Jesus the Feminist
Although Anthony Elliott covered a huge span of social theory in his book, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, I will be focusing on the section that is closely linked to my topic of research…Feminism and Post-Feminist Theory. It was fascinating to learn about the origins of feminism and how it has been shaped and how it has shaped our culture. As I researched around the topic of feminism and feminist theory I found an article written by Juliet Mitchell, one of the authors Elliott features in his section on Feminism and Post-Feminist Theory. In her article, she states, “At each crisis of change, I believe, we imagine this androgyny and this endless circulation and free play of multifarious differences; with each period of stabilization, something has to occupy the new point of opposition. In periods of intensified social change, men and women, the masculine and the feminine, come closer together; a new unity is created, a new man, and something different has to confront him. For the time being, we should note that, between the sexes, this new point of difference is called ‘woman’.” She was a revolutionary when it came to feminist theory and the feminist movement for her work connecting psychoanalysis and feminism. Even though Mitchell acknowledged Freud’s patriarchal views, she believed that a rejection of Freud’s psychoanalytic claims would be fatal to feminism. This seemed like a contradiction to many since psychoanalysis painted females as inferior to males. The reason she thought it was essential to hold the two together was that it highlighted the need to alter the way children are raised with a prescribed masculinity and femininity.
Also, “Mitchell argues that the unconscious acquisition of patriarchy in modern societies is central to women’s suffering.” This unconscious patriarchy in our society is the very reason I have so many female clients in my office complaining about the oppression they experience and feel on a daily basis. This covert culture is a common ethos they must learn to navigate in every venue of their lives. At work, church, in their families, and in society, they are often marginalized, oppressed, and objectified when they attempt to function in ways automatically afforded to men. This constant oppression leads to depression and anxiety, making it difficult for them to operate effectively in their families and society. Many women I meet with are unable to realize this is occurring subconsciously because it is normal for them. Feminism has lifted the veil of this inequality between the sexes and helped to liberate women to be more effective leaders. Many feminists want to reject psychoanalysts as sexist, however, Mitchell countered that claim by “refocusing psychoanalysis as a critique of patriarchy.”
As men, if we want to offset these destructive messages, we need to validate the uncomfortable feelings of women and empathize with their hurts. As we listen to their stories and provide space for their voices, we are aiding in the healing process. If we are silent, we are inadvertently condoning the suffering of women, and responsible for perpetuating the oppression. Author John Keyser states that the primary method of advancing women in corporate America is through men in top leadership roles deliberately advocating for them. Jesus modeled mutuality exquisitely when he became counter-cultural with women by touching, eating, worshiping and even residing with them. Jesus appeared to be the first feminist in the way he elevated women to a new cultural status normally un-afforded them. He lived the principle outlined in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
When it comes to men and women leading together, living by a social theory encouraging equality is essential. Although some radical feminists would argue that women don’t need men, in many ways, feminism has paved the way for men and women to lead effectively together. If the feminist movement did not propel women forward in social status, their consideration as equals would be much more difficult for men in leadership to embrace. Just like Jesus broke social norms in order to elevate and honor women, the social climate of today needs men to stand up and not only declare women are allowed next to them in leadership, but they are needed. I see many churches today very comfortable declaring they are egalitarian in doctrine, but just as comfortable having no women on staff or in leadership and no plan to seek out females for these positions. The women I speak to in my office are extremely confused by this message and feel there are no role models for them in leadership and no place for them at the leadership table.
Many Christians are often criticized for calling themselves feminists, even though the definition of the word feminism means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Men and women being treated as equals is not something that deserves criticism, nor does it appear non-Christian according to Galatians. Many women are grateful for these early feminists: Susan B. Anthony, who founded The National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869; Carrie Chapman Catt, for her work to help get the 19th Amendment signed into law in 1920, granting women the right to vote for the first time; Alice Paul, for proposing the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923; Frances Perkins for becoming the first woman in the U.S. cabinet as Secretary of Labor in 1933. When I look at our history as a country, I am embarrassed and ashamed that women have only been able to vote since 1920 (144 years after our country was founded), and they continue to get paid less, discriminated against and exploited on a daily basis. Sexism is still an American epidemic, which I believe grieves the heart of God, who made us in His own image as male and female. Only together as men and women do we completely reveal the true image of God.
I also included a nice little instructional video for those of you like me whose eyes glaze over when reading the Elliott book 🙂
 Juliet Mitchell, Reflections on Twenty Years of Feminism. http://sfonline.barnard.edu/sfxxx/documents/mitchell.pdf
 Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (London: Penguin Books, 1974), 13.
 Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: Second Edition An Introduction, (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2014), 212.
 John Keyser, Make Way for Women: Men and Women Leading Together Improve Culture and Profits, (Buffalo, NY: Librastream, 2015), Kindle location 2026.
16 responses to “Jesus the Feminist”
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Hey Jake, the video made me giggle when it said “even art was traditionally created by men for men,” because at la Musée d’Orsay, a weel-known impressionist museum in Paris, there is this really famous painting of a picnic with two men and three women, where the men are fully clothed and the women are all nude. I remember looking at that painting and thinking, “clearly that was painted be men for men!”
You say, “I see many churches today very comfortable declaring they are egalitarian in doctrine, but just as comfortable having no women on staff or in leadership and no plan to seek out females for these positions.”
Why do you think this is ture?
I think its true because churches don’t want to take the risk and do the hard work to nurture and seek out women for leadership positions. They would rather just stay comfortable and call themselves egalitarian and appear different than they actually are.
I was hoping you would choose this theory! I thought you would which is why I chose Queer Theory. Wonderful job including your research, lots of resources, ethnography, etc. I think this is your most comprehensive post yet and I personally appreciate your open mindedness and willingness to forgo power so that a woman can step in. It takes a confident, strong man to do so!
This is an interesting statement – “Although some radical feminists would argue that women don’t need men, in many ways, feminism has paved the way for men and women to lead effectively together.” How do you explain this phenomena? Who has changed – men or women?
Thanks for your kind words and I am happy to forgo whatever power I may have to help empower female leaders. It appears both men and women have changed. Women have realized they need men more to get ahead and men are starting to see the value and success of women leaders. I feel as soon as we start saying we don’t need each other, we stop experiencing the beauty of what God intended with male & female.
Jake, I was excited this week when I saw your post and was interested in hearing your input on feminism and what it has meant for the church.
You must have some BIG OL’ OVARIES to take on a topic this big. :D. Ok, I hope you get that reference or else that would be very awkward.
I’m a believer in the “Jesus Feminist” book, I think we talked about this in SA. One thing I was hoping to hear about from you was the recent articles describing that “feminism is dead” and the other side saying “its worse than ever.” And then, of course, every theory or party has it’s extremists which are bad representations of the main ideas. It’s all very confusing. I’m looking for you for clarity!
Two recent articles…
Thanks for complimenting my ovaries by the way 🙂 Thanks also for the articles. I think feminism has changed over the years, I think what started out as fighting to be treated as equals turned into some man-hating, but I think women are seeing more value in mixed-gender leadership. I think the need for some group to raise awareness of the discrimination and inequality towards women is still needed so I think some form of feminism is still needed. We still have yet to pass the equal rights amendment (“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”) as a country, which was first introduced in 1923. http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/
Jake, I suppose this was the week everyone wanted to see what Shawn stood for…LOL. I will state up front that in my very conservative Christian view, to some I will definitely demonstrate what is viewed as “sexist” on only a religious level. Being raised in a house with five older sisters, I was taught how to “treat a woman” from the moment I came into this world. It would not have been tolerated for me to mistreat, abuse, or even treat my sisters and way that inappropriate, because we were all equal in the house. However, I was also taught about roles that exist in the Bible that showed that God had handed out very important roles to men and very important roles to women. As children in the house, we were equals, but in roles, we were different. I in no way support gender objectification, or double-standards, or gender based discrimination…however, I do believe that there is a difference between the roles intended in Scripture for men and women. Below I am listing three different bible scriptures…do not get upset, because they are “role” scriptures. You quoted Paul the Apostle and even connected Christ to enforcing what he taught, so here are 3 other thoughts of Paul. After reading them, please answer me this question: Is it possible to be treated equally and fairly, and yet still recognize that we were not all intended to fulfill the same roles?
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 (NKJV)
33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
1 Corinthians 11:8-12 (NKJV)
8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
1 Timothy 2:11-15 (NKJV)
11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Shawn, I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to be open to discussion. The problem with the scriptures you reference is they do not take into account context at all, and I think it is ironic that the other parts of those passages that talk about appropriate conduct in church are not followed or even talked about in most churches. (ie: “4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” & “9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.”) Also they do not appear to refer to roles at all, just cultural norms for that culture. We can’t just pick and choose the parts of scripture that are convenient and ignore the parts that don’t make any cultural sense.
When we interpret scripture in a way that justifies discrimination by calling it different roles, it causes us to put on blinders to what is really happening to women in our churches today and I think Jesus would have a very different approach, based on all the cultural rules he broke when it came to women. If I told you that you are equal to women but your role was to be the secretary and hers was to be the senior pastor, would you still feel treated as an equal and not discriminated against? Or would this feel sexist to you? Put yourself in women’s shoes who you are telling can’t have certain leadership roles in the church but are treated as equals and see if it still feels fair. Help me see how limiting men and women’s roles lives out this scripture: Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Thanks Jake. There is still something in me that doesn’t like the word “feminist”. Maybe I see that as being inline not with someone that wants equal rights rather it brings images of the radical man-hater side of the word. Growing up in a church and family that has had woman in leadership has made me a advocate for equality rather than hate language. I know several have blogged this week on language. It is such a powerful tool for good and destruction. How do we advocate the equality without the tolerance for the radical side of the movement? Or do you believe we need that side for real change to take place?
I agree with you, any time we go radical for any cause it usually means we get a little out of focus. I also can see why groups do this (just like in the fight against apartheid where they started blowing things up to get attention) in order to create change. I think we can advocate for equality in leadership without having to go negative, but I feel like people have called my stance with women radical, so maybe that is ok as long as it is making positive change without doing damage. I think it will take more men standing up in support of women to make real change, so women don’t have to do all the fighting.
When he was elected, my prime minister loudly declared, “I am a feminist.” Then when he selected his cabinet two years ago, 50% of the positions went to women, “Because it’s 2015.”
I support him in this. I think, as white men, we need to model and look for opportunities to advocate for the voices of minorities whether women, ethnicities, orientations, etc., for we are a stronger society when we learn to include other perspectives. This is something you seem to advocate and I admire you for your commitment to this.
And then we have the church, which doesn’t often live up to these ideals. My decision has been to not leave but contribute to a changing of attitudes by staying. I recognize in my church that it might take 100 years or more interpretations of scripture and tradition to change viewpoints. I may never see this happen in my lifetime. But I’m staying, despite the brokenness and fragility and misunderstanding that happens.
I think as we develop a theology of the broken body of Christ, the Church, as not being perfect but being bloodied and bruised, that that will give us the metaphor and the vision to stay and contribute to a resurrected Body of Christ that is glorious and intact.
Beautiful heart and beautiful words Mark. Thanks for hanging in their on behalf of women!
Great topic Jake.
You quote John Keyser saying, “the primary method of advancing women in corporate America is through men in top leadership roles deliberately advocating for them.” This is one of the same findings of a friend of mine who recently completed her doctorate. She calls them “benevolent male advocates.” I will send you her dissertation as well as she’s a pastor and professor who happens to live near you in Spokane.
I have spent a lot of time reading, researching and in diaplogue with others who agree, disagree and are still making up their mind about egalitarian or feminist perspectives. I appreciate your decision to choose this as your topic as it is so rare for men to take interest in ‘women’s troubles’ (that term makes me a little sick by the way). Also, I think you could probably help educate all of cohort 8 on your findings and insight further into feminism.
Thanks so much for passing on the dissertation and I will definitely need to look her up. Thanks for your kind words, it is an honor to take up this mantle on behalf of women because I believe we all have much to gain from men and women leading well together.
Thanks for this post. I was enjoyed this line that you had: “As men, if we want to offset these destructive messages, we need to validate the uncomfortable feelings of women and empathize with their hurts.” To me, this speaks to the power that men/supporters/friends of women have in this conversation. It’s not as if men just need to back off and vacate the space, but instead, as you write, if we seek to make things better (to counter the destructive messages), we have to step in. Also, this is a particularly timely piece that you wrote, given the last couple weeks around our country. To validate those feelings and acknowledge those hurts… this is a good starting point for many of us men.
Thanks for your kind, profound words, it’s nice to have another brother in the fight. Blessings my friend.