On feminist survival kits

Since writing the final chapter of my thesis (also, hello, its been a while but I was writing a thesis) I’ve been thinking a lot about feminist survival kits (Ahmed 2017). Both about the importance of having a feminist survival kit, and about being a feminist survival kit.

Sara Ahmed (2017 p.236) teaches us that ‘Feminism needs feminists to survive,’ and that ‘feminists need feminism to survive’. In my final thesis chapter, I adopted this to say that Christian women need (other) Christian women to survive in the church. But more than this, if the church is to survive in the future, it needs women preachers, as well as gender-diverse preachers to survive. And I mean that in both the ways it can be read. The church needs women and gender-diverse preachers in order for the church to survive, and also it needs to stop harming women and gender-diverse preachers (and parishioners); they need to survive.

Wait – what is this about surviving?

Where churches do not work to hear women and gender-diverse people, either in the pulpit or in meetings, then women and gender diverse people are undervalued, and often excluded, their experiences and knowledge is undermined, and they do not have the same opportunities to further develop their teaching skills or seek employment as their male counterparts (Lauve-Moon 2021; Maddox-Pidgeon 2021). This can seriously hurt and limit women and gender-diverse Christians. Emma, an Anglican woman in her twenties spoke to me about the lack of women preaching as a ‘harm.’ Before coming to her current church, she ‘didn’t hear the Bible … from a woman’s perspective’ and sometimes felt that unsupported and limited by the church and by Christianity. She recalls that as teenager:

The harm that I felt then, is that, I just felt like my whole role and place in the world was really small. I didn’t feel like I could be capable of doing anything… this is my little life, and I’m dependent on the goodwill of others to either marry me or have like a little job and little children and I cook and clean for them until I die, and then, that’s the end… I didn’t feel …that God would use me in a particularly significant way.

We also know, that teaching which focuses on strict gender roles (like mothering, cooking and cleaning as the only appropriate paths for women) can contribute to domestic violence (Truong et al 2020). Additionally, given that we know Christian women are more likely than Christian men to experience and report intimate partner violence (Aune and Barnes 2018; Powell and Pepper 2021),and that the nature of this experience may lead them to seek the support of a woman on staff, we can assume that women on church staff will do more trauma work than men on staff (this in turn is another thing that makes experience of church gendered and unequal). Sometimes we really do have to do work to make our communities places of survival.

For Emma, hearing women preach was one factor which renewed her experience of church. It provided a sense of belonging and safety; she says women preaching showed her ‘that this truth is for me as well.’  Christian women preachers, leaders and mentors, who preach in a way which is critically informed by experience (you’ll just have to take me word on this for now and wait for thesis/thesis related publications) are a survival kit both for other women and for the church. 

A survival kit can include many things. Sara Ahmed lists 10 items to include in a feminist survival kit and among my favourites are books (item 1) and other killjoys (item 7). This one probably sounds strange if you aren’t a nerdy Ahmed fangirl (i mean, very serious reader of Ahmed), but my paraphrase is, you need people who will stand with you and alongside you when you call out the exclusion and harm that springs from heterosexism and racism. You need to surround yourself with people (and books) that show you it is possible to think, act, be and live in multiple ways, because its lonely to do it by yourself.

So, post-phd (ok, post thesis submission – I know it will come back) i’ve been having chats with some of the people who made up my own survival kit while I was studying about creating a bit of a network to act as survival kit for people doing feminist, queer, trauma-informed and decolonial church work and research. And we’re going to do it. We’re going to set up a Survival Collective (and my thanks to Sara Ahmed for giving a thumbs up to this project – please imagine me dancing excitedly in my living room when I read that message).

I’m not 100% sure how it will work, or what the full scope will be, but at the very least there will be a website which can act as a place to find resources to put in your own survival kit (along the lines of Ahmed’s 10 items), a place to publish short essays, and hopefully, in time, opportunities to connect, chat and support other people who are doing this sort of work, whether as a social researcher, theologian or pastor.

This network, is very in-process, because as it happens, I’m research-tired & I need to spend some time with one of the key aspects of a survival kit – the texts i’ve read again & again which always bring me life (time, by the way, is item number 4).

Please watch this space, and feel free to check in and say, ‘hey Rosie Clare, what happened to that thing you were working on?’

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