Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why I am a Feminist

When I was in school, my favorite subject was all of them. I loved the patterns of math, the nuances of language, the wonder of science, the insight and poetry of reading and writing.

For the first seven years of my education, I was homeschooled with my younger brother. He liked all subjects with one exception: math. Math was my domain. That was awesome, because my dad was taking classes for a degree in Astrophysics. We shared a love and understanding of numbers, which made me feel special because I wanted to grow up just like my dad.

It was for science.

When Dad got home from work, he checked my math work for the day. He always taught me extra stuff then, stuff the textbook didn't cover. I lapped it up.

There was one particular night sitting in the kitchen. Dad was at the whiteboard making sure I understood whatever it was I learned in algebra that day. A line was plotted on a hand-drawn graph on the board.

Dad pointed at the graph and started to explain how limits worked. You could measure the area under a curve by turning it into a collection of rectangles. You parsed what you were measuring into smaller and smaller junks to be more precise. That could be plotted with another equation easily derived from the first, which told you the slope of the original line.

It was all conceptual. He didn't make me learn derivatives; he just wanted me to understand the idea. Limits are a way of breaking down a problem into manageable pieces to be solved.

The next year I went off to high school and took pre-calculus. I didn't remember any of the terms or specifics from Dad's enthusiastic limits lecture. But when my teacher started drawing rectangles under a parabola, I sat up straighter. I already knew this stuff.

I knew it because my dad believed in me. He believed in my ability to understand, and treated me like someone smart enough to grasp it.

In high school, girls do increasingly worse at math. Despite having equal grades to their male peers early on, we hear the message, "English is for girls, math is for boys," often enough that we begin to believe it.

In tenth grade, I passed the AP calculus test. I was raised believing I could do it.


I grew up in a complimentarian church. Women did important jobs, but they didn't become pastors. When the children's pastor moved on, he was replaced by a woman who became the children's director.

I thought that was how things worked. Women didn't make good pastors--weren't supposed to be pastors, weren't built for it. It didn't reflect badly on women (I was told). Men and women were just different; our roles were going to be different too.

I went away to college and joined a ministry that worked a little differently. College Life was egalitarian in their treatment of the guys and girls who stepped up to serve. Gender never qualified or disqualified someone from any position.

It was in college that I discovered I was good at leadership. Through tutoring, I found I excelled at explaining hard concepts so people understood. I began leading a biblestudy and discovered that coming up with questions, sparking conversation, and helping people find answers on their own was a challenge I loved. I questioned everything and willingly studied any subject. People asked me questions and expected me to have answers.

When the two men who gave the talks in College Life announced they would be offering a preaching class, I felt thrilled. I remember asking if us women were allowed to attend. Of course we were.

The first three months of preaching class, I considered my male peers of higher value. They were the ones who would actually use this stuff. They would become leaders and pastors and public speakers. Nobody would ever ask me to preach. What I had to say wasn't worth as much.

Halfway through the class, our leaders said they wanted students to give the talks during the main College Life event each week. They were turning the preaching job over to us.

All of us.

Over the course of that winter and spring, I heard my peers, both men and women, give some fantastic sermons. The next fall, I prepared a talk on rest. On a Tuesday night, I stood up and spoke to a hundred-odd students about what Sabbath really means.

Women, it turns out, can preach too. It's one of the greatest lessons I learned at college. Men and women are equals. Men aren't better at being president. Women aren't better at parenting. Men aren't more math-minded and women aren't more language-oriented.

Our gender does not disqualify any of us from the potential to change the world as leaders, pastors, speakers, businessowners, scientists, mathematicians, writers, and human beings.

I learned all this because people believed in me. Because men believed in me.

It is these men who made me a feminist. They gave me the idea that I could occupy the same positions they did, think the way they did, accomplish what they did. That idea is what I fight for when I promote women leaders and pastors and authors and world-saving book protagonists. We should all have equal opportunity to do the things we're good at.

These days I have a husband, father, and male friends and peers who are fighting for that feminist idea too. Feminism isn't a woman's fight. It belongs to men and women who treat each other as equals.

Word count: 928.