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Lean In

In an effort to pre-empt all the "yeah, but"s that this sonnet invites, I invented the foot-sonnet...

Are you sitting comfortably? Then lean in.
Once upon a time there was a table
Where it happens. All the seats were taken
While we women were off menstruating,
So we waited, brought the drinks and snacks
And hovered in our heels and push-up bras
Pretending to a winsome cluelessness,
While they made laws and wars and wrote out cheques.
But we took notes. And when the moment came,
We’d take it: nothing beyond sacrifice
To prove ourselves as fully man as them:
We’d fight, pollute, exclude and brandish choice
With laughter, all to gain a seat or two –
And after, who knows what we might not do.† 
† Sure, many men have led with wisdom and
The best of motives; many women feel
Empowered in a push-up bra and heels;
Our bodies do not warrant being scorned,
And nor do acts of service for the sake
Of others. Free market economies
Have made the poorest richer, militaries
Can help keep peace, and courts protect the weak.
Some say the moment’s ripe. We’re noticing
Injustice and environmental threats,
And making braver choices; masculine
Ideals are under scrutiny, and seats
Have been relinquished. Credit where it’s due,
And all that; who knows what we might not do. 
Carolyn Whitnall, 2019.

I often wonder what other people hear when I say I'm a feminist. I often wonder what I mean when I say it, and I wonder (and sometimes worry) what other feminists mean, and to what extent we're on the same page.

Seeking the wellbeing and flourishing of all women doesn't require agreeing with all women about what that looks like (though there's certainly better and worse ways to disagree). Certain expressions of feminism make me uncomfortable. In particular, I struggle to get excited at the prospect of women getting our own chance at wielding (what I see as) oppressive power: a seat at the table is all very well but sometimes the table itself needs overturning.

Which is why, not only am I dissatisfied with a Christianity without concern for gender justice, neither can I readily embrace a feminism which doesn't ultimately tend towards an increase of Christ-likeness...
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
    Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
        by taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil 2:3-8)
The prevailing power imbalance arguably has its roots, to some (inescapable?) degree, in aspects of our biology that make women more vulnerable (which doesn't imply less capable) than men. But everything about Jesus seems to fly in the face of the "might is right" logic that seeks to justify subjection and inequality on the basis of a "natural" dominance hierarchy. He lived out the "unnatural" laying-down of power, and calls his followers to do the same.

The church then, you would think, should be at the forefront of willingly giving ground to those disempowered and silenced in the wider world – including "showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you [men] of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7). Sadly, we are more well-known for our historic resistance to such change, and even now, when there is increasing movement towards shared leadership and greater inclusion, there are plenty of voices crying "cultural capitulation" and urging the church to reverse the "feminisation" that is apparently so off-putting to men. Whilst I strongly agree that we should not be taking our cues from secular society (Rom 12:2), I can't help but note that we wouldn't have to if we had taken the lead in the first place. Nor that many of the supposedly Christian values being defended flow suspiciously comfortably with the current of the "imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal" [1] water that we swim in...

[1] "Imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy" is bell hooks' description of the inter-connected power structures underlying the social order in the US and the world more broadly. Her excellent book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love was hugely influential on my understanding of feminism and our need for it, and remains a pretty close explanation of what I personally mean when I say I'm a feminist.

[Thumbnail image cc. from Wikimedia Commons].