One Man’s Feminine Discomfort

How my Readings In Feminist Theory are Challenging me

The scenario: At some point in the last year I decided that I would fill a gaping hole in my education by spending this summer studying feminist theory and women’s spirituality. This is a full-blown independent study, not a grad student’s typical “oh-yeah-I-think-I’ll-do-that”-and-then-not-really-do-it passing summer fancy (of which I have had my share).

My reasons: My dissertation research will require me to use tools that I do not yet have (assessing the leader of a women’s movement as a woman and, potentially, as a feminist, after having defined “what is a feminist?” and “on what basis can I make that assertion?”). To boot, I was becoming increasingly convinced that, as a responsible theologian hoping to dialog with the broader culture and the discipline of religious studies, I simply needed to know this stuff. Bonus: it looks good on my resumé.

External results: strange looks from my classmates, including one member of a women’s religious order; stranger looks from right-leaning Bible study members; and heated debates raging on my FaceBook status comments sparked between my most left- and right-leaning acquaintances responding to a simple status update: “I feel like I’m eavesdropping as I continue to catch up on feminist theory.”

Internal results: I really do feel like I’m listening in on someone else’s conversation. I am an outsider. I do not belong. For a man who essentially reads for a living, this is an unaccustomed feeling when behind a book. My concepts, my language, my faith in every form of its expression — all are subject to question and to suspicion. Any why not? A deep hurt runs through the world. In all likelihood, I am both part of the problem and part of the solution. I cannot take the status quo for granted as a manifest good. There is a big f-ing difference between Biblical gender ideals and 1950s roles.

Conclusion: Feminism challenges me, if not in my masculinity, in how I see the world. A lot of people have been hurt by men wielding their power and authority as men. We who are men should listen, whether we understand ourselves to be directly culpable or not.