Raising a Feminist – #HeForShe

with my son atop Beech Mountain

with my son atop Beech Mountain

Every parent has goals for her child. We plan, we dream, we hope. We all know that each child is unique, and there are so many things that parents can’t control. Yet, we know that we provide the core environment. The earliest messages our child receives will stay with her in some form or another, for better, for worse.

I have two fantastic kids. One of my goals has been for them to treat each and every person in a respectful and egalitarian manner. I definitely want my kids to be feminists, and one child in particular received this message on a continual basis. And that child is my son – not my daughter. I always knew that my little white male child could do so very much to change the world for the better. Female feminists can only do so much unless male allies join with them to create systems, societies, and cultural values which treat women and men equally. I have always been thrilled when my son railed against injustice and inequality. As a young boy, he not only began to realize that not all moms were ministers, but his eyes were also opened to the fact that many faith communities would not allow women to be religious leaders at all. During summer employment, he has often had a female contemporary as his supervisor, yet has continually had to steer people to speak to his female supervisor when they assumed he was in charge due to his gender. I am so proud of the young male feminist in my household.

Intelligent young British actor, Emma Watson, was named a United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador a few months ago, and addressed the UN a week ago concerning gender politics. She strongly claimed the word feminist, and initiated the #HeForShe campaign. She spoke eloquently about the need for men to claim feminism and to take action combatting inequality.

Since the speech, Watson has since joined a long-line of self-proclaimed feminists who have dealt with backlash. Nasty twitter comments, a threat of leaked personal photos, and even comments about her attire while addressing the UN (which was both professional and stylish) have emerged.

Cultural misogyny is rampant today. The media has finally begun to highlight the NFL’s lackadaisical treatment of its stars who assault and abuse women. Sexual assault on college campuses is finally receiving the attention it deserves. In areas of professional sports and frat boy culture which suggests women are only important as decorative ornaments or means for a man’s pleasure, it’s vital that real men stand up and speak out strongly against these assumptions. Women are created in the image of God. They should be treated with respect, dignity, and an open mind which never limits who they are called to be.

My teenage daughter asked me if I had seen Emma Watson’s speech. I responded in the affirmative, and we talked about the content for a while. I asked her, “Do you call yourself a feminist?” She gave me the look of incredulity that teenage girls own, and responded, “What else would I be?” I’m thrilled that both my kids – a young woman and a young man – would respond to that question in the same way.

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God Loves a Woman’s Body

Durer’s renowned portrait of Eve

I’m not a big John Mayer fan, but I do think one of the best songs in the past decade (okay, it was actually 2001 – but close enough) is Your Body is a Wonderland. It celebrates a woman’s body – the awe, delight, and glory every woman should feel about her body. Yet, every time I get a whiff of pop culture, there is another “scandal” about a woman and her body. Is Beyonce photoshopped in a bikini? Is Meghan Trainor’s new song, All About that Bass, dissing people who are naturally thin? How can I look as good as that Hollywood star who is the same age as I am? (even if she has never given birth, has a personal trainer and chef and assistant and stylist, and enough money that she never lies awake at night wondering which bill she can afford to pay…)

The simple state of our society is that when women think of their bodies, they overwhelming have negative thoughts. They don’t celebrate this gift from God, but find things to criticize and to improve. And I fully claim that I am one of these women. I have tried my best to model for my daughter a healthy body perception – to keep my negative thoughts on the inside or just to voice them to my friends – but it’s an everyday challenge. As much damage as our society has done in contributing to a negative body image, I believe the issue started much earlier.

I remind myself on a continual basis that St. Augustine was not a totally bad guy. Yes, he had issues with his mommy – he kicked out his common law wife of over a decade and kept their son – and he tried his best to turn Pelagius into a heretic (and was successful). Yet, it’s his use of Greek dualism in his early 5th century writings that marked the Church (and thus Western society) for many centuries to come. Augustine took a few key verses from the Bible, mixed them with some of his Gnostic tendencies, and purported that the soul was connected with the divine, and could only reach God when denying or negating the body. The soul vs. body split became entrenched in Western thought. A woman’s body was especially seen as evil, since it was derived from the first sinner, Eve. Women’s bodies came to be viewed as a temptation, keeping men’s souls from attaining the glories of union with the divine. A woman’s soul could never overcome her body.

Pelagius (Augustine’s nemesis mentioned previously) was the first British theologian. He believed that all creation was good, including women’s bodies. Women were made in God’s image, as was man, and could be trusted to follow the divine light. Various theologians have tried to reclaim this goodness of creation in recent years. This is such a powerful message for women in today’s world. You are made in God’s image – no matter your size, skin color, age, etc. Your body is not a temptation for men – the temptation comes from them and how they view women. Your body is not something to be scrutinized and analyzed – it is a gift from God that works with our souls so that we can be God’s hands, feet, mouth, and heart in this world which so desperately needs it.

God loves each woman’s body. We should too.