Issues of Christian feminism have been on my mind over the last several days. A friend of mine posted a blog entry recently regarding an article in our local newspaper about an academic program in homemaking being offered at Southwestern Baptist theological seminary. She included the following quote: Coursework will include seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation, seven hours of textile design and “clothing construction,” three hours of general homemaking, three hours on “the value of a child” and three hours on the “biblical model for the home and family”… Women also study children’s spiritual, physical and emotional development.
There were several comments on her blog entry, one of which noted that this particular program is open only to women, and the issue really got me thinking about the realities and challenges of this type of college-level course of study in today’s post-feminist world.
I consider myself a Christian feminist. These two words together may cause some evangelical Christian women I know to bristle, but it has never been a difficult issue for me. I’ve considered myself a feminist ever since I thought I knew what the word meant, thanks in part to my mother and the lively conversations we have had over the years concerning reproductive choice, women in the workplace, and women’s rights. I understand that many traditional elements of feminism don’t necessarily jive with what God tells us about the roles he has designed for both men and women, but that doesn’t mean to me that the notion of feminism or the fundamentals of feminist thought should be abandoned by Christian women. I think that Christian women can, and should, negotiate the definitions of feminism and find our own niche where we can address the issues that are important to us — issues that I think are very “feminist.”
First, the issue of the program in homemaking at Southwestern Baptist. How awesome that a seminary would recognize homemaking as a career path, worthy of inclusion in the curriculum and all the work that goes into defining course content, objectives, and outcomes. I think that this type of recognition is important and negates the notion that homemaking is a leisurely, uncomplicated undertaking prompting the thought, “Oh, she’s so lucky! All she has to do is stay at home with her kids all day while her husband goes to work!” People thinking that have clearly never seen the packed schedules, overflowing day planners, multiple to-do lists, cluttered homeschool classrooms, and piles of laundry and dishes belonging to some of the blessed homemakers I know.
I will never forget when my aunt referred to herself as a “household manager” instead of a homemaker or housewife. Amen! If one can major in business management in college, then I am all for a major in household management. Let’s just recognize that both men and women should be able to enroll in this type of program as I believe that God desires both genders to be caregivers and to do this job well.
Second, the issue of the definitions of feminism. I heard a great interview with Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and wife of congressman Sherrod Brown, on yesterday’s edition of Fresh Air on National Public Radio. Schultz discussed the challenges of campaigning, becoming a “Senator’s wife,” and situations in which she found herself that challenged her feminist nature. One issue in particular was being told at a gathering of Senator’s wives how they could order “Senate china” if they wanted. She was shocked that the women would be having this discussion in light of the critical issues related to war, terrorism, domestic poverty, and crime that their husbands would be tackling in their new jobs. Schultz went on to comment about the fact that today’s young women are hesitant to call themselves feminists because of the commonly accepted idea that being a feminist means neglecting home and family for career. Schultz believes, and I agree, that nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism is, and always has been, about choices and being able to make those choices.
Christian women should have a vital interest in securing choices about very important issues: affordable housing, the condition of schools and quality of teachers, securing reliable daycare, ensuring health insurance coverage for their children, continuity of family medical care from physicians in HMOs, protecting our children from predators and pornography on the Internet, etc. I would argue that these issues and many others are both Christian and feminist.
I think that ideally we would discuss and be in prayer with our husbands about these issues, mutually supporting each other as we strive to better live both in this world and in God’s image. You never know, you might find your husband calling himself a Christian feminist. Stranger things have been known to happen.