Type “feminist” into Google Images. Who do you see? My search resulted in a lot of pants-wearing, short-haired, women flexing their muscles or wearing a t-shirt with some feminist slogan on it and looking tough.
What is most striking about this woman? She is not what society would consider “feminine”—she is not gentle, she does not have shiny hair blowing in the breeze, and she is definitely not wearing a sundress.
Why is the representation of feminist so…specific?
It’s fair to say that a lot of women who are attracted to the feminist movement are attracted exactly because they are tired of society’s definition of “feminine.” They aren’t satisfied staying at home with their kids, they would rather be out playing football than cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, and they find men more relatable than many women.
But, what about the women who genuinely enjoy baking? Or like taking that time in the morning to curl their hair? Or would much rather stay at home with their children than work a nine to five? And what about all those women (most of us, I imagine) who fall somewhere in between? Where do we fit in the feminist movement?
I think a lot of women picture a feminist and don’t see themselves. They have felt rejected by the movement because they identify more as “feminine” than as a “feminist.” Feminists, as a result of their own feelings of rejection by mainstream society, in turn reject these women as “part of the problem,” or as unworthy of the feminist label.
Feminists, as a result of their own feelings of rejection by mainstream society, in turn reject these women as “part of the problem,” or as unworthy of the feminist label.
As a result, while some feminists talk about the equal dignity of women and men, they also view women with different preferences to themselves as unequal or unworthy. This division is contradictory to the feminist message and harmful to the feminist movement, not to mention harmful to women. So how do we fix it?
We must stop comparing ourselves to other women. Right now.
Imagine a world where women genuinely were not offended by other women having tastes different from their own. Where women celebrated that some of them wanted to sew while others wanted to kickbox. Where they didn’t feel threatened by their differences, but recognized their uniqueness and individuality as gifts from God.
When we compare ourselves to our sisters, we stop seeing them as human and start to objectify them. We see these women, with their own private triumphs and struggles, as benchmarks against which to compare ourselves. We compete and compartmentalize rather than collaborate and legitimize.
Not only is comparison unsavory, it’s sinful. Thomas Merton wrote,
As soon as you begin to take yourself seriously and imagine that your virtues are more important because they are yours, you become the prisoner of your own vanity and even your best works will blind and deceive you.”
Even your best works will blind and deceive you. Sounds a lot like the feminist movement at times, right? Fighting for the respect and dignity that women deserve while drawing lines in the sand regarding which women deserve them.
Here’s the truth—women do have dignity equal to men. Women were created in the image of God. All women. We are all good by virtue of our existence.
Of course, we also all have the responsibility to work for the good. But this doesn’t look the same for every woman. A priest once told me that the reason why the gate to heaven is narrow (Mt. 7:14) is because it is only large enough to admit one person—me. In other words, we each have our own narrow gate to heaven, a unique gate made only for us. We will not be able to enter through anyone else’s gate, because God has a unique calling for each us in this life. And comparing ourselves to our sisters is not going to help us discern that call.
This, sisters, is a call to action. The next time you begin to feel that inner eye roll—whether it’s toward that woman in your bible study who knit scarves for the entire group or that woman in your spin class drinking the protein shake—stop yourself. Take a beat, and remind yourself that this is your sister. This woman was made in God’s image and it is your duty to love her and lift her up. We’re all fighting the same fight here. And we’re stronger together.
Maria Lyon is a FemCatholic Contributor. She is wife to Will and mother to a child in utero. In her final year of law school at the University of Wisconsin, she enjoys struggling through contemplative prayer, eating apples, and watching Netflix. You can follow her fairly dull life on Instagram at @maria__lyon.