The essay is an adaptation from Courageous Conversations: Christian Women Unearthing the Unspeakable (RCWMS Press, 2013). Volumed edited by elizabeth mcmanus. You can purchase your very own copy here!
I have a birthmark on my left ankle that vaguely resembles the state of Mississippi.
I started calling myself a feminist sometime in the tenth grade but really, i’ve been one since i flopped out into the doctor’s hands during my mother’s C-section. I was actually born again – literally. The doctor’s hands slipped and i plopped right back in, all squiggly and screaming and not ready for the cleanliness and paralyzing order of the real world. In precisely 26 days, i’ll be twenty-two. Twenty-two whole years since being born, and then born again.
And in precisely 14 days, i’ll be getting married. To a dude. Who wants to be a Methodist pastor.
Of all the interesting things there are to say about me – and, believe me, i find them all very interesting – it seems my impending nuptials are the most important to everyone else. Which is, to put it mildly, pretty frustrating.
(And i don’t meen the googly-eyed, what-does-your-dress-look-like? squeals. I love those. Like, i can’t-stop-gushing love those kind of comments).
It happens over tea, when i think i’m talking about an insight into ministry and i slip the noun fiancé in between MY and IDEA. Heads retract, voices ascend to peer down at small, stupidly blinded-by-love me. “You know, your cerebral cortex isn’t even finished forming,” or, “You barely look like you’re 16! Is this because you’re Southern?” and, “Oh, but you’ll be the pastor’s wife! You’re better than that!” and, my favorite: “Divorce rates are highest among couples who marry young!” All affixed with a friendly pat and mushy eyes that say: “it’s okay, you can tell me how secretly he’s knocked you up and this is all a cover story.”
I find myself wanting to respond in the most extreme ways possible. Snapping back that gee, i had no idea i was so young and stupid and unaware of the weight of my decisions. Like i need to cuttingly clarify that he mops our floors and cooks most of our meals, thanks for your concern.
And then – in this robustly colorful conversation i’m now almost entirely having inside my head – i want to shout back: BUT WHAT IF I WAS KNOCKED UP, HUH? WHAT HAVE YOU GOT AGAINST MOTHERHOOD OR YOUTH? FEMINISM HAS EMPOWERED ME TO CHOOSE TO BE A ROCKET SCIENTIST OR THE MOST CRAFT-TASTIC STAY-AT-HOME-MOM.
It’s frustrating that most of these reactions are from other womyn. Womyn expressing their concern for the cliff my career is throwing itself over with a doughy-eyed “I do.” Like four years at a womyn’s college in New England studying gender and religion has somehow made me want nothing more in the world than to submit to my husband. Or ten years of being a pastor’s daughter has taught me nothing about the need for boundaries between congregations and clergy.
On some level, i appreciate their concern. Not for their eyebrow-wiggling, but for the shift in our cultural paradigm. I’m grateful that people of any gender value that i retain independence in what has historically been a patriarchal institution.
In a very real way, i prefer the concern for my unwritten dissertation to the lectures i’ve received about how much women have to sacrifice for male needs in marriage, or the shock i felt when a close family friend asked if i would drop out of school to get married sooner.
I’m grateful, then, that other people can see my love for academics. I’m grateful that they express hope for me, as a human with a vagina and a cohort of gender-normative-smashing-tendencies, to continue to write and study.
I just wish people didn’t negate my feminism because of my decision to share my life with a man.
Not everyone has something condescending to say; there have been the fair share of empathetic sighs from fellow feminists who also wed wet-behind-the ears. Our immediate families are ecstatic, which is a tremendous blessing and, honestly, far more important than the off-hand comment made by acquaintances.
But it still hurts when one part of my life – my romantic life – suddenly is more important than the sum of all my parts together. It hurts in a deeper way when criticism comes from womyn. And it seems to me this judgment is still fundamentally sexist – even coming from feminists – because it says my decision to marry a man trumps all other life decisions i have made.
I feel like they’re calling me a fraud, a closeted complimentarian whose bookshelves fat with Audre Lorde and Mary Daly and Delores Williams mean nothing. And these “concerns” are frankly insulting to my hubby-to-be. He is the first person with whom i could with one breath whisper a prayer, and in the exhale deconstruct Sunday’s liturgy. His dream of being a minister apparently undermines the multiple womyn’s studies classes he has taken to be both an educated feminist and supportive spouse.
And wasn’t this the whole point of feminism/womanism as a movement? To confront structures that had been degrading and disempowering to women, salvage the good and pile dumpsters high with the bad?
Of course marriage can be shitty – in deeply evil ways, like domestic violence, or in the run-of-the-mill human ways, like when people stop loving each other and the whole undercarriage caves in.
But i’ve chosen the person, not the institution.
I’m hesitant to criticize feminism in spaces that are not definitively feminist, because i don’t want “the f-word” to endure more hate than it already does.
But i need to. I need to tell the church that there will be no Ephesians 5 submission crap in our ceremony. And i need to ask the gender-conscious community to believe me when i say i’m still a feminist, this time with an also-feminsit fiancé.
We want to wed in the eyes of God because we believe, in the bones encasing our hearts, that God has given us each other. Not in any predestined, one-soul-mate kind of way, but in a Ruth 1:16-17 kind of way. A defiant claim, against the odds of our youth and our pasts and our selfishness, that “your people shall be my people […] your God my God.” We are partners who choose, daily, to love for our pruning and for our growth, the way Jesus asks his friends to love in John 15:5.
Our commitment to one another is the space wherein i feel the least tension between being a Christian and a woman. My fiancé embraces me for the fullness of my gender identity – and for my Mississippi-shaped birthmark and extensive collection of pink stilettos.
And if no one else in the world understood our commitment it wouldn’t matter, because we do.