activism

Christian Feminist Q & A – Natalie Collins

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Natalie Collins and I work as a Gender Justice Specialist.  I’m 31 and am a Northerner living in Essex with my fab husband and 3 excellent children.  I am working class, talk extremely fast and am allergic to small talk.  I tweet and blog as God Loves Women.

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 grew up in a Christian home with parents who raised us to trust God for provision and who lived out deep faith commitment.  They also believed most things printed in the Daily Mail.  

Through various challenges as a young adult I discovered parts of what it means to love God and be loved by God in ways that can only be found through deep suffering and pain.  We attend an Anglican church (though I am not an Anglican) and I would probably identify as a radical evangelical.

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

Feminism enabled me to make sense of the abuse I had been subjected to.  It was when I discovered that there was an analysis which a) made sense of why male violence happens and b) how we change it, that’s when I began identifying as a feminist.

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?

Jesus saved my life. Feminism made sense of my life.  So in many ways, no there hasn’t been a personal fight between the two.  However, I totally get why feminists find Christianity incompatible with women’s liberation. Feminism works as an ideology.  Christianity only works as a relationship with the Living God that leads to the Way of Life. I have to wrestle with the Bible and Christian culture and Christian people (I don’t literally wrestle with Christians, only ideologically, or metaphorically).  But on a fundamental level, feminism and faith have never been a difficult thing for me to hold as true for my life and for the world.  

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

Yes!  I have worked delivering domestic abuse education programmes for women. I wrote the DAY Programme, a youth domestic abuse and exploitation education programme and train practitioners across the UK to run it with young people.  In my work I specialize in addressing domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, pornographies amongst various other things. I set up a campaign to address the abuse within the Fifty Shades series.  Within a Christian context, I am one of the founding members of the Christian Feminist Network and I also am part of Project 3:28.  I’m also really interested in gender reconciliation and earlier this year organised a UK workshop with Gender Reconciliation International. I tweet, write and speak on lots of aspects of feminism and faith.

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

Male violence against women is the thing I am most passionate about addressing and also, within a Christian context, representing feminism in a way that challenges the patriarchy in the church, while also showing secular feminists that Christian feminism is not an oxymoron.

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

Yes.  I’ve become much more radical and uncompromising.  

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

The Christian foremothers have been had a great influence on me; Cathy Clark Kroeger and Elaine Storkey amongst them. My daughter Megan is a massive influence and she inspires me to believe and hope for change. My dear friend Sue King who is an older woman and a Marxist feminist has challenged and encouraged me in so many ways over the years.  I love her a lot. Also my lovely friends Jo and Cath, who love women with all their being. And a wonderful woman called Jenny Parnham, who thinks deeply and has a massive vision for girls. Ah, once I start thinking about all the women I love and who inspire or influence me, I could go on forever!  

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 think it’s changed in the last few years. I feel a sense of trepidation, like telling feminists that I’m a Christian is a sort of “coming out” in that space.  But I’ve never been treated unkindly for it. Even women who have told me they can’t follow my twitter account because of the God stuff haven’t been unkind. Feminism isn’t Christianity and so the two things are never going to be One Thing.  

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

I was in a church once where the leader said that feminism was spiritually evil. My mum took a long time to come round to the idea that feminism could be good as she was extremely committed to the “pro-life” cause and so feminist was synonymous with “baby killer”. I’m so deeply feminist now that I’m mainly oblivious to Christians who are anti-feminism. Some of my best friends are Christian feminists and I am in a really blessed position of knowing loads of people who are a Christian and get feminism, so I guess I’ve made Christian feminism my “norm”.

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?

I think there’s a lot to celebrate, but there’s also a lot to be concerned about. Patriarchy is always subverting feminist ideals to further its own purposes. Popularity is always on the side of the powerful and so there’s a questions about whether the popularity of feminism has degraded it, diluted it and undermined the primary goal of feminism, which is women’s liberation.  

I think that there are lots of ways that feminism is being controlled and dominated by issues and voices that are not, at core, feminist. But I also think that the rise of feminism has enabled change e.g. the end of Page 3, preventing Ched Evans being re-employed, keeping women on banknotes, making the struggle of women visible.

I believe that there is a prophetic move towards women’s liberation that has been happening over the last decade and so I think some of what we are seeing is God moving (often with non-Christians getting it more clearly than Christians).

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 there’s things I’d like to see a focus on and then there’s things I’d like to see the focus reshaped. I think things are changing in terms of women’s representation, mainly through the hard work and dedication of women and men to see things change, and then in the last few years, with the Project 3:28 statistics that are released each year detailing the gender balance on the national Christian platform.

I’d like to see a reshaping of the focus on trafficking, pornographies and the Christian white saviour complex. The issues of trafficking and pornographies are massively complex and the response must include a deep feminist analysis of the issues, which is sadly lacking in the majority of Christian responses to these issues. I guess the ideal would be that feminist analysis and practice would be mainstreamed through the social justice elements of Christianity.

Could the secular feminist movement do more to be inclusive of women of faith? If yes, what do you think might help?

Yes. I think feminist events could seek to ensure the voices of feminists of faith are included in their work, just as other intersectionalities are. I think articles, blogs, seminars and talks which discuss feminism and faith would be great. I’d also like to see it ensured that the majority of content published about faith and feminism is written by feminists of faith.

JBNWlWECNatalie Collins lives in Essex and works as a Gender Justice Specialist. 

Website: http://www.nataliecollins.info/

Blog: https://mrsglw.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @God_Loves_Women

Christian Feminist Q & A – Ali Wilkin

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m 46, I was born in London and was raised in Essex, and I lived in Hull and Sheffield before returning to my home town after my marriage broke down. I’ve been a single parent (and single) for 16 years, and I’m the proud mum to two amazing young men. I’m passionate about the things I care about, read like a demon, try to listen more than I talk, and talk the hind legs off a donkey.

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?

My parents are agnostic, although my family on my Mother’s side are C of E; my great-grandmother had very close ties with her local Quaker and Pentecostal churches too and I was always very influenced by her openness to worshipping as she felt led by the Spirit. I am an Anglican, and have been since coming to faith 12 years ago – the Eucharist is the place where my head faith and heart faith first truly came together, and I love liturgy.

Since becoming part of a fresh expression of church 6 years ago and one of the lay leaders of that, Monday night has been church night: that is either in the form of a shared meal, a social evening at a local pub, or coming together for a simple shared supper, worship, prayer and study in our local community centre. There are plenty of challenges in being part of ‘corporate’ lay leadership* of such a community, but I am blessed to be part of a group of people who are so generous, committed and gifted.

*There isn’t a single leader: each one of the lay leaders has different gifts and responsibilities, and decisions are made as a group together. 

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

I identified as a feminist as a young child and right through to my early twenties initially: it was as natural to me as breathing. I used to doodle feminist things on my school note books (things like “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”/”whatever we say, whatever we do, yes means yes and no means no”) along with feminist and CND symbols.

It was a very simplistic feminism, but as I got older I began to have a lot of questions and issues, which the feminism I was being presented with could not easily address. It treated all girls as being essentially the same, and as a result it increasingly didn’t speak to me or to some of the girls and women around me – in terms of class, race and sexuality particularly, the concerns of the feminism available to me were entirely unrelated to the lives and struggles of working class women, black women and women of colour, LBT women (and the intersections of those), and in my early twenties I began distancing myself from feminism increasingly.

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?

I had distanced myself from feminism before I came to faith and from the start my own experience of faith felt deeply at odds with the patriarchal nature of the Church, with its gendered language and performance of faith as worship before a masculine God. Eventually I began to feel very strongly a particular call on my faith, and I believe God is raising up a generation of women (particularly LBT, black women and women of colour) to speak out against oppression: the feminism I was re-discovering through that has grown a faith and feminism entwined around each other.

In the early days of my faith I struggled with what I thought of as the tension between the two, but I had a wonderful example in my late great-grandmother whose own instinctive faith was such an amazing example – she had always encouraged me to learn to trust my own instincts, and this helped me to see past the human patriarchal constructs which men have spent 2,000 years building around God, Jesus and faith. I had a minister who encouraged me to use feminine language for God, and I am often the only person in my church singing to Mother (rather than Father) God!

One of the great blessings of the internet is how it helps me connect with and hear other feminists and queer people of faith and their stories, and having the opportunity to lift those up. The real tension is not between faith and feminism – the real tension is between people, and between those who see the patriarchy as something man made (one of the ‘traditions of men’), and those who think of it as something God ordained.

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

To me, activism isn’t something which is separate from life: for many cis and trans women, simply surviving from day to day is activism, in defiance of the systems of power which silence or dismiss their existence. There have been campaigns which I have been involved in online by re-tweeting, doing something to lift up the voices of those who society wants to hear from the least. As someone who does not seek a media platform, my contribution to that is small but it matters that we all do what we can.  

Locally I am working to grow and raise awareness in my own community: talking to people, raising the issues, and recently I organised a prayer service for victims of abuse. That required working with my vicar, talking through reasons and issues, understandings of power and boundaries and so on. It’s small scale stuff but change happens from the ground up, not the other way round: like the mustard seed, it’s a tiny amount in the scheme of things, but big things come from that tiny seed. I am currently working on a new blog that will focus entirely on forgiveness – the theology of forgiveness is so riddled with victim blaming and its something I have been thinking, praying and meditating on a lot for the last several months.

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

Violence against women, rape and abuse, the inclusion of LBT women, racism, poverty, and disability and the intersections of those. These are where the patriarchy’s abuses of its corrupted power are most evident. As a survivor of domestic and psychological abuse and rape, as someone who is bisexual and who has struggled with mental health issues for most of my life, raising my voices with others to challenge the prevalence of rape culture (outside and inside the church) matters very much.

There is always a tension between the church and those whose sexuality does not conform to the patriarchal norm and even within the LGBTQ community, those of us who are bi experience a lot of erasure, and for my trans and non binary sisters the situation is often much worse – especially when whiteness so is completely centred in everything.  Secular feminism struggles with queer theory and theology easily as much as Christian feminism does so it matters to me very much that this is better understood. Feminists (both secular and of faith) are often uncomfortable around queer theology and theory, and this impacts the trans and non binary community particularly. I know there is much argument around this, but sooner or later we are all going to have to grasp that that working for all women (including trans and non binary women) does not prevent my (or any other cisgender woman’s) liberation. Quite the opposite.  

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

My feminism has evolved very much and one of the great joys of Twitter and social media is how it’s given me the opportunity to hear and learn from a multiplicity of voices. But I have also learned to be comfortable and welcoming of being unwelcomed even within feminist circles: I was never popular with the other feminists when I was younger, because I questioned why we were so white, so awful to trans women, so focused on getting the same jobs and power as the patriarchy, so willing to throw single mothers under a bus and so critical of women who wanted to stay at home to raise their children – in short, so eager to replicate the very patriarchy we were supposedly wanting to dismantle (I was 40 years old before another feminist called me sister!).

Being an outsider is something that has both deepened my faith – I think of how unpopular Christ was in His day – and offers a certain kind of freedom, as I am an introvert by inclination anyway.

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

In scripture, I love Esther and Mary Magdalene, and Mary (Jesus’ mother) – in their own ways they were all outsiders, not popular, willing to take risks for what they believed in and always always full of faith.  In life the women in my family each inspire in their own way: I am blessed that the generations before me have each been sources of strength and inspiration in different ways. And in my life (online and offline) there are so many women, each with their own gifts and stories to tell.  

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?

Honestly, I am more likely to be dismissed for being trans inclusive than for being a Christian feminist. My experience overall has been incredibly positive.

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

Sometimes I think people in the church treat it like a hobby, and there’s a huge misunderstanding from a lot of people that I put feminism before my faith. In some ways this is easier to cope with though than the rather patronising one, that I call  the ‘there there’ attitude: when someone responds as though they are patting you on the head like you are a cute, but slightly silly, child. In many ways I’m lucky that the leadership in my parish is open: generally my vicar is brilliant and even if he doesn’t understand the thing I’m banging on about he is always willing to listen and learn. I just wish this wasn’t the exception that proved the rule though!

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?

There is a lot to be celebrated, and feminism is at its best when it is celebratory: but there is much that feminism still needs to do, particularly concerning race and our trans sisters. There are strong voices within feminism generally and Christian feminism that actively call for the de-centring of white, heteronormative voices and yet the media (Christian and secular) still give prevalence to those voices over women of colour and trans women.  It would be great if a black woman said something about racism and we listed to her instead of waiting for the white person to say before taking it on board. 

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

I stay plugged in to various groups via newsletters, Twitter and so forth and much of my activism happens via social media – I think the reason some people don’t understand or value online activism is that they don’t understand that for many people, it’s something they can actually access because financial/physical/mental health/safety issues might otherwise prevent more conventional involvement.

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?

The Church has to get to grips with its failure to deal with abuse, and its failure to properly address the needs of victims, and the C of E would do well to look to how the Methodist church have modelled submitting themselves to an independent enquiry in a spirit of humble penitence. I also think that the language we use about God, liturgically and theologically, has to change. Not to stop calling God ‘he’ or ‘father’ but to learn to use ‘her’ and ‘mother’ and ‘they’ just as frequently.

Could the secular feminist movement do more to be inclusive of women of faith? If yes, what do you think might help?

My personal experience has been really positive – some people look askance at the whole ‘Christian feminist’ thing of course, and there are those who instantly dismiss me because of my faith. If I were honest, I would say that secular feminism is more welcoming than the Church.

Ali Wilkin lives in Colchester. She blogs at incarnationalrelational.wordpress.com and tweets as @AliWilkin.

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.

9b5e0453-6c4c-4cbd-93b8-0fd9f964fae7-680x1020

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

 

 

The Dwell Project

The Dwell Project is managed by Roxy and Eddie, who spoke at our ‘Reclaiming the F Word’ conference in March this year. Its vision ‘is to prevent domestic violence against women – including honour related violence, through education, awareness, & partnership at the front line of Christian-Muslim relations’. Here, Roxy explains what the project is doing and how it hopes to change lives.

Dwell started because of our own experiences with domestic violence in our families & a desire to change the perceptions & myths we heard in faith communities about domestic violence. It started with the belief in healthy & safe relationships for all men & women.

We felt a need to get men in faith communities involved especially Christians & Muslims in standing against the issue because without them domestic violence will continue. So the Dwell Project is preventing domestic violence in Christian and Muslim communities through workshops about the truth & myths about domestic violence, about masculinity & healthy intimate relationships. We raise awareness about domestic violence online through social media campaigns such as Frocktober which ran through October this year & our blog which we write regularly.

We are a married couple with our own story of God’s healing in our lives, healing from the trauma of domestic violence (which we experienced in our homes as children) which gives us hope & a belief that it is possible with God’s help to make a difference. We want to encourage Christians to pray so we are working on resources that will help. We want churches to be ready to support those who have suffered domestic violence. More than that we want churches to prevent it from happening through speaking about gender equality within marriages, talking to young adults about masculinity & giving them space to share & be vulnerable about relationships.

We seek to be people who live with the hope of beautiful relationships between men & women. We look to God and ask him to help us to believe that he is with us as we do this work. We ask for faith in relationships, in marriage, in partnerships between Christians & Muslims, men & women that will enable us to prevent domestic violence. We are realistic in believing that this work will take a long time. We try to find creative ways to raise awareness about domestic violence & our blog is an example of this.

Ultimately we believe in heaven coming to earth as we pray The Lord’s Prayer. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We believe heaven will be without pain & violence so believe when we pray for heaven on earth we are praying for an end to domestic violence.

“Our Father in Heaven,
Reveal who you are
Set the world aright:
Do what’s best –
As above so below.
Keep us alive with 3 square meals
Keep us forgiven with you & forgiving others
Keep us safe from ourselves & the Devil
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Matthew 6:9-13 (Message version)

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Girlguiding: ‘splitting from God’ as they find their feminist feet

Image

Natalie Collins blogs on why she’s worried that the Guides’ move away from a faith basis and towards feminist activism makes it seem like the two can’t go together.

Last week an article in The Guardian detailed Julie Bentley’s first year as the Head of Girlguiding UK. The article focused on the organisation’s “split from God” and recent protests against sexism. The article seems to suggest the two are linked, as if it’s impossible to be a faith-based organisation, and engage in feminist activism.

Personally, I don’t have an issue with taking God out of the promise for girls who don’t believe in God, or who don’t want to make a promise to serve God. This, for me, is the same as struggling with Godparents who are agnostic or atheist stating that they believe in God and making commitment to raise a child in that knowledge.  The measure of a faith-based organisation isn’t whether people who are engaged with that organisation make a pledge to God or not.

However, it seems that Girlguiding distancing itself from a promise to God is not about the guides moving towards having more integrity in their practice, but is actually about distancing themselves from being a faith-based organisation. It also seems that there is a direct correlation between asserting the lack of any faith basis in the organisation, and the increasing amount of feminist activism done by the organisation – something which seems to further validate the idea that faith and feminism don’t go together. This both saddens and angers me.

As a feminist, the work I do to address inequality and work towards gender justice comes out of a deep prophetic tradition within the body of Christ to “proclaim good news to the poor…to bind the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”.  It saddens me that an organisation that began so rooted in this tradition has needed to move away from a connection with Jesus in order to engage in such actions, and it angers me that it is most likely Christians, rather than non-Christians, who have perpetuated and possibly been responsible for the perception of many that feminism and Christianity are not compatible.

I don’t blame the guides from stepping away from their Christian roots in favour of a more multi-cultural, multi-faith image, and recognise the many challenges of being a person of faith in feminist spaces, but I wonder at the lost opportunity of this organisation which has equipped and valued girls around the world for over 100 years, to show that faith and feminism are compatible, or as we like to say at the Christian Feminist Network, that it is Christian patriarchy that is an oxymoron, not Christian feminism.

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 4

How to raise up women leaders – Jenny Baker for IDEA magazine

Ask women in your church what they need to grow in leadership and what their aspirations are. What’s stopping them being leaders at the moment? Identify women who you feel have an aptitude for leadership. Team them up with more experienced women who can mentor them, even if you have to look outside your congregation. Create opportunities for them to take on small projects with support and feedback, and build on that.

Porn: the shocking truth – TES magazine

The effect that mass exposure to pornography is having on teens’ emotional well-being and self-esteem will take time to gauge properly as it is an unprecedented phenomenon happening in real time. However, the impact it is having on the way they view their bodies and the bodies of the opposite sex is already very evident.

The Jane Austen banknote victory shows young women are packing a punch – Zoe Williams

Two things are unarguable about this century; the first is that it is more sexist than the end of the last, raunch and postmodernism having converged to normalise the presentation of women as meat; the second is that the internet has had profound consequences for privacy and, inevitably, personal freedom. But pause to consider the vivacity of the feminist fourth wave, its energy and victories, the way it has honed and deployed the power of social media rather than surrendered to the misogynist tropes it throws up. It is fearless and pugnacious and alive with a sense of possibility.

Danielle at From Two to One is running a Q&A on Christian feminism as a series of blog posts. She can also be found at SheLoves magazine writing on The difference between sex and gender roles in marriage.

Although I’m sure she’s heard it all, I skirted around the specifics with my pastor-friend, blushing while explaining that, “Um, well. In some parts of our marriage, it is quite clear who is female and who is male.” I was not only stating the obvious, but also was referring to something more mysterious, more sacred.

FAQs: Feminism, sexism and intersectionality – The Quail Pipe

So, what is intersectional feminism? Well, quite simply, it’s feminism taking other causes of oppression into account and including all women, whether they are trans*, non-Caucasian, disabled, working class, middle class, upper class. Essentially it’s the recognition that other people’s experiences are different to our own, but equally and sometimes more valid. We can have feminism without intersectionality, but as I said, this is not good feminism. If the only oppression you face is due to gender inequality, then you are extremely privileged and need to understand that this is not the same for other women.

Restored’s In Churches Too campaign, about domestic abuse in Christian relationships, is now up and running – watch the video below.