Are there many people out there who call themselves both Christian and feminist? Many might assume not, but there are a growing number. More formal gatherings and groups are emerging in the UK to help those who identify as both Christian and feminist to connect. Hannah Mudge is a writer, a blogger and works in digital communications for a UK charity.
[To the reader: A quick reiteration – the aim of the Faith In Feminism project is simply to represent the many diverse expressions of feminism that exist. For every interview representing one perspective, a counter perspective will follow in a future interview. The views we publish are those of our contributors and in publishing them we are in no way affirming nor rejecting their viewpoint, simply showcasing them.]
VB: Hannah – thanks for your encouragement about this new site. Now, you identify as both a Christian and a feminist?
HM: I certainly do!
VB: Have you been given any grief as a result of choosing to ‘own’ both labels?
HM: It’s interesting – I haven’t been given grief in person from other feminists for being a Christian… although I have participated in discussions and obviously seen sentiments expressed that Christianity, and religion in general, are very negative for women and very oppressive.
VB: Any feedback from Christians on your use of the term?
HM: I have received direct criticism from other Christians for identifying as a feminist as the word has negative connotations for many people. There seems to be a two-pronged objection to the idea of gender equality – that it is unbiblical, of course, and also that it denigrates wives, mothers, and women who choose a more ‘traditional’ path in life, as well as promoting hatred of all men. People have often asked me what my husband thinks about my feminist beliefs, and I tend to find that among some Christians, mention of the word brings about an uncomfortable silence.
VB: Do you think the topic of feminism and faith gets discussed enough?
HM: In general there is kind of a silence around the intersection of feminism and religion from a lot of mainstream feminists, which I do feel is problematic – it impacts on discussions about the intersection of race and feminism too, for example.
VB: You are one of the founding members of the Christian Feminist Network. Tell us how CFN got started and what it looks like today.
HM: All the women I know who identify as Christian feminists, I met online. Many of us came to know each other through reading each others’ blogs and having conversations on Twitter. A couple of years ago I was at Soul Survivor’s gender equality-focused ‘Equal’ event with Kristin Aune and we were discussing the fact that we would really like to set up some sort of a network for all the Christian feminists we knew.
I knew some other people who would be interested and spread the word through Twitter to see how much interest it generated. As a result, there were five of us who got together to discuss what a Christian feminist network could look like and what we might do. We ran a launch event in London last winter and have set up a mailing list and blog that helps us to publicise resources and events of interest.
VB: What does the Network look like in practice?
HM: All of us have been extremely busy this year with work commitments….but we hope that we’re going to be able to run some get-togethers in other parts of the country soon and that they will happen more regularly. We wanted to set up the network to promote safe spaces for discussion, support, and ways of keeping in contact with other people who share our beliefs.
VB: You and I walked side by side at the Million Women Rise march earlier this year. Do you think enough religious women are getting out and taking a stand at marches and feminist events, or are they lacking in representation?
HM: I do think that women of faith are getting out there and taking part in feminist activism and events, although people might not realise it because these actions and events usually don’t have a faith focus. I have certainly met many women of different faiths at Million Women Rise.
Something else I see, however, is women who belong to the more organised religions worrying they might be excluded by the feminist movement because of their beliefs. If they don’t feel as if they would be ‘accepted’, this is a problem. In 2012 I helped facilitate a session on religion and feminism at a feminist conference and it was well-attended and certainly a great space for discussion.
I think what we think of as the visibility of a diverse bunch of women at events isn’t helped by the way the media chooses to portray feminist activism. The press often focus on a narrow agenda and while it’s good that feminist activism is increasingly getting attention from the media, actions and campaigns that truly show the diversity of the feminist movement usually do not receive much coverage. I think it’s easy to assume, in this way, that the movement is lacking in representation from diverse groups of women. It’s not at all accurate.
VB: How do you answer non-religious feminists who see Christianity as patriarchal; a male God, a male Jesus, twelve male disciples and still no female bishops?
HM: That’s a hard question because on the surface, things do look pretty patriarchal and I can’t deny that over the centuries, the church hasn’t always been the best place for women – it still isn’t now.
People need to read into the subject and look past the fact that Jesus was a man, and that the *prominent* disciples were men, for example. You don’t have to look far to see that in fact, there were women disciples and that there is much debate surrounding the role of women in the New Testament. If you look at Jesus’s teachings, they are certainly not patriarchal or anti-women. It is from these that we must take inspiration and live out our lives.
In looking at the true message of Jesus for us as women we must not, however, minimise the harm that the church has done and continues to do in women’s lives. It’s my opinion that as voices from within, we need to work to change things and speak out against practices that are problematic and oppressive.