feminism, liberation, Union Theological Seminary

An Experiential Introduction to Feminism: A Feminist Send-Off

Recent theological feminism, in the last 40 or so years, has made a lot of headway. In academic circles, it is quite reputable — not for all, but certainly by many its critiques are heard, even if there is disagreement at some level. Others seem to misunderstand, perhaps through not reading well, and still others seem to write feminism off without giving it a chance, concluding often that it is guilty by association. However, in the end, this is mostly theological discussion. And ironically, while feminism attempts to address a tangible reality, such discussion can be both connected and disconnected from the very real world. Especially for a guy, one for whom perhaps the reality that women face daily, may seem invisible.

A good experience, one that makes visible the invisible, can immediately help connect what feminist speak of to one’s own reality. Simply, experiencing what seemed non-existent (cognitive dissonance) is tremendously helpful when in dialogue with all sorts of liberation theology, and specifically feminist theology. Importantly, I do not speak of merely the negative experience that feminism critiques. Like many other theologies, to begin to truly grasp said theology, one must also experience its imagination.

This latter type of experience, the vision of feminist theology attempts to construct or add, I experienced at Union’s graduation. It was terrific. And no, there was no “spiked” kool-aid to drink from.

Nurturing is the theological term. Womb-like is my personal description. The place was packed. The fact that the robes were bright red and, over the course of the ceremony, it got hotter, only helped drive the aesthetic. The sense of leaving the nurturing surroundings — a birthing if you will — permeated the air, but it was not with dreariness. Before entering the chapel, it was the faculty literally cheering us on as we entered. During the course of speeches (which were few and generally short) and awards, many a time there were interruptions of hearty, even throaty, cheers. Celebration was welcomed. In fact, I have rarely felt more accepted, and thus rarely more at home, than during the graduation. Passion was not restrained, but channeled. Love was not withheld. Joy was over flowing. Relationships were recalled and cemented. So this is what it is like to feel empowered: to be helped, to be given tools, to be told your incalculable worth as a human being, and encouraged as one moves out into the vast New York City and the world. It was in a word, liberative.

I thought back to Union’s and Yale’s Vagina Monologues. Yale wore all black with something like a red flower — an accent of red amidst a sea of classiness in the bright, white colonial chapel and each woman’s little black dress. At Union, it was full on bright red from head to toe. It was unabashed passion, ranging from softness to throaty roars. However, at the same time Union embodied the ability to not treat males or the sense of what it is to be male, wrongly. Feminism isn’t the attempt to break down maleness, its about the inclusion of both — both that come from a gender-full God.

The graduation ceremony was not specifically feminist, in the sense that one could point to a detail and claim its heritage, but the mark that feminism has left, and continues to leave on theology, clearly was consciously or unconsciously in the back of the minds of the planners and moderators.

I am now firmly a believer that for theological discussion we must pay more attention to the actual vision and tangible fulfillment of its imagination to really engage the theology. This feminist graduation will live with me for years and I fully expect to look back on it and smile. I certainly do now.

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