Women are the greatest untapped resource in the world, and in the Church. But who is going to take seriously the real issues women face, and explore where faith can empower women's real lives?
At a time when women are leading like never before, FemCatholic is bringing together women from across the country for a day of education, connection, and activation.
Join us October 29, 2022 in Nashville!
Tickets are limited due to venue capacity.
Agenda + Speakers
(Please note schedule is subject to change.)
8am - Registration and Breakfast
9am - "Why Does Feminism Need Catholicism?" - Abigail Favale, Ph.D.
10am - Women Supporting Women: Perspectives on Post-Roe Policy and Action - Panel Discussion
11am - FemCatholic In Action Together Networking Session - attendee connection + networking on social issues
11:30am - Lunch and Exhibitors Open
-Lunch + Learns:
"With All Her Mind: A Call to the Intellectual Life" - Rachel Bulman
"Rehumanize: A Vision to Secure Human Rights for All" - Aimee Murphy
1pm - Innovating Media + Women's Voices in the Church - Panel with FemCatholic Team
2pm – Breakouts
"Wants, Needs + Boundaries: How Clear Communication About Intimacy Helps Your Relationship" - Regina Boyd, LHMC
"Finding Purpose + Meaning When Life Doesn't Look How You Expected" - Lillian Fallon
3pm – "Nowhere + Everywhere: Finding a Place in the Tension" - Sr. Josephine Garrett
Lillian Fallon is the Customer Experience Manager at Litany NYC, a Catholic fashion label based in New York. Previously working as the style editor at Verily Magazine, Lillian is passionate about exploring the connection between the physical and interior of the human person as seen through personal style. Believing that sartorial choices can dignify the body and aid in the expression of the soul, Lillian draws from St. Pope John Paul II's Theology of The Body as her primary source of inspiration. She is currently finishing up, Theology of Style, a book based on her findings.
Regina Boyd is the Founder of Boyd Counseling Services, a Catholic licensed mental health practice that provides in-person and virtual services for couples and individuals. She works with clients who are experiencing stress, life changes, desire healthy emotional connection, and seek to develop problem solving strategies within their relationships. Regina is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She is also a featured contributor to the #1 Catholic App, the Hallow app. She lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband of almost 13 years and their beautiful daughter.
Sister Josephine is a native Texan, born and raised in Houston. She graduated from the University of Dallas with a BA in Political Philosophy with a Business Concentration. Sister entered the banking industry, serving for 10 years as a Vice President in the Home Loans division of Bank of America in the roles of Operations Manager of a staff of 200 and later as a Project Manager.
Sister was raised Baptist and entered the Catholic Church in 2005. Later, in November of 2011, she began her formation to be a religious Sister. In November of 2020 Sister Josephine professed her final vows as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
She is a licensed counselor. serving as the school counselor for the cathedral grade school in Tyler, TX, and also in private practice. Sister has also served in vocations ministry and as a national speaker for youth and young adults.
Abigail Favale, Ph.D., is a professor in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. She has an academic background in gender studies and feminist literary criticism, and now writes and speaks regularly on topics related to women and gender from a Catholic perspective. Her latest book The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory was just released in June 2022 by Ignatius Press. Abigail was received into the Catholic Church in 2014, and her conversion memoir, Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion, traces her journey from birthright evangelicalism to postmodern feminism to Roman Catholicism. Abigail's essays and short stories have appeared in print and online for publications such as First Things, The Atlantic, Church Life, and Potomac Review. She was awarded the J.F. Powers Prize for short fiction in 2017. Abigail lives with her husband and four children in South Bend, Indiana.
Location + Hotel
FemCatholic Conference 2022 will be held in Nashville, TN at the Sheraton Music City, a fabulous, award-winning hotel located conveniently next to the Nashville airport with free shuttle service for guests.
Just 15 minutes from downtown Nashville, this year's venue is perfect whether you're coming in for the day or spending an entire girls' weekend around the town.
Stay with us at Sheraton Music City! Conference guests will receive a special room rate of $189/night.
Please use this special room reservation link or call the hotel to get FemCatholic discounted room pricing. (615-885-2200)
Friday evening please join us for an informal gathering in the lobby of the hotel Sheraton Music City. More information to follow.
Sunday morning, recommended parish for Mass and brunch - to be announced.
Join us October 29, 2022 in Nashville!
Tickets are limited due to venue capacity.
What Does Forgiveness Look Like for Survivors of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church?
In March 2019, a group of Catholics living in Milwaukee began to gather and talk about the Church’s sexual abuse crisis. Grieved and infuriated by the leadership failures that protected abusers while abandoning victims, these people began to imagine what it would look like to work for change, healing, and most importantly, accountability.
These necessary conversations led to the creation of Awake Milwaukee, an organization that acknowledges the pain and trauma of abuse victims while being a committed voice working for change and accountability. Awake offers resources and support for survivors, as well as ways to be more informed and support their work.
Sara Larson, the Executive Director of Awake Milwaukee, was gracious enough to give an interview to FemCatholic discussing what forgiveness looks like when we talk about the painful reality of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
When discussing what forgiveness looks like practically for abuse victims, you will hear the voice of a brave survivor, Esther Harber. It is critical to listen to the stories of survivors, and we feel so grateful to hear and receive Esther’s experience.
And if you or someone you know has experienced abuse in the Catholic Church, please know that Awake Milwaukee will hear you, support you, and walk alongside you in your healing journey.
For someone who has experienced sexual abuse by clergy, what does forgiveness look like? And more importantly, what does it not look like?
Sara Larson: Forgiveness is a beautiful gift, but in relation to those who have experienced abuse by a Catholic leader, it’s almost easier to say what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not saying that what happened wasn’t a big deal, or letting an abuser off the hook. In fact, to truly forgive someone, you have to look at the depth of the harm and acknowledge how profoundly you have been hurt.
Forgiveness does not mean forgoing any pursuit of accountability or justice. You can forgive someone and still work to put them in jail or have them removed from ministry, for their own good and for the safety of others.
Forgiveness does not mean having warm feelings towards someone who hurt you deeply. Forgiveness is a choice, which may or may not be accompanied by a change in how you feel.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation or restoring a relationship. A survivor can make an internal choice to forgive an abuser and have no intention of ever seeing them again. In fact, forgiveness can actually be a way for a survivor to break the ties that make them feel bound to the perpetrator.
Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened, or pretending there are no ongoing effects of the abuse. Healing from trauma is a lifelong journey, and forgiveness does not mean an end to that difficult work.
Forgiveness is so much more than a spiritual principle. What other parts of the human person come into play here?
Sara Larson: It’s important to recognize that humans are not simply spiritual beings. Catholic teaching tells us that our bodies matter, and we can’t simply brush away the physical realities of our existence. This is especially true when we think about the way that trauma impacts the human person and rewires our brains. So, when we talk about forgiveness for a trauma survivor, we need to be conscious of the way that trauma might be impacting their reactions.
How can forgiveness sometimes be used or weaponized against abuse survivors?
Sara Larson: Some abuse survivors call forgiveness “the F word.” For many, this is not because they reject the possibility of forgiving their abuser, but because the idea of forgiveness has been weaponized against them as a way of dismissing their pain or their desire for accountability. Some Catholics often tell survivors, “You just need to forgive,” as a way to end a hard conversation or avoid difficult questions about justice and accountability. It can sometimes feel like these words serve the same function as harmful commands like “keep quiet” or “move on.”
All forms of abuse are primarily about a misuse of power and taking away a victim’s ability to choose for themselves. For some abuse survivors, the choice to forgive can be an act of empowerment, a choice to move forward after deep harm. This individual choice is not something that can be commanded, especially by those in the institution that has caused the harm.
What does the journey of forgiveness look like practically for abuse survivors?
Esther Harber: This is an important topic to examine closely. Forgiveness will look a little different for each person because how we respond to trauma is different. One phrase that has always been helpful for me is, “Taking them off of my hook and putting them on God’s hook.” Ultimately, I want to strive to free myself from the need to get retribution or revenge. A large part of my healing journey is learning to trust that God’s justice will be done, but it is not up to me to make that happen. I have found deeper freedom and healing through forgiveness. For me, it was also empowering and ultimately joyful.
Forgiveness is not a rejection of justice or neglecting holding a perpetrator accountable. In fact, that is a perversion of forgiveness and mercy. If we ignore someone’s sin and allow them to continue to sin, we are not acting mercifully. I firmly hold that bringing perpetrators to justice is the most merciful thing we can do for their soul.
In terms of forgiveness, what do Catholics need to understand from the experience of abuse survivors?
Sara Larson: To forgive someone who has caused deep and lasting harm is a courageous and deeply meaningful act, but it must be freely chosen, not imposed by others. If you are ever given the sacred opportunity to listen to someone’s story of abuse, the first words out of your mouth should be, “I am so sorry. I believe you. How can I help?”
I have also heard many survivors say that they have been able to forgive the person who abused them, but it’s more difficult to forgive those in the Church who have responded to their abuse with minimization, blame, covering up, or simply silence and apathy. Often, the original abuse has ended, but this institutional betrayal continues for years (even decades) after a victim comes forward. It’s important that all Catholics work to not only end abuse, but also to transform the way that our Church responds to those who have been harmed.
Have you ever heard that when someone dies, they become an angel? While this is a kind sentiment, it isn’t true. Angels are completely separate beings from humans. Because they are so different from us, they’re a fascinating and at times bizarre reality to learn about. So, what’s the deal with angels and what can we say about them really? We decided to investigate.
What Are Angels, Anyway?
In his book on angels, Peter Kreeft says that angels are “not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or ‘cool.’ They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.” Kreeft goes on to offer a specific, helpful definition of angels as bodiless creatures who have both intelligence and free will, and who live in the presence of God, doing His will, and serving as His messengers.
Angels are pure spirit and truly otherworldly. They don’t belong in our physical universe since they don’t have bodies. As such, they’re able to think in a purely rational way. Kreeft explains that they’re “intuitive intelligences” which means that they “just know” and they “contemplate what they know: God, themselves, each other, and us: persons.” They are also capable of love because they can know and desire the good of another.
Without bodies, angels exist outside of space and time. This means that they can be anywhere and everywhere at the same time. It also means that their wills make a permanent choice for or against God, which cannot be changed or reversed. As pure spirit, they choose solely with their intellect, not affected by temptation, circumstance, or ignorance.
Angels were created before our universe was, and they were present at its creation. They will also be present at the end of time, ushering in Jesus’ second coming. In the meantime, angels are present with us every day as guardian angels and at Mass – and even after we die, they’ll live with us in God’s presence in heaven.
What Exactly Do Angels Do?
The term “angel: means “messenger” – and so they are often sent by God with messages, like when Gabriel the Archangel is sent to Mary at the Annunciation.
When angels appear, they often begin with, “Be not afraid,” which suggests the reaction that they often receive from humans. They aren’t the cute cherubs we see on display on canvases at Hobby Lobby. However, they are beautiful because they are a reflection of God’s beauty and because they’re not affected by sin.
On a cosmic level, Kreeft says that angels stand “at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially in moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster – for bodies, for souls, and for nations.” Angels always work to achieve God’s will and always work for what is good. They warn, rescue, guide, enlighten, inspire, and protect.
The way in which angels do their work depends on their purpose. In the Bible, the angels are presented nine ranks or “choirs,” which designate their task. The lowest of these ranks is the guardian angels. Every person is assigned a guardian angel, who is always present to them in that role. As Kreeft explains, they serve as both “bodyguards and soulguards,” fighting off evil spirits and temptations and protecting us from harm. Since they do not have bodies and do not exist in space or time, our angels can be both present before God and involved in our daily lives.
Guardian angels are not only assigned to people, but also to communities such as cities, states, and nations. These communal guardian angels are the “principalities” found in the hierarchy of angels. Just like our individual guardian angels, the principalities have tasks or messages to give in human history.
How Do We Talk to Our Guardian Angels?
Our angels often communicate with us interiorly, through our imagination or intuition. We can probably think of a time when we suddenly felt inspired to do the right thing – this was likely our guardian angel! While they may suggest something or enlighten us, they also respect our free will and do not coerce us in our thoughts or actions.
We can communicate with our angels in prayer by revealing our thoughts and requests. They do not read our minds, but rather wait to hear our minds through prayer. Growing up, my abuela used to say that our guardian angels finish our rosaries if we fall asleep. Whether we need them for something specific or not, they’re always ready to listen and help!
While it may feel like a good practice to name your angel, it is not generally recommended. As we develop a personal relationship with our guardian angel, we may feel like we need to know what to call them. However, the Church has a few reasons for discouraging this practice. In many cultures, to name something is to have authority over it, such as when parents name their children, and we don’t have authority over our angels. There are also various points in the Bible when angels are asked for their names, but refuse to give them (Gen 32:24-29, Judges 13:18) revealing that they do not want their name known. Not knowing our angel’s name doesn’t hurt our relationship with them, though – with their intuitive intelligence, they always know when we’re talking to them.
How Do We Know Anything About Angels?
We can read about the existence of angels in various parts of the Bible. Angels appear to Abraham, Mary, and Joseph, to name a few. Jesus also speaks about angels throughout the Gospels, and St. Peter is even released from prison by an angel.
What we know about angels outside of the Bible is primarily found in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the “Angelic Doctor” for his work on these otherworldly creatures. Most of what we know about angels has its foundation in the work of Aquinas and has been developed over time in a field of theology called angelology (yes, that is a thing!).
While the study of angels has produced many answers to our questions, there will always be more unanswered questions about these mysterious beings. The best we can do is develop our relationship with our own guardian angel, in hopes that we will meet one day in heaven. Until then, we should be careful to“not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”
And now that you know more about angels, here’s a prayer you can offer to yours:
Angel sent by God to guide me,
be my light and walk beside me;
be my guardian and protect me;
on the paths of life direct me.
A Doctor Explains Why Chrissy Teigen’s Heartbreaking Loss Shouldn’t Be Called a “Life-Saving Abortion”
Author’s note: It is with deep respect that I approach the topic of Chrissy Teigen’s 2020 pregnancy loss. In fact, despite disagreeing with Teigen’s misuse of the term “abortion,” I would argue that we can learn much from her approach to such tragedy, especially the need for gratitude. As she wrote in response to the huge outpouring of love and support she received, “the worst part is knowing there are so many women that won’t get these quiet moments of joy from strangers. I beg you to please share your stories and to please be kind to those pouring their hearts out. Be kind in general, as some won’t pour them out at all.” It is for these women – and these often hidden conversations – that I wrote this article.
Caring for a Woman with a Placental Abruption
On September 15, 2022, Chrissy Teigen admitted to having had a “life-saving abortion” back in 2020. Up until this recent statement, she had only referred to her child’s death as a miscarriage. In a beautifully poignant letter penned by her in October of 2020, she explains that her pregnancy loss was the result of a placental abruption, a medical condition whereby the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. (The placenta grows during pregnancy and exchanges nutrients and waste between mom and baby. The baby, which grows in a healthy, fluid-filled sac called the amniotic sac, is attached to the placenta via the umbilical cord.)
From an obstetrics standpoint, in the situation of a severe placental abruption like Teigen’s, the mother will continue to bleed excessively, negating the helpfulness of blood transfusions because she cannot stop losing blood. Simply put, the woman cannot survive unless the placenta – including the baby inside – is removed, and so delivery must be induced (usually with the use of Pitocin, a drug which opens up the cervix and helps initiate contractions). Before the 22nd or 23rd week of pregnancy, the baby is not yet viable outside of the womb; but after 23 weeks, there is a chance for survival.
None of this, however, changes the gravity of the circumstances for the other patient: the mother. A mother must be delivered of her baby during a severe placental abruption, or she will lose her life. And so enters the question at hand: Did Teigen actually have an abortion?
Is “Abortion” an Accurate Term for Teigen’s Life-Saving Treatment?
As a female bioethicist specializing in issues related to women’s health, I have learned that in medical situations, when you’ve seen one case, you’ve seen one case. In other words, it is hard to make objective judgments for every aspect of Teigen’s case without having her medical records, nor is that my privileged position to hold. Still, this does not prevent me from stating that her claiming to have had an abortion only intensifies the recent concern of many women: fear of being unable to receive life-saving treatments if needed because of the current illegality of abortion.
In her recent statements, Teigen shared that her husband, John Legend, had brought to her attention that she had had an abortion, and she effectively stated that she no longer wanted to mince her words: “Let's just call it what it was. It was an abortion. An abortion to save my life for a baby that had absolutely no chance.” Here, her use of the word “abortion” only further confuses the issue. She was absolutely right that her baby had no chance, but what has been frustrating for many, including physicians, is this blatant disinformation. While a miscarriage is medically referred to as a “spontaneous abortion,” a miscarriage and the kind of abortions referred to by Roe v. Wade are not the same thing. Teigen is right to admit that she did not have a miscarriage – and the fact remains that she did not have an abortion, either.
Spreading Disinformation About Abortion Harms Women Further
In order to frame this more clearly, I interviewed Dr. Angela Parise, an OB/GYN in New Orleans who has practiced medicine for over 23 years. Parise shared with me the frustration that she has experienced over these last few months as a result of disinformation and argued that referring incorrectly to the care Teigen received as a “life-saving abortion” creates an unnecessary panic for so many women and the men who love them. According to Parise, the media and lack of knowledge is harmful: “It’s the way they twist the picture, and it makes me very upset. It’s an issue for me that they’re not making this distinction because nothing in my practice of medicine for 23+ years – the way I treat a mom who has lost her baby or how I must intervene for pregnancy complications – has changed. You cannot tell me that this law has changed the way I save a mom’s life. That’s not correct.”
As we spoke, Dr. Parise made it clear that she has been trained to treat two patients when she cares for a pregnant woman: mom and baby. When a woman comes in with an abruption, whether at 16 weeks or 38 weeks, “delivery of the baby is the mode.” In other words, the key term here is “delivery,” not “abortion”; the intent is the care of the mother, not the intentional killing of the child. “The new law does not change my ability to perform D & Cs and deal with miscarriages. When a woman is pregnant and an embryo dies [as in a miscarriage within the first trimester], you [the physician] clear out the uterus,” Parise said. An abortion, however, is different; it is the act of “taking a healthy pregnancy and taking it away” when there is no medical need to do so. Such actions are completely unlike those taken during a placental abruption.
“Where it gets tricky [in these circumstances of placental abruption] is the second trimester. If you have a 16-week live baby, beautifully healthy and gorgeous, and mom has a severe situation where she’s bleeding, like a placental abruption… that baby has to be delivered. This forced delivery to save the mother’s life is going to result in fetal death. But that is not the same as an abortion.” As Dr. Parise confirmed in response to Teigen’s case, it was best – medically necessary, even – to deliver Teigen of the child and to save the mother’s life. This action, however, was not a direct abortion: “[Teigen] had time to get an epidural, time to get Pitocin. There was no reason to kill that baby, but its death was the result of the medically necessary care. The result was the baby didn’t make it; not the other way around, that ‘I killed this baby.’”
The Difference Between Life-Saving Treatment and an Actual Abortion
In my own work as an educator and speaker on bioethics, I have realized that many people do not realize that, from a Catholic perspective, this kind of treatment is completely justified. While the Catholic Church is clear that the ends of an action never justify the means, this does not negate an essential principle within her ethical framework: double effect.
The double effect principle comes into play whenever there are two equally important goods, or subjects of great value, to consider in a given action. In this case of placental abruption, the equally important goods are the life of the mom and the life of the baby. The baby cannot survive in these situations without the mother and, regardless of how far along she is, the mother cannot survive if it is severe (as in the case of Teigen). In these cases, any good physician wants to save both lives. As nature has it, however, the mother will lose her life unless she is delivered of her child, and the baby will lose his life if his mother doesn’t survive.
This principle is what Dr. Parise realizes innately as a physician who has been faced with these difficult decisions at various points throughout her career: “If mom is truly 23 weeks and comes in with an abruption, I will do what I do at 41 weeks, 42 weeks. I do the same thing. I save mom; I get out baby. The baby may have died, but we fight for life, not death.”
These issues are difficult because they pull upon things deep inside of us as human beings, and especially as women. Instead of perpetuating confusion by equating life-saving treatment (inducing the early delivery of a baby) with the medical act of direct abortion (the intentional ending of a baby’s life despite no truly life-threatening situations for the mother or the baby), we should educate and empower women so that they realize the difference between life-saving treatment and an actual abortion. All OB/GYNs are trained to recognize this difference and, in these situations, they not only can but must take it into account.
Reassuring Women That They Will Receive the Care They Deserve
In the end, Dr. Parise wanted to highlight the need for truth. In a tone of intellectual honesty and humility, she made clear her professional opinion:
“My care has not changed. I have no fear about doing the exact same care I’ve done for 23 years. This is something I have done since I was a medical student. There has been no deviation [since June]. I value mothers. I value life. I value caring for a mom who is facing a very difficult decision. But when it comes down to it, we’re gonna take care of mom and baby. It’s very disheartening and concerning to me because now patients have so much fear. And they have fear that physicians are not going to offer appropriate medical care when necessary. …In the end, all OB/GYNs have been trained to care for mom and baby, to be able to handle life-threatening situations for mom and baby. This law has not changed giving good quality medical care. My practice has not changed because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And we’re not hearing that. We’re hearing everything else.”
Words have power. When it comes to the unexpected loss of a baby, no words can alleviate a woman’s pain. So instead of robbing women of the heartache of losing their child in a completely unintentional way by misappropriating words and referring to these situations as abortions, let’s respect the true meanings of these terms. Let’s make clear the distinction, especially in light of what the Church actually teaches.
The Church’s primary commandment is a commandment of love, and sometimes this love demands that a doctor help a mother deliver her child – a child who cannot survive without her – in order to preserve her life. The value of woman’s life is great. The value of baby’s life is great. The value of good medical care is essential. And as made clear by Dr. Parise, women have every reason to believe that they will indeed receive the care they deserve and in a way that respects the objective circumstances of their baby’s life and the hard decision of sometimes having to let go too soon.
For nearly twenty-five years, my well-worn copies of the original American Girl books sat untouched on bookshelves at my parents’ house. The American Girl books, the first of which was published in 1986, were formative for me as a kid. So many representations of young femininity to which I was exposed in school, in church, or through popular culture seemed either too saintly or too shallow and ditzy for me to relate to them.
A Young Girl Searching for Good Examples
The Virgin Mary was, well, the Virgin Mary (tough for the average seven-year-old to identify with) and I had not been introduced to many other female saints. Meanwhile, before tougher gals like Mulan and Tiana arrived on the scene, the Disney princesses that we elder millennials saw ran from flimsily demure (the aptly-named “Sleeping Beauty,” not exactly a tower of strength) to recklessly boy-crazy (looking at you, Ariel).
There were exceptions, of course – like the Baby Sitters Club series with its array of relatable girls’ personalities and problems – but few with the kind of gravitas that Little Women and Anne of Green Gables would offer once I hit age 10 or 11. Because of this, the American Girl books became an important transitional era in this bookworm’s childhood.
As It Turns Out, The American Girl Books Aren’t Just For Girls
Sometimes, when the beloved old books caught my eye on my parents’ shelves, I imagined reading them again one day, with my future daughter.
But last year, I gave birth to my third boy, and I may never have a girl. So, I began reading the books to my baby’s seven- and five-year-old brothers, hoping that they might take to them better than they had to other “girl books” (many of which are, as my five-year-old has pointed out, rather short on fighting).
It turns out that my all-too-typical, sports-and-fighting-obsessed boys are riveted by these “girl stories.” This delights me, and not just because I love the stories, too.
As I read through the books again, I see that they are not only good in themselves, but also bulwarks against both an undue focus on the myopic lens of the present to look at the past and an undue focus on the monolithic lens of identity to look at each person (past and present).
Lessons from the Past, for the Present
Too often, we assume that girls and women were, long before our own existence, so primitive or so oppressed that their lives contain no active lessons for our own. To the limited extent that we engage history at all, it becomes a blur of dates and events that can be hard to relate to emotionally, even if we understand them intellectually. But it is important for kids to understand that the colonial boycott on tea or the underground railroad are not just definitions to memorize, but rather the backdrops against which children just like them had their own wants, needs, and agendas.
Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant, misses the rag doll that her family had to leave in town for many months, even as she shares her family’s broader concerns about winterizing the farm and surviving the season.
Addy, an escapee from ante-bellum slavery, alights in my family’s own Philadelphia and experiences the trials and joys of learning to read alongside rank injustices, including Northern racism and the continued enslavement of family members remaining in the South.
Identifying with the peaks and valleys in these heroines’ personal stories and their character development as they grow up teaches young readers that, while historical context changes, the human condition (in God’s image, and also fallen) is eternal.
For my sons, the books are also a lesson in the feminist as well as the Catholic understanding that girls have just as much interiority – that is, just as much to offer, and just as much room to grow – as boys do.
Lessons on Virtue That Happen to be from Female Characters
Each American Girl story takes girlhood and femininity for granted. Each story centers the thoughts, feelings, and virtues of girls that are so busy living full lives that they never pause to consider their relationship to their femininity, nor to harp on it. Their girlhood just is; it is not experienced as either a presumptive limitation or a presumptive strength – because they, just like my sons, are individuals first.
Each girl has her own virtues and flaws, and is learning to demonstrate strength, regard for others, and responsibility of exactly the kind that my husband and I are trying to instill in our boys. We want them to understand that those virtues – while they may often be manifested differently by women than by men – are not gendered.
I consider it unfortunate that American Girl started making “Truly Me” dolls and publishing the accompanying books in more recent years. Of course, the point is for each child to identify with a girl that shares her own era, not to mention her hair color, skin tone, style, and so forth. But the whole point of the original American Girls was that a shared identity as an American girl (not to mention as a human being) was constitutive of all individual identities.
My sons are not even American girls, since they are boys. They are certainly not Swedish immigrants or Victorian heiresses. Yet, as they listen to these stories (as to all others), they assume empathy and identification, not the absence thereof. I pray that continues, and that they will be stronger Catholic men for it.
We already assume that worthwhile stories about boys belong to everyone. As I read the American Girl books to my sons, I hope they are learning that worthwhile stories about girls are their stories, too.
Join Samantha Povlock, Founder of FemCatholic, and Professor and theologian Christine Falk Dalessio, Ph.D., for a candid and insightful conversation on the ways sexism can show up in communities of faithWhile Catholic teaching states that men and women were both created equally in the image of God, faith communities and leaders are not immune from the sins of the world - including sexism. Join Samantha Povlock, Founder of FemCatholic, and Professor and theologian Christine Falk Dalessio, Ph.D., for a candid and insightful conversation on the ways sexism can show up in communities of faith, what the Catholic Church actually teaches, and how we can better fulfill the mission to live as Jesus intended.
Christine Falk Dalessio, Ph.D., holds a doctoral degree in Catholic theology. As a theologian, she focuses on questions of anthropology, personalist feminism, unity and beauty. Her publications include “Filled with Prophecy: The Revelatory and Representational Aspects of the Prophetism of the Body in the Mystery of Male-Female Embodiment"" in Listening Journal and “The Feminism, Prophetic Bodies and Freedom” in Woman as Prophet in the Home and the World: Interdisciplinary Investigations. A NJ native, she currently resides in Milwaukee with her husband and two cats, and teaches theology at Marquette University.
Join us for a live workshop on Thursday September 22nd at 12pm CST / 1pm EST.
Netflix’s “Look Both Ways” Accidentally Highlighted the Problem with Girl Boss Feminism
In the opening scene of Look Both Ways, college senior Natalie (Lili Reinhart) lays out her ambitious five-year plan to her friend Gabe (Danny Ramirez) during a library study session, reminding him that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Gabe counters that while plans are well and good, all we really have is the present moment. They decide to celebrate the present moment with a one-night stand, promising to not make it “a big deal.” Of course, it soon becomes an enormous deal when Natalie discovers that she is pregnant on the night before graduation – or when Natalie discovers that she isn’t.
The Lives of Natalie With and Without a Child
At the moment of her pregnancy test, the film splits into dual timelines, one in which Natalie moves to LA as intended and one in which she returns home to Austin to have her baby. It’s a charming and occasionally poignant trope that nevertheless fails to make the point the writer clearly intended, though it almost succeeds in something far more profound.
Flash forward to the final scene of the movie (warning: spoilers), when the timelines converge at the same place at which they severed: the sorority bathroom where Natalie took her pregnancy test. Both versions of herself stand in the mirror, take a deep breath, and say, “You’re okay.” The conclusion is that no matter which direction life takes, women can turn out okay.
In both timelines, Natalie ends up presenting her work at South By Southwest, well on her way to a successful career as a cartoonist. Because it’s a rom-com, she also ends up getting her man. Thus, we are to conclude that the pregnancy and the decision to have the baby weren’t the future-ending events they seemed to be at the time. Women really can have it all.
The problem with that conclusion is that Natalie’s life as a mother has been both much harder and much more fulfilling than her life working as an assistant in an LA animation studio.
Both Natalies Have Dreams, but Only One Experiences Growth
While both timelines follow the typical rom-com structure (girl finds boy, loses boy, gets boy back), the Austin-motherhood timeline uses character-driven actions to achieve that structure.
Natalie-as-mom pulls back from a potential romance with Gabe not because she doesn’t have sincere feelings for him, but because she understands the risk that complicating their relationship will have for their daughter. “I love you, but our daughter comes first and I’m afraid of putting our delicate family structure at risk” is a much more compelling plot hurdle than “I love you, but you randomly got a job in Nova Scotia and there’s a bad internet connection.” When compared to Austin Natalie’s journey, LA Natalie’s story feels arbitrary and capricious.
The dual love stories are similarly imbalanced.
The script does a lot of work trying to convince us that LA Natalie’s coworker Jake (David Corenswet) is the perfect guy for her. They both make five-year plans! They both work in film! They both like to quote Ben Franklin! These surface-level similarities fail to compensate for the fact that Jake and Natalie never prioritize each other. He agrees to a year-long job in Nova Scotia without discussing it with his long-term girlfriend. She dumps him the moment distance gets hard. In an allegedly grand romantic gesture, he risks the ire of his bosses to show up for her film screening for one weekend. He’s still going back to Nova Scotia, though, and she seems primed to go back to work for the same boss who recently fired her. Work comes first, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change for either of them.
Austin Natalie’s love interest is Gabe, the father of her child. In true rom-com fashion, it’s clear that Gabe is in love with her from the beginning, despite agreeing to be “just friends.” The two co-parents spend a lot of time discussing how different they are, but the only apparent difference is that she likes to make five-year plans and he doesn’t. Unlike Jake, Gabe understands that love comes with both risk and responsibility. He puts his own dreams aside to support Natalie and their daughter. He gracefully accepts Natalie’s decision not to date him, even as he makes the case that their love is worth the risk. While Natalie and Gabe both mourn the lives they could have had if they hadn’t become parents, they cherish the life they built.
Meanwhile, LA Natalie flounders as she tries to grow professionally without experiencing any significant personal growth. Eventually, her boss and idol Lucy Galloway (Nia Long) correctly identifies that Natalie has failed to articulate an individualized voice as an animator, but then callously refuses to mentor her and arbitrarily fires her. LA Natalie then returns to her parents’ house and somehow finds her voice. Unfortunately, we’re still not sure what that voice is because she hasn’t really learned anything about what it means to be human. Austin Natalie doesn’t have that problem. She has plenty of voice. What she needs is a little sleep and some space to draw.
While both versions of the character end up at SXSW, LA Natalie’s short film is left vague. (It’s something about a bird getting a tattoo.) Meanwhile, Austin Natalie creates a comic based on an experience we witness in the movie: being up late with an infant who refuses to sleep. Night Owl is successful because it reimagines a challenging personal experience and then universalizes it.
While both Natalies have dreams, only Natalie-as-mother experiences growth, responsibility, and the grief that comes with change. Only Natalie-as-mother learns to love something more than her own artistic ambitions and, ironically, only Natalie-as-mother is able to channel that love into art.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think the filmmakers believed that motherhood is the path to fulfillment.
Look Both Ways Accidentally Highlighted the Problem with Girl Boss Feminism
I can understand why some writers have accused this movie of being accidental pro-life propaganda. I wouldn’t go that far, though. it’s clear that the characters are pro-choice and that Natalie chooses to have the baby because that is her preference. I don’t think wallowing in this decision would benefit the movie.
The problem is that LA Natalie is never presented with another heart-wrenching decision. While getting fired does temporarily derail her five-year plan, she’s never asked to take responsibility for anyone or anything outside herself. The writer is so committed to an individualistic, girl boss version of feminism that she didn’t know what to do with Natalie’s character without the crisis of unexpected pregnancy. She couldn’t conceive of another way to force Natalie to grow up. Instead, we get silly scenes about goats being brought into work and lots of complaining about LA housing prices. It didn’t have to be that way.
There is no reason why Natalie’s LA timeline couldn’t have been stronger. Having a baby isn’t the only transformative experience a woman (or a man, let’s not forget Gabe) can go through. There are infinitely more interesting options aside from a cookie-cutter breakup and getting fired.
The fundamental issue, though, is that the writer doesn't seem to understand what to make of her own story. Life isn’t about achieving your ambitions. Life is about learning to love. Prosser set out to write a movie about how setbacks can be overcome in pursuit of your personal dreams, and instead wrote a movie about how ambition is empty without love. This may not be a popular view in a culture centered around self-actualization, but what we want to be true and what we know to be true are not always the same. Ultimately, we all need to step outside ourselves in order to self-actualize. We never get to see LA Natalie achieve this, and the movie suffers greatly for it.
I realize I may be asking a lot of a movie that is essentially a sweet and silly rom-com. But the writer clearly intended the movie to have a feminist message, so it’s justified to evaluate both what the message is and whether it was achieved. Ultimately, the movie falls short because the filmmakers insist on pursuing a misguided moral that isn’t borne out in the storyline. It’s a shame, because this movie could have been something really special.
The Atlantic recently ran an article about extremist militaristic groups that have co-opted the rosary and the concept of spiritual warfare in order to push their violent ideology. The buzz generated around the article focused more on the article’s title (which was later changed), rather than the author’s argument about the dangers of unchecked religious fanaticism.
Though I most often associate the rosary with darling elderly church ladies rather than would-be modern-day crusaders, for years I handled my own rosary with the revulsion and begrudging respect I might have had for a revolver and used the rosary in prayer only under duress. Despite my best efforts, the rosary held memories of violence for me.
Witnessing the Violence of the Mexican Drug War
I grew up along the southwest Texas border in the neighboring cities of Piedras Negras, Mexico and Eagle Pass, Texas. For much of my childhood, Piedras Negras was a relatively quiet industrial city, deemed a safe port of entry compared to other cities along the border.
Then the strife of the Mexican drug war reached us.
We were in the middle of it before we realized it had begun. Seemingly overnight, our quiet city and neighboring ranching communities became the backdrop for some of the worst human rights atrocities the country has experienced.
Terror reigned and the violence became unrelenting. Armed conflict between rival cartels and armed forces became a weekly occurrence, and the ubiquitous forced disappearances of people within and without the drug trade soon ceased to even make the headlines.
As a culturally Catholic community, we turned to prayer during this time. Perpetual rosary novenas were on-going. We gathered in homes, at churches, and at big community events to pray the rosary, to beg God, the Virgin Mary, and St. Jude (patron saint of lost causes) for an end to the violence, the safe return of our loved ones, and the conversion of those involved in the drug trade.
For a while, the violence only got worse. At the time, I had the distinct feeling that our prayers fell on deaf ears.
With a faith that hadn't matured, a faith that had never learned to doubt, I began to question the darkness.
“Was God really listening?”
“Did He even care?”
"What good could prayers be against men with a surplus of guns, a lack of humanity, and an insatiable hunger for power?”
Days turned into months, and then into years. The violence ebbed and flowed, and many of our loved ones remain unaccounted for to this date.
I put the violence behind me when I went to college. Eventually, the violence back at home ceased. Piedras Negras is no longer a hotspot of the drug war that still rages across the country.
When the Rosary Brings Back Memories of Violence
During college, I wandered away from the Church for reasons hardly worth revisiting. It’s been four years since I’ve been back. When a lot of my peers were going through their own processes of deconstruction, I was falling back in love with the Church that raised me.
Yet the rosary presented an unexpected stumbling block.
The rosary is often touted as a marker of devout Catholicism and a fail-proof path to sainthood. But I could not reconcile this with the complicated feelings that came back the moment I picked it up. I was bombarded with feelings of terror and despair, images of a silent God, and memories of the numbing recitation of Hail Mary after desperate Hail Mary, of endless litanies that seemed to fall on deaf ears, of nights that only got darker and longer.
What I wouldn’t give to forget what I can hardly bear to remember.
I was living in Atlanta during the time of my reconversion. When the Southern invocation of a beloved “Mama Mary” sounded foreign to my ears, I realized then that I no longer knew her like that. I could no longer relate to the familiarity my faith community had with our Blessed Mother.
As I’d tried to forget how to pray the rosary, I'd forgotten how to love Mary.
I hardly dared voice my disdain for the rosary. God forbid it’d be taken as direct disrespect to the Blessed Mother when I couldn’t be bothered to explain myself.
Re-Encountering Mary through My Abuelita
I thought I could get away with leaving it well enough alone. I’d grown to love other devotions in its place and I’d learned to negotiate for a different penance after Confession. But the rosary remained inescapable. It’s in my middle name, after all.
I was named Rosario after my maternal grandmother. Even though I never got to meet her, I came to love my Abuelita Chayo in much the same way I learned to love Mary as a child.
I’ve known of my abuelita’s love my entire life. Her picture has been ever-present on our home altar and she’s the most influential figure in the lives of the people I love most. And she loved Our Lady so.
So it was her, my abuelita, that I was thinking of when I started a 54-day rosary novena in August so that it would end on her birthday, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary.
I kept the requests simple. I set up the alarms. And day after day I held onto the rosary even when I didn’t feel like it.
About halfway through, I began to look forward to it as part of my daily routine and in many ways, it has become a homecoming of sorts.
For as much pain as the rosary continues to hold, I’d almost forgotten that it also holds memories of a lovely Marian childhood: a childhood of autumns spent as a matachin dancer for Our Lady of Guadalupe, of warm gatherings during Marian feast days, of May coronations, and of pilgrimages across the country to the most beautiful Marian shrines.
It also reminds me of the women of faith who raised me: my mother and her sisters, who love the Mother of Jesus.
Slowly, I am reminded of the way I used to know her as a little girl. This familiarity I’d forgotten has started to reappear because after all these years, the Mother of Mercy still looks at me with tenderness and in my mother tongue eases my fears as she whispers, “¿Acaso no estoy yo aquí, que soy tu Madre?” “Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?”
Reminders of a Faith Forged in Fire
I don’t know if I’ll ever become a daily rosary gal, if my rosary collection will be at all comparable to that of my grandmother’s, or if my faith practice will ever be filled again with many of the Marian elements I grew up with.
Some days the beads still feel heavy and lead-ladden, and the recitation of the prayers feels numbing. I have yet to subject myself to the Litany of Loreto again or any of the special novenas we prayed out of desperation, like the novena to Saint Jude or the Chaplet of the Precious Blood of Jesus.
But I now hold the beads with a faith forged in fire and with a heart that walked out of the darkness, following the Light of Light. I pray the rosary out of love and not desperation, as someone who strives to practice the steadfast love of Mary, the Mother of God, and who has learned to trust God’s mercy and grace above all devotions.
Growing up in Palm Springs, CA, I was blessed to be surrounded by a diverse and supportive community. Many of my friends were of Latinx or white descent (some spoke Spanish, some did not) and the community’s kindness was abundant. I never felt insecure in my identity as a second-generation Guatemalan who did not speak Spanish fluently.
Am I Latina Enough?
It was not until I went to college that questions about my identity emerged. In my first year at Boston College, another student jokingly told me that I should not be able to join the Latinx student club because I did not speak Spanish fluently. I was told that I was not Latina enough.
But in other settings, leaders of organizations wanted me to assert my Latina identity in order to add ethos to their diversity claims. I felt lost and conflicted as people told me where to go and how to identify myself, telling me whether I was “too Latina” or “not Latina enough.”
I love my father's Hispanic background, but I struggle to put myself in a box. I felt classified as an "in-betweener": I did not know how to describe my own identity because it varied relative to where I was and whom I was with. I have difficulty calling myself Latina because others have utilized this title to either benefit themselves for that diversity claim, or to exclude me altogether. This is a challenge that I am still learning to navigate as I get older and develop more confidence in claiming my identity.
Finding Healing Through a Cuban-American Theologian
It was not until I found the writings of Cuban-America mujerista theologian, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, that I began to love and accept the complexity of my Latina identity. Her writing gave me permission to lean into the messiness of my own identity.
Born in Cuba in 1943, Isasi-Díaz moved to the United States at the age of 17. She knew the intimate struggle of finding a home in the midst of displacement. Known as the “mother of mujerista theology” (“mujer” being the Spanish word for “woman”), she yearned to promote an inspiration of liberation within Latinas.
Isasi-Díaz discusses multifaceted identities in her book, La Lucha Continues: Mujerista Theology. She argues that there is no such thing as a ‘single-site’ person. Rather, we all have different roots and interactions that drive us forward in life. She describes her own experience of dancing between cultures: “We were displaced from somewhere concrete and our ‘original’ selves – our first selves as well as our creative selves – continue to be displaced not only from where we came but also from where we have arrived or have always been.”
Once we leave our place of origin, we never necessarily settle down completely or find that same sense of home again. We keep connecting, physically and culturally, to that place from which we originated. This idea of a multi-site person involves continual transformation. It is important to take in all of the different layers of place and of person.
The Danger of a Single Narrative
In celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, we need more interdisciplinary language surrounding these complex issues. For Isasi-Díaz, narratives matter; there is no claim for neutrality. She is deeply interested in the emotional, the related, and the situation of narratives of reality. For Isasi-Díaz, wholeness is central.
In reading Isasi-Díaz’s writings, I have found healing, a sense of symbolic repair giving form to the devastation in life. Her writing has helped me answer questions about my background that I have been asked by others and have also asked myself. In this way, Isasi-Díaz has given me the gift of myself.
Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TEDtalk also applies here: There is a danger to a single narrative and to what a single narrative leaves out – and this danger is alive and well throughout Hispanic Heritage month. When stereotypes fill in the gaps of a person’s complexity, it flattens their worth and leaves no room for depth. Isasi-Díaz fights against this single story that I have been told about Latina women, shedding light on these "in-betweeners" who have beautiful and multifaceted identities.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let us remember to look at the complexity of the diverse stories that are involved. Let us be challenged to offer a critical perspective of euro-centered aestheticism and to enter into conversations about the effects of a diaspora space as we celebrate the many narratives of Hispanic heritage.
At the MTV Video Music Awards last month, Taylor Swift made quite a splash when she used her acceptance speech for her Video of the Year award to announce the release date of her new album, Midnights. Swifties had been expecting another one of her re-records, so they were delighted at the news that Swift would release a brand-new, original album next month.
The last time Swift made headlines of this magnitude at the VMAs was 13 years ago, against her will, when Kanye West infamously stole the microphone from her in the middle of her acceptance speech in order to argue that someone else deserved to win. As she revealed later in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, that moment was devastating – a “foundational trauma” – for the then-19-year-old Swift.
But this year, wearing a dress that purposefully evoked her 2009 look, Swift used her speech to gracefully assert her triumph over this traumatic moment from her past. She celebrated her victory for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” and recognized the fact that an historic four of the nominated films were directed by women. She graciously thanked her fans, coyly announced the new album, and planted one of her signature “Easter eggs,” a hint that the world would learn more about the then-unnamed album “at midnight.” I would guess that Swift said exactly what she wanted to say in her speech this year.
So I was surprised when I opened up the women-run news podcast Betches Sup the next day to find that it was titled, “Where Is Taylor Swift’s Roe Activism?” Rather than celebrating Swift’s success, her poise, and her decision to highlight female filmmakers, the hosts criticized Swift for not using her short two-minute speech to make a public statement on abortion rights.
But here’s the thing: Taylor Swift doesn’t owe us her opinion on abortion.
Feminism is Meant to Celebrate and Uplift Women
An award acceptance speech is meant to honor and celebrate an artist’s hard work, giving them an opportunity to share the recognition with their team and loved ones. Swift went above and beyond the expectation, joyously announcing a new album. It was a happy, celebratory occasion.
Whether you consider abortion a tragedy or the fall of Roe an affront to human rights, I think we can agree that abortion is not a happy topic to discuss. By pressuring Swift to make a political statement, the Betches hosts in a way tried to swipe the microphone from Swift like Kanye did, commandeering her spotlight to fit their own agenda.
I find it ironic that a group of pro-choice feminists elected not to respect Swift’s choice to use her moment to celebrate her own impressive career accomplishments.
Women are Entitled to Choose Which Issues They Speak About
Taylor Swift doesn’t owe anyone her opinion on abortion, at the VMAs or otherwise.
The Betches hosts criticized Swift for making a documentary about her journey to becoming politically active and failing at this opportunity to do just that. While it’s true that much of Miss Americana revolved around Swift’s decision to become politically active, not once did Swift mention abortion in the film. Rather, it covered Swift’s turmoil as she pushed back against a team that wanted her to remain apolitical when she wanted to make a public statement because she felt strongly about the 2018 Tennessee Senate race.
However, Swift got involved in that race not because of abortion, but because of other feminist and human rights issues close to her heart. Namely, she was outraged by Marsha Blackburn’s vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. She was also concerned about Blackburn’s stances on equal pay for women and discrimination against gay people. Swift said, “Those aren’t Tennessee Christian values! I live in Tennessee. I am a Christian. That’s not what we stand for.” In the end, she made an Instagram post encouraging young people to register to vote. As a result, registration numbers spiked (though not enough to influence the outcome of the election).
Crucially, Swift made that public statement because it was something she cared about deeply, enough to stake her career on. It’s not the only time she’s done so: She made a risky career move to make a point about artists’ rights to own their own work; she spoke in her film about her struggles with disordered eating and body image; and she pursued a painful and public sexual assault trial for just $1 in damages because she wanted to make a point about the dignity of victims.
Swift has demonstrated that she is willing to go to bat for things that are important to her. And for reasons unknown to us, she chose not to speak out against Roe in her VMAs speech. She made her choice, and pro-choice folks ought to respect that. (For what it’s worth, she did tweet about her disappointment in the Roe ruling after it came out.)
Nuanced Issues Like Abortion Shouldn’t Be Boiled Down to a Soundbite
It’s bonkers to ask any person to express their opinions on abortion amid everything else they need to cram into a two-minute acceptance speech. Abortion is a complex issue, and nearly all of us feel at least somewhat ambivalent about the role of the state in that issue.
Maybe Swift is personally pro-life but supports the right to abortion. Maybe she’s in favor of abortion bans after a certain number of weeks or with certain exceptions. We don’t know.
But to expect her to have a simple, black-and-white rallying cry she can spout off amid her list of thank you’s is to discredit Swift’s complexity as a human being. Like all of us, I imagine she has nuanced opinions – and she has the right to choose whether to share them, and how.
Taylor Swift Doesn’t Owe Us Her Opinions, and Neither Do You
I didn't write this whole think piece to reflect on a soon-to-be-forgotten speech and a sooner-to-be-forgotten podcast. It’s about more than just Taylor Swift and her opinions. It’s about you and your opinions.
You don’t owe anyone your opinion on abortion – not at all, and especially not in an Instagram story.
We live in an age of performative activism: When something happens, everyone is expected to have a neat, shareable, one-slide commentary on it. You don’t have to do that.
I’m all for talking about politics. In fact, I’m a huge fan of it. Heck, I majored in Religion and Politics in college because I love having these messy conversations. But they’re supposed to be just that: conversations. Real, vulnerable, nuanced conversations, not tweets or Insta stories or a line shouted above the music cutting you off at the end of a whirlwind speech.
A culture that pressures you to have a pithy soundbite to share on issues that can’t and shouldn’t be distilled down is a culture that scorns nuance. The problem is that nuance is where we meet real people. A culture of simplistic rhetoric is a culture that erases real people from the conversation – and it’s through encountering real people that we find common ground and make real progress.
Let’s draw our conversations about abortion away from social media and celebrity circles, and instead bring them into our real lives. Let’s have thoughtful, well-intentioned conversations with friends and family. Let’s take opportunities to listen to people’s lived experiences of pregnancy, discernment, abortion, and parenthood.
Because it’s only through these types of conversation that we have any chance of moving forward as a nation on this issue.
I’m not sure that dating has ever been easy – but it sure seems to have gotten harder during our lifetime.
Blame who you want, but I can’t help but notice a correlation between the dating scene getting exponentially worse and the ubiquity of smartphones. I could wax poetic, but instead I’ll just whine economic: In the dating pool, like in anything else, an increase in supply causes equilibrium price to fall.
In other words: When the sexual supply chain is flooded, it cheapens the product. And unfortunately in this case study, the product is human hearts.
Dating Apps and the Paradox of Choice
Between dating apps, social media, and the availability of online pornography, there are endless options for immediate sexual, emotional, and social gratification. While you might think that the excess of options provides total freedom and even empowers daters to make the best romantic selections, it actually leads to something researchers call “the paradox of choice”.
There are a number of studies by psychologists and economists on why having too many choices debilitates us. The most famous is a 2000 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark Lepper entitled ”When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?”
Basically, the researchers set up their experiment in a grocery store. On the first day, they arranged a very attractive offering of twenty-four jams and on the second day, they offered a much more humble display of only six jams. While the twenty-four jam display attracted more traffic and overall attention than the six jam display, those who had stopped by the big display only purchased one-tenth of the jams purchased by those who saw the smaller display.
The researchers concluded that while options are exciting and enticing, they actually prevent us from purchasing. An excess of options also often leads to a lower level of satisfaction – even if we do make a purchase – because we can’t help but wonder if we left something better on the shelf.
From Endless Options to Exhaustion
I wonder if you’ve already experienced this first hand in the world of dating apps – because I sure have. Maybe your story went something like this:
You got your heart broken and downloaded a dating app. It was fun for about 20 minutes. A quick hit of dopamine came from realizing that strangers find you attractive (that’ll show your ex!) and then – the high faded. And you’re stuck in the romantic multiverse, where you could choose to date any one or two or two-hundred of an endless number of strangers. That’s the part when you became overwhelmed, exhausted, and honestly a little turned off.
You jumped in the online dating pool, splashed around for a second, and then drowned in all your options.
Have Dating Apps Made Dating More Difficult?
None of this is meant to negate or deny the many beautiful, successful relationships that started on dating apps. I’m not suggesting that their destination is any less beautiful than the next couple’s. What I am saying is that, as a society and a culture, our attempt at a dating shortcut might be adding unnecessary difficulty to our journey.
Because screens aren’t really that sexy, are they? Even a swipe from the hottest of internet strangers can’t hold up to that magic coffee shop moment when an actual human chances eye contact and a smile at you before nervously looking back down at their laptop.
Not to take the romance out of it, but that feeling in your tummy when you see your coffee shop crush start to pack up their bags and get ready to leave the coffee shop – that feeling of, “Should I ask for their number?” isn’t butterflies.
That’s supply and demand doing what it’s supposed to do: Allowing scarcity to act as a motivator, and thus increasing the perceived worth of your latte lover.
Earlier this week, news of actor Shia LaBeouf’s conversion to Catholicism broke after Bishop Robert Barron shared a conversation between the two of them on his YouTube channel. The video amassed over one million views in less than a week, lighting both Catholic and secular social media on fire.
Celebrations of LaBeouf's Conversion Made Complicated by Abuse Allegations
The news comes after LaBeouf finished filming an upcoming movie about the life and miracles of Padre Pio, following a short stay with the Capuchin monks in Northern California. While brief, his time at the monastery was deeply impactful, leading him to begin the process of converting to Catholicism. While it remains unclear how far along he is in the formal process of becoming Catholic, his change of heart was immediately celebrated by many of the biggest names in Catholic media.
A soul moved to repent and convert is always cause for celebration. At the same time, the celebration of LaBeouf’s conversion is made complicated by the slew of allegations against him by former girlfriends. Most notably, LaBeouf’s ex-girlfriend, British singer FKA Twigs, sued him in 2021 for “relentless abuse” that ranged from emotional abuse to sexual battery and assault. Allegedly, he knowingly gave her a sexually transmitted disease, as well. Their case is set to be heard in 2023 and is corroborated in many ways by other accusations against Mr. LaBeouf.
In the face of these allegations, some Catholics have been quick to cry out, “But people change!” and “Can’t we just have this one win?”
As a Catholic who grew up in the center of the sex abuse scandal as it erupted in my hometown of Boston, I worry that some Catholics might be willing to accept and celebrate a convert with a history of sexual abuse (specifically of a brown woman) faster than they would accept and celebrate a convert whose crimes were of a different nature. Would we have been so quick to accept a converting abortion doctor who professed a love for Catholicism but didn’t take full responsibility for the infant lives they ended? Who just said, “I’ve made some mistakes,” and then moved on?
For some reason, perhaps because we’ve (tragically) been desensitized to it over time, we Catholics seem to be the most forgiving of sexual crimes, especially sexual crimes against women.
While it doesn't increase or decrease the severity of the crime, for what it’s worth, FKA Twigs was educated in the Catholic school system and even created an entire album about Mary Magdelene. In many ways, this was one of our own who was abused. But in a Church that I like to consider the champion of the vulnerable and refuge for the abused, that shouldn’t matter at all.
How Abuse Survivors Reacted to LaBeouf's Conversion
I spoke with a number of physical and sexual abuse survivors within the Church to hear how they felt about the Catholic media fanfare around LaBeouf’s conversion.
One young woman, a survivor of multiple abusers within the Church, likened seeing LaBeouf celebrated to seeing her own abusers celebrated:
“The men who traumatized me and stole so much from me were also highly praised. Were very publicly Catholic. Attended sacraments frequently. One was the student body president of the high-profile Catholic college I attended, as well as an RA. I personally know two other women he has sexually assaulted. There was no accountability for him, no consequences from any individual, let alone the college, despite the reports against him. There was no accountability for any of them, just praise. It’s hard, as a Catholic woman, not to feel as if the Church is at fault. All of my trauma happened in Catholic spaces and feels sanctioned by Catholic circles. It’s hard to feel that Catholicism is a place I belong, let alone one that is safe.”
The heart of this issue isn’t that we shouldn’t accept converts, especially the repentant ones. Of course, we should. We are a Church full of sinners striving to become better. Some of our greatest saints and role models started as the worst sinners: St. Paul, St. Dismas (the good thief), and as LaBeouf and Bishop Barron discuss, Brother Jim Townsend.
In Bishop Barron’s video, the two men describe the great inspiration that Shia draws from Brother Jim Townsend’s story. For those unfamiliar, Brother Jim’s story started out as a sad but typical one. He was brutally abused as a child, which led to him becoming an abuser himself. At the age of 20, he shot his pregnant wife in the face with a rifle, killing both her and the baby.
But as you can guess by the “Brother” in front of his name, Jim Townsend’s story doesn’t end there. It is, of course, a story of miraculous repentance and conversion followed by a lifetime of doing good as a Capuchin brother.
It’s clear to see why Shia LaBeouf looks to him as a sign of hope – and he should, because the complete 180-degree conversion is just as available to Shia as it was to Br. Townsend. At the same time, the difference between Br. Townsend and LaBeouf is that one served twenty years for his crimes and the other was made into a Catholic celebrity overnight. This is unfair to Bishop Barron’s viewers, sure, but mostly it’s unfair to Shia LaBeouf himself.
True Reconciliation Requires Penance
As the Church welcomes Shia LaBeouf through her doors and assumedly, through the RCIA process, the greatest gift we can give him is the fullness of the sacraments. This will, of course, mean the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
There is no sin that the sacrament excludes and no sin that Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice, did not pay for – including LaBeouf’s. However, the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires more than confessing what wrongs were done: true reconciliation requires penance afterwards.
True penance goes beyond the three apologetic Hail Marys we’re asked to say after leaving the confessional. True penance drives us to justice in an effort to make right our wrongs. In the case of an (admitted) abuser seeking mercy, he can begin that process by giving justice. For LaBeouf, this may mean serving time, like Br. Townsend did. And hopefully, like Br. Townsend’s penitentiary time (notice the root of that word?), LaBeouf’s could also be focused on mental, spiritual, and emotional rehabilitation, rather than just pure punishment.
Seeing LaBeouf take responsibility for the abuse of FKA Twigs while continuing his conversion would not only be just and good. It would be deeply healing for the women of the Church who feel that their abusers often go not only unpunished, but also remain celebrated.
In welcoming LaBeouf with both mercy and accountability, Church leaders have the opportunity to affirm their dedication to society’s most vulnerable, especially after our troubled past of putting the perception of the Church before the protection of her members.
All of my hemming and hawing pales in comparison to the mercy-filled, justice-driven testimony from the abuser survivor whose words I shared earlier in this piece:
“And yet, I’m torn again. Because if I believe in the God I say I do, if I truly believe in scandalously, unconditional love and mercy that is meant for the inmost heart of each person, I want to welcome Shia. I want him to be home, I want him to know Christ, I want him to be undone and rebuilt by grace. There is a child rapist who goes to my parish; I pray the same for her. I want to want them in the Church. I want accountability. I want to feel safe and protected here. I want our Church to stop turning a blind eye, acknowledge the evils that exist under her wings, and take real and actual steps to help redeem her rapists and abusers.”