Shortly after I told my parents about my transition, I was holding forth on some issue of feminism (as I am wont to do), and my mother asked me, “Can you still be a feminist?”
“If anything, I'm even more of one now,” I replied. “I know how hard it is to be a woman, and since I've failed at it I really admire the people who haven't.”
I was joking, mostly; but my mother's question is a legitimate one, though perhaps not necessarily for the reason she asked it.
Plenty of justice-oriented, critically-minded people reject “feminism.” The f-word is so thoroughly implicated in the worst failings of the second wave – racism, transphobia, classism, essentialism, general failure to give a shit about anyone other than cis white socioeconomically privileged Western women – that a lot of people who are not cis white socioeconomically privileged Western women have no use for it. These are the womanists, the social justice activists, the people who need to distanciate themselves from the ugly history of oppressive bullshit with which the term feminism is so laden.
Me, though? I'm a feminist, and everything that goes with it.
When I first entered the magical world of feminism, it was with an understanding of myself as one of those cis white socioeconomically privileged Western women. I am still a white socioeconomically privileged Westerner. I have certainly been guilty of the same myopia, the same thoughtless reinscription of oppressive dynamics that characterizes the worst of feminism. I am an inheritor of a deeply problematic tradition, too steeped in it and shaped by it to reject it outright, and I own and acknowledge that tradition every time I use the word “feminism.”
But I love feminism. I really do. Old-fashioned feminism, warts and all, is what caused the scales to drop from my eyes and launched my social, political, and ethical concerns as they are today. I've become a much more sophisticated SJ-er since those first exciting days of beginning to see the FedEx arrow of patriarchy, but I would never have gotten anywhere without those clumsy first steps into an unrefined feminism. It's because I love it so that I don't want to break from it. I want feminism to be better, and I want to be one of the people working to make it better. I want to join in the battle cry of Flavia Dzodan: “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”
I started calling myself a feminist around the same time I started calling myself a Christian, and the two things grew in tandem (no thanks to either my church at the time, which was moderately conservative, or the feminist discourse I initially came across, much of which I perceived as very hostile to religion). I can't separate my feminism from my Christianity, and this intertwining gives rise to some interesting parallels.
As a Christian, too, I am heir to a history of oppression and hatefulness, of the kind of counterproductive zeal that has served to betray everything the movement hopes to stand for. As a Christian, I am inexorably aligned with people who use the very thing I love to promote values I abhor. Just as, every time I call myself a feminist, I want to qualify it with “intersectional” or “third-wave,” so when I call myself a Christian I hasten to add “progressive” or “leftist.”
Sometimes, though, I think it's necessary to just let it be there. I am a feminist. I am a Christian. Yes, I want to distance myself from the awful aspects of the movements' history; but I wouldn't be here, calling myself a feminist and a Christian, without that same history, bad parts included. If I'm going to have any kind of integrity, as a feminist or as a Christian, I need to acknowledge the history in which I share, and work to counteract it.
This is where I think Christianity can learn something from current social justice efforts. Too often we leftist Christians talk a nice talk while failing utterly on the walking front. Christianity needs to be intersectional in the same way that feminism needs to be intersectional. We need to work toward redeeming our history of oppression by hearing the voices of those we have tended to exclude. We need to fight for the marginalized on all axes of oppression. We need to commit wholeheartedly to interfaith dialogue. We need to speak out loudly against the people using our name to promote hatred. We need to fully integrate faith into justice and justice into faith.
My Christianity will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.