My master’s thesis was on mother-child relationships in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. Three years later, I wrote my dissertation on female identity conceptualization in Eudora Welty’s and Katherine Anne Porter’s works. Both works took a feminist literary approach, and consequently out of all the theoretical approaches, I am most well versed in feminist theory. I am drawn disproportionally to literature written by women, and my approach when interpreting them, more often than not, takes a feminist position.
Yet I deliberately refuse to identify myself as a feminist, for two good reasons, both of which I share with my Critical Approaches to Literature students yearly and will now share with you. First, I dislike the adversarial positioning towards men that so often accompanies feminism. Though thankfully this emphasis within feminism is waning, still a foundational assumption of feminism is misogyny, the idea that men have or do mistreat, repress, or disadvantage women. This, to me, fosters a victim mentality, which I refuse. Yes, I can cite incidents in which I have been judged or treated unfairly simply because of my gender. But, to badly paraphrase Jesus, my response to that is that “the jerks you will always have with you.” Because sin nature will never be eradicated, no perfect gender relations will ever exist. I think it is more Christ-like to seek commonalities rather than to create chasms.
Secondly, feminism is heavily politicized, and is often aligned with causes and groups from which I want to distance myself. Foremost among these are pro-abortion and homosexuality activism. As a Christian, I am strongly against both. As illustrative of this alignment are some of the “women of the day” in Taylor’s daily announcements: Audre Lorde (3-9) was a lesbian; Betty Friedan (3-7) at different points in her life defended both abortion and lesbianism, though she too objected to both “hijacking” feminism with their platforms; Mary Wollstonecraft (3-5) led a sexually immoral life. So far, only one woman featured—Wangerai Maathai—claimed to be a Christian. No attention was given to such exemplary Christian women as Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Gladys Alyward, Flannery O’Connor, Denise Levertov, and Sarah Bessey, among others.
Feminism is certainly not antithetical to Christianity; in fact, I believe that Christianity has elevated the worth of women more than any movement in history. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Unfortunately, because of the political baggage attached to it, I choose not to make that label part of my identity.