Complementarian Feminism?

An interesting discussion came up on Twitter last night. The question is this: can you be a feminist without being egalitarian? And can you be an egalitarian without being a feminist? It all depends on definitions, but by the most common definitions I do think the two are pretty much required to go together.

Feminism in its most simple definition means believing that women are equal in worth to men. Most complementarians would indeed affirm this in principle. One definition of complementarianism, after all, is that genders are equal in worth but just not in role or opportunity. If you put those two together, it can make sense to say that you’re a complementarian feminist. Most feminists, however, would argue that women should be given the same opportunities in practice and not just possessing the same theoretical worth.

The definition of complementarian may be a little more clear-cut but not always. It is usually used, at least in Protestant circles, to mean a strict definition of what men are allowed to do (because of their god-given commands as men) and what women are allowed to do (because of their god-given commands as women). There usually isn’t any wiggle room here for exceptions to the rules, although I have heard things along the lines of allowing women to lead in the church if there are no men available who are willing to do their duty as the leaders.

However, some would use the term complementarianism to simply say that good relationships are ones which complement each other and it isn’t necessary that all men provide the same complement to all women. A man could theoretically have all the stereotypically feminine traits and his wife could have all the stereotypically masculine, and that would still be complementarian. I learned in that Twitter conversation that Catholics often use it in this way. In this case, I definitely do not think that there is a conflict between feminism and complementarianism. It’s actually what in my experience Protestants normally call an egalitarian gender role arrangement. Just to be confusing.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Adam Dickison

    this will make traversing gender role conversations much easier in my SBC church. they get so touchy about the word ‘egalitarian.’ Now I’ll just tell them that I am a CATHOLIC complementarian and we’ll be right as rain…………..oh wait……..

    • Ummm… yeah… let me know how that goes for ya

    • Christine

      I have just now stopped laughing enough to type, and figure that congratulations are in order for your wit.