This International Women’s Day, Lauren Windle, author of Notes on Feminism unpacks what true feminism means, exploring how that matches up with Christianity 

Last week I went on Premier Christian Radio to discuss the idea of faith and feminism – two very different ‘F’ words. In preparation for the interview, the team had put a question out on Facebook to see if their listeners believed that Christianity and feminism could co-exist. The responses were varied to say the least. Ranging from: “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and NOT be a feminist!” to “Jesus respected women. Feminists don’t respect themselves.”

Let’s be honest, these days ‘feminism’ is a dirty word. The first thing I started asking Christians when I was developing my book Notes on Feminism was: “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” The responses were 50/50. Some said they did – but often with caveats – while others shuddered at the suggestion. One woman in a focus group said she was “a feminist in substance but not in terminology”, while another said she loved the idea of female empowerment but was “too traditional” to call herself a feminist. Those two statements eloquently sum up how many more felt. 


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Defining feminism 

The first stumbling block in the way of unity – a unity that I acknowledge we’ll never reach – is understanding what the word feminism actually means. 

A part of the issue is that, at present, there’s just one catch-all word, when really it’s an umbrella term covering many different groups and views. Much like there are thousands of denominations that associate with Christianity, so two people describing themselves as ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean they’re in complete agreement. There are some who are passionate about the movement but will use the term ‘womanist’ in order to distance themselves from the long association with feminism and the priorities of white women.

Many of these subsections of feminism have been defined, and various groups are referenced by different authors and speakers who engage with the movement: gender, equality, liberal, radical, Marxist, cultural, eco, multiracial, intersectional, postmodern and others. I can see how these new branches were developed in the hope of rectifying problems with the previous ideology, but in many cases, they have caused further division and disagreement. 

Broadly, and I mean very broadly, all feminists are fighting for social, political and economic equality of all people and for the end of oppression against women, with emphasis on topics that disproportionately affect them: sexual harassment, affordable childcare, unpaid labour, reproductive rights, domestic violence, the treatment of women of colour…and the list goes on.

A biblical picture

While there may be disagreement among Christians about what constitutes liberation for women, the central idea that men and women are equal in dignity is undeniably biblical: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

That said, a stigma has built up around the word with people associating it with resentful anti-men women who burn their bras and can’t be reasoned with. This is absolutely not the case. A minority of feminist women hate men, but it’s #NotAllFeminists – you see what I did there? The majority care a great deal about men. That said, plenty will feel some anger towards men as a collective because of the crimes of individuals, and because of the general, historical advantage they have enjoyed. This can leave men feeling as if they have to apologise for their gender and that the culture is well and truly against them. That’s just not the case though; the idea is to attain greater cohesion and better opportunities for women, which benefits the whole of society.

At the moment, many Christians are critical of feminism, and many feminists are critical of Christianity. I believe that the two are compatible in far more ways than most people realise. At every opportunity, Jesus boosted women above the Greco-Roman standards of his day. He encouraged women to listen to him teach when society said they weren’t worth educating, he allowed them to petition him with requests when society said they should be quiet and, perhaps most telling of all, he allowed them to be the first witnesses to the resurrection when society said their testimony was not to be believed.  


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Moving forward

All my research, interviews and, well, general life experience has led me to a place where I believe it’s time for us to rethink feminism. I haven’t come up with a whole new term to define the type of feminism I’m talking about. And if you don’t want to use the word ‘feminism’ I don’t care – the semantics are unimportant to me, as long as you’re championing women and calling out injustice. 

To me, feminism is empowering all women to have equal opportunities and achievements with men through God’s justice. I believe Christians are called to play a part in this, as Christ was not just representative of male humanity but of all humanity while he was here on Earth. As St Augustine asserted: “It’s not just men that are made in the image of God, but women too.” 

As Christians, we are part of one body. We are a community with vastly different beliefs, especially when it comes to the role of women. The enemy wants separation because the Church and Jesus’ followers are powerful when they pull together. Kat Armas, author of Abuelita Faith, says: “Injustice affects both the oppressor and the oppressed, so we must tell the truth about the past – and the ways we have disrupted our sacred belongingness – so we may heal our future.” 

Let’s pull together and heal. Let’s hear each other out and remember that what unites us is far stronger and more powerful than that which would pull us apart.


Lauren Windle is a commissioning editor at SPCK and author of Notes on Love and Notes on Feminism. Lauren is also a journalist, presenter and Tedx speaker specialising in faith, addiction, feminism, love and pop culture.