Liberating History: Cross-Generational Blogging about Faith and Feminism

Article excerpt

AROUND 11 P.M. on April 1,2008, a young woman in Seattle sent an e-mail to an author in Norfolk, Virginia:

I was very happy to discover your book All We're Meant to Be. I am writing because I am a 27-year-old in the midst of my own book project, where I focus on things like what it means for women to have a "voice." Honestly, I daily face discouragement with these issues. Can the church really change? Does my voice on this matter? Can I believe in what I have to offer?

Although it was 2 a.m. on the East Coast, the author was still at her computer and replied immediately:

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Thank you for writing. Yes, I do understand how lonely and discouraging it can be when one is raising questions that are not always welcome among some Christians. It's g not surprising that self-doubts pop up from time to time! But please don't, give in to any notion that you, as a woman, don't have a voice. If God is calling you to be all you were meant to be and to fulfill that calling through writing, your voice will indeed matter and will reach those who need to hear it.

We are those correspondents. That e-mail exchange was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and colleagueship, which a few months later formed the basis for our blog, "72-27: A cross-generational dialogue between two Christian feminists." (At the time, Letha was 72 and Kimberly was 27.)

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From the beginning, we wanted this to be about mutuality, respect, and friendship. We want to learn from each other, spiritually and intellectually, because reaching across the generations is important at a time when older and younger women are so often viewed as being at odds. We look over each other's entries before they are posted and are open to one another's edits and suggestions.

We don't hesitate to speak of ourselves as Christian or biblical feminists, because we reject the caricatures of feminism created by those who oppose full gender equality in all areas of life (which is the true definition of feminism). In women's studies scholar Gayle Graham Yates's book What Women Want: The Ideas of the Movement, she listed three categories of goals women have aspired to in their quest for gender justice. We applied these categories to today's feminism and asked: Do women want to be "equal to men" (the stated and necessary goal when women had no rights)? Should that be our goal now, as though male ideals are the norm? Or is women's objective to be "over against men" (a combative, reverse hierarchical approach)? Or could feminists have the goal of seeing women and men "equal to each other" as sisters and brothers with equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities? This third category is our approach.

As a writing team, we want to speak to today's world while never ignoring the importance of history, in terms of both the different trajectories of our own lives and others' earlier efforts to secure gender equality, including those of pioneering women in past centuries.

Our first blog discussion was about our respective reactions to Betty Friedan's 1963 classic, The Feminine Mystique. Kimberly, long warned against its "radicalism," was reading the book for the first time and surprised to find herself agreeing with its major points. She asked Letha how the book had struck her when she first read it. That was in early 1964, when Letha was in her late 20s too.

Letha's life circumstances at that age were vastly different from Kimberly's. She had witnessed and lived through the extremely limited roles and restricted opportunities for women that Friedan described. Yet she had considered herself a feminist since before she knew the word feminism existed.

When Letha became involved in Christian fundamentalism in her late teens, she heard for the first time the claim that the Bible restricted what female persons were permitted to do and that female subordination was God's will. …