I grew up in an evangelical church that interpreted the Bible literally — meaning I was taught that everything from the Garden of Eden to demonic possession actually happened. One particular verse — “women should not teach or exercise authority over men” — seemed to come up particularly frequently throughout my childhood.
It wasn’t often explicitly stated that women were inferior to men, but there was a common separate-but-equal thread in the messaging. “Women are like fine china, easily broken but beautiful, whereas men are like Tupperware, durable and dependable” one church leader said during a high school service. Even then, I knew I didn’t want to be associated with dishes.
By the age of 16, my entire life revolved around my church — at times, I’d attend four times a week. Women were given tasks like planning potlucks and babysitting, while men were relied upon to preach sermons and budget church funds.
While I was learning to speak in tongues (yes, that actually happened) and singing songs about Noah’s Ark, something else was going on.
Since I was around 11 years old, depression would curl around me like a giant leech and suck the feelings out of me. Of course, I didn’t know it was depression. At the time, Evangelical Christianity didn’t have much of understanding of mental illness. I was taught deep sadness had its roots in spiritual deficiencies and attributed my suicidal thoughts to my lack of faith in God. I was weak, therefore I was sad.
Unsurprisingly, the way women dressed and acted was also popular topic during sermons. Before I even I sprouted boobs, I was told my body was a sinful thing that would spur lust in even the holiest of men. It was my job to hide my body. While my classmates sported bikinis, I wore tankinis well into my 20s and never bought anything that showed my collar bone or upper thigh.
It wasn’t until I moved out of my house at 19 years old that religion started to fade into the background of my life. No longer under my religious parents’ roof, I began to question certain teachings from the church while studying at my liberal college.
At the same time, I started therapy and was finally given a proper depression diagnosis. Psychology and logic became the anchors I clung to. My therapist encouraged me to read books that challenged my thinking. I devoured works by Rumi and Henry David Thoreau while picking up books about metaphysics and moral philosophy.
Eventually, a kind of cognitive dissonance took place. I could no longer hold onto the literal interpretation of the Bible as I became a more critical thinker. Too many things didn’t add up. How could a man like Jesus of Nazareth, who seemed to love with his entire being while fighting against the status quo, teach that some humans (men) were more valuable than others (women).
Women’s studies sneaked its way into my college experience. It began during a required journalism class. The professor introduced famed journalist and feminist, Gloria Steinem, and I slowly fell in love with her words. Her fight for liberation felt like a call to action. The Women’s Movement seemed to be doing something that paralleled Christianity’s mission of becoming a voice for the voiceless, even if most Christians wouldn’t touch feminism with a 10-foot pole.
The following year, I signed up for a feminism studies class titled “Women, Sex and Power.” On the first day of class, our professor wrote a quote by Mary Shear on the whiteboard: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” It took a while to even wrap my head around that idea, but it felt so incredibly good. I spent hours poring over the words of Virginia Woolf, Bell Hooks and Kate Millett. Reading feminist locutions was like digging myself out of a grave packed with years of religious fallibilities.
Despite my progress, living with depression is probably something I’ll have to carry for the rest of my life. Each week I sit under framed photos of ocean scenes as I share my darkest thoughts with my therapist. I also take a little white pill every day to give me the chemical balance I need. Along with treatment, clinging to the ideals of feminism has comforted me in the times I’ve struggled the most.
By becoming a feminist, I learned how to stand up for myself and tap into my inner badass. Coming to terms with the fact that weakness isn’t something inherently female was empowering. Though, I don’t consider myself a Christian anymore, I find myself reflecting on the numerous stories of Jesus standing up for the dignity and autonomy of women who were cast aside, and I can’t help but think he was actually a feminist too.