Maha Elgenaidi, a true force (pictured above in red), leaned across the round table towards me and asked, “Why do Western feminists assume that I am oppressed just be looking at my hijab? Why do they define feminism so narrowly as to not include the strong women of my faith tradition?”
At first I felt defensive. “Western feminists?!” I thought. “We’re not a monolith.” But I took a deep breath and heard her out. This is her experience, her impression, her conclusion based on real interactions with women that she sees as Western feminists.
“I don’t feel that way,” I explained, “but I can understand why you’ve been left with that impression.” We then got down and dirty with the true pain and profound division that Western and Eastern feminists feel.
Underlying much of what we discussed was the undeniable truth that so many feminists, particularly of my age group, are suspicious of organized religion. That too, of course, is understandable. As a teenager, I watched Focus on the Family try to shut my school newspaper down in Colorado Springs because we reported a story on being queer at our high school. That and so many other things, gave me real reasons to be suspicious of religion. I imagine many of my peers feel the same; we came of age hearing the hatred of Jerry Falwell and watching a war waged under the banner of both our country and Christianity (as defined by George W. Bush).
But it’s time to unpack all of this. It’s time for women like Maha and I to have a real dialogue. It’s time for us to explore the intersections of religion and feminism.
This week, I had the good fortune of being at an intimate gathering of some of the country’s leading women spiritual leaders—women like Yoland Trevino, the coordinator of the United Religions Indigenous Initiative, Nahid Anga, a Sufi leader and professor, and PK McCary, an independent journalist and peace activist, among so many others. They were gathered to build on the momentum first created by Joan Chittister at the Parliament on World Religions in Melbourne last year. They feel that the time has come for women to claim their rightful power within religious traditions and make the world better.
Likewise, I realize, it is time to really open up the dialogue about feminists and spirituality. Look out for a series that I plan on launching, and be in touch (courtney_at_feministing.com) if you’ve got something you’d like to contribute or a person you think I should involve.