There has to be a better word to describe myself than “feminist” but if such a word exists I’m having difficulty locating it. You see I resist the use of the word “feminist” because many of the women I’ve met who self describe using this term have a quality of person that I don’t relate to. Many of them seem angry and I’m not. At least not about my place in the world and the role of my gender in the world. (There are other things that make me angry and a few that tempt me to move from my pacifist position but my gender isn’t one of them.) It’s not a new question but one that rears it’s head fairly frequently. Usually it rears its head because someone is trying to understand how I engage my gender in the world of ministry. Sometimes it’s a student asking because they are expecting my theology to be feminist in tone. Sometimes it’s a parishioner trying to sort out how to address me or talk about me. Sometimes it’s someone who assumes that to be a woman in ministry means one must be a feminist.
I like being a woman. While it does occasionally complicate my life in ministry it’s also a source of great joy to me. I suspect that as a woman in ministry I relate to parishioners in a slightly different way than my male colleagues. I find that I spend a great deal of time re-parenting and giving guidance much like that I would give my own children. I wonder sometimes if instead of “Pastor”, my parishioners should just call me “Mom”.
I also find that in the seminary setting my gender creates interesting moments, but I don’t find these to be stressful as much as I find them interesting. The moments in which my conversation with students about original sin includes a conversation about the virginity of Mary are quite delightful. I admit a certain joy in watching a few students wince when I’m quite frank in my language regarding the conception of Jesus. Apparently the words ‘sperm’ and ‘ova’ can still make some grown men blush.
So am I a feminist? I’m a woman who believes in the unique dignity of each human life regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, orientation and age. I don’t measure people on the basis of these things and don’t expect to be measured solely by these things in my own life. I believe that women contribute to our societies in unique and valuable ways. I believe that I can be the equal of any person, regardless of gender, if my gifts and graces allow. (I’ll never be the equal of my mechanically competent husband due to my lack of spatial sense and physical strength.) Do these things make me a feminist?
I’d use the word ‘humanist’ but of course that has baggage that I don’t care to lug around. Womanist, equally connected to agendas that are not mine. Perhaps I need an adjective such as gracious, gracious feminist? So you see, it’s an ongoing challenge. Any thoughts dear reader?