This courageous guest post from Cedarville University student, Sarah Jones, continues our Feminism & Faith series. See Sarah’s full bio after the jump, and be in touch with Courtney_at_feministing.com if you’d like to contribute a future column.
When I was seven years old, I asked my mother why our church made girls wear skirts. Her answer was simple: “I don’t know, honey, that’s just what we do.” Even at the age of seven, I wondered at that. My mother is college-educated and bright. I owe my love of books to her. But for my mother, and for millions of other American Christian women, doctrine rules all aspects of life.
I say doctrine, and not God, because the two don’t necessarily agree. And never is that discrepancy clearer than in the acceptance of religious enforced inferiority that marks the daily lives of the women in the Biblical patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. Recent articles in Bitch magazine have illuminated these trends somewhat, but feminism still appears to lack a basic understanding of the daily lives of thousands of American women.
Christianity and feminism are not inherently incompatible. An egalitarian interpretation of the Bible acknowledges the true equality of the sexes. Complementarianism, however, rejects that. It dictates that the role of a woman is to be a submissive helpmate to her husband. It is based on the conviction that men are divinely ordained to lead, and women are to follow them. There is no room for autonomy in this movement, as its adherents will proudly tell you and gender roles are strictly defined. They’re led by men like Doug Phillips, a Biblical “patriarch” who has called feminists “child catchers” a la Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and writes that women should not hold political office. But despite these extreme beliefs, numbers have risen dramatically in these sects, likely due to high birth rates and a backlash against perceived social immorality.
Biblical patriarchy currently remains a minority movement. But as a girl homeschooled by conservative Christians, a less vitriolic version of it dictated my existence. I’m relatively lucky; despite their strict beliefs my parents always encouraged my academic goals. But the doctrine of submission shadowed every achievement and ambition. It chafed and burned and it swallowed my voice until I was convinced that not even God could hear me rage. The principle of separate but equal is as unjust when applied to sex as it is to race, and I’ve known it since I was seven years old.
Feminism gave me my voice back. And the combination of faith and feminism gave me the strength to endure the derision I often faced as an egalitarian Christian at a Baptist university. Hate mail and insults like “she-man” were common. My dorm mates even scrawled “babykiller” on my dorm room door. And though, after years of personal struggle, I no longer consider myself a Christian, I urge secular feminists to respect the bitter fight that Christian feminists currently wage. Don’t try to define their religion for them. Their faith does not preclude them from feminism, and they deserve a space to speak as they resist the pressure to submit and conform to a doctrine that seeks to silence them.
Sarah Jones is a senior International Studies major at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, and identified as a feminist Christian before she left the church last year. Her undergraduate research examined the role of new media as a tool for social change in Iran, and she is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in the Huffington Post, the Bristol Herald Courier and the North Wales Chronicle in Bangor, Wales. She currently resides in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and has recently begun blogging at anthonybsusan.wordpress.com.