Working as a Christian feminist at an evangelical college sometimes makes me feel like my ideas are, you know, out there. Having a sense that men and women are created equally, and not bound by specific gender roles tied to God’s presumed design, makes me a rebel, in a way, especially at a place where feminism is sometimes the other “F” word.
Yet as I’ve grown in my understanding of feminism—a journey I’m still on—I’ve discovered that I really am in the mainstream, not really out there at all. Indeed, some younger feminists might find my own ideology a little bit, I dunno, lame, since I’ve spent most of my efforts advocating for family leave policies, equal pay for equal work, and changes in the ways we understand and talk about gender, especially within the church.
Turns out, I should have been baking bread.
Not any old bread—not at all. No, the kind of bread I might need to break to express female empowerment is one made by vaginal secretions. According to a blogger who goes by “Another Angry Female,” a bread made by one’s own body—and, more specifically, those who might express disgust about said bread—reflects our socially-constructed sense that the vagina is disgusting, mysterious, and to be denounced and distrusted.
In her post about the sourdough bread (which she termed using the re-claimed “C” word), she explains the process for creating the sourdough starter in significant detail, and then wonders, in the comments section, why people might be a little grossed out by her experiment, or why they should be interested at all. (Um, could it be because she live-tweeted the “event” and blogged about it? Why call foul on people who are paying attention to what you asked them to?)
It’s hard for me to know what to do with this kind of “feminist” statement. Part of me wants to shrug and say that feminism has given women the right to choose how they express themselves, and that if a woman wants to express herself by making yeast infected bread, she should knock herself out. Part of me never wants to eat sourdough bread again, just in case.
But maybe it’s just my age showing, because part of me wonders how such “feminist” statements undermine the really serious work feminists have done for gender equity, and the serious work that they continue to do. Like the woman I wrote about in August—who ran the London Marathon without a tampon as her own feminist stand—I wonder how the baker-of-vaginal-products reflects both a privileged kind of feminism, as well as an uninformed history of women’s fight for justice, here and in other parts of the world.
The baker and the marathoner seem to be defining a new kind of feminism, one that attempts to highlight the “normalcy” of women’s biological parts and processes by acting in a way completely outside the realm of normal, calling attention to the act through social media, and then rejecting any criticism of the act as anti-woman and anti-feminist. Consider the California woman who lifted objects with her vagina, including donuts and surfboards, to show a woman’s strength. Or the woman who uses her menstrual blood to paint pictures, in one case a political statement against Donald Trump. Or another performance artist who has taken up vaginal knitting, meaning that when on her period, she pushes a skein of yarn into the space one might otherwise occupy with a tampon, and then knits away, the finished product dyed by her own blood.
While these acts certainly provided ample humor for my friends and me—as I’m sure they did for many other people—I have a hard time figuring out exactly what this new kind of feminism is supposed to prove, especially when it’s accompanied by 1) News stories that label it “feminism,” and 2) first-person blogging about the “feminist expression,” and 3) a sense of outrage when people suggest that making bread with a yeast infection or running with a free-flowing period might be a tad unsanitary.
In our research of evangelical popular culture, we noticed a trend in how feminists were portrayed: They were often college professors, with Ph.Ds., who were childless (or at least abandoned their children to day care). They hated men, and sought not equity with men, but dominance over them. Evangelical books about the “destruction of culture” sometimes put feminists in the middle of the maelstrom: they were responsible for everything from a higher divorce rate to childhood obesity to a weakening U.S. military (probably made even weaker now, with women able to serve in combat).
Such caricatures seemed so far from the feminists I knew that they were funny—but also problematic. After all, the feminists I know don’t easily fit into a monolith: they have children or don’t; they are married or not; they work within the home, or in public; they are Christians—and some are not. They long for equity with men, and it is this desire for justice that defines the feminist work they do: not whether they can cook something with their vagina.
But perhaps my age is showing, or my inability to understand the power of performance art. Perhaps I’m more inclined to see the fight for gender equity play out in different ways; and, like many other second wave feminists, I need to learn what feminism means for younger generations. Perhaps I need help understanding why a sweater made of menstrual blood—or more accurately, the significant press given to the knitter—really bothers me.
Because I definitely don’t want to draw the line, saying people who don’t conform to my understanding of feminism can’t eat at the same table—even if the bread they bring isn’t really to my liking.