Thursday, July 11, 2013

Are You A Feminist?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Teacher, counselor, preacher, pastor, leader, life coach, mom, wife are all the titles I've gladly worn at some point in my life and career. I really was not ready when I was asked: "are you a feminist?"

A woman asked me this question after hearing of the work I do with women in prison and globally.

I was completely caught off guard by her question but luckily I've been pondering on what it means to be a feminist and was I one or should I be one?

 I'm one of 5 daughters. I grew up in Haiti surrounded by women entrepreneurs. In the absence of my mom for 10 years, these women helped shape my view on what it means to be a woman. They were hard working women and lived with passion in spite of what life threw at them. They had a joie de vive in the midst of lack and poverty.

I was later exposed by other types of women during my years in college; Rutgers university. I was on an all-girl campus where a huge emphasis was on empowering women and the hope was for women to be used to change the world. I met my closest girlfriends on that campus.

I then became the wife and mother to 4 great men.  In this arena, we had to negotiate the dos and don’ts for our family.  Would my husband help with the cooking? Who would wash the dishes? Who would handle the finances? Should I speak up or shut up? What about respect, how to give it without it being mandated? What is my worth?  What do I bring to the table?  Who would pray and lead prayer time before we headed to bed at night?

We started out as rule followers, trying to fit the mold but in our home we had to be authentic to our gifts; we could not follow predefined roles for the uniqueness of our family.  God was the core and when something needed to be done, we would put our heads together and get it done.  We started realizing that we needed to be authentic in the uniqueness of our family.  We approached our family not with predetermined rules but with predetermined passion for serving one another.

In church and seminary, the roles for women were more strictly defined and enforced than in any other place I’ve studied, worked and in my family.  It saddened me that the roles for women and men were approached from predetermined prescribed rules. In the book the Call and Gifted written by the Evangelical Covenant Church Denomination, one line reads: “We believe that the biblical basis for service in the body of Christ is giftedness, a call from God, and godly character—not gender”. To which I say: YES. I believe it should be the same in the family and place of employment. 

If the question, “are you a feminist”, was asked of me 15 years ago, I would have answered with an emphatic no, because the word feminism invoked so many negative meanings.  I would go into a series of questions: does it mean I think men and women are the same? Does it mean women wear the pants? Does it mean women should abort their babies whenever they felt like it? Does it mean women can take over and start undermining the leadership of men? Does it mean I’m bringing shame on my family if I’m too strong? Does this mean I can hang out with the fellas all night and drink beer because that’s what men do? Does it mean women will become men?

Over the course of 15 years, I’ve done a tremendous amount of growing up.  I’ve sat across hundreds of women who have been victimized simply because they were women.  I’ve sat across women who have been abused and handed a heavy burden simply because they were women.  I’ve sat across women who could not get an education simply because they were women.  I’ve sat across women afraid to speak up simply because they were women. 

I want women to be empowered to get an education, to lead, to be treated fairly, to not be marginalized, to be paid the same amount for equal work done, to be promoted according to their gifts and talents and not held back because of culture and gender.  And if that makes me a feminist, I gladly embrace that title as well.

One of the best definitions I've read of feminism is: “someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” Cheryl Sandberg.  And I will add equality in the church.

Let us stand up for women.  Let us elevate them.  Let us fight for them.  Let us say: the victimization of women must end.  Why?  Because that’s the heart of God.