Friday, February 8, 2013

B58. The Feminist Word





First, hooray for Kristine!  She knew her own writing convictions and refused to bend her writing to fit someone else’s mold.  She is comfortable with the word “feminist” and maybe believes that forcing others to hear it will gradually soften them to it, or perhaps she does not concern herself with those who would be offended by such a word.  Good for her for standing her ground and saying no to belief.net’s blog invitation with its stipulations.  She knows a good writer must write in the words of her own soul.

Second, kudos to belief.net for seeing the value of Kristine’s writings and wanting to share them with their readers, and for knowing their readers well enough to know they would hear progressive ideas only if they were not first turned off by hot-button words, against which they have been prejudiced.  Belief.net seems to understand that for many readers, the ideas will be best heard if presented without the familiar lingo.  A reader might be interested in stories that show gender equality in ministry, but the word “feminist,” which comes with decades of preconceived baggage, will keep her/him from reading them.

Perhaps this is not a "feminists vs. belief.net" story, but rather two sides with the same basic goal of getting the gender equality message out there, to two different audiences.  Our on-going fight for equality has plenty of room for both, and each can accomplish what the other cannot.

Remember the great Alice Paul whose strong tactics were a turn-off to President Woodrow Wilson.  It was probably his dislike for her, however, which encouraged him to side with Carrie Catt, who also did not care for Paul’s tactics, and finally after 70 years, suffrage was won.

Then there’s the story of another Paul, the apostle, who disagreed so strongly with Barnabas that they parted ways in their ministry.  Yet, their basic message was the same, and it continued to spread to different listeners.

Kristine and belief.net might not be a perfect match, but that does not juxtapose them. May Kristine’s blog reach thousands who are ready to receive her language, and may belief.net find someone else to blog the feminist message to those who have been taught to fear the word!  Hooray for both!

2 comments:

Marg Herder said...

I appreciate your attempt at a conciliatory and peaceful response to this issue. However, I must disagree with your view that belief.net is to be congratulated.

The core of your argument, if I might attempt to distill it down, is that belief.net readers would be put off by the word feminist and would not read any posts labeled as such. You suggest it would be better to present the same ideas without the “feminist” identification. Though there is possibly something to be said for this method of social justice, the method I call the “Trojan Horse method,” I think you have overlooked a couple important points.

First, and most importantly, there are many people of faith who are not afraid of, prejudiced against, or ashamed of the feminist identification. These people would be attracted to the writings of a pastor identifying herself explicitly as a feminist. Even more attracted to writings thus labeled than writings labeled with a “softer” title. Your assumption, you see, is that on belief.net, Kristine would only be writing to an audience of those prejudiced against feminists. You don't consider the possibility that using the word feminist in her blog title could (and certainly would) make it more attractive to many people. Certainly there are more people of faith who are afraid of, prejudiced against, or ashamed of the feminist moniker than there are those of who are proud of that identification, but does that make it okay to tacitly support those who would portray the feminist identity as having no place in a forum of the faithful?

Secondly, there's a language issue that must be considered. Words are powerful things, and like all powerful things, those in power tend to have a lot to do with how they are deployed and defined.

I've had the opportunity to learn from feminist rhetorician Alena Amato Ruggerio, who has a lot to say about labels and the role they play in our awareness. Assigning a label to a group previously without a label gives that group distinction from the background “noise” of existence, in effect making them visible, and potentially giving them power. The opposite is also true. If an existing label is redefined, if the definition of a group can be reassigned by some means (marketing being the obvious method), the original group becomes in effect, no longer distinct or able to be observed, and much less powerful.

So what I'm saying is that the concerted efforts over the last decades to demonize and discredit the label “feminist” and “feminism” has, in practical application, been an attempt to redefine the movement in a way that makes the original label meaningless and the movement less powerful. The group of people defined by faithfully, kindly, and peacefully working toward gender equality, becomes much less visible, much less powerful, since they no longer have a way to clearly identify themselves to others that doesn't carry the “preconceived baggage” you mention. The only term available, feminist, has been redefined to imply strident voices concerned with only with their own hatred of all things male.

I would suggest to you that women who use the word feminist without shame and without fear, are simply refusing to cooperate with the efforts to redefine the word, and thus refusing to participate in the marginalization and weakening of the movement. By refusing to let a writer identify on their platform as a feminist, belief.net has (intentionally or inadvertently) become complicit in the effort to obscure the perception that there are faithful, kind, and peaceful people working to realize gender equality.

I thank you for this opportunity to express my opinion. I appreciate your writings, your willingness to express yourself on often controversial social justice issues, and applaud you for the courageous way you have remain open to Spirit's presence and teaching in your life. I agree with so much you have written in your posts. Just not this.

Kathy Vestal said...

Hi, Marg. Very nice response with which I can resonate. And surely I agree there must be those who put the feminist word where the people will hear it if it is going to be redefined or reaccepted. These people are the Alice Pauls, and they are critical to change in social attitude.

In education theory, there's a concept outlined by Krashen that he called +1, which basically says in educating we must start wherever the learner is and add one, rather than giving her/him more than s/he is ready to grasp. While you certainly have a point that belief.net must have plenty of readers who would welcome the word, they apparently see a broader audience that is not ready for it and needs a +1 in between. Otherwise they will not even read the blog, and will in addition start to call the website "liberal" (and leave it) just for using the word.

In truth, I am unfamilar with belief.net and can only speculate that they are the Carrie Catt in this story, but if so, I believe their part is also critical in reaching their readers and bringing them closer to being able to understand what feminism means.

Thank you, Marg, for your intelligent and thoughtful response. And you might be more right than I. Alice and Carrie?