In December, 2004, whether feminism should be a criterion for membership or participation in EWA conferences was asked within the Continuity Committee. Many will resonate with Sanae Masuda’s (Japan, EWA 1) feeling that she doesn’t want to be classified as a feminist. The discussion is revealing, not only about how EWA’s leaders understand feminism and inclusiveness, it also shows how our leaders understand what EWA is all about. The exchange follows and if anyone, EWA member, reader, or friend would like to add to the conversation, please feel free to add a comment in this page.

The comment that started it all

I have nothing against feminists or feminism, but I myself do not want to be classified as a feminist. I feel I am restricted within “feminism”, and cannot think freely. I am concerned with women’s issues, and when I theologize, I can speak only as a women. But I would like to see women’s issues as HUMAN issues. Sanae Masuda (Japan) csmasuda@luck.ocn.ne.jp Sat, 15 Jan 2005

The ethos of EWA is in the spirit of inclusiveness
Thank you, Sanae for your frank comment on refusing the label ‘feminist’. I would be assured that the ethos of EWA is on the spirit of inclusiveness: we thus embrace those who are born feminist, those who become one and those who have feminism thrust onto them! Sharon A.Bong, Malaysia

Wise words from a wise woman (link to Chris’ full length article on feminism)
Your hesitation is echoed by a number of younger women in the West. Culturally, it is even more problematic in that the movement termed feminism first found voice in the West, where individualism is so strong, I think the struggle towards the equal dignity of women, which underpins feminism, resonates deeply with the Christian tradition. There are enough feminists who want just what you want: a more inclusive, respectful and caring humanity, and who work to ensure that, by claiming their rightful place, women can allow men to grow in new ways. Any form of feminism which is anti-male does not work for peace or for the love which is needed if our world is to be healed. Such voices are far from the mainstream and are not the feminism that animates the key theologians whom I respect.

My hope is that EWA will continue to be a group which speaks as women, for women, but particularly for the full flourishing of women as equal partners in the complexities of this world and church. Such a vision is not the same as that held by people (including some theologians) who define women as complementing the roles of men, specialising most appropriately in caring roles, and since men are the head, consider it inappropriate for women to be in key leadership roles within the wider church community. Many women share this latter position, and I think they would find the orientation of EWA difficult to accept.

We do need a wide range of the voices of Asian women to articulate the balance of individual and community, of holistic and caring awareness of nature and all people: Chris Burke (Australia)

EWA promotes gender mutuality
Thank you very much Sanae for sharing with us how you feel about the term ‘feminist”, as well as to Chris for the helpful explanations. We do not wish to turn off women like Sanae from EWA for that would be a great loss to us. We should however be clear about our orientation as a women’s group. In our Vision-Mission statement, we stated that we support theologizing which “promotes gender mutuality” (not complementarity that rejects key leadership positions for women in the Church) plus…. “integrity of creation”, “inter-faith dialogue”, etc.. I suppose if we speak of criterion for membership in terms of orientation, we can simply state in paper that the candidate must embody or is willing to work for the vision-mission of EWA. The CT or membership committee however must be attentive to what extent this is indeed true for an applicant. Agnes Brazal (Philippines) abrazal2001@yahoo.com

Tongue-tied
I was tongue tied when I read Sanae’s email. I felt out of my depth as in this situation it was something too delicate to give her the right answer. Virginia Saldanha (India)

In reading Sanae’s mail I felt an ache in my heart. Discussion related to this particular word sometimes seems to turn into bitter argument without a solution so I was relieved to read Sharon and Chris’ response. They spoke what’s in my heart yet was short of proper words to articulate as they did. Hope those words resonate with you too. Theresa Tsou (Taiwan)

Different shades of feminists

We will always attract women with different shades of “feminism” as participants or as members of the association even if we do not have “feminist” as a prerequisite. While care is needed to preserve the orientation of EWA, the tension and sharing among our differences may be facilitated for the benefit of all and for the church. I would also like to add that what a woman consciously professes to believe may be different from where she is unconsciously operating from. It takes time to listen and to work with the person to know where she is coming from, to understand her consistencies or inconsistencies.

We also have the push and pull of group dynamics at any EWA meeting whereby a certain stronger perspective (and that may not even be the majority) may overide the professed orientation of what EWA has constitutionally agreed. Besides taking care to preserve the EWA orientation in terms of who participates and her membership, facilitation is important. Balance is necessary and any extreme is definitely not helpful. Julia Ong (Singapore)

No pressure to agree with feminism

I agree with other’s opinion. We will not pressure everyone to be and to agree with feminsm and feminist. The important thing is hand in hand to make a transformation and liberation for all who were oppressed, include women and others creature. In my experiences, I meet many people who feel like Sanae. So I’m thinking if we can make this our theme for discussion. I’m not sure if we can talk about it in our EWA e-groups, or we can talk about “Feminist Theology” in our next EWA? I find this theme is interesting. Not to make a distinction or to exclude anyone who does not agree with this, but just to share our feelings and our ideas about this. What we feel and think about feminism, feminists, feminist theology, etc. intan Intan”

Thanks from Sanae

Thank you very much for your warm and kindly emails. I was touched by your concern for me, and was relieved to find the same welcoming and sisterly atmosphere I experienced at EWA I. I was glad to find for myself and also for women who may
want to join EWA in the future that EWA will welcome people with different shades of thinking, unless they have destructive intention toward EWA.
Chris, you helped me to clarify what was on my mind. I resonate especially with what Julia said; “While care is needed to preserve the orientation of EWA, the tension and sharing among our differences may be facilitated for the benefit of all and for the church.” I am sure glad that I came to know you all and belong to this group.With loving prayer, Sanae