When I was first starting out as a blogger, I thought I had to have all the in person conversations that people requested. When a male acquaintance told me he wanted to have coffee and talk to me about feminism and the Bible, I said sure. I felt like I couldn’t say no – which is the first sign that a conversation probably isn’t going to go well.
And it comes as a surprise to no one that it didn’t – said acquaintance proceeded to lecture me about how I wasn’t taking the Bible seriously and how I needed to have God’s perspective on issues of abuse. When I tried to explain that he can say those sorts of things because the likelihood that he’ll be in a situation of marital abuse is quite slim, he dismissed my thoughts as unbiblical and suggested I spend more time listening to Jesus and John Piper.
I ended the conversation, packed up my things, and left. At the time, I couldn’t quite articulate why this conversation went the way it did or what even happened that made him think he could talk to me the way he did. He later approached me in the same coffee shop and told me he was praying for me to find my way back to the Truth - which sounds nice, until you realize he’s saying so as part of a passive aggressive campaign to get me to give up on the new life I was finding.
Since that moment, I’ve become that much more aware of the various power dynamics in conversations I enter. This awareness has become part of my praxis as a feminist.
But first, let’s define praxis. It’s quite simple, really – it’s what your politics and your theology look like when you put them into action in your everyday life. It’s all well and good to preach progressive politics, but unless your behavior and your every day actions reflect that feminist politic, all you’re doing is blowing smoke. In Christianity, we refer to this as living out the Gospel or living out the love of Christ.
And those coming out of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity will be familiar with how hard it can be to actually live out those politics and theologies. There’s an inertia that takes over – it becomes easier to just go with what everyone is saying, to not call out that rape joke, to just laugh along. And sometimes, we do that for our own safety – it’s hard when you’re the new person in a group of friends and you don’t know how they’ll respond to being called out.
But when enacting a feminist praxis, being aware of those power dynamics that cause that inertia can be a freeing movement. When a man acts entitled to my time and conversation now, I’ve become practiced at setting a boundary, at saying, “I don’t really want to talk about this” and walking away if that boundary is not respected. A major part of the praxis of feminism is becoming practiced in no longer caring what other people think.
This is understandably hard, but part of setting boundaries is recognizing that you are not responsible for how people choose to react to you. And setting boundaries is an important part of feminist praxis – whether it is boundaries around subjects of conversation, about what can be said around you, or around your own body.
And a major part of setting boundaries involves recognizing things that don’t need your comment, that don’t need your contributions. All too often in feminist politics, white feminists get so caught up in being a commenter on every social issue that we fail to realize when we are not the most qualified people to comment on a topic. Praxis has to carry with it an element of humility – but not the false humility that extends out of being ashamed of yourself or out of a feeling of what you should be doing.
No, real, practical humility comes from an understanding of what your limits are – which is impossibly hard when you’ve grown up in a world that tells you your opinion is welcome on every matter, every time (cough white men cough). A genuine recognition of your lack of qualification to speak on a topic can be very hard to come by – especially in a world that says you’re allowed to have an opinion and that opinion cannot be challenged, no matter what.
I’ll be honest: I’m not qualified to speak on issues of racism and racial injustice. I simply do not have the life experience that supports such pontification. I’m learning, and I’m listening, and I’m becoming better at understanding the dynamics, but I am still a white woman speaking to issues that I don’t experience. And part of my praxis needs to be recognizing that I simultaneously have an obligation to learn all I can about racial injustice and that I will never, ever learn enough because I will never, ever have the experience of living with racism on a daily basis.
As a result, it needs to become part of my praxis to be aware of the power dynamics of conversations I have on the topic of race with people of color. I must approach the topic with humility, with the realization that I am probably wrong and with an ear for learning. Many white people balk at the idea that a person should show deference within a conversation simply because of skin color, but a feminist praxis demands that educated deference – understanding and being able to recognize when we are wrong and when we need to defer to experience – is absolutely necessary for upending the patriarchal system.
Similarly, cisgender men need to learn to defer to women when discussing our own experience. Part of the feminist praxis for men must be realizing that the opinion of men is not always wanted, that women can have our own conversations and our own thoughts without having to vet them through the lens of The Objective White Man.
Praxis starts with humility. But it doesn’t end there. Tune back in on Friday as we explore more of what a feminist Christian praxis looks like in the real world.