Do We Need Catholic Feminism?
Thursday, November 19, 2020

When I picked up the The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. The language seemed combative and more at odds with culture than what is usually my taste. I’m not a fan of secular feminism, and I don’t generally call myself a feminist in an unqualified sort of way. Still, I recognize that, in many ways, the world I grew up in holds more opportunities for women than the world my grandmother grew up in and that I have many women who came before me to thank for that change.

At the same time, I recognize that the feminist movement, in its diversity of beliefs and initiatives, has had some toxic effects. There are times when I wonder whether what we have gained as women has been worth what we’ve lost. I wonder whether there might have been another way. So, when Gress’ book kept popping up both in my feeds and in conversations with other Catholic women, I decided to give it a chance.

And I was fascinated. I could not put this book down. I was as enthralled as I was horrified. I devoured Gress’ research on the origins of the feminist movement and the women behind it, including their ties to communism and an active relationship with the occult. Once I opened this can of worms, I couldn’t force myself to look away.

At the end of the book, though, I wasn’t satisfied. I was plagued with questions about feminism, about Gress’ own perspective on the movement, and about Mary as a possible antidote to the ails of our time. I had to know more.

What Have We Lost?

So, I called Carrie and we talked. I loved hearing her perspective. She shared that the impetus for the book came while she was writing a previous book about Mary. She spent a lot of time thinking about Mary as the primary example of womanhood and of spiritual motherhood. As she wrote, she noticed that many of the “powerful” women in our society seemed to fall short. As the daughters of this culture grow up, the women they have to look up to bear little resemblance to the most powerful woman of all time. And so, Gress asked herself, “Why?”

As the daughters of this culture grow up, the women they have to look up to bear little resemblance to [Mary], the most powerful woman of all time.

As she sought to bring healing to the hearts of women, Gress discovered ominous forces behind the work of the early feminists who sought to abolish sexual morality and the traditional family in the name of “liberating” women. As she looked into the ways our culture has deviated from the imitation of Mary, Gress noticed something substantial taking shape. The Anti-Mary Exposed is, in part, Gress’ attempt to explain why the women of our age resemble Mary less and less and what we can do to reverse the tides.

She began digging and what she found confirmed her suspicions. She uncovered a long tradition of worship of a feminine Satanic counterpart, one that she reveals in the pages of her book. What I wanted to know, though, was whether Gress thought that force was real. Have people been feeding into something imaginary? Is there really an Anti-Mary, or is this term more conceptual, a useful way of categorizing the paradigm shifts that are antithetical to true womanhood?

Gress believes that there is malevolent activity afoot, but she doesn’t think there is one specific Anti-Mary, similar to the specific Anti-Christ prophesied in Scripture. Rather, she thinks the Anti-Mary is a spirit that has targeted women in a particular way.

Because of this, the narrative Gress presents is highly critical of the feminist movement — so critical, in fact, that I wondered whether she saw any of the feminist movement’s contributions as valuable. I even wondered whether she might be skeptical of me, asking questions on behalf of the FemCatholic community. Did she see the contributions of our movement as valuable? Did she think we could have advancement for women without these grave costs?

This might be where our opinions most diverge: When asked the question, “Do we need a feminist movement?” Gress says, “No.” While there are women who use the term “feminism” in ways she deeply respects, she believes that the emphasis on women’s advancement often diverts our attention away from the damage and leaves us confused about what it means to be women. Nothing is worth 60 million abortions in the United States, the destruction of the family, and a lot of incredibly unhappy women (as evidenced by the suicide, substance abuse, and depression data).

Part of me wants to agree with her. But, another part of me wonders if, as Catholics, we need to leave the door open a little bit more to making allies with people who share at least some part of our vision to create a more hospitable world.

Part of me wonders if, as Catholics, we need to leave the door open a little bit more to making allies with people who share at least some part of our vision to create a more hospitable world.

What About the First Feminists?

My final question for Gress was more of a challenge. What drew me into the book so deeply was its characterization of the truly evil aspects of the feminist movement at its inception. I don’t doubt Gress’ research or even, necessarily, disagree with her conclusions, but I also thought that her description of the movement wasn’t exactly the whole picture. So much of the book focused on exposing the character flaws of the early feminists that I was left wanting to know more about their agendas. What were they really arguing for, and could those arguments be defeated by their own lack of merit? Where did we agree with these early crusaders for women’s rights?

I felt unsure about her conclusions about the leaders of the early feminist movement. They may indeed have a laundry list of transgressions, but that fact doesn’t necessarily invalidate their reasoning or indict their goals. Was there more to be said here, or is it enough to show that they were indeed in bed with the devil?

Gress, who has a doctorate in philosophy, doesn’t see radical feminism as building upon the Catholic intellectual tradition, which was the first to propagate the idea that women are equal to men, an idea now widely accepted throughout the world. Feminism is largely a response to the mistreatment of women because of Protestantism's elimination of female saints, religious, and Our Lady. As Catholics, however, we have all of these women as guides for both men and women in discerning what God calls us to be and how to live joyful, fulfilled lives.

As Catholics, however, we have all of these women as guides for both men and women in discerning what God calls us to be and how to live joyful, fulfilled lives.

The Importance of Mary

That, in the end, is my ultimate takeaway from reading this book. I didn’t need a book to convince me that, as Gress says, “something is very amiss” in our culture. However, what I did find in Gress’ exposé was a deeper conviction in the need for Catholic women to draw close to Mary and to imitate her spiritual motherhood in our culture. As a Protestant convert to the Catholic faith, I’ve been on a long road to friendship with Mary. Gress’ work marks one more brick — and important one — in my road to intimacy with Our Mother.

"The Anti-Mary Exposed" opened up my awareness of my hunger for the real thing in my own life. Whether we see eye to eye on the place of feminism in the Catholic world or not, Gress has helped me learn to love Mary better. As for her place as the preeminent example of authentic femininity in our world, for all time? That is something we can both agree on.

Samantha Stephenson

Samantha Stephenson is a Catholic mom of 3, writer, and host of Brave New Us, a podcast exploring bioethics in the light of faith. She is also the founder of Spoken Women, a community for Catholic women to nourish their creative callings. You can connect with her or sign up for her "Mama Prays" newsletter at snstephenson.com.

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