Feminisms Fest (3) Our Exploding Feminine Mystique

Photo: Harriet Long 2013

Photo: Harriet Long 2013

Participating in the final day of the #femfest synchroblog here – an essay reflecting on learning and perspectives in my life and the synchroblog experience….

There have been two moments that have been markers on my feminist journey that stick out as I try to capture my thoughts and reflections.

The first, after blagging my way into Union Theological College’s Gamble Library a few years ago I preceded to collect every short article on feminist theology I could find.   I was profoundly challenged to discover the thinking of Valerie Saiving in her essay ‘The Human Situation: A Feminine View’.  She argued that most theology talked about the human experience when really it was rooted in the ‘male experience’.

She went on to explain that the understanding of sin as pride* or egocentricity – typically reflect the experience of men rather than of women, whose besetting sin most often derives from the sacrifice of self* through devoted service to others.

This rocked my world – as a woman and as a person of faith – I never felt or viewed anything the same way again.  I knew it to be an important perspective and challenge to myself as a person of and participant in faith, justice, grace, redemption – and any other holy experiences you may care to name – who was also a woman, a person of female gender and experience.

This short insight provoked me to establish my place theologically, professionally, socially and in the home as a family architect and member.  It was a little bit about acknowledging that my experience was different and provocative because of my femaleness, that I sometimes had to fight for a place but mostly it was the idea, no teaching, that giving up, resigning, martyring and sacrificing* myself was the ultimate rejection of my created purpose.  Taking this to a patriarchal, sometimes misogynistic, male led, gender discriminatory faith tradition that often encouraged giving up, resigning and sacificing myself (as a woman) was a profound, profound thing…

The second marker was the wonder of Betty Friedan’s analysis of the female experience (albeit a white – middle class American experience) in The Feminine Mystique (1963) that can be principally applied as an expose of  ‘a problem of identity’ for women.

 I think women had to suffer this crisis of identity, which began a hundred years ago, and have to suffer it still today, simply to become fully human.

Friedan wrote about the human need to forge central perspective and direction and the hopes of anticipated adulthood and the distraction from and oppression of this for women in the illusion, obligation and expectation of femininity.

When their mothers’ fulfillment makes girls sure they want to be women, they will not have to ‘beat themselves down’ to be feminine; they can stretch and stretch until their own efforts will tell them who they are…the time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to become complete.

Similarly this was deep, deep reassurance and changed my world – reading The Feminine Mystique made me feel normal, usual and understood and also gave me words to describe what I couldn’t in myself and in the lives of women and culture around me- facing a world that overwhelmingly still expected and still expects roles and unwritten rules of women as well as facing a faith/church that often expounded these as explicitly ‘biblical’ and/or ‘Godly’.

What has been most significant for me in this feminisms fest is reading about and discussing the ongoing tension between faith and feminism. These two markers paradigm shifted the ass out of my faith and my feminism and both made equally valuable and life changing contributions to myself and my world.  I find as life, experiences and people happen for and with me in my little places and spaces that we’re being saved, transformed and inspired by both faith and feminism – even the non-feminists and even those without faith.

Over the last six years I’ve found healing and restoration in the words, discovery, provocation and theology of feminist, queer, liberation and body writers and thinkers.  (I wrote about the people who’ve done this for me on day one)  Over the last 18 months I’ve been delighted to discover the thousands of women** writing out theology, politics, justice, feminism and the ordinary and wonder of relationships, homes and children online – feminisms fest being no exception.  For the first time in my life I feel I am being spiritually and politically nourished by women** as leaders and theologians, something I was hungry for for a very long time without maybe knowing it.  As I’ve made this discovery and raved about it to many- I’ve connected the commitment I’ve made to  and the experience I’ve had of the ‘church without walls’ to the lostness, isolation and needs of the women Betty Friedan described in The Feminine Mystique.  I’ve also thought of the challenge via feminist theology to resignation and sacrifice of many women of faith who are drowning in gender roles, assumptions and expectations – where it’s just easier to go with the femininity flow – because women** are writing it out, here on the damm beautiful internet! They are articulating the search for meaning, redemption,, grace and justice, asking the questions, building relationships and reducing the isolation of gender roles.

Feminisms fest has confirmed something of a subversive revolution and reassurance for me; challenging the suggestion and assumption that faith and feminism are incompatible.  This has also been an exercise in doing diversity and disagreement well and setting an example of multi-disciplinary, intersecting perspectives and stories.

Discussing feminism and inevitably faith here has been powerful, it’s something like church and a little bit like rest and comfort as well as prickly challenge to explode the contemporary experience of the feminine mystique

If you are participating or haven’t yet but would like to on this last day link up your post here at Preston Yancey today #femfest


*I am not dismising these words or concepts in any way – they carry important potential for interpretation and theology – what I am presenting here is a challenge to the assumptions and conclusions made about these words and associated religious morality and doctrines that are actually significantly different in meaning and experience for men and women.

**I’ve focussed on women and women identifiers here, but my understanding of gender means that in many contexts I often consider the interchangability of women/woman, female and feminine and the various associated gender norms, stereotypes and culture with these words.  One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the lives, stories and people in the online writing and images blogging world are part of a ‘feminised’ discipline or at least sub-culture characterised by female associated aspects because they are emotional, internally processing and often orientated in the private/domestic sphere.  They are also some of the most powerful, influential and provocative that we have poltically, socially and theologically and on a global scale.  There are male and female writers within this ‘feminised’ discipline but there are also male and female writers who choose to use the internet and blogging world as a wholly public, corporate, consumption and promotion orientated sphere which I would view as more traditionally ‘masculine’.  I am only using stereotypes to explain themes here.

Some of my feminisms fest favourites from the last few days (only some I’m afraid – follow links to read more) :

On the angry issue: Emily Maynard – I Am An Angry Feminist & Hannah Mudge Ten years of feminism

On manifesto: Suzannah Paul – All Oppression Shall Cease

On domesticity: Emily Joy Allison – When I Cannot Cook But Am Still A Person

On the solace and community of words: Hännah – Books & Opinions of My Own

On gender: Brandy – Construction Paper Dolls

On transformation: J.R Goudeau – An Empowered Woman Is A Sight To Behold

On the faith & feminism tension: Danielle – Mainstream Feminists Need Religious Feminists


1 Comment

Filed under Gender

One response to “Feminisms Fest (3) Our Exploding Feminine Mystique

  1. So much to read, right?

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