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Is Michele Bachmann a New “Evangelical Feminist”?

Is Michele Bachmann a New “Evangelical Feminist”?

From the perspective of her religion, Republican candidate-to-be Michele Bachmann is something of a conundrum.  Although she draws much of her strength from her evangelical Christian roots, the strict gender roles that accompany these same roots would seem to preclude her serving as the United States’ commander-in-chief.   This, as sociologist D. Michael Lindsay writes in a piece for the Washington Post, creates an unusual but functioning paradox, in which Bachmann can garner political support from evangelicals while seeming to fly in the face of expectations for female members of evangelical communities.

Lindsay chalks this up to what Marie Griffith, a scholar of religion and the author of the extraordinary book, God’s Daughters, calls “practical Christian womanhood.”  By couching her campaign as a “calling,” and emphasizing her motherhood at every turn, Bachmann can simultaneously be the most traditional and unorthodox of Christian women.  She can (at least according to Lindsay) appeal to moderate voters who would never vote for such an extreme candidate, while remaining the darling of the evangelical movement.  The question, of course, is whether, assuming Lindsay is right, this is feminism.

I don’t want to hark back to the debates about whether Sarah Palin “counted” as a feminist – those, to my mind, were polarizing and unproductive in the extreme.  But Lindsay’s attempts to categorize what Bachmann is doing as “feminism” are somewhat puzzling. Certainly, it’s potentially groundbreaking, and her presence as possibly the only woman in the 2012 race does show that women are becoming increasingly accepted as viable candidates on both sides of the political aisle.  However,  the premise that the fact that she is a woman running for president makes her a “feminist” does not necessarily follow.  It’s not a label that she’s applied to herself.

The term “feminist” is one that can easily cause a lot of political heat.   Bachmann appears to be an evangelical woman, rather than an evangelical feminist.  As Griffith’s book, which I highly recommend, shows, women of faith tend to reconfigure submission and obedience in ways that are unfamiliar to liberal feminists, which may be one reason that when someone like Bachmann enters the political stage, she must be labeled as a feminist, rather than another kind of evangelical woman.   I don’t think Bachmann is a feminist.  But she is a fascinating case study in how evangelical women position and articulate themselves within apparently immovable gender roles – and examining (although not necessarily emulating) her trajectory should be fascinating and instructive for anyone who does consider him or herself a “feminist.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

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5:42PM PDT on Aug 22, 2011

Lindsay's giving her a title of "feminist", makes my skin crawl. She's of the female gender, but that does not make her a feminist, a designation I've used for decades and am proud of.

2:14PM PDT on Jul 18, 2011


9:46PM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

Well, Bob, here is a bit of that response to hatred of those against LBGT :

"What homosexual activists are in effect saying to counselors is this: "Don't you dare try to help someone who wants to leave this disease-ridden, emotionally-impaired lifestyle!"

Those are the kind of gentle, Christ-like folk who we should be careful of offending.

1:15PM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

"Homosexual bigots' new target for hate: Michele Bachmann"

7:07AM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

Don't these people understand that the constitution (which they love to brag about defending, but have never actually read) does not allow them to brand themselves to a religion, because that is a violation of the first amendment?

2:28AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

I think she is way too traditional to be effective as a conservative leader and as an independent woman. Being obedient to God is one thing, because that's where her strength is, but, the traditional role of being obedient to her husband? Well, SHE is running for president NOT HIM. So who will really be leading? Is she just a pleasant face or is she really a true leader?

I think she looks more like the president of the PTA rather than our country.

9:31PM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Lord help us all...

11:52AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

Not a fan. . . . .

9:55AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

Great a soccer mom for president.....

9:52AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

I live in Minnesota and have had the opportunity to observe her "serve" her district for years. She is ultraconservative, not a feminist and most important, she is uninformed, poorly educated on issues and nowhere near equipped to serve as president, let alone a Congressmember.

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