Feminist Theories and Theologizing at Episcopal Divinity School

Gale Yee Class

This past Spring Term, Dr. Gale A. Yee (Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies at EDS) taught a course titled “Feminist Theories and Theologizing.” The course is required for Masters students who have a special competency in Studies in Feminist Liberation Theologies. This coming June Term she will be teaching a course on contemporary approaches to the Hebrew Bible.

Comprehensive Views of Feminism

The course introduces students to varieties of feminist theories: liberal feminism, Marxist and socialist feminism, postcolonial feminism, American women of color and Global feminism, and ecofeminism. Often feminist theologians and biblical scholars ground their theologizing in one or more of these feminist theories. To understand and appropriate their insights, one must recognize the feminist critical assumptions, questions, and constraints that undergird their theological and interpretative formulations.

These feminist theories arose in response to the dramatic eruptions and changes in the societies that produced them. Voices of those that had been marginalized or suppressed in the past­­—those of women, racial and ethnic minorities, lower class workers, sexual minorities, the poor in the so-called Third World—have begun to emerge, develop, and theorize their own identities within a dominant and often exploitative world.

Episcopal Divinity School has always been on the forefront of listening to these voices and developing new theologies that incorporate global issues involving gender, race, class, and sexuality for its students.

A Deep and Personal History

The most exciting thing about teaching this course is helping students learn the long history of feminist thinking, which in the United States goes back to the 1800s, starting with women who were first involved in the anti-slave/abolitionist movement.

The origins of feminism also began with what we today call “intersectionality”—the intersections of gender, race, and class. Moreover, because the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 70s was very much a part of my personal history, I was excited to share with the class my own escapades and learning as my own feminist consciousness developed. In college, I was part of a group that protested the Miss Loyola Contest [at Loyola University Chicago] and the sexist hype surrounding it. Two of our members entered themselves as contestants. During the Spring Dance, when the time came for them to explain why they should be elected Miss Loyola, these two women from our group renounced their candidacy in favor of “Miss Cow.” At that point, two of our male comrades, who had snuck in a cow costume, pranced in and danced around the stage. We were all eventually chased away from the dance by the frat boys.

Expanding the Understanding of Oppression

I hope students come away from my class with more than their initial gut reactions that “men oppress women.” This oppression took many forms, such as the barring of women from education, voting, and the right to reproductive freedom. This oppression sometimes even involved the complicity of women, who were afraid to relinquish the few benefits they received in a sexist and racist society.  Even today, women are paid less than men, and women in the Global South are exploited as a source of cheap labor. One needs to critically analyze the specific geographical, cultural, and institutional ways that “men oppress women,” and from that point, develop solutions that benefit both genders.

This article has been condensed and edited from an interview conducted with Gale Yee. Pictured above is Dr. Yee and students from her class. Image courtesy of Katie Holicky.