

“A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.” 

“The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework …we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the church.”

How the government’s legal aid cuts will affect victims of trafficking and domestic violence – New Statesman

For charities working with victims of trafficking, the ongoing failings in the government’s approach are deeply worrying. Dr Russell Hargrave of Asylum Aid explains:

“Most victims of trafficking are terrified of the consequences if they ask for help. It’s difficult to exaggerate the hold that traffickers can have over them, so victims need to know there is support there when they need it. “But the current system falls way, way short. And instead of trying to improve the way people are treated, the government is restricting access to legal aid for anyone who needs to challenge the system’s myriad failings. I can’t see trafficking decisions improving, only more victims being abandoned to their fate”.

‘Lads’ mags’ given cover-up deadline by Co-operative – BBC News

The 4,000-outlet retailer said it was responding to concerns by its members, customers and colleagues about images of scantily-clad women on covers.

Titles such as Front, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo have been given a deadline of 9 September by the Co-op.

Find out more about the recently-announced cross-denominational Kyria Conference, taking place in London on October 12th.

Finally, are you a woman under the age of 40 who was ordained before the age of 35? If so, the Young Clergy Women Project Europe may be for you. A Facebook group to offer support, share ideas, and chat to colleagues.