Hi friends! Today I’d like to share with you a fresh perspective on the feminist movement, written by renowned Catholic scholar and author Carrie Gress. —Lisa
There is something in the female nature that is drawn to fashion and trends. Words like savvy, fresh, and cosmopolitan evoke a woman who is smart and hip. Trends don’t end with skirt hems, eye shadow shades, and changing seasons; ideas can also be fashionable. For the past fifty years, western women have been told by an unrelenting chorus that feminism is a trend we should all get behind.
Today, feminism feels built into the very fabric of our culture. Few of us can imagine our lives without its influence. And yet for all its sway, we haven’t seen an explosion of happiness and fulfillment among women. The happiness metrics tell a different story when we look at the numbers for suicide, depression, divorce, and sexually transmitted diseases. All of these have continued to climb over the decades.
As Catholic women we can feel a tug to engage with feminism, promote it, and be grateful for it, but like more and more women, we are beginning to see that it isn’t delivering on its promises.
Women often feel an allegiance to feminism because it has somehow become bundled in our minds with our basic rights, like voting, driving a car, or owning a home. What radical feminism has deftly done is to make us think that if we look behind the curtain, we are somehow betraying ourselves and all the courageous women who fought for these things. Questioning the source for the liberties we hold dear feels like we are betraying our womanhood. We live in a type of co-dependent relationship where we agree to look the other way when it comes to feminism’s vicious elements (like abortion and destruction of the family), as long as we get to keep our vote, homes, jobs, and so on.
What few of us realize is that the feminists of the 1960s and 70s wove Marxist theory into the effort, twisting it into something that would have been unrecognizable to women like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Second Wave Feminists made being a man the real ideal (or idol). Fifty years later, we still live with their lies that women are entitled to the sexual liberty of men—and not good men—and children are the main obstacle to our happiness. And like all lies, these have destroyed many women.
We don’t usually see these casualties. The women we see on TV, in magazines and social media, and on the catwalk and the big screen are curated to sell the narrative of success and happiness. Elites in the media, academia, politics, Hollywood, fashion houses, magazines, and book publishing have conspired to show us what they want the ever-trending feminism to look like. Their success is built on the false notion that feminism really has our best interest in mind. This is what ideologies do. They promise bliss and deliver misery.
But perhaps the most curious trend, especially among Catholics, is the effort to try to correct radical feminism’s errors with more feminism, further draining the word of meaning. Yes, there are vestiges from the First Wave of feminism that still could have some relevance for women today, but by and large, feminism has come to mean the Second Wave ideal. If we compare this approach to other ideologies, we can see why it is ineffective. To defeat Nazism, did people ever think, “Why don’t we become a new kind of Nazi, so that we can convince the real Nazis not to be Nazis” or “Let’s call ourselves the Mafia, but a new kind of Mafia, to help straighten out the old Mafia.” These might seem extreme, but when we consider that radical feminism has actually ended many more lives (62 million in the US alone) than either of these two blights on humanity, it suddenly becomes clear that there has to be better strategies.
The Church has more than 2000 years of wisdom to draw upon and doesn’t actually need a twisted ideology propped up by lies to help it lead women to happy and healthy lives. It was truly Christ, the Church, and our Lady who brought to light the equal dignity women have to men. This was not a gift of feminism. One only has to look at what is happening to women in Afghanistan to see how very different things could be. Or to consider the erasure of womanhood in our own culture, leaving most stumped when asked what it means to be a woman.
Women don’t need feminism to flourish. It can be a hard thing to separate ourselves from what everyone else is doing, but it is something we must have the eyes to see and the courage to do if we want to help women be healthy and happy and to truly become who God made us to be.
Carrie Gress is a Fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Scholar at The Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America. She is a prolific writer and author of several books, including The Marian Option, The Anti-Mary Exposed, and Theology of Home. A mother of five, she is also the editor of the online Catholic women's magazine, TheologyofHome.com.