I am a feminist for the sake of my son.
Owen is not yet two years old, but so much of his personality is already clear. He has a great sense of humor, and he loves music. Before I even start the car, he's asking for the music to be turned on, and he already has preferred CDs and preferred tracks on those CDs. He'll cry if I don't skip past the songs he dislikes, and he sings along with his favorites.
Owen is sensitive, much more emotional than my firstborn is, more likely to dissolve into tears at a disappointment or a perceived slight. He's cuddly. He likes to play in our toy kitchen, pretending to cook and clean. He has a little bear he calls "baby," and he sometimes pretends that baby is hurt and needs kisses and cuddles. Like my husband, my son is deeply compassionate, quick to notice others' pain and to bring comfort to them.
Our culture is harsh toward sensitive boys. In her national bestseller Stiffed, feminist Susan Faludi reports on what happened to men and "manhood" in post WWII America, and it isn't pretty. Betty Friedan in the sixties wrote about how media had pushed a "commericalized, ornamentalized" femininity that objectified women, boxing us into narrowly prescribed gender roles. Faludi finds that the same thing has happened to men, arguing that now "men and women both feel pushed into roles that are about little more than displaying prettiness or prowess in the marketplace." The end goal for men, in a world of "superathletes, action heroes, and Viagra studs -- is seen as a new horizon of amped-up virility, a technologically enhanced supermanhood." I worry about these kinds of pressures dampening the sweet, strong compassion I see in my son.
I'd like to say that the church rejects such damaging culturally-constructed definitions of manhood, but that is often not the case. In fact, sometimes church culture seems more attached to cultural constructions of manhood than pop culture is! In the church we see Mark Driscoll mocking "effeminate" male worship leaders and praising cage fighters. In the church (indeed, from Owen Strachan, the head of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), we hear that to tell a little boy that it's ok to play with a doll is an "unbiblical and socially disastrous teaching on sexuality and gender." Strachan goes on to say that "boys playing with dolls is foolish" and a sign of Satan's influence in our world. Strachan can take my son's baby when he pries it from my cold, dead, mama-bear claws.
Feminism is about interrogating and dismantling the oppressive power structures that rule our world, structures that hurt men as well as women. It's about honoring and protecting the essential humanity of each individual, rather than ceding to media-driven role expectations -- roles created in large part by companies hoping to turn us into greater consumers.
I'm a feminist because I want my son to see all people as valuable human beings, created in God's image. I want him to reject culturally constructed ideas about what it means to be "masculine" or "feminine" and to embrace biblical truth about what it means to be human, male and female, created in the image of a loving God. So I'll teach him to love, respect, nurture, and protect; to dance, weep, subvert, and sing. I'll teach him how to turn swords into plowshares, and I'll warn him that power and domination are not the ultimate ends of manhood. I'll tell him that the Bible does have a few things to say about what it means to be a man; and that it has a lot more to say about what it means to be loved, transformed, and made holy. I'll tell him the Kingdom is coming, and that it's here.
I want the church to be about these same tasks, dismantling evil power structures and critiquing the consumer-image our culture tries to bind us into, and I pray we as a church learn to do that better.
In the meantime, I'm a feminist for the sake of my son.