dear daughter: mommie's a feminist
Finally, Believers, Rejoice! Be made complete. Be what you should be. Be comforted. Be like-minded; live in peace. Enjoy the spiritual well-being experienced by Believers who walk closely with God; and the God of love and peace—the source of lovingkindness—will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Dear Mine All Mine,
Because the question hasn’t really come up, I feel the need to tell you that, “Yes, I’m a feminist.” By feminist, I mean that I’m 110% Pro-Girl, You-Go-Girl, Git-It-Girl, Girl Boss, Girl Power feminist.
I believe deeply in Black Girl Magic, just as much as I believe that we all truly do have the capacity to conjure up a Patronus. Of course we can!!! What is a Patronus, after all, but our truest, most sacred spiritual selves come to save us? We conjure them up all the time. You only need to be still in the deep darkness and think of whatever is true, whatever is holy, whatever is just and pure, whatever is worthy of praise and worthy of respect—all things lovely and excellent—and, voila! Patronus!
And what is a feminist, after all, but anyone who believes that women are equally as human as men and, therefore, not property?
I feel I should also apologize for never having told you this good, good news. I guess I assumed that to speak it out loud was somewhat redundant. I mean, isn’t my feminism obvious? I expect you to go to school. I expect you to speak up in class when you have a question or think you know something. I expect you to be treated fairly by your teachers, professors, and employers. I expect you to exercise your right to protect your body and wear it however you choose. I expect you to not marry for gain of material possessions. I expect you to get paid based on your merit and for what the job is worth and nothing less. I expect you to open any sacred text and read it whenever and wherever you want. I expect you to read. I expect you to teach what you learn from any sacred text or book or experience to others, and if it so moves you to do so, from a pulpit or a stage. I expect you to be as feminine as you so desire to be, however you define that for yourself. I expect you to thrive and survive without needing to be married, or needing to stay married to anyone who doesn’t wish for you to thrive and survive. I expect you to throw or hit or kick or catch any ball on any field or any court. I expect you to don a chef’s hat, hold a conductor’s wand, run a top Fortune 500 meeting, or attempt an Olympic gold medal if you choose. I expect you to roar and pounce and leap tall buildings in a single bound, and dare somebody to criticize you for doing so in a skirt. I expect you to wear the dang pantsuit or the catsuit or the ball gown or the cotton shift. As a woman, I expect; therefore I am indeed a feminist.
One of my favorite books of all time is called Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Woman’s Choices by Rosalie de Rossett. Let me preface my love for this book by saying that I’m well aware that it’s flawed. First of all, like most feminist writing, the narratives of ethnicity, race, gender orientation, sexual attraction, privilege and status have been muted. I don’t fault De Rossett for this. She’s a product of our culture, like many of us are—especially Evangelical Christian culture. Our American culture believes that to be a feminist is to be white, female, educated, straight, cisgender, and fiscally sound. Even worse, our evangelical Christian culture seems to believe that it’s fine to be a feminist while you’re single, but you need to peel off that label once Mr. Mister slaps a ring on it. And he must come bearing a ring someday. Otherwise what is your faith for?
If you think I’m being too hard, just name one well-known evangelical feminist of color without consulting Google. Or check out De Rossett’s reading list that she compiled. Circle all the authors of color. Then go back and circle all the protagonists of color. Then go back and circle all the female authors, then all the female protagonists, and so on and so on. You see what I mean? Muted. Drowned out by the white men telling all the stories either in books or in their silence—even those that don’t belong to them.
I only mention her book because I noticed a Goodreads review that made me aware that I needed to start the conversation from the top, beginning with a declaration of feminism. Here’s that review, written by a reader named Sarah, who gave the book two stars:
I purchased this book for the title. I was disappointed. I found the author to be speaking from a feminist perspective. For instance, she speaks of women being silenced and oppressed. Where is she from? The average American woman couldn’t restrain her tongue with a bridle and wouldn’t know discretion if it kicked her in the pants (which it wouldn’t, by the way.) I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but the truly oppressed inner society (the unborn and elderly) would be liberated if Christian women would stop complaining about not having “a voice” in the church and state, and start doing their duty in the home. I did not consider this book a complete waste of time, but neither would I recommend it.
My girl, at first I wanted to write an essay just addressing this review. But it’s not my place. Or, better stated, it’s just not my way. However, I do want to point out a couple of things because I’m your mother and I expect that if the world, including the Church, cannot be entirely for you, that it’s at least fair.
First of all, it saddens me that the only oppression that Sarah can see in this country is that of 1) those who are not even born and, 2) those who have already lived much of their lives and will soon be exiting this land of living. Is she not concerned for the liberation and freedom of those who are—well, just living right here and now? Secondly, who does she feel is the average American woman? As a black woman I do not fit the definition, even with my education and reasonably stable bank account. How does she feel about the below-average American woman whose tongues are indeed bridled by those who have more for no other reason than they just do?
Aw, Snicks. Doesn’t it just make your heart ache? It feels like more of same: those who got continue to get; those who ain’t continue to lose. Thus, my feminism is not so much for the haves as it is for the have-nots. I’m feminist because there are so many who risked and lost their lives so that I could be “what I should be”—free, human and equal.
In the book, De Rossett writes:
“…what have you accumulated from the past—what are you in the process of accumulating that will be passed on, if not deliberately, then accidentally? Is this accumulation the best of what has been and the best of what is currently being written, sung, and created? Is it wise? And if not, what will be the next generation’s inheritance, your children’s legacy?”
Honestly, Nadia, I can only answer that I hope I’m in the process of accumulating more stories of what it means to be fully complete in this world. I certainly hope that I am quite deliberately passing along a Patronus of spiritual well-being that radiates God’s love and peace—a streak of lovingkindness. I’m laying it all here in these pages for you—may this all be a holy kiss on your cheek someday when such a greeting is nowhere else to be found. My duty at home is not to be silent or to teach you to swallow your voice. My duty at home is to rejoice regularly and loudly and teach you how to first hum along, and then sing your own solo.
In order to do this, I must show you all of who I am: One of God’s Holy People sent to greet you, a Believer, and member of the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit who was created in God’s spiritual and moral likeness, and of course a feminist because I am a black woman who sometimes has been paid less. Sometimes I’ve been silenced in the work place. My face and my story are rarely seen on the page and on the screen—deleted. My sisters have been excused from the pulpit. Our names are not marked on the ballot ticket ready to be placed in the ballot box. We’ve been exempt from boardrooms and playing fields. So, I must rejoice in this duty with my mouth wide open and singing out for all the world to hear, “We are here.”