Both religion and feminism play important parts in the community at Wheaton, however hidden or visible these may be, yet is it safe to say that these two can be intermingled as a form of identity and lifestyle? This past Wednesday, March 19 at 7 p.m. in Meneely 102, the Feminist Association of Wheaton (FAW) hosted a Religion/Spirituality and Feminist Panel that was led by the president of FAW Caitlin Hawkins and six panelists: Professor Darling, Dean Vereene, Nephthalie Bernard, Grace Kelly, Margaret Fogarty, and Nora Salzberg.
The women were first asked to state their religious and spiritual background, four of them from different branches of Christianity, and one identifying herself as a Conservative Jew. The panel consisted of several preliminary questions that were given to all the panelists, then was opened up to the audience to ask or comment on the lifestyles and ideologies of the five women. These questions were based on the connectivity between spirituality and feminism, including “How does your spirituality affect your feminism, and vis versa?” and “What is an example of challenge you have faced in being involved in both of these groups, and how did you overcome this challenge?”
Even at the beginning of the preliminary questions, the women’s differences in backgrounds, ideologies, and reasoning relating to God and purpose was visible. This ranged from Bernard’s belief that women are presumed to be servants both in culture and religion, stating: “…it is very difficult to separate religion and culture…even in the home you are taught that women are the servers, cleaners…and then I would go to church and it would be the same thing”, to Professor Darling’s belief that God may be in “the rabbits that you find hopping around on Wheaton campus, or the blue heron that was seen on the pond this morning”.
The different perspectives of these women, while not representing a whole group of individuals, gave an inside look at the diversity within religion and feminism, both of which are aspects that are heavily stereotyped in today’s society. As Dean Vereene stated, “Live your life in a way that other people will admire…I love screwing with people’s stereotypes.”
Stereotypes were also challenged in a question that was given by an audience member regarding any disappointment that the panelists had in the ignorance of representatives of their religion. Professor Darling was especially vocal, showing disapproval for the oppressive remarks and beliefs targeted toward homosexuals and women that are supplied by the church. The topics of the differences between spirituality and religion, treatment and roles of women in the church, the discrete images of God, values of helping the down-trodden, and the religious and feminist communities on Wheaton campus were also introduced.
The main connectivity component between feminist and religious ideologies was the sense of being the best person one can be and to help those who have been oppressed, whether it be by personal or institutional struggles. The panel highlighted the spiritual purpose of feminism, and the equality-driven empowerment and discipline of religion, while supplying a balance in a spiritual context.