I couldn't tell you when I first started thinking of myself as a feminist. It's almost like asking me when I became a Christian -- I was brought up this way. In elementary school, I came home from the school library with junior biographies about Marie Curie and Betty Friedan and, no joke, Dr. Ruth. To be great, I read, was to live a life that furthered knowledge and access to it by an ever increasing swath of people.
I was in the eighth grade when Hilary Clinton became first lady. She was from my home town; how could I not have idolized her? Her feminism was of a comfortable sort; she was a mom, albeit a working one. She spent too much on her hair, but understood that it takes a village to raise a child. She was an equal partner in her marriage, even though he was the leader of the free world. It might not have made her any friends in the GOP, but their relationship assured me that smart girls could score worthy men (a key priority as I entered high school; a dream unshattered by his extramarital terribleness).
Here at Fidelia's, though our masthead might not convey as much diversity as we'd like, we don't always agree on what it means to be a woman, or what it means to be clergy, or what it means to be a Christian, or what it means to be a feminist. So I've been interested to watch facebook and other forums to see my colleagues' reactions to the news last week that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the nation's most visible sponsor of breast cancer research and support for patients, cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which had previously supported that organization's provision of breast cancer screenings and other services to poor and other underresourced women.
Some of us were really, really angry. We've walked for the cure, and bought pink everything (triscuits, yogurt, coffee), and only grumbled a little when our friends started airing the colors of their bra straps on the internet. We have all loved someone who has been stricken by cancer -- clergy people are magnets for them -- we long for nothing so much as their healing, their relief from suffering. But Planned Parenthood has been a part of our lives; it's where we got STD screenings and the morning after pill; it's where they gave us information and told us we didn't have to ashamed of being women or having bodies.
Others were not so upset, if they were upset at all. Susan G. does so many good things, so much good work. The visibility is critical... but we have to remember that breast cancer is not a political issue. Maybe they were just trying to widen their base, by casting off ties to the ever-controversial Planned Parenthood. Isn't being a feminist, after all, about the freedom to make choices?
In reading all those biographies as a kid, what struck me was that those women, those women who grew and fought so hard to be leaders, did not have the freedom to make choices. They had to fight tooth and nail for a place at the table, for a voice, for the chance to pursue and thrive in their respective vocations. That, to me, is what being a feminist is all about: facing obstacles placed by others because of your gender, and seeking to remove them, not just for yourself, but for others. It's about helping others to find the abundant life Christ wants for us all.
It surprises me, I confess, that there should be any hesitancy on the part of young clergy women to call themselves feminists; from whence does that hesitancy arise? We, who belong to a particular demographic, which routinely nods as someone critiques the register of our voices; we, who nod and smile as others comment on our hair, earrings, dress, shoes, organizational style and children's behavior; we, who sit in endless meetings begging for a living wage and benefits and maternity leave; we, who are made to sit in budget meetings and contemplate staff cuts in a world in which Mark Driscoll preaches sermons to thousands on topics like "The Respectful Wife" and "Men, will you vow to lead?" We, who find ourselves trying to look older, when our male counterparts revel in their hipster glasses and jeans, because young clergymen are charismatic and exciting in the eyes of countless call committees; young women are just young -- inexperienced.
I read Luke's Gospel, or any of the stories of Jesus reaching out to marginalized women, or Ruth, or Esther, and I know that these obstacles -- for us, for anyone -- are not what God intended for us. We are free to choose -- in God's eyes, in the American consumer market -- who to support, but that does not mean all choices are equal in moral worth or in furthering the work of God's reign.
But I also think we tend to be silent because we are scared; scared that we might lose our seat at the table, the ones so begrudgingly squeezed in by long standing leadership. Pink is apolitical, so is cancer. But the fact that women are so much more likely to be poor, and that poor women are more likely to be sick and in need of care, and so much less likely to get it... those are political issues. It's a time of lean budgets and great anxiety for many; pastorally, we may not want to add to the conflict. Personally, we might not want to alienate any big givers.
We might, of course, be deeply ambivalent about abortion and the fact that Planned Parenthood provides them, even though that's just a small portion of what they do. But this raises a much larger question for us, for the church, for women: how do we decide when to stay or go? What change can we work for and what change can we not wait for? In our denominations, in our nations, in our communities and in our churches -- what obstacles are yet present to us and those in our care, what brokenness needs healing, and what are we going to do in response?