Monday, February 1, 2010

Life, Truth & the Feminine Genius: A Report on the Feminist Movement - part 2

I laid a bit of a groundwork last December – now I look at the feminist movement in its beginnings and the desert of self-ism.

People in today's secular world are starved for the truth. Catholic women can become models of the new generation, the light to which the moth will fly, because we have the tools to know the truth of who we are. They were given to us through the Word of God and Tradition, summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

 I want to recount a story. My mother was born in 1922. She was the first person in her immigrant family to attend college, in the 1st graduating class of Queen's College in the City of New York.

 At Ohio State U. she graduated among the first wave of women Ph.D.s - in physical chemistry - just after WWII. My parents married and were thought to be harbingers of a new age, and in a sense they were, they were just ahead of the curve. Due to nepotism laws she could not work at the same institution as my father. As universities were few and far between there was a long distance relationship. One year after the wedding my mother became pregnant and had to quit work. Mothers did not work in those days unless necessity forced them to it and wives of university professors did not fit that bill.

 In its early days the feminist movement had laudable goals and my mother approved, but as the 20th century advanced it began to turn in on itself.  Marjorie Campbell explains. A student of canon law and one who lived the experience of the 60's and 70's, her talk is available from our website,

 Radical feminists asked the same questions John Paul II does:

What is the meaning and purpose of life?  (Mulieris Dignitatem Sxn VI 19)

What gives rise to our sorrows?

Where lies the true path to happiness?

The answers are different. Radical feminists began to dwell on perceived injustices and many were openly hostile to religion.  Anger accompanied this sense of lost purpose. Betty Friedan, acknowledged mother of the feminist movement, wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. She described the nothingness she saw in the life of the suburban housewife, seemingly relegated to making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her kids. She asked the silent question, "Is this all??"

Leaders of the feminist movement decided that women needed to become like men. The language of rights overtook the discussion. 

 There are 3 principles to radical feminism:

1.   Equality means economic independence. Women will not be respected unless they have what men have.

2.    Reproductive capacity is considered a challenge at best and a burden at worst. Simone de Beauvoir, consort to J-P Sartre and existentialist in her own right, famously advocated freedom of sex in her 1949 book The Second Sex. The career of the woman assumes a position more important than the rearing of the new generation.  "With all the respect thrown around it by society, the function of gestation still inspires a spontaneous feeling of revulsion," she wrote.                 Betty Friedan said, "Society has to be restructured so that women, who happen to be the people who give birth to the child, could make a human and responsible choice whether or not and when to have children. . ."

3.   Men would change. They would come to see the interchangeability of sexual roles and naturally assume more of the domestic chores which had traditionally fallen to women.

All three are articles of faith among women feminists.  It is true that the movement created opportunity for women. I never entertained the idea that I would not go to college. How to shoehorn family into one's career was more the question among my peers.

These rules played out, inevitably and early on, into ideas about sexuality. Our inability to recognize gender is an example, as is abortion - the scourge of our day. The fact that the topic is so off limits in the general culture shows the amazing effect radical feminism has had on the culture.

Yet the deep wounds are there. Our culture is silently drowning in the blood of aborted children.  Since publicly embracing Christ and the Church He founded I have been approached in private by women who have experienced the trauma of abortion. In unveiling their hearts for even a brief glimpse I can see the brokenness – spiritually and morally. If we could only see the blood of those women whose maternal instinct was snuffed by the domination of the prevailing culture.

How could all this have been? There was a concurrent theme in these same years, the 60s and 70s - that of radical individualism and moral relativism. A product of the existentialist mentality, all is a construct of the mind. Thus what you think and see and what I think and see may not be similar. Truth is squashed. Feelings assume a great importance. 

Today's world makes it easier than ever to hang on to our autonomy. We end up in little islands of me-isms, wrapped up in self. We each have space and I will respect your space, and you will respect my space but this space we construct is a prison. Our life boils down to one of getting: an education, a bigger house, a new wife or husband, a perfect child. It is a wheel that goes round and round but never goes anywhere.

 This sterile vision of life changes when we understand that there is a reason we are here, and that that reason is contained in our Judeo-Christian heritage. The person we are called to emulate in our life, Jesus Christ, gives our life meaning.

 When we follow Jesus we are called to love, as Pope Benedict says in his beautiful 1st encyclical, God is Love. This love is sacrificial however, and involves giving not getting. This way of life brings us the peace and joy we search for. It is the truth. Christ is truth and Christ gives us life and through our feminine genius we have the possibility to bring others to life, through truth. 

 Stay tuned for the next installment, the call Christians have to right the concept of the feminine person.



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