Katha Pollitt, a critic, feminist, activist, and liberal who I greatly respect and admire, posted this on Twitter this morning:
Half of laity members who voted against women bishops in Anglican church were women. http://tinyurl.com/btqdsukAnd I wanted to say, "Sister, please." Because that "#slavementality" hashtag reflects a fundamental misunderstanding -- or perhaps better put, a fundamental willful blindness -- on the part of my fellow liberals about the way that my fellow people of religion or faith sometimes think or behave . . . and in particular, a willful blindness by my co-feminists toward women who make choices that don't advance the cause.
Those women who voted against women bishops were quite likely ladies who read 1 Timothy 2:12* literally and who find that more important or compelling than their own rights. This is a perfectly valid way to think and behave in the private sphere. It may not be the way we feminists personally would interpret Scripture or vote -- but other people's religious beliefs aren't any of our business, and liberals have fought long and hard to make sure everyone's religious beliefs stay their private business and don't come into the public sphere.
All of this goes ditto for women who vote, based on religious grounds, for a candidate who opposes abortion rights**. That does come into the public sphere, as those women's choice of a candidate can influence all women's choices about life and death, literally. But that's still a valid belief and choice, and the work of those who support abortion rights then is to argue better and either change their minds or convince other people to outvote them. Same goes for the Anglican vote: The work lies not in insults, but in a more wide-ranging theological discussion that might open up these women's minds, if they're willing to go there (which they may not be). It's complex and hard, but not cheap, as Ms. Pollitt's comment felt to me.
[A side note if you're interested in issues of Biblical literalism and religious mind-changing: The New Yorker from November 26 has a terrific, thoughtful, even-handed profile of Rob Bell, the founder of Mars Hill church, and his journey from strict evangelical to someone still faithful but rather more nebulous in religious definition.]
Feminism is, or should be, nothing more and nothing less than the fight for the rights of women to maximize their personal choices and opportunities within a culture that often represses them -- including those choices and opportunities some feminists might disagree with, such as those that reinforce the repressive culture. Calling those women who make different choices idiots does not advance the cause here, and I wished we did it less and argued for complexity more.
* "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet," as quoted in the New Yorker article.
** I should note that my own feelings about abortion are extremely squooshy, so I will not argue it one way or another, nor do I welcome arguments about it in the comments (goodness, no).