Final Exam Essay
- Before taking this course, I had no understanding of what feminist theory involved. I have never held a distinctly exceptional opinion of the nature of feminism; however, this class was a nice addition to the knowledge I was gaining from outside conversations. If you had asked me two years ago if I considered myself a feminist, I would have responded with a hard no. In fact, I would have told you that I think modern day feminism has created a culture of weak woman who perpetually look at themselves as victims. Today, I still cannot say I am full on board the feminist train, but am slowly starting to float onto middle ground. One of the most impactful conversations I had with a friend of mine at the end of this past summer, was that by not identifying as a feminist, it sounded like I was saying that I did not appreciate or understand the value of the work that women over the years have done.
My right to vote, have a voice, work, and pursue a higher education, are a result of past women’s willingness to put their reputation on that line. Now that, I can stand behind. I think it is more the notion that female equality has been inflamed to mean that women are not only equal, but the same as men, and that I do not agree with. Setting all of that rhetoric aside, it was both a challenge and a joy to have to fight to bracket my worldview in light of the discussions in class. I have loved looking at religion through an academic lens, and believe it is something that religious people should do regardless. If something is true, it must cover the whole reality of a person – feelings and thoughts, and by studying a religion that you hold to be true, and finding inconsistency within that it’s important for individuals to be intellectually honest with themselves, and begin reconciling broken pieces.
The study of Buddhism and Christianity were the most relevant for me because I have several friends who are either Buddhist or grew up Buddhists, and then of course because I am a Christian, that topic hit close to home. Looking at society through a patriarchal lens, and comparing that to a matriarchal lens was fascinating. I am not one to jump to conclusions about anything ever, so reading these stories was insightful, but the only time I felt a deep emotional response was in reading Living Islam Out Loud. But back to Buddhism – after reading Learning True Love, and studying pieces of the Buddhist religion, I never found myself coming to a place where I felt it necessary for Buddhist woman to revolt against any kind of patriarchal societal structure. I found their religion – especially the Mahayana branch – was relatively liberated in regards to male/female roles.
It was interesting studying the Theravada branch – that one being the most orthodox/confining for women – and relating that to my friends Sachiko Jayaratne’s experiences and frustrations. I often wonder if that strict religious expectation is what ultimately turned her off from it. I find her experience to be somewhat similar to mine as a Christian, which is this awareness that something is not quite right, yet you have never been a direct target of a patriarchal mindset, but you can still feel the lingering expectations of it. What made studying feminism in Christianity so fun for me, was that I came to a deeper realization that it is not religion that I am committed too.
It is truth, hence why this concept of truth being relative did not settle well with me; however, the class conversation was helpful in pushing my mind to a place where truth does not change, but my understanding of it always will. I had several personal takeaways from reading If Eve Only Knew, and while I am not completely on board with the books theological interpretation of creation, I was still able to be cobelligerent with other points. I think another opinion that has evolved, or started to develop, is this notion of feelings affecting how we perceive our identity, in tandem with our culture. I have have always been a believer that feelings are real; however, I do not always believe they are reliable and think they have the power to do a lot of good, but also a lot of damage to an individual.
- When thinking in terms of religion and identity, there is no question that the first story that comes to mind is Joyce Zonana’s in Dream Homes. She stated on page 28 that, “I was a mystery to myself, confused and ashamed. My parents told me I was both Egyptian and Jewish, but on those Brooklyn streets, I could be sure of neither. The two identities threatened to cancel each other; I feared I had no authentic claim to one or the other. Baffled, stymied, I retreated into our apartment, found my way to the kitchen, asked my mother for some halawah.” Joyce, and Egyptian Jew was undoubtedly caught between a rock and a hard place. In one of my reflection papers, and in class, I brought up this tension between the idea of acculturation and assimilation, which is exactly what she was navigating the waters of.
This is great example for my argument on why it is crucial that we set our own labels, and understandings aside, and pursue the truth of reality rather than the truth of our circumstances because only then do we truly find a steadfast identity and purpose – even in religion. I think when we zone in on the labels – in our case the religion – that we know, we tangle ourselves in an unnecessary mess, and are simply pursuing a knowledge that soothes our minds, rather than offering us any solid ground to walk on. If we slightly switch gears and think in terms of religion and cultural influences, stories from Living Islam Out Loud come flooding into my mind! Once again – I find this to be an overall issue for people’s critical thinking skills as a whole – it always comes down to a worldview issue! Rather than asking ourselves, what is reality, what is true, what do I believe, and then what do I do.
As a result, we jump to the problem and try to fix it at the surface. These Muslim women are clearly trapped in a cultural washing machine of Islam, but to my understanding, the majority of them are counter it with American cultural ideologies, while still claiming to be muslim. An example of that being Mohja Kahf’s story pages 130-138. She makes the statement on page 132, “Not to dumb all of tradition but to take the best strands of it and create Islam afresh for a new generation.” Okay, great, but that this point you are just picking a choosing what it is that suite your feelings, which essentially is just an Agnostic approach. She goes so far to claim that sexism is embedded within Islam itself, and is not merely a cultural issue, which is a whole can of worms itself. In class, occasionally, we discussed the validity of holy texts and scriptures, and that is honestly where I have to put on the breaks and do more research and study because that is precisely what is going to either be the driving force behind all of these issues or bring them to a halt. Is the Qur’an true? Is the Bible true? And if it’s fallible, what makes it reliable?
- The recurring challenge I find most woman running up against from Buddhism to Islam this semester is identity. I can not say that I think they are responded to it similarly because I think each experience was distinct for each woman. Common hurtle, different responses. I think that Anne Lamott was a bouncer, and I loved that about her. She never really settled for one way of thinking of another with haste, but rather leaned into her questions, let the messy parts be messy, and never tried to mask her reality. I felt like she was the most honest with herself in the process of “coming to be.” The best way I can describe my thoughts are her are she was a house, that had a foundation of its own, and religion just dwelt within that – she didn’t look to it as a pillar.
To make a generalization for my readings about the women in Islam, I think their biggest identity crisis came in the form of their voice. Did their voice have power, or purpose, or reason? Each woman responded very differently and I think that boils down to some women being anger driven, and others fear driven. The anger driven ones bucked back quickly and with vigor, then fear driven woman were more methodical in their approach. Joyce Zonana was a wild card but ultimately came to a place where she discovered that what she wanted to be was someone who had respect for differences, held responsibility for future generations, and loved that land that she walked upon. Quite a simple conclusion for such an intense internal battle of right and wrong. Sister Chan Khong was a quite furry, she was a mover and a shaker that did not beg for attention or recognition, and that is what I loved and honored the most about her story. She held a characteristic that I think was a bit more challenging to find in others stories, and that was one of humility.
I think purpose was another common theme across the board that I saw with consistency. I think all of these women expressed frustration and confusion as to what their purpose was not only within religion but society as a whole. I think the complexities of that uncertainty manifested itself in many different ways, but it was present none the less. Overall, I appreciated each story individually. I cannot say that I think one approach was more viable than the other. Each of the women we read about all semester had one common characteristic – boldness. They stepped outside the bounds of what they knew, or were comfortable with, and that in and of itself is something worth applauding. If you ask me, that paves paths beyond the bounds of feminism, or feminist theory. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with their current conclusions about identity, faith, or philosophy, I admire and aspire to their ability to now live carefree without being careless.
- I think it goes without saying that If Even Only Knew was the most impactful book on a personal basis. It was the first time in a long time that I have read a text that pertained to my beliefs, but came at it from an entirely different perspective. I have always been an advocate for reading more books that have nothing to do with the way you think, then with the way you do think, so I thrived off of this one. I have never heard anyone teach on referring to God as mother, and the interpretations of different proverbs were both perplexing and intriguing to my mind. Additionally, thinking about the creation story I grew up believing in terms of it being an interpretation that perpetuates a patriarchal society, and hinders women from being all God created them to be was entirely new territory as well.
I laughed a lot while reading this book as there were so many snarky comments that resonated with me in the best way possible. The expectations and ideals that are placed on women sometimes within the Christian faith are obscure and utterly confining. As I have shared with you, I have not necessarily directly experienced the extremism of these idea, but will not deny the lingering voices that are still culturally floating around. I think the primary expectation that I have found myself bucking up against ever since middle school is this notion (not from my family structure, but from popular Christian culture) that I need a man to protect me, and take care of me, or that I need to jump into the dating game with more aggression since I am getting to the end of my undergraduate college career and naturally the expectation for that is marriage.
I think subconsciously, there was always this expectation that my story would somehow fall along the lines of, go to college, get married, so on and so on; however, as the years have gone on, the Lord has made it more than clear that has not been His plan for me! And I love it! Only by allowing myself to set aside others expectations of what my life should look like, and learn how to abide in Christ and be obedient to Him alone, have I discovered the beauty of following Him. That is liberating. I certainly – as many people do – have outsiders who would disagree with my perspectives and pursuits, but I think it is no coincidence that Jesus makes it clear in scripture that we are to count up the costs of following Him. Are we willing to damage our own moral compass in the eyes of others for the sake of following Him? Are we willing to stand alone, be uncomfortable, and seek out truths that do not make us feel great about ourselves, or our situations?
You said it best in your book that we are the ones who have to decipher what is wisdom and what is folly? And like most things, that is something only time and hearty, relentless, searching will provide and reveal. I think the most challenging aspect of these internal soul searches is that there is constantly this war between our own experiences and ideas, the cultural influences that inspire ideas in ways we don’t always fully recognize, and the frustrations of finding things you don’t want to be true. All which makes looking at anything with fresh eyes a challenging and daunting task, but I also think that this where the fear of God comes into play, and trusting that He is faithful even when we are not, and He will do what He promises – lead us.