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Do I Have To Choose Between Feminism and Religion?

Posted by Daniella Kelley on

I attended mass long before I learned what the word feminism meant. I read the Bible before I’d ever met a feminist. And I led Christian youth groups before I knew anything about intersectionality. In college, as I really began to understand what it meant to be a feminist, I knew I was one.

Would I have to choose between feminism and religion, or could I reconcile these two powerful beliefs?

Navigating My Feminist And Christian Beliefs

Despite the fact that feminism was uncharted territory for me, that I didn’t really know many feminists, and that I was beginning a long journey in what was more or less complete darkness, I was neither intimidated nor scared. I was excited to be a feminist. Excited to stand up for what I truly believed and, as a woman who prides herself in being outspoken, this felt right up my alley. 

Via TED Talk

Christianity is known for being a conservative, male-dominated religion with little room for questions and challenges. Feminism, to me, challenged these ideals that I had grown up with.

My Feminist Journey Began In College

As my journey as a college feminist began to unfold, I felt conflict within my identities. Many of them. As a member of a collegiate sorority and a woman in STEM, it was difficult to find others who were religious or feminist. Finding both was simply off the table in my mind. I began to problem solve. I felt that giving every person the skinny on feminism was my best bet at creating peers.

via Community on NBC

Yet the more I preached, the more I felt ostracized. Educating those around me on what it meant to be a feminist felt like a slap-on solution to what I later learned was a problem extending well beyond my social circles. I couldn’t discuss female sexual liberation with every single person I met. And I couldn’t resolve the controversial nature of feminism by simply preaching at those around me about the deeply ingrained societal differences between men and women.

Instead, I had to come to terms with my own truths to be a light for others.

Learning About Intersectional Feminism

My entire life had been within the church (with which I often disagreed), but only recently had I “found” feminism (with which I almost never disagreed). So I began to research.

In all honesty, my research was more aimless and desperate than any real goal-driven, hard-hitting sleuthing. I simply wanted to feel understood. And if I couldn’t find that sense of community within my physical world, I would turn to my virtual world. I don’t think I can count the number of times “intersectional feminism” is in my Google search history. 

And even though the basis of feminism is inherently intersectional, there just didn’t seem to be anything discussing the intersectionality of feminism and religion. 

My Christian Identity Conflicted With Sexual Liberation & Social Change

No matter how I tried, my Christian identity and my feminist identity wouldn’t mesh. The ideologies conflicted at every turn. How could a woman be sexually liberated, while abiding by the male-invented role of a traditional Christian woman? How could I stand for serious social change when I was supposed to believe that the world is as God intended?

So I stopped attending church. I stopped praying and I excommunicated religion from pretty much every aspect of my life. The binary nature of the issue was clear. The two just didn’t fit.

But I continued to feel a pang of something missing in my life. I began to research again:

My Google search-induced panic heightened — until I stumbled upon a Ted Talk by Alaa Murabit

Discovering The Intersectionality of Feminism and Religion

Murabit is a Muslim advocate for women’s rights. In her work she discusses not only the power of a gender-equal society, nor just the Quran passages that promote her feminist viewpoints. She discusses the relationship between religion and culture. “We are equal in the eyes of God, we are not equal in the eyes of men,” she says. 

Murabit discusses the intersectionality of feminism and religion, and how in order for that intersectionality to thrive, women must first be at the table.

Via Giphy

After learning about Murabit’s work, I was invigorated. My Google deep-dives led me to more religious feminists who agreed with the possibility of intersectionality between religion and feminism.

Lack of Diversity (Women's Voices) As A Root Cause

Megan Robb, an Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions at the University of Pennsylvania, explores the diverse movement of Islamic feminism in her work. She believes that it is Western feminism’s lack of diversity in perspective that hinders it from acknowledging the validity of the intersection.

Jewish Rabbi Megan Goldman also supports the idea of context in feminist religion. She notes that many religious practices were “constructed at a time when women were not emancipated, were not educated, and for the most part, did not have a say or a voice.” 

She believes that the contradiction that religious feminists live out day-to-day is simply a testament to the human experience. We all live out contradictions in our lives. Why must this one be any different? 

As I read about each of these bold and brave women, I felt more empowered. I wasn’t crazy in trying to fit these two ideologies together — and I wasn’t alone. There were intelligent, curious women out there digging into the same questions that kept me up at night. I don’t think I can explain how good that felt.

Via Giphy

Others In The Struggle Of Religious Feminists

I found that plenty of seasoned religious feminists continue to struggle with identity; they just learn to cope with the contradictions in different ways. Christian feminist and writer Jamia Wilson believes in separating identity and religion from the “political church”, which is the church politicized by figureheads and society. She lives by belief and spiritual guidelines instead. Others work with their religious texts through the lens of feminism and questioning to move spiritual beliefs forward into modernity. Still other feminists choose to stay within their religions. They speak out against sexist practices to act as internal “radicals” within their places of worship.

Via Comedy Central

Religious feminists can be found in nearly every religion. They’re the movers and shakers of their own identities — challenging what society says they’re supposed to believe. These people, all across the globe, are taking on two identities to better navigate our world and make it a more peaceful, wonderful place to live. They’re finding harmony in the differences, and love in the divides. And for someone questioning their own beliefs, these people are bravely inspiring.

My Journey To Understand The Intersection of Feminism And Religion Continues

Though I can’t say that my journey in exploring the intersection of feminism and religion is over (or that it will ever be), I now feel confident in holding seemingly opposing beliefs. I do my best to be a good and kind person, the type of person that the Bible describes. Yet at the same time, I make my own choices regarding sex and the ever-changing role of a woman. And while I might not be speaking out within the Church anytime soon, I feel both comforted and motivated by the kick-ass women standing beside me at this crazy crossroad.

About the Author

Daniella (@daniellakelley on Instagram) is a senior Environmental Science major at UCLA who is passionate about social changes — from sexual liberation to climate change. When she’s not writing for Lovability or Spoon University, Daniella can be found pursuing photography, playing the cello, trying *really* hard to be vegan, or actively creeping on Harry Styles’ Instagram. You can check out her photography at daniellakelley.com.

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