Christian Feminist Q & A – Jendella Benson

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in London. A lot of my work is focused on telling stories that are under- or misrepresented, and I do a lot of things to do with race, faith, identity, and motherhood. I’m also a wife and new mother.

Tell  us a bit about your faith background. How long have you been a Christian? Do you attend church and if so, what denomination/church group/expression of church?

I’ve been brought up in the church, mainly in Pentecostal-type multicultural churches in the Midlands. I first became a serious Christian when I was about fourteen or fifteen. It’s been a rocky road, but I’m still here. Now I attend a church that I guess falls into the “reformed” bracket, affiliated with the Calvary Chapel group of churches.

I’ve actually had conversations with other feminists about this because I guess many reformed folk, and those associated with Calvary Chapel would consider themselves “complementarian” rather than “egalitarian”, and some wonder how I can reconcile going to a “complementarian” church as a feminist. But that is probably another conversation all together!

Tell me about how you first came to identify as a feminist.

I was writing about the representation of Black women in British TV and film for my undergraduate dissertation. In my research I came across the work of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and Imani Perry. While I knew about feminism and felt some kind of agreement in theory, in practice I thought that it wasn’t for me. Feminism always seemed very white and middle class and preoccupied with things that I couldn’t directly relate to, or I felt secondary to other concerns. Discovering these black feminist academics introduced me to Black Feminism, or Womanism – and I immediately identified with it.

Have you ever struggled with perceiving a conflict between your feminism and your faith? Or for you, have the two always naturally sat together? How did you come to reconcile the two?

As I was reading and researching I saw a natural alliance between the heart of Christianity and the aims of feminism. I even saw a direct connection in the ways that I feel both have been misrepresented or misunderstood. There has never been a conflict for me, only conflicts with other Christians who believe that I should be conflicted.

Are you/have you been involved in feminist/gender equality activism or initiatives?

I think most of, if not all of my work is a form of activism, because my convictions very much dictate what I do. I don’t think I’ve really pegged my name to one thing in particular other than my project, Young Motherhood, which addresses the myths and stereotypes to do with young mothers and their families in the UK. I think I just generally try to support whatever I can within whatever means I have.

Which feminist issues would you say are a key focus for you and why?

I guess right now I’m very preoccupied with motherhood and the way that mothers are perceived in society and the burdens placed on them. Even before I became a mum myself I was working on Young Motherhood, and now that I am a mum I’m obviously thinking about it all the time. My new column for Media Diversified is an off-shoot of that.

Has your feminism changed over time? If so, how?

When I first began identifying as a feminist I wanted to help other people, particularly other Christians, understand and empathise and address some of the imbalances and aberrations present in Christianity and churches today. I started a video blog series talking through faith and feminism, I spent a lot of time in conversation with others on- and offline about it. As feminism began to grow in terms of its presence in popular culture I began to feel exhausted by the label. It felt like, and it still feels like to a certain degree, it has become this thing that everyone embraces for cultural brownie points but what they practically do is still very much in the same vein of consumerist, patriarchal, image-conscious, vacuous social norms but it’s still “feminism” because they say it is.

I admit I’m very much exhausted by a lot of the online discourse. I want to see and get in with the folk who do feminism as a practical tangible thing that is making concrete and lasting change. I feel the thing we do nowadays is talk and write think-pieces and argue on Twitter about it. I don’t want to do that anymore. Conversation is definitely important and I’m not disowning the label, I just want to direct my energy towards living out my convictions, rather than just making statements.

Are there any particular women (‘famous’ or not) who you consider an influence or inspiration? What about women in scripture?

Yes, so, so many. I’m gonna skip the famous headliners and thing on a more personal level: Samantha Asamadu (Media Diversified), Bim Adewunmi (BuzzFeed/The Guardian), Siana Bangura (author/journalist), Florence Adepoju (MDMflow), Obui Amaechi (creative director/powerhouse)…I’m just gonna end up listing all my friends because I see all the things that they face and the way they power through is a constant reminder of strength.

This sisterhood of real life women, not born into privilege or easy means, just living life, loving, supporting, and championing each other is amazing. That’s like grassroots feminism, none of the glossy magazine covers and charming interviews, just the blood sweat and tears of women fighting for their wholeness mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

If you’re involved in the secular feminist movement, how do you think being a Christian feminist is viewed, in general? What experiences have you had?

I have been more so previously than right now. I’m somewhat of a recluse at the moment. I think that in circles that I’m in it’s often met with curiosity, particularly because of the cultural variations of Christianity that many Black women have experienced when we start thinking about colonialism and imperialism on top on sexism and misogyny. People are generally quite open though, they can see that I’m an intelligent and thoughtful human being so they are often interested in how I reconcile feminism, Christianity and Blackness.

What attitudes towards feminism have you experienced from other Christians and the church?

Oh gosh, I’ve had all sorts. From openness and interest through to thinly veiled insults and feeling ambushed at certain events or discussions. The more negative reactions come from people who don’t know me and that I’m not “in community” with, so while they may be immediately frustrating and upsetting, I soon forget about them.

What do you think about the current ‘state of feminism’? The last decade has seen the movement gain higher profile again and we’ve seen a lot of successful activism. What’s your take on it all?

Any advancement is a win in terms of activism. I can’t really speak for the current “state of feminism” as I spend a lot of time trying to ignore it all, but I don’t like the cliquishness that seems to set in at times. As if one group of feminists have a monopoly on activism, or causes, or the right way to go about doing things. I also despair at the way that feminism and aspirational consumerism are tied together, as if empowerment comes from purchasing certain things, or projecting a certain lifestyle.

Are you/have you previously been involved in any specific Christian/church-based feminist or equality-minded groups, projects or organisations?

Only the Christian Feminist Network, really.

What do you think the church could do better on in terms of gender issues? Are there any particular issues you would like to see more of a focus on?

I think we need to think about gender issues in terms of practical needs that need addressing in our respective churches beyond big hypothetical conversations that often happen online. Not saying that these conversations are not needed at all, but I wonder if they’re translating in things that ministering to our communities, particularly the next generation.

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Jendella Benson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in London. She writes about issues of faith, race, identity, feminism and the arts, and is also an occasional public speaker and workshop facilitator.

http://www.jendella.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/JENDELLA

 

 

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One comment

  1. Hi! I’ve become a feminist/realized that I am a feminist over the past two years. I am particularly passionate about intersectional feminist. I am lost for guidance in small town USA. I am surrounded by many strong men of faith and very few women of faith. Any women I know that I should be “looking up to” don’t understand feminism and cling to the old fashioned view of women in the church. My church is unfortunately almost completely white. I am starving for someone to give me wisdom in my context. I am married and my husband is indifferent to faith. He was raised a Christian but is not interested in pursuing a relationship with Christ. This cripples my role at my church and I am highly looked down upon for having male Christian friends but I feel rejected by the other girls in my church. I have so much more to say but I don’t want to go on too long. I’m not even sure what I am asking you. If I wasn’t in a coffee shop right now I might be crying. In just desperate for guidance.

    Thank you so very much!
    -Ashley

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