I identify myself as a feminist.

I believe in equality.

I think most romantic comedies are bad news.

I find it disturbing that the members of One Direction are attracted to insecurity.

This commercial just made me cry a little bit.

I don’t shave my legs.**

Also, I had an argument with a man last week that ended like this:

“Well, sometimes I’m afraid to say things because I don’t want you to lash out at me for being too stereotypically masculine.” (side note: said the man)

In the immortal words of Tag Team, “Whoomp! There it is!”

Well, poop. I hate it when this happens. For years, I have identified myself as a “feminist.” And, for years, I have had to deal with the personal aggression that comes as a side effect of my passion about the subject.

Things always start out in a civil manner. Take my discomfort with my GEMS experience, for example. GEMS (an acronym for “Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) is a church club for young Christian Reformed girls. I’ll be honest; there were some really cool aspects of being in GEMS. You got to hang out with other girls your age. Everybody sang songs together from the overhead projector (no, I seriously love stuff like that). They let you drink Mountain Dew when your parents didn’t.

But I’m sorry. I don’t want to earn a merit badge in shopping. I don’t want to know how to make a doily. I want to learn to eat a cake, not to bake one. I want to learn something that I couldn’t learn watching “Martha Stewart.” I WANT TO LEARN TO BUILD A CANOE LIKE THE FRIGGIN CADETS.

There it is. The belligerence emerges. For the record, it is generally considered unacceptable for fourth graders to shout angrily at their GEMS leaders, and even less acceptable to use the word “friggin” in a church. Fortunately, at the time, any use of the word “friggin” made me burst into tears.

There’s a big issue, now, however, since I’ve gotten past my doe-eyed, rule-following stage of life. Now, coming across as a “femi-Nazi” is a hazard of the trade.

And sometimes I am one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I strongly object to any terminology that is cavalier about likening someone to Hitler. But the sentiment behind the slang is not always unwarranted. I know that I am not always gracious when I am defending my passions. Frankly, I can get mean. My weapons include the “silent but deadly,” a combination of soul-destroying silence and a withering stare that dares the offending party to utter another word, and the “hit and run,” targeting weakness with a clever but scathing comment and leaving my victim to wallow in his misogyny.

I know that there are some who would argue that simply by merit of being among the oppressed, I could not possibly become the oppressor. But I think I can.

If a black kid gossips about a white kid, that’s not okay. If a gay seventh grader bullies his straight classmate, it’s not just okay because he’s “among the oppressed.” Any time one human being makes another feel inferior, that is a problem in my book, regardless of the gender, race, creed, or sexuality of either party.

If I demean, restrict, accuse, berate, embarrass, corral, threaten or dismiss in the name of equality, I have missed the point.

It’s about power. And that’s the problem.

There’s a novel called “Cry, the Beloved Country,” written by Alan Paton in 1948. It’s a beautiful, powerful story about the pain of racially divided South Africa in the late 40s. Early in the story, a character named Theophilus Msimangu shares some “grave and sombre words” with his companion, a lost man who is looking for his son. Msimangu speaks about power, about the ways in which power can corrupt all who seek it, even those who come from among the oppressed. The oppressors would not fear power in the hands of the oppressed so much, he says, if they knew what it could do.

“But there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.”

Gender exclusive language aside, how right you are Msimangu.

And therein lies the great paradox of whatever-wave feminism. If Msimangu is right, power can only be gained through humility, through sacrifice, through a choice to stop seeking power. But in being humble and self-sacrificial, we embrace the prototypical gender roles expected of us as women, the very roles we seek to break.

Must this be the case?

I don’t think it has to be. As difficult as walking the tightrope can be, I think it’s possible to be a tightrope walker.

Remember back in my introduction when I told you that this commercial made me cry? In my first draft of this piece, it made me punch my fist through some drywall. The first draft made me sound too aggressive, the second, too weak. But where’s the balance?

The balance comes in honestly seeking justice. Though GEMS may not have taught me how to build a canoe like I wanted, it did teach me this verse:

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8. Every GEMS meeting. For five years.

Justice. Mercy. Humility. All three of those things together. Even though it might seem like it, this isn’t rock, paper, scissors. Nothing trumps.

Justice is still in there, though. And I’m not going to forget about that.

But Msimangu ended with this. “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating.” So, I’ll try to make sure I remember that too.

___________________________

**That’s only true because i’m a camp counselor and I’m too lazy. Sleep > Shaving.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for this, Lauren. I would very much like to hear how other women on this blog regard the feminisms (note the fashionable postmodern plural) you have inherited. What have feminisms given you? How have they failed you? Gentlemen, what do you think? BTW, as I recall, a few years ago Alissa Goudswaard wrote a very funny essay about her own GEMS experience and her ambivalence about the girliness of it.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    YES. Exactly. Thanks for perfectly phrasing how I feel about my own feminist tendencies. (See, I’ve even gotten to the point where I say “feminist tendencies” rather than proclaiming myself to be “a feminist” because I’ve gotten wary of the term and everything that it implies.)

    Also, I love Cry, the Beloved Country — it was one of the best things I taught my seniors.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    I appreciate the way you brought the topic to love. It’s easy to lose that focus when one wants only to be treated fairly, rather than be treated based on stereotypes. I find it ironic that the Bible is full of examples of strong women used by God, and not for their cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, or shopping skills, yet the women (not men) are the first to be asked to serve at church by baking a pie or entertaining small children.

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    So much of this post resonates for me as well, Lauren. And I love your point that “as difficult as walking the tightrope can be, I think it’s possible to be a tightrope walker.” So right. (And I would have LOVED to build a canoe in fourth grade!)

    Reply

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