My mother once told me that she couldn’t understand how she’d raised a daughter who didn’t call herself a feminist. At the time, I was convinced that feminism was this bunch of angry women who just couldn’t accept that men and women are different. They’d be much more content, I thought, if they could accept that God had given us different roles to men, mainly submission in marriage and shutting up in church. Once they accepted that, they’d realise that it wasn’t an oppressive, demeaning view of women, but in fact affirming and liberating. My main evidence for all this was a book I read about a woman’s heart, the message of which was essentially “As women we want to be told we’re beautiful. Men don’t always tell us this properly, so we should look to God for it instead.” Quite how that message affirmed that we should submit in marriage and shut up in church I’m not sure, but I was so taken by the fact that this book seemed to understand me perfectly, that I believed everything it told me about my station in life too.
Fortunately, I’ve since moved on. I studied theology better, talked to some wise people, met a few great women, tried a bit of preaching myself, and concluded that maybe God doesn’t want women to sit down and shut up at all. With that sorted, my eyes were opened to the huge and very current problems of gender inequality, and I started to see what those feminists had been talking about all along. One read of How to be a Woman later, and I was converted.
Now, there are a good few reasons why I might not be a Proper Feminist. For a start, I’ve never taken any active protest, beyond talking. I’ve signed up to all the Facebook groups that make me feel part of the feminist community in Oxford, but I’ve only contributed a couple of times, and never actually got involved with anything. I’ve started to challenge casual sexism wherever I see it among my friends, but sometimes I choose to avoid the eye-rolling, or “banter!” retort, and don’t. I’m a little scared of calling myself a feminist because the Proper Feminists, who actually do stuff about it and would never let casual sexism slide and go on marches and are far more clear on their opinions about everything than I am, might notice and expose me as a slightly uncertain fraud.
But here’s the big reason why I’m not sure that I’m a Proper Feminist.
Feminists have to be Pro-Choice, and they have to campaign for abortion rights.
Now, this is where I get uncertain. On the one hand, I’m clear enough about what I think about abortion, clear enough for myself at least. I am, I think, clear in my own mind that I don’t think it’s right, in most circumstances, although put me in one of the nightmare situations that people always ask you about (“what if you were raped? What if you were likely to die in giving birth?”) and I honestly don’t know what I’d do. But in principle, yes, I think it’s wrong.
On the other hand, I’m still working out what I think about Christian ethics and their relationship with social policy. There’s this bit that really gets me in 1 Corinthians 5 about associating with sexually immoral people. Paul says, if someone calls themselves a Christian and yet is living a sexually immoral lifestyle, don’t associate with them. But – and this is the bit he feels important enough to add – he’s not talking about people who are not Christians. There is a different standard for people who call themselves followers of Jesus. I think there’s an important reason for this, in that as a Christian, I want to live according to certain ethics because I personally know the God who gives us those ethical codes. I want to live in the way that he wants me to, because I know him and I love him and I want to please him and I want to represent him to the rest of the world. When we tell someone the gospel, we invite them into relationship with God first and foremost. The change in lifestyle and a new system of ethics is just the result of that. So, I don’t think that it is the place of Christians to be preaching to the world on their morals. That’s not what we’re commanded to do – it is only once we’ve made disciples that we’re to teach them to obey Jesus, not to teach people to obey before they know or love him. The fact that I think abortion is wrong means that I could not do it in good conscience as a follower of Jesus. But who am I to preach to others on their moral positions, when really I should be introducing them to God, the author of Good.
In theory then, I don’t think we should be attempting to hold the world, who don’t know Jesus, to the ethical standards that Jesus calls his followers to. In that sense, I’m Pro-Choice. I fully accept that those who don’t have a moral problem with abortion, and feel it necessary in their circumstances, should have the right to do so legally, without fear, and without resorting to desperate and dangerous methods.
But on the other hand (is this the third hand now?) – there must be a responsibility to fight injustice and to act of the oppressed, because that’s what God tells us he’s doing. His business in the world is fighting for the widow, the orphan, the poor, the voiceless. He calls us to advocacy on their behalf. So while there’s no place for Christians to preach at others about their moral choices which are irrelevant for people who don’t claim to follow Jesus, perhaps there is a place for trying to intervene where there is some oppression and injustice towards the helpless. Abortion seems to be the issue where these two things cross over at the most sensitive and difficult point, and as such, I just don’t know what I think.
So I can’t support the Pro-Choice campaigns that litter feminist Facebook groups, I can’t go and join rallies on the street, and I can’t protest against the 40 days for life vigils that have been happening around the country. I do feel the acute sense of the responsibility God gives us to fight for the weak and the oppressed.
But on the other hand, I can’t support the Pro-Choice lot, who don’t seem to understand how little sense it makes to try to inflict Christian moral values onto a world who doesn’t know God. In doing so, they only seem to want to force people backwards into a dangerous world of illegal abortions and fear, shame and secrecy, which is not safe for anyone.
I’m uncertain that I’m a Proper Feminist. But I’d like to be, if they’d take me with my uncertainty.