Friday, July 23, 2010

Third Wave Feminism - Response to an Attack on Womanhood

This is an in depth, refined response to a post I published June 10, 2010 on this blog. 

In early June, our local newspaper reprinted an article by Jessica Valenti. Her thesis, that Sarah Palin is not a feminist as she does not espouse "feminist values" cried out for a response. Ms. Valenti confounds feminism with radical feminism. Her feminism is defined by a woman's right to control her own body through abortion and emergency contraception, by advocating same-sex marriage rights and the promotion of policies that pursue her idea of "social justice".  Ms. Valenti states that "conservatives (such as Ms. Palin) are trying to sell anti-woman policies shrouded in pro-woman rhetoric" (

An overview of the feminist movement since the late 1800's is in order. There have been several waves of feminism in the last 100 or so years, with different values identifying each.

First wave feminism is identified by women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Both these ladies were pro-life in the sense that they understood that the nature of woman is to desire to bring to life and care for, children. Given that premise and the conditions it aroused, they sought to level the playing field with regards to men in the political arena, promoting equality in  terms of property rights and voting, and in the social arena with initiatives such as helping end child labor.

Susan B. Anthony wrote in her journal, The Revolution, "No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who... drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!" [The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869], and Elizabeth Cady Stanton referred to abortion as "infanticide" (1873; see Marjorie Dannenfelser, The Washington Post, May 28, 2010). These leaders of the feminist movement of the era stood fast against the taking of life. 

Second wave, or radical feminism, began in earnest in the 50's and 60's, and forms a complete world view for the person fully immersed in it. This concept of feminism is focused on the self, and posits that cutting the ties that man and society bring to woman is what will allow woman to be happy. Betty Friedan is often called the mother of modern feminism, and she wrote her seminal book, The Feminine Mystique, as the answer to her nagging questions: 
What is the Meaning and Purpose of life? 
What gives rise to our sorrows?
Where is the path to true Happiness?
She decided that women did not need men in order to feel alive. The discussion of rights commandeered the discussion, and these rights took on a peculiarly material flavor. Ms. Friedan decided that the way a woman was to become fulfilled in her own right was to become just like a man, as it seemed that men had all the opportunities, all the fun, all the machines and gizmos. In order to compete with men, women needed to have economic independence. 

In 1949 Simone de Beauvoir had written her book, The Second Sex, in which she advocated that woman are hampered by the fact that they bear children. In order to become truly fulfilled women needed to have the right to decide if and when they would bear children. Her work dovetailed beautifully into Ms. Friedan's concept of equality among the sexes. 

The idea of career assumed a much more important spot in a woman's concept of self, seen today in the incredible emphasis on educating women for the workplace at the expense of a more rounded experience of life. A cursory look at the offerings of today's women's studies departments at major universities and colleges support this view. Over the past decades sex (and what many would identify as sexual promiscuity) has assumed an ever growing place in the minds of feminists, due to the availability of contraception and more importantly, abortion. Radical feminism attempts to separate a woman's identity from her body in order to create a gender-neutral society and "equal playing field". Betty Friedan said, "Society had to be restructured so that women, who happen to be the people who give birth, could make a human, responsible choice whether or not - and when - to have children . . ." This self-centered view has reaped a generation of women who wonder what they did it all for and children who know they were just a choice.

What did women do it all for? A young girl grows to adolescence and today learns that the path to happiness is getting into a good college, finding a career, working independently while maintaining sexual relationships with a number of men until the "right one" is found, at which point the two can co-habit or marry, as they wish, and continue on in their professional careers until such time as they decide they have the stability and maturity to conceive a child. A generation of young women have grown up in this model. They gave their heart to one too many men only to have it dashed yet again, all the while wondering why it should be dashed for it is not supposed to be the primary reason for their happiness. A relaxed sexual life leads all too commonly to the abortion clinic, as the newly conceived child, not considered a part of their life's plan, is seen to be a hardship that cannot be endured. The thought of the dead children not allowed to take even one breath in their life haunts the minds of so many of these women as the years pass and the barrenness of their lives becomes more apparent. The natural yearning of woman to nurture babies in utero and in the world is squashed, yet it cannot be ripped out for that function of woman is as innate to them as sleeping. Nurturing in some way, either physically or spiritually is a gift common to all women.

As so many women in my age group near the age of retirement we are in many ways coming to grips with all of this. The reality of the choices made stirs in their minds and the desire to make amends and do the right thing bubbles up again and again. Since donning the role of Executive Director of the CCWF I have been approached by so many women, even many I have known for decades, who have told me of their youth and the poor choices they admit they made at the time. Stiff upper lips still prevail for the most part, for there is no way to bring back lost lives. No seeming way. But there is! There is forgiveness, and this is something only the gentle balm of love from He who loves so much can give. Today's Gospel (7/16/10) includes the words "I desire mercy not sacrifice" and our task today is to bring God's merciful love to a generation of women who have either unwittingly participated in a kind of a holocaust that must stop, or who set their face years ago and knowingly participated in the dissemination of the tenets of radical feminism and only now are beginning to admit they may have been wrong. It is so hard to travel the road to forgiveness, mostly of self, and our generous support of these women is so terribly needed.

The youth born during the era of radical feminism have in some ways an even harder challenge, for they understand that they were a choice. They may not ever really think about it, but the knowledge that their parents did not love them freely and unreservedly causes a certain anguish in the heart that is hard to stifle. To know that life was contingent upon whether enough of the house mortgage had been paid or the increase in salary was received turns a young beating heart into a mere commodity, no different than a car or big screen TV. To know that there may be siblings that were never allowed the chance to be born causes our youth to feel a kind of rejection no other generation has known.

Third wave feminism is the result of the radical new way of looking at what it means to be male and female depicted in the Theology of the Body of Pope John Paul II. The teaching has been unpacked in the last 20 years or so and knowledge of the movement continues to grow and be accepted. This style of feminism seeks to define woman authentically, welcoming her function as life-giver and primary nurturer as of primary importance to her own well being as well as that of the family - indeed all of society. Third wave feminism celebrates life. It is not constrained to just the material world of the workplace nor is it constrained to just staying home and preparing peanut butter sandwiches, as Ms. Friedan would have it. Third wave feminism understands that killing unborn life is not a means to foster happiness in the heart of a woman. On the contrary the true effects of the abortion revolution are beginning to become known in the tears and guilt that lies in the hearts of so many fellow sisters. The lost life is irretrievable and it is very often not even named. Third wave feminism recognizes that taking life is not "women's rights", as Ms. Valenti would have it. 

Third wave feminism seeks to establish a homeostasis between family and work that uplifts the spirit by honoring the true nature of women, which is receptive, sensitive, generous and maternal. True feminism honors the complementarity of men and women. Complementarity is the mutual self giving attitude of both sexes. Happiness comes from taking care of the other, and due to the innate qualities women possess, it is easier for them to self sacrifice in this way.

Because women are not relegated just to the home and are allowed to use their intellectual talents, they add a different dimension to the workplace. This dimension is one sorely needed in today's technological world that can so easily be deprived of the touch of humanity. In this way women utilize all their talents for the betterment of society.

Women, like men, are made of mind (will), body and spirit. Allowing one part of our makeup to override the other parts sets a dangerous precedent. The will unfettered can be a dangerous tool, witness the willful child who will not listen to his/her parents! The will unfettered ends up enslaving us as it subsumes itself to the agenda of society at large. Who controls this agenda? What is the foundation from which the agenda springs? We can so easily end up the tool of someone else's agenda, whereas the only agenda we should be striving to adhere to is God's, through the natural laws that exist from eternity. 

In summary, Ms. Valenti states ". . . if a person who actively fights against women's rights can call herself a feminist then the word and the movement lose all meaning. Feminism is a social justice movement with values and goals that benefit women . . . Given that so-called conservative feminists don't support women's rights, how can they paint their movement as pro-woman?"

How? Because pro-woman is not anti-child. Because pro-woman recognizes the natural yearning of all women to nurture and bear life, not kill it according to their self-professed needs of the moment. Because pro-woman means to think of others before self, and finds in the innate feminine genius the answer to the longing that truly resides in the heart.

Michele Coldiron
Executive Director, California Catholic Women's Forum

1 comment:

Savia said...


Third Wave Feminism, is more in line with the 60's establishment. Your movement and mine would be called Fourth-Wave Feminism.

Those who we often identify as radical feminists actually share the same views on the objectification of women that cultural conservatives do. The difference is that they see patriarchy as the enemy, because most of these industries are male run.

We do need more Catholic/Christian men taking a stand against the men who do these things. It would go a long way in gaining the attention of radical feminists, who might start taking what we have to say seriously.

Please visit my blog on this subject.

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