Regular readers will know that interviews and guest posts are much more interesting than hearing me waffle – even when I disagree with what they say. Natalie is a Gender Justice Specialist, and her new book [which you can preorder!] ‘Out of Control‘ was published by SPCK in March 2019. Back in my pre-.com/.co.uk days she wrote a really wise guest post ‘Jesus the Feminist‘ for me. She was gracious enough to agree to answering a few questions about her new book…
Hey Natalie, thanks for agreeing to do an interview – could you introduce yourself and your passions?
Hello! Thank you for having me. By way of introduction, my name is Natalie Collins and I am A Gender Justice Specialist, which is basically a title that distils what I do into a few words.
I’ve delivered programmes with women who have been subjected to abuse and have worked with perpetrators of abuse. I wrote the DAY Programme for young people to educate about abuse and exploitation and recently the Own My Life course for women who have been subjected to abuse, the model for both these resources is to train practitioners across the UK to deliver the material to those they work with. I have done quite a lot of activism, both inside and outside the church. I set up a campaign about the Fifty Shades series a few years ago, and even did a one woman protest at the Hillsong conference (about Mark Driscoll). I organise Project 3:28 and am a co-founder of the Christian Feminist Network. I also work on issues around pornographies, masculinities and gender more generally.
I love Jesus, I am a massive feminist and have two awesome teenagers and an adorable dog called Preston. My husband is their primary carer and organises most of the admin for my work (which is all freelance). He is really great, but I often joke that the only reason he is extra brilliant is because the current standard of manhood is so low. Jesus, family and feminism (mostly in that order) are probably the things I’m most passionate about.
How would you say your faith informs your work?
Primarily, I’m alive because of Jesus.
Every second of every day I am sustained by the God in Whom I live and move and have my being. And so that informs everything in my life. God is as important to me as air, or food, or water. I can’t survive without Her. In terms of my work, God is the one who, over a decade ago, called me to respond to male violence and everything I have done, every opportunity I have had, every form of financial provision and all my other resources have come from or through God. My ability to be an activist and challenge power misuse, sexism and misogyny (both inside and outside the church) is founded in my being deeply rooted in God. It is through practices of silence, journal-ling, prayer, worship, being part of a Christian community and reading the Bible that I am able to find the resources to be an outspoken voice against those things. It is my experience of God as liberating, that drives me to work for the liberation of women.
However, Christian culture, Christian people and the church has hurt women so badly, and I am totally sympathetic to and appreciative of the wider feminist movement’s concern about religion. I understand the suspicion with which the wider feminist movement hold feminists of faith, and although the feminist sisterhood informs much of my theory and practice, my faith sets me apart from many of my feminist sisters who are either atheists, agnostics or have embraced alternative spirituality. Christianity and feminism are the twin tracks on which my liberation has been found, and so I sit in that tension of not necessarily being accepted fully by all Christians or all feminists.
You’ve been involved in gender justice work for years – ‘before it was cool’, as some might say. How do you feel about the cultural moments like #MeToo, etc?
Ha! I’m not convinced that it is cool yet. It has been hugely costly for many of the women who have spoken out as part of the #metoo movement, and while gender justice continues to increase in pace, so too does misogyny, sexism and male violence; we need only look at who the current US president is to see that.
I think there are huge positives to the #metoo movement, with women having spaces to share their stories and some men being held accountable for what they have done. Yet, it’s much more complex than that. Corporations such as Playboy have set themselves up as beacons of women’s empowerment and certain types of feminism have become co-opted by capitalism and consumerism. Gillette creates a brilliant video challenging toxic masculinity while selling pink razors which are being used by pubescent girls and women of all ages to shave off their pubic hair because pornified ideals of womanhood are the norm for femininity. Through their Dove brand, Unilever tells women they are beautiful as they are, while another of their brands, Lynx, sells its products through sexualising and objectifying women.
Cultural moments are not bad, and can affect change, but long-term change will not be found there, but rather with the everyday acts of everyday people who choose to live differently and are willing to open their eyes to the reality of abuse within their families and communities. It will be found as parents choose to raise their children differently, and as men challenge their friends and colleagues when they are sexist or abusive. It’s tempting to think these movements will change everything, but patriarchy is a spiritual principality and power, and if you cut off one of it’s arms, it will simply grow another one. This is why we must seek to address the roots of this stuff, not expect superficial change to be enough. But that change will be costly, painful and require great courage, love and sacrifice.
I’ve loved reading your book (review forthcoming!) – what prompted you to write it?
The short answer is that you did!
We had a phone call in which our conversation led me to submit a proposal to SPCK, which they accepted (yay)! The longer answer is that God provided me with many opportunities to develop and grow, both in my understanding of the issues and also how to communicate about them. From there it was about God opening doors to writing the book. It was a really wonderful experience to be able to write it.
That said, doing it alongside working, studying for a Masters and having a complex family (during the time of me writing the book, we had been seeking to adopt a little boy who had been living with us for a few years, and he was returned to his birth family by the court while I was writing the book), made it a challenging process. I had no desire to write a book, but now that it exists, I am really excited about it and hopeful that it will make a difference to people’s lives.
Your book blends your personal story with some serious theological and sociological reflection – how important is that blend to you?
SO important! Feminism first articulated that “the personal is political”, and many centuries before the writer of Revelation stated that they conquered the enemy “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).
And so both my feminism and my faith compel me to root what I say in my personal story. In recent decades the “domestic abuse sector” in the UK has tended towards professionalisation (due to gaining government funding) and this has left many presuming that there are “the helpers” and “the helped”. However, my story is part of how I am able to be a helper. We need to ensure that everything we do, theologically, sociologically, academically and in every other place, is informed by people’s stories.
Thank you so much for answering some of my questions. What would you want church leaders to hear, if you had to sum up the message of the book?
You are welcome! Thank you for having me. To church leaders I would say, within your role you will encounter those who are abusive, it is important that you learn how to actively challenge them and not collude with them. You will also encounter those who have been subjected to abuse, and in your preaching and pastoral care, you will help them know Jesus more when you are considerate of them and their needs and find ways to be consistently and unconditionally supportive of them. And in order to do this wisely and well, you need to work towards encouraging the greater flourishing of women in all areas of your life and ministry.