“Survival is a creative act,” Erica Granados De La Rosa writes in her essay, “What Has Remained.”
Survival is a creative act. And it is from such creation, and Creation, that the stories of Faithfully Feminist emerge.
Faithfully Feminist is a collection of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian womyn speaking back at the question: why do you stay? Why do you stay in a religion that tells you sitting next to a man in prayer might contaminate his encounter with God? Why do you stay when a six-year-old girl tells you womyn can’t be preachers? Why do you stay when your auntie sucks her teeth and clutches her hands because she’s still not over your divorce?
Why do we stay when our biggest adversaries are so often … other womyn?
Faithfully Feminist pulls no punches. It’s the treat and the tartness of asking people to speak for themselves, across religion and race and history and, Lordy, understanding of gender. People speaking from their truth, from their God-experience, means there will be contradictions bound in the same volume. What i admire most about the I Speak For Myself series is this willingness to hold the tension without editorial judgment. Between feminist discourse and religious theologies, having the right ticket stub for the right party has been divisive enough – so rather than trying to create a meta-narrative bound to exclude, erase, demean, or stomp on pointy-toed shoes, the editors have empowered these 40 authors to exist together, in this book, with all their cards showing. Diversity, in its fullest form of authentic selves with equal platform and space, is enfleshed in this volume. In allowing womyn who disagree to each have their say, the great engine of patriarchy – womyn internalizing misogyny and tearing each other apart – is slowing unraveling.
Still, with all these voices, some common themes emerge.
There are the mothers, the ancestors, womyn who coaxed and collided to pave the way. After leaving an abusive marriage, Nia Malika Dixon decided to move to LA and pursue her dreams. Her mother encouraged it; her Imam did not. Erica Granados De La Rosa at once indicts the white supremacist colonialism that forcibly raped and converted her ancestors, a colonialism she still sees in the whiteness of feminism today. She says her faith was first born of her “dark-skinned mujer indígena mestizo divorced single-mother,” a United Methodist pastor. Talia Cooper’s mother read her feminist fairy tales as a child and sung as a cantor in Orthodox New York synagogues – but still, she went with her daughter when Talia wanted to worship in a space where womyn had to peep through holes in a wall to witness the worship of their brothers and fathers. There is a kind of community midwifery that sings throughout the stories, of womyn rallying around each other to love, to bless, to carry, to interpret.
Then there’s salvation. Emily Maynard writes, “It’s funny now, when I think about how much I fought against it, that it was actually feminism that saved my faith.” Amy Levin, despite her childhood being wrapped in Jewish summer camps and ritual, writes of the revelation feminism gave her: she had long held a “quiet belief” that men had more access to God than her. Feminism proved this wrong.
The salvation transcends faith, too. Amanda Quraishi’s essay is one of the most startling in the collection – a story that begins in an abusive, Jehovah’s Witness home and ends as a trouble-making Muslim woman.
The salvation is also co-birthed with God. Leiah Moser speaks as a Reconstructionist, lamenting the lack of gender-binary-breaking language in Judaism and celebrating the “creative re-appropriation of language” in the tradition. Leiah’s essay is a critical addition to a collection working to be intersectional, and i hope future I Speak for Myself books will take note of the need for more trans, genderfluid, genderqueer, and gender non-binary voices – especially on feminism, a space that carries a painful cisnormative history.
Mostly, though, this is a book of rupture. One of my favorite essays is “Speaking Forward” by Deonna Kelli Sayed. She drops the s-word in a way i’ve never encountered. You know the word – the one dropped in casual Bible studies on Ephesians, the stories of how womyn ought to relate to their natural, superior life partners in men – surrender. Sometimes called submission. She writes, “Surrender arrives in the struggle of personal authenticity in front of Allah.” Surrender, for Sayed, is about honoring “what you intuitively feel to be Divine, even if it disrupts those who control the story.” Surrender, then, can be empowerment.
These essays rupture the meta-narratives of interfaith dialogue and feminism being co-opted by white womyn. They name when feminism looks a little to blonde, when it whiffs too much of white supremacy. Speaking for oneself, valuing personal narrative, is the great feminist/womanist/mujerista rupture in masculinist academia that says only objective facts are valid.
Rupture is not perfect, nor frankly is it all-inclusive. But Faithfully Feminist, its editors, and its writers have given us a gift in their vulnerability and their willingness to try to create a bigger rupture, a wider conversation.
That seems pretty faithful to me.