The meanings we ascribe to words change, sometimes drastically, from one generation to the next. I think the popular definition of "feminism" has undergone just such a substantial shift in meaning and connotation. Otherwise, how can you explain the fact that my husband and I absolutely identify as feminists, while my parents never would? Yet all of us believe in equal political, economic, and social rights for men and women. All of us believe that men and women are both made in the image of God, with equal dignity and worth.
For my parents, and many people from older generations, feminism has a radical connotation; its strongest association is with Roe v. Wade. But for the majority of people my age, feminism means something different. In popular American culture, feminist no longer equals feminazi or bra-burner; instead, a feminist is a person who believes in the full humanity and personhood of women. In popular American culture, feminism wears the strong and gentle faces of Leslie Knope, Liz Lemon, and Mindy Lahiri, the awkward and confused face of Hannah Horvath, and (debatably) the ditzy sweetness of Jessica Day. It's got the powerful mantle of Oprah. It's sometimes wearing a hijab. It's getting a microloan and starting a business to feed her family. It's adopting the special-needs baby girls from China. It's teaching Sunday School. It's men who choose to mentor women at work (appropriately), and men (like my dad) who teach their daughters to glorify God with all their hearts, minds, and strength, according to the gifts they've been given rather than by filling a prescriptive, cookie-cutter role.
Because of this generational shift in definition, I believe the church isn't doing itself any favors when it sets up feminism as an enemy of faith and family. When we call feminism a threat without carefully defining our terms, we may actually be misrepresenting the gospel to those who listen.
Over at Christ and Pop Culture today, I'm sharing my first feature piece. It's about feminism, what it means today, and how it relates to our faith. Would you read it and let me know what you think? Am I right that the popular definition of feminism has undergone a significant change? Or do we define feminism differently not because of generational divides, but because of cultural divides? Subcultures? Families of origin?
I'm also excited to announce that some of my internet friends want to talk more about this, and so next week they're hosting a synchroblog. Follow the hashtag #femfest on twitter to find a variety of perspectives on feminism, including personal stories, definitions, connotations, and questions, as well as discussion of why feminism is/isn't important. The link up begins (and you can and should join in!) at Love Is What You Do on Tuesday, February 26.