The Femonite: A new gathering space for Anabaptist Feminists

Charletta and the gate #2Over a year ago, I wrote about grieving the loss of women’s voices here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, a problem that has plagued this space since almost the beginning. In the last 7 months, I’ve been delighted to watch Anabaptist women (including a few former YAR contributers) coming together over at The Femonite, a blog started by Hannah Heinzekehr last spring. The blog has brought together a wonderful range of feminist voices, both men and women from across the Mennonite church.

In her introductory post, Why Femonite?, Hannah talks about her identity as a Mennonite "… I have found myself, again and again, drawn back into Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and communities, because of its continual focus on the narrative and life of Jesus, and not just his death."

Hannah’s introduction to the sexism "in earnest" came working in Mennonite institutions. Unfortunately, this fits with the stories I’ve heard from many of my Mennonite female peers working in church institutions. Hannah also names the hope she feels in so many people and communities who are finding Anabaptism for the first time and identifying with the story. This paradox captures the struggle of our generation: how do we embrace the incredible richness and potential of our faith tradition while challenging institutions shot through with oppressive patterns?

Even though this blog is only 7 months old, it’s already opened an important space to wrestle with this question. I’d like to share with you a few of the excellent posts that have been written there over the past month. In some cases I’ve added my own commentary while in others I’ve simply summarized the post. In all cases, I’d encourage you to click the titles and read the whole post on The Femonite. The first three articles I’ve shared are from a series on Mennonite Identity that looked at the question: "What does it mean to be a Mennonite woman?"

What does it mean to me to be a Mennonite Woman? – Malinda Berry

Malinda reflects the deep connection between her identity as a Mennonite and as a feminist. Malinda writes with poetic conciseness on the work of Doris Janzen Longacre, best known for compiling the More-with-Less Cookbook in painting a vision of organic theology. That is: fruit-focused faith that doesn’t get hung up on "heresy-proofing" or creeds. It’s not about appearances but about the everyday work that brings about shalom.

Mennonite, Feminist, & Woman – Hilary Scarsella

Hilary’s reading of her identity as Mennonite and feminist acknowledges some of the ways these identities can feel like they conflict: "I’ve absorbed the idea that a ‘good Mennonite woman’ is one who blends into the background and delights in helping others into the limelight." she says. Feminism has been an important tool for challenging that pattern in herself, but she feels that her identity as a feminist, "seems to pose a potential threat to my credibility" among Mennonites. In conclusion, Hilary names the importance of a community centered around faith, justice and reconciliation, hile and also naming the struggle "to feel justified in seeking out and accepting my own gifts, talents, and successes" that comes with her Mennonite identity.

Just a Joke?: Encountering Sexism in Surprising Places – Anna Groff

Anna shares the story of a sexist remark from a police man on the street in Phoenix and her challenge to his joke. I appreciate the way she grounds her post in a specific experience and her own processing of it, but also points out that this is part of a broader pattern in society.

Anna’s story reminds me of a quote from Marilyn Frye that we use in the Undoing Sexism module of Christian Peacemaker Teams training. Frye compares the effects of sexism to a bird cage:

Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere;

Unfortunately, the response to Anna’s blog post illustrates this point all too well. A commenter named "Jim Kirk" (perhaps a reference to the womanizing captain of the Enterprise?). Rather than empathize with Anna’s experience, he claims that it was "actual harassment" and belittles her personally. Like so many men down through history, Jim refuses to empathize with a women’s experience and look at the way this one wire is one of many.

Full disclosure: Anna is my editor at The Mennonite.

Why We Need Each Other – Amy Yoder McGloughlin

Amy writes about "the cost to being an ally" as a pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church (GMC), the oldest Mennonite congregation in the United States. She looks at the parallels between the scarlet letter worn by Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel and her own experience of rejection for the welcoming stance that GMC took toward the queer community.

Amy attended GMC for many years before her decision to become a pastor. In fact, her pastoral call was shaped by night the congregation was expelled by Franonia Conference for welcoming queer people. After graduating from seminary she was looking for a job as a pastor and and was turned down as a candidate at a church because "they were worried I’d bring the queers with me." In another case, she was told directly by one Mennonite pastor: "How in the hell do you ever expect to get a job in the Mennonite church with GMC on your resume?"

How many other Mennonite seminary graduates have quietly sacrificed their principles in order to get a job? How many of those who already have jobs dare not speak their views in public due to the risk of losing them?

In Remembrance of Bat-Jiftah: Judges 11:29-40 – Leo Hartsorn

As part of series on the blog about sexual violence, Leo Hartsorn writes about Jephthah’s murder of his daughter, one of the "texts of terror" in the Bible. He looks at the way the story fits the patterns of abuse of women and the way the church has encouraged violence against women through history. These patterns continue through today, including among Mennonites, as shown by a recent study that shows domestic violence among Mennonites in Winnipeg at the same level as the general population. Leo challenges us to remember Jephthah’s daughter, an anonymous victim of domestic violence, in a way that breaks the patterns of patriarchy in our own communities.

Rethinking God the Father after 3 Weeks of Fatherhood – Justin Heinzekehr

Justin, Hannah’s husband and regular contributor to the blog, talks about reclaiming fatherhood as a metaphor for God from a feminist perspective. "After experiencing fatherhood first hand, I am still angry about the way that God the Father has been misused" he says. Rather than authority, he suggests an image of loving responsibility for God’s relationship to creation.

As man drawn to feminism, but not myself a father, I really appreciate Justin’s report back on his learnings so far. He talks about his struggles as a father who wants the best for his daughter, but doesn’t have all the answers. "We use trial and error, which has the drawback of producing lots of errors." he says, "In the end, we find some things that seem to work (for now) for the three of us." Perhaps, in the same way, God the Father is striving alongside us to get things to work out.

Another YAR contributer who has posted at The Femonite is Becca Jayne (a regular contributer here until 2008 as BeccaJayne):

I look forward to watching this new blog grow and thrive as a space for Anabaptist feminists of all ages to interact and challenge all of us. May their threads be nurturing and their comment moderation policy strong.