"Feminist Theology Is Dead"... (?)

A few years ago Nas, one of my favorite rappers, produced an album called Hip Hop Is Dead.  It pissed off a lot of genre loyalists, and other artists who took personal offense.  The album was a statement on the way that hip hop music had been co-opted by cheap "bling" content, how it lost it's prophetic cultural voice, sold out to the almight dollar, and it was also an indictment of tacky Southern "crunk" rap.

No one wants to hear bad news. 

There's an article on CNN'S Belief Blog about the death of feminism.  I don't like it.  It upsets me - it actually stresses me out - to think about dissolving energies of Third-Wave Feminism.  I've heard a few women state that the Third-Wave never actually happened - that it's really nothing more than the dying cries of the Second-Wave.

I don't think that's entirely true.  There are so many incredible female voices still pushing forward in fresh ways, on new ground.  Naomi Wolf and Hillary Clinton are just a few women I deeply admire.  But while new ground is still being gained, old ground is rapidly being lost.  The attrition is faster than the growth.  That's bad news.

Stephen Prothero writes at CNN's Belief Blog:
Much has been written about how the right has successfully turned the term liberal into a dirty word. But the other f-word (feminist) has fared even worse, sullied by some combination of the Reagan Revolution, the culture wars, and the success of the feminist movement itself, which has left young women today feeling more empowered and less vulnerable than their more feminist-friendly forebears.  When I asked my students why they don’t want to call themselves feminists, they spoke of bra-burners man-haters and Femi-Nazis, which is to say that in the war of the words which was the feminist movement, feminists seem to have lost perhaps the most important battle: the battle over the meaning of the word feminism itself.
This is tragic.  And in my experience, very true.

Last week I met a young woman online - a friend of an old friend, who found my blog.  Over e-mail, she introduced herself as a "feminist" and I just about got out of my chair and shouted!  Because I can't remember the last time I met a 20-something woman who was so boldly willing to claim that title - even introducing herself as such!  A few of the women I know who are feminists sort of hang their heads in a slightly defeated way, sigh, and say, "But I'm not THAT kind of feminist..."

I'm not criticizing them.  Culture wars are tough - and much tougher on women and minorities.  I spent a lot of time apologizing for being a Christian.  Sigh... "But I'm not THAT kind of Christian..."  Maybe there's a lesson there - but it's one I'm too cynical to address today.

We have to reclaim words like "liberal" and "feminist."  We have to take them out of the gallows, out of the "Hall of Shame" the Right has methodically, aggressively constructed.  Burning bras doesn't threaten me.  It doesn't threaten you.  The fear of burning bras, or making any other public statement, threatens ALL of us.
Eventually, we'll have to reclaim words like "Christian" too.  But it isn't actually true to say that Christianity "isn't THAT way..." because Christianity is what it puts into practice, and as I've said a thousand times here, we're practicing some bad habits on a very grand scale.

Feminism is what it practices to: a radical philosophy that calls women people.


tmamone said...

Feminist theology is dead? Darn, I was just learning about it, too! Typical.

Peter J Walker said...

Late to the party, Trav.

Cheryl Ensom Dack said...

I find myself conflicted about this issue of words taking on new meanings, especially when the new meaning is often "opposite of" the "real" meaning.

But I guess I have to wonder: should we be fighting it so hard? Should we be fighting to keep the WORD feminism (and I still claim to be one, so don't get me wrong...I am NOT done with what the feminist movement was founded on) or even the word, "Christian," if the meaning HAS in fact changed. If it's changed, it's changed. After all, "What's in a name?" (Shakespeare of course!)

So what about finding new words instead of fighting so vehemently against the new meaning? What about accepting that feminism in its present form isn't working the way it was meant to, the word has become irrevocably tainted and it's time for a new one. It's time for a word that means what feminism used to mean but no longer does. I suppose you could apply that to Christianity, too. I'm sure you've wrestled with this. The fact is, the word "Christian" has come to mean something that you and I don't identify ourselves with. Why do we put up with the misunderstanding and fight so hard to fix everyone else's perception?

What if we just let the old words...be what they are. What if we have a kind of funeral, put up a stone (here lies what used to be feminism) and embrace new terminology that like any new life isn't battle-scarred/morphed/compromised?

It's not like I have a new word or a plan. Just thinking aloud.

Peter J Walker said...

It's a legitimate argument, Cheryl. I think I hear you - I HAVE made the same argument about leaving the word Christianity behind.

I guess the difference is, Christianity's problem is not being defined by its enemies - its problem is how it's been defined by its adherents! Normative western Evangelical Christianity is what I have the problem with, not with what atheists or agnostics or Buddhists say Christianity is.

On the other hand, feminism's "new meaning"has been wholly framed by contemporary chauvinism, enemies of women, empowerment, equality, and plain old fashioned fairness. Fat old white guys like Rush Limbaugh have quite successfully derailed much of the movement through fear, demonization and marginalization.

Fighting for the world "Christian" isn't worth it to me, as long as the harshest critiques against it are largely true. I think fighting for "feminism" and "liberalism" is important to me, because the rhetoric against it is illegitimate, and the core values the movements espouse are as important and valid as ever. You can call it what you want, but saying "I'm not a feminist" feeds the neo-con-Limbaugh movement.

Lutestring said...

proud young feminist here. thanks for the post!

Peter J Walker said...


J. E. Porter said...

Hurray for feminists!

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