An Overly Personal Book Review: Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian & Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay
Nancy Ross is a professor of art history at Dixie State University. She is interested in contemporary Mormon feminism and is currently writing a memoir about reading the Book of Mormon at different stages of her life.
Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, & Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Edited by Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair, & Amy Levin. Forward by Judith Plaskow, Rosemary Radford Ruether, & Amina Wadud.
I hate to gush, but if I could nominate this book to be elevated to scripture, I would. I ordered it because my friend and fellow Mofem Caroline Kline had an essay in it. I moonlight as a sociologist of religion and felt it was directly relevant to my areas of research. I’ve also read Gina Messina-Dysert’s work before, including the recent excellent book that she co-edited with Rosemary Radford Ruether titled Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century: Technology, Dialogue, and Expanding Borders. Students of Mormon feminism should also know that that book has chapters by Caroline Kline and Margaret Toscano.
I thought I would be interested in Faithfully Feminist, but I expected that my engagement would be largely academic. I looked forward to analyzing and comparing the personal essays of 45 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim feminists. I did not expect that I would be moved by the stories of these women, so deeply moved. I have heard Joanna Brooks speak about the power of telling our stories, but I have never been quite sure of what that power really was. I suspected that it was something about identity formation and framing our narratives in empowering ways, but reading Faithfully Feminist showed me that the nature of that power is in sharing the way that we wrestle with faith and community. Reading so many stories of this wrestling felt validating.
Though I read the book several months ago, there are several essays that stand out in my mind. The first is by Dasi Fruchter and is titled “Leading from Here.” Fruchter talks about the ways in which she and her mother did what they could to lead from the women’s balcony at her synagogue. Tradition prevented her from leading from the bimah with the men, where she longed to be, but she lead the women with her singing voice in the balcony.
Caroline Kline wrote about her participation in the two Ordain Women Priesthood Session actions. A conservative woman in her ward affirmed Caroline’s desire to stand in line again and noted that it is important to do what we think is right. I was involved in planning and carrying out these actions and it is both joyful and painful to hear others discuss them: joy because I also felt that it was right and pain because they were moments of confrontation and transformation, which are always painful.
Rachel Lieberman saw gender everywhere in the practice of her Jewish faith. In her essay titled “Blessed Are You, Who Has Made Me a Woman,” she wrote about the prayer that Orthodox Jewish men recite, where they thank God for not making them women. Liebermann defied this ritual by thanking God in prayer for making her a woman.
Nia Malika Dixon and Amanda Quraishi showed me the elements of Muslim faith that were appealing enough to make feminists convert. They wrote about how they integrated their old and new faiths to create meaningful experiences for themselves.
The book affirmed religious feminists’ tensions, rejections, creations of new ritual, and negotiations of religion and belief from the margins. As I read, I felt that these stories of struggle were sacred to me, that the book was filled with the narratives of imperfect-yet-holy women struggling against religious structures that didn’t want them, but they still believed. These are uncomfortable truths that many of us live with, but they are made more bearable by hearing that others experience the same.
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