If you read Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement by Sue Ellen Browder, you learned just how much our contemporary, mainstream feminist movement differs from the original women’s movement. You learned that the women’s movement was intentionally hijacked to further the interests of the sexual revolution. If you have not yet read this enlightening work, I strongly and enthusiastically recommend it. (Personally, I could hardly put it down and finished it in two days.)
Summarizing Subverted is no easy task, but I will provide one excerpt that sits at the heart of Browder’s work:
“The sexual revolution, with its fervent insistence upon contraception and abortion as the paths to women’s freedom, was not part of the original women’s movement. We must retrace our steps to see where we left the path of freedom and became enslaved to illusions.
Because what’s become popularly known as ‘feminism’ has led to so much upheaval in our society, some people want to reject the women’s movement entirely. They long to return to the ‘good old days’ when women stayed home, took sole responsibility for bringing up the children, earned no money of their own, and had little say in politics, business, arts, or the rest of the world. From a distance, the 1950s may sound idyllic and simple. But women and the world have changed far too much for us to go back again, and in any case, we must not romanticize the past. As any reasoning woman who was there will tell you, the ‘good old days’ weren’t so hot.
No, we can’t go back again. But there’s no moving forward, either, until we do the hard work of addressing the difficult questions my generation asked in the 1960s and ‘70s but failed to answer. How can a woman find her true identity? What is the connection between a woman’s work and her life? What will promote her genuine freedom and happiness? What does a woman’s personhood mean? Unless we embrace the steady, diligent work required to answer such fundamental questions, we will never be able to answer the questions so many thoughtful women are now asking: How can a modern woman successfully balance children, marriage, and work? And how can she navigate a safe course across the roiling sea of cultural confusion my generation has left in its wake?” (Browder 14-15, emphasis added)
As I learned more about the perversion of the original women’s movement, I became increasingly convicted that feminism was stolen and that someone needs to restore it; someone needs to “embrace the steady, diligent work,” return to the movement’s essential questions, and find new answers outside of the lies propagated by the sexual revolution.
It is also my conviction that this “someone” is us: Catholics. We are the people who need to reclaim feminism. This is why:
1. Because the inherent dignity of each human person is central to our Faith.
Let us begin with a definition of feminism, given that there is no shortage of different versions in use today. When I refer to “feminism” (in this article and in my daily life), I mean a movement that seeks to “acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation” (Evangelium Vitae 99).
Feminism (specifically, the new feminism called for by Pope St. John Paul II) matters because women still face discrimination, violence, and exploitation due to the fact that they are women. It also matters because, whenever a group of people is mistreated and regarded as inferior for hundreds of years, it takes time and effort to overcome and rid ourselves of the mistaken mindset that persisted for so long.
True feminism fights against the mistreatment of women and fights for their inherent dignity to be respected at all times and in all places. We, as Catholics, have the richest and fullest understanding of human dignity, found in both Scripture and Tradition. As such, we should be the first to understand why we must combat anything that seeks to undermine or contradict the truth of someone’s dignity. Pope St. John Paul II tells us in Evangelium Vitae that “[e]very individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh. . ., is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart” (EV 3).
True feminism fights against the mistreatment of women and fights for their inherent dignity to be respected at all times and in all places.
Furthermore, it is our responsibility as Catholics to promote the respect of human dignity and combat “whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed” (EV 3). By reclaiming feminism with our understanding of human dignity, we can (and should) do just that.
2. Because the Catholic Church gives us the fullness of truth, including the truth about what it means to be a woman.
Questions surrounding identity, meaning, purpose, and happiness can only receive true and full answers from God. Jesus Christ entrusted “the fullness of grace and truth” to the Catholic Church (CCC 819). Should we not, then, look to the Church, established by Christ Himself, for the answers to all of our questions? (This is not to say, however, that discerning those answers is an easy task.)
God intentionally created human beings as man and woman; this was no accident, but rather a deliberate choice made by our loving Creator. Is there anyone aside from Him, then, who can tell us what it means to be a man or a woman?
God intentionally created human beings as man and woman; . . .[i]s there anyone aside from Him, then, who can tell us what it means to be a man or a woman?
The questions at the heart of feminism can only find true and complete answers in the Catholic Church, which was established by Christ and is protected from error by His Holy Spirit.
Secular feminism often asserts (or gives the impression) that men and women are the same, that there is no substantial difference between them. We know this to be untrue. Man and woman have “an equal personal dignity,” given to them by God (CCC 2334), and are also different. This is a good thing and must be better understood and embraced if we are to reclaim feminism in a way that truly benefits women. In fact, our Church goes so far as to say that “[t]he harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out” (CCC 2333, emphasis added).
When the sexual revolution hijacked the women’s movement, it warped feminism by basing it on a destructive and false premise: that women must become like men (i.e. unable to become pregnant when having sex) in order to be equal. True feminism, one that liberates women and embraces all we were created to be, will fight for a just treatment of women that works with and appreciates the fundamental differences between men and women, instead of trying to eliminate them.
When the sexual revolution hijacked the women’s movement, it warped feminism by basing it on a destructive and false premise: that women must become like men . . . in order to be equal.
3. Because we are called to build the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Pope St. John Paul II explained during a General Audience in December 2000 how we are all called to build the Kingdom of God. He referenced Matthew’s Gospel, where “Jesus asks us ‘to seek’ actively ’the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ and to make this search our primary concern.” Far from waiting passively, those who “seek God with a sincere heart . . . are thus called to build the kingdom of God by working with the Lord, who is its first and decisive builder."
In our own small (yet impactful) way, we can build the Kingdom of God on Earth by freeing others and ourselves from lies and illusions, as well as by fighting against the mistreatment of every individual person and group of people.
If we Catholics reclaim feminism and restore it to something that proclaims the truth about womanhood, the truth about what can make women joyful and fulfilled, and the truth about how women (and all people) deserve to be treated, then we can liberate feminism from the grip of the sexual revolution and put it to good work in building God’s kingdom.