Feminism and Faith

By Stella Haffner   |   July 5, 2022

Supreme Court leak in the USA, Spain’s new initiatives to improve reproductive rights and compensation, Northern Ireland’s abortion clinics – feminist issues are on the mind of the Western world. This week, we journey over to the campus of Westmont College to hear from their Feminist Society.

The Westmont Feminist Society co-leaders

Co-led by students Anna, Britta, Mika, and Riley, the Westmont Feminist Society is an on-campus club devoted to the discussion and pursuit of intersectional feminism and related issues. As part of their intersectional values, the Westmont Feminist Society is dedicated to providing a diverse, welcoming atmosphere where newcomers can learn about the intersection between gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and religion. As part of my discussion with club co-leader Britta Roper, I wanted to learn about the compelling and sometimes contentious relationship between feminism and a faith-based campus.

Q. Do you remember when in your life you started identifying as a feminist?

A. For me it came later in life. I was raised in a Christian home, but during COVID I was doing a lot of deconstruction of what I used to think and what I think now, especially with the rise of social media, where I was just exposed to so much.

How has your understanding of feminism changed since you started identifying as a feminist?

It starts with thoughts like: “Women should probably be equal.” And then I started seeing things in my family structure or in the structure of the church and began to think, “Oh, that seems problematic,” but I wasn’t really sure what to do with those thoughts. A lot of bigger picture things came later, like escaping white feminism. I took a gender philosophy class at community college, before I came to Westmont, and that really expanded my understanding of gender and sexuality. I think a lot of times, specifically within Christian communities, there are a lot of people who would identify as feminist or believe in women’s equality without expanding it to a more intersectional understanding of what feminism really means. Taking that class on the philosophy of gender as well as the work we’ve done with feminist society – I’ve been learning a lot more about gender, sexuality, and the inclusion of women of color and trans women. These are all different stories that I was sheltered from when I first learned about feminism.

How does faith inform your relationship with feminism and with femininity?

I think that’s an interesting question because all four of us leaders and all members of feminist society are at really different places with their faith. I personally am not religious. I would consider myself spiritual to some extent, but I think learning about feminism has pushed me away from religion, I think because of the ways I’ve seen religion fail women and people of color. But at the same time, one of our society leaders identifies as religious. She has a lot of different perspectives than I do, so it’s cool to be able to bring all that to the table.

Do you find it hard to integrate the different religious perspectives within society?

I think all four of us leaders have faced this challenge. You have to cater to a lot of people who are starting at a lot of different places. Some of our meetings are very basic, like how to use pronouns, what are the correct pronouns to use to address trans people – some of our members just aren’t exposed to even that level of knowledge, and I think the same goes for religion. Some people are really far in their deconstruction of faith, and some people are just starting to question. Some people aren’t questioning at all and that’s just part of their trajectory, so I think it’s interesting for us to all try to cater our content toward that. But with all this – it’s nice to have the four of us because representation really matters. It’s hard at Westmont to even find someone who will say they’re not a Christian, we’re kind of few and far between, so I think it’s cool to have a space where someone can say, “Oh, you don’t identify as a Christian too, and you’re in this position of leadership at this school.”

What do you think the role of a feminist society is on a Christian campus?

I would say – I think we would all kind of say – that it’s a difficult role. We’ve faced some people who don’t think we should exist as a club on this campus. But I think our role in education is important. We do very basic things that aren’t practiced in most spaces on campus. For instance, we share our pronouns before each meeting, so we can normalize a space for that. A lot of our members identify as queer, so in effect we end up normalizing queer spaces as well. We do a lot of basic education that professors either choose not to talk about or don’t talk about and that administration is not allowed to talk about. I’m a part of Resident’s Life on campus, and there are a lot of conversations we’re not allowed to have due to the administration’s position. These are the types of conversations we bring up in Feminist Society, so I think it’s a cool space to host these discussions that wouldn’t otherwise be had. 

How do you feel about the following statement: Spaces affiliated with religion are generally conservative – on the other hand, spaces affiliated with feminism are liberal.

I would say that it’s more or less true. I think Westmont is a really interesting space. The religious aspects do tend to be more conservative, so I think that’s true, but then you also run into liberal pockets within Westmont – a lot of professors are on the more liberal end of the scale, while administration is on the opposite extreme. Students, on the other hand, will fall anywhere in between. I think it’s unfortunate that something as personal as religion or spirituality has to be politicized so much. I think it’s unnecessary, and I think it’s harmful. But I would say for the most part it’s true because when you look at it, it is really polarized. The really religious people, who are going to church every Sunday, who are going to go to their youth groups, you’re not going to find them at Feminist Society, which I think is really interesting.  

To learn more about feminism and intersectionality at Westmont, you can find the Feminist Society on Instagram at @westmont.feminist.society


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