Can you be a feminist wife?
"Can you be a feminist wife?"
Apparently this is a question some people were discussing recently on Twitter. I believe this conversation was taking place in the wee hours of the morning, but I'm a 30-something English teacher which means I am in the bed (not on Twitter) in the wee hours of the morning. But I awoke to find that a male friend of mine (who knows I'm a feminist and a wife) had tweeted me about this topic, wanting me to comment.
My response was simple. It had to be. This is Twitter we're talking about. I simply replied: "Yes, you can be a feminist wife. Anyone who says you can't doesn't understand what feminism really is."
But here's what I would have said if I had had more than 140 characters with which to respond…
Yes, a woman can be a feminist and a wife and, quite frankly, husbands should want their wives to be feminists.
Just so we're all on the same page, feminism is not a movement about hating men, marriage, motherhood and makeup. Feminism is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Period. Now, things get complicated when we start discussing how women (and men) go about living out feminism in their everyday lives. But if we always come back to that notion of equality, we feminists can always find common ground.
According to feminism a woman is equal to her husband. I realize some men may have a problem with this notion but, fortunately, I didn't marry a man with such issues. I married a man who doesn't want me to shrink myself down so he can puff himself up. We build up each other.
In my marriage, my husband and I are partners. We make decisions and plans together. We respect each others' gifts and goals. We support one another always. And our marriage and our lives are better for it. I could not be the strong and supportive partner that my husband needs, wants, and deserves if I didn't view myself as his equal, if I didn't view myself as a full and complete person worthy of freedom of love.
As British suffragist and journalist Rebecca West famously said, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."
As a Christian, I know that the implication that we women are not, in fact, people -- the implication that the wife is somehow beneath the husband -- is loudest, unfortunately, in the church. Men and women alike love to trot out Bible verses about women being submissive to their husbands and the need for women to basically sit down and shut up. People who use (abuse?) these verses tend to ignore the cultural context of these verses and, in some cases, even ignore the other verses that follow.
Yes, Ephesians 5:22 says "wives submit to your husbands," but just a few lines down in verse 25 the Scripture reads, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." When you put these verses together they do not produce an image of a tyrannical husband lording over his weak doormat of a wife. These verses paint a beautiful picture of two people -- both created in the image of God -- living a life of love and mutual submission.
I put my husband's needs before my own. My husband puts my needs before his. And God is the spiritual head of our household. Our relationship isn't perfect. Sometimes we get selfish, mess up, and step on each other's toes. And then we forgive, forget, and keep dancing through life, hand in hand.
When reading Sarah Bessey's book Jesus Feminist I was brought to tears as she described her feelings for her husband because her words perfectly described my feelings for the magnificent man in my life:
I trust my husband completely -- with every bit of our life and with myself. My trust is not because I must, not because I believe God commands me to submit without question to his leadership because I am easily deceived or weak. I submit because I am walking in the Way of Jesus. As a man of God, [my husband] serves me, too.
Men, don't you want your wives writing words of such beauty and grace about you? Or do you want your woman to simply shrug her shoulders and say, "Well, I just let the man be the man."
My hope is that one day conversations about feminism and marriage would not focus on who's in charge and instead shift to a discussion of how a husband and wife can uplift each other and use their talents and strengths for the benefit of their relationship, their family and the world around them.
Bessey, of course, explains this best when she writes:
If a woman is held back, minimized, pushed down, or downplayed, she is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as his image bearer… If we minimize our gifts, hush our voice, and stay small in a misguided attempt to fit a weak and culturally conditioned standard of femininity, we cannot give our brothers the partner they require in God's mission for the world.