“If feminism is just about your own empowerment, then that is not feminism, that is just capitalism in a fancy hat” claims Alice Fraser in her 2018 Melbourne Comedy Festival Act “The Resistance”. Writing slightly differently, but with a similar insight, Eve Tushnet reflects in the article “Everyone is Female” that “A feminism that’s only about gaining power inevitably embraces the abuse of power.” As I have pondered both of these quotes, I have come to think that their resonance points to our desire for a feminism that will bring each and every person to equality. But more than that, how often we find the feminsim offered to us, whether that be in pop culture, conversation or commercials, to be less than that ideal. That what was intended to be a conversation and movement about shared authority, equality and subverting the power structures that marginalise women, has become in many instances a tool for selling products, assigning guilt and shame in new ways and at its worst; selecting new power structures that marginalise a different group of people.
As Christians all conversations about power should give us pause. We know that the abuse of power is something that God detests (it is better, Jesus told us, to drown yourself than to abuse your power, particularly when that power is attached to spiritual leadership). We are also keenly aware that our human hearts are deceitful and quick to justify our power grabs, regardless of their impacts on others.
But along with a warning about the ease of abuse of power Jesus offers an entirely different model of how to use it, he shows us what feminism can truly be. For Jesus stands for equality, not because he needs to be made equal; he is the name above all names. He stands for equality because he inherently values all people, in their uniqueness as well as in their common humanity - people made in the image of God. Jesus is for equality, in ways that were radical for both his time period (and now) and with a resonance that has transformed cultures across the world. We see this in how he affirms the value and dignity of all the people he interacted with, regardless of how society treated them. But we see it even more clearly in his work on the cross where he voluntarily forfeited all his power, was objectified and shamed, in order to bring us, who did not deserve it, to equality. Ephesians 2 describes how the cross wins for all of us who trust in its sufficiency the status of citizens in God’s kingdom and the right to be members of God’s household. Regardless of the value, worth or power that this world assigns to us, Jesus labels us as full members of the kingdom of God.
My prayer is that I will live #eachforequal, not because I want an equality of my own; I have that in Christ and nobody can take it away from me. But because I want the church to reflect the beauty of God’s goodness, for all people to be radically unhindered and joyfully free to be participants in his kingdom. Both his kingdom expressed in the church, where equality of voice and service allows us to more freely share in vulnerable relationships and speak and live the truth of God’s love with greater clarity and nuance. And also his kingdom work in the world where the equality of men and women, as well as equality of race, class, sexuality and ability, allow our society to reflect the community for which God made us as well as his heart for diversity.
And I pray that the whole church will, in the manner of Jesus, be #eachforequal. That it will be a space where conversations about lifting minority voices are commonplace. That those who have power, both formally and informally, will voluntarily and regularly give it up in order to lift up the voices, experiences and abilities of those who are marginalised. That we will communally repent of the sin of abusing our privilege and seek to live lives that celebrate the equality that is ours in Christ.
Working for equality is not primarily a matter of words, although words are important and have their place. It involves prayerfully following the example of Jesus in setting aside our privilege, in getting alongside people who are struggling and walking with them through joys, progress, setbacks and failures. It means having difficult conversations in which we admit and confess our own privilege, apologise to those we have hurt, repent of our sins and work with humility to change. It requires us to shun complacency and seek to find the lost, the hurting and the marginalised.
As Proverbs 3:27 instructs us “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”
Fiona is a School Chaplain who is also passionate about physics, fanfiction and feminism. She studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.