The latest feminist to come out is Malala Yousafzai in a compelling and sweet interview with Emma Watson at the INTO film festival . How you relate to the word ‘feminist’ depends on who you are and what circles you mix in. For some it is an explosive concept - a word which conveys radicalism, passion, anger and a predetermined list of demands; for others it is the stream in which they swim, it is a given, nothing more than the expression of a fundamental value: equality. Famous figures like Beyoncé are keen to publicly own the word and become subject to scrutiny as to whether or not they are good or bad feminists. Taylor Swift who previously refused the label is now embracing the concept , although Meryl Streep recently confused everyone at press conferences for her film Suffragette by denying she was a feminist preferring to talk instead of humanism . So why has Malala now adopted the label? She says she was inspired by Emma Watson’s speech at the UN : ‘If not me, who? If not now, when’ . She acknowledges that feminism is a tricky word, but at its heart she is sure it is about equality; a concept ingrained in her by her father. It is rather nice to see this gentle girl wearing a Hijab, praising her father and telling everyone that they should all be feminists.
So how about Christians - can we all be feminists? In some church circles the answer is yes certainly without question but in other more conservative camps 'feminism' as a worldview incorporates so much more than just the concept of equality that is seen as incompatible with the gospel. Without wishing to sit on the fence I wonder if there is a way that we can bridge this polarisation. Malala is right ‘feminism’ is a tricky word and it is no wonder that Meryl Streep is nervous of it but the issues it refers to are too complex to be either wholeheartedly endorsed or roundly rejected -it is about time we all become more grown up about it.
Malala’s vision is to ensure that both primary and secondary education is available to every child, and if this is feminism then I’m for it. Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai are powerful role models for young women and they are insisting on re-defining and simplifying the term ‘feminist’. Often the feminism that complementarians imagine and criticise is a rabid man-hating, pornography endorsing, stereotype .When young women say that they are feminists they are usually not saying much more than ‘I’m with Malala’ and they have never read (or heard of) Simone du Beauvoir, Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan or even Caitlyn Moran.
It is incredibly confusing for young Christian women who embrace their equality and dignity in Christ and think of themselves as feminists to be taught that ‘feminism’ is a grave evil. We must lose this ridiculous rhetoric. Feminism is a huge umbrella term that we cannot package up for easy approval or disapproval. It is like any political system, good bits, bad bits and ugly bits. We should embrace the good and hate the ugly and bad; speaking against these things when we need to. We need to learn discernment and help young Christians to do this too.
Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai stand a good chance of being important spokeswomen for their generation - they certainly have the public’s attention and respect at the moment, along with the pressure and responsibility that role entails; together they are transforming the impression of what it means to be a feminist. I used to think that to be a complementarian feminist was an oxymoron but if this new gentle form of feminism starts to dominate the popular perception then maybe that is what I might start to call myself; maybe it is what I should call myself.