Jesus Is A Feminist

written on 30 September 2020 by Indy Hollway

Art by Hadeel McCall

I’m very proud to call myself a feminist.

I’m not afraid of the possibly negative connotations caused by the word ‘feminist’; just as I’m not afraid of those caused by the word ‘christian’. I’ve been a feminist way longer than I’ve been a christian, but my feminism has been fundamentally shaped and strengthened by my beliefs. My feminism without God was angry, unformed, and full of despair. I had no time to listen to those who assured me that the enemy - men - also suffer from unhelpful gender norms. My feminism with God is righteous, equity-focused, and hopeful. Jesus’ character has shown me how to bring women up without bringing men down, and how we are moving towards a better, more equal future. So, writing about Jesus and feminism was an easy choice for me because I see no animosity or opposition between the two. However, I have chosen not to write a logical argumentation about context and society, because plenty of vastly more intelligent people than I have written books and articles just like that. Instead, I have decided to share three of the many conversations from my life which helped lead me to the conclusion that Jesus is a feminist.

My feminism without God was angry, unformed, and full of despair... My feminism with God is righteous, equity focused, and hopeful.

“You’re married? What the f*** did you do that for?” It’s my own fault really for trying to make new friends. I should have remembered how these conversations go. However, this is the most forthright judgement I’d received in a while, other people usually have more tact. “Because I love my husband and I want to spend the rest of my life with him,” I respond. I know everything he’s going to say before he says it. “But why didn’t you just move in together?”. Here comes the clincher. “Because I don’t personally believe you should live with someone before you get married to them.” “What are you, christian or something?” he laughs, as if nothing could be so ridiculous as a loudly feminist 20 year old studying social sciences being a Christian. “Yes,” I respond softly. Now the moment of truth; will he back up semi-apologetically having realised he made a mistake, or will he press on into the painful baggage around christianity that paints me as the bad guy. “Were you a virgin when you got married?” he asks with a smile. And this shocks me. It’s such a personal and almost entirely irrelevant question that I wonder why he thinks it's appropriate to ask it in the first place. Is he trying to trap me somehow, or is he genuinely curious? And if he is genuinely curious, why? And another, angrier thought crosses my mind: would he have asked this if I wasn’t a woman? All credit to the guy, it’s possible that he was just a jackass, and not a misogynist. But this memory has stuck in my mind even years later because of how the encounter made me feel: fearful. I was physically stuck (the conversation was taking place just before a lecture) in an unpleasant situation having to justify my counter-cultural decisions to somebody who didn’t come across as very receptive. And in that moment of mingled fear, embarrassment, and general discomfort, I was reminded of some of the women who Jesus interceded for, who may have felt this same way. There was the woman with the alabaster jar who was ridiculed for using the expensive oil on Jesus as opposed to selling it and giving the money to the poor. Then there was Mary who’s sister Martha was frustrated by her decision to sit at Jesus’ feet instead of helping her to host. Jesus even chooses women, whose legal testimony was worthless without the support of a man, to reveal his resurrected body to. Jesus affirmed all these women who were doing the ‘wrong thing’, who were behaving counter-culturally. I chose not to answer this question. Even if this guy truly meant no harm, his behaviour continued a long-established pattern of disrespecting women who deviate from societal norms, something Jesus himself disrupted. I smile and think ‘wait till that guy finds out I got married when I was 19’.

However, women don’t always need to be doing something to feel afraid or be disrespected, sometimes just being female is enough. “What are the everyday struggles of Amsterdammers?” the pastor asks me. I think about it for a moment. “Well I don’t know if it’s so much related, but I saw this TikTok where a girl says ‘name three men that you trust enough to be in a room alone with’ and she can’t think of three” I respond. He looks troubled. “In fact,” I continue, “a lot of women feel that way, like they can’t name three men they feel safe with.” “Is that true?” the pastor asks with concern in his eyes. “How about you, can you name three?” “Me?” I ask, “I can name many more than three. I mean, you and I are in this room alone and I feel totally safe. And then there’s my husband, and my dad, and my father in law… and the list goes on. But I am very lucky in that regard.” There’s a moment of silence. “But isn’t it great,” I say, “that we have created an atmosphere of safety in the church, at least for some people. It stands us in good stead to welcome new women in.” We both smile and move on to the next topic. When I later mention this conversation to my husband, he is equally concerned for those women who don’t have men in their lives that they feel safe around. “Women felt safe around Jesus” I say. “So if we are trying to be more like Jesus, then we need to be gentler, kinder, and more loving to women”. “The bare minimum” he says. “The bare minimum” I agree.

However, women don’t always need to be doing something to feel afraid or be disrespected, sometimes just being female is enough.

‘The bare minimum’ is a phrase which bounces around my head. Was Jesus doing the bare minimum, or was he calling us to do the maximum? And what is the maximum? Well, after years of asking myself this question I can only arrive at one answer: intersectionality. “How do your intersectional feminist beliefs line up with your religious beliefs?” I am asked. I’m sitting high above the city in a rooftop cafe drinking chai. It’s a pretty idyllic setting. “What do you mean?” I ask in response. “Well I mean you talk openly about being anti-binary, and loving the lgbtq+ community, and you support women so ferociously. How does this line up with you being a christian?” “How does it not line up?” At this my coffee date falters slightly. I know I’m being annoying and cryptic and unnecessarily difficult. But this is what changing hearts and minds is all about: facilitating people to uncover their preconceived ideas on their own time. And I have a whole load of time. I could very quickly clarify that Jesus doesn't only love one type of person, or break into one type of misery. Jesus meets us where we are and brings light and love to all areas of our lives. Jesus was intersectional, and so should we be. I believe our job is to love people as Jesus loves them, and not judge them; to bring people to God so that they can go on their own journeys of discovery, and not force our beliefs and interpretations on people before they have even met Jesus. But I’m not here to drink chai and tell people what they should believe and how they should live; I’m here to guide, sure, but not dominate. Feminism is about equity after all.

Today, here I am, sitting on my sofa, writing this article for a project I co-founded, wearing a jumper which reads ‘girls empower girls’. It is so abundantly clear to me that the feminist movement isn’t human freedom running away from God’s original plan, it’s God’s plan coming into fruition. Because ultimately, feminism is about women achieving the equality that God gave us in the garden of Eden. It’s about women being able to make choices about their own lives, and being empowered to walk into the life God has for us. All women this is, not just white women or straight women or abled women or young women or cisgendered women or rich women or women with degrees.

Feminism is about women achieving the equality that God gave us in the garden of Eden.

Jesus is an intersectional feminist.