“Feminism” Is Not A Dirty Word For Catholics

There are some words that have become so loaded that it is very hard to use them to convey meaning. They have become Rorschach Tests–the receiver of the word reads his own fantasized meaning into it. They have become shibboleths–to use them, or reject them, is a sign of political or group affiliation. Using them derails the conversation because they elicit an emotional response. I call them totem-words.

Take, in Catholic World, “Vatican II”. You can be sure that when someone says “Vatican II”, they almost never mean the historical event of the Council itself, or the documents produced by the Council (the way one does when one says, e.g. “Nicea”). Instead what they mean is “The Spirit of Vatican II” (itself a totem-phrase), or “some liturgical practices that have occurred as a result of Vatican II”, or “modernism” (totem-phrase), or whatever. They read their own meanings into the word. And there is a political aspect to it. If you proclaim, loudly, that Vatican II is the best thing ever in the history of the Church or the worst thing ever in the history of the Church, you are displaying your political affiliation.

This makes discussion really hard; because everyone reads their own reading into the word, everyone is speaking about something different and everyone is talking past each other; because the word is a political shibboleth, discussion becomes acrimonious, because the word is a badge of whether you are in the Gang Of The Worst People Evar or the Gang Of The Best People Evar (or vice versa).

There is a kind of reverse-idolatry going on. Idolatry is to take something in the world–often something God created to be good, like sex or power–and elevate it to the status of a deity. But there is also a kind of reverse-idolatry which is to take something quite ordinary and “elevate” it to the status of Priest of Baal–the Evil That Must Be Confronted At All Costs. Totem words elicit idolatry or reverse-idolatry.

One reaction might be to try to just drop the words and come up with other words. But I don’t think that’s right. First of all, because those words do, or should, carry meaning, and can be useful. Second of all, because it doesn’t actually solve anything–people are still generating private meanings of the word in their head. But, perhaps, most of all, because we are the people of the Bible, and the Bible places a tremendous emphasis on words. God creates the world by using words. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity is the Word of God. To be touched by God is to receive a new name, sign of a new identity. God cares about words. Language is a gift of God, and like all of God’s gifts we have to be faithful stewards of those gifts. Just ignoring this perversion of a word is not the right thing to do. We are called to rescue our brothers and sisters from sins. We are also called to rescue words. Words are part of God’s good Creation that we, baptized as priests, are called to “tend to” and divinize.

One such word crying out for a rescue is the word feminism.

There are many Catholics for whom the word feminism is such a totem-word. It conjures up fantasies and anxiety. It’s a dirty word. It’s a totem word.

And we need to mount a rescue operation.

The first thing that should be said, perhaps, in the course of such a rescue operation is that feminism, as a broad intellectual and social movement, has many strands. Yes, there are people who identify as feminists who believe things that are incompatible with the Catholic Tradition, and who not only believe these things but believe that feminism entails believing things that are incompatible with Holy Tradition.

Well, guess what, there are plenty of people who believe stupid and/or crazy things, and we don’t let that tie us into knots.

There are plenty of people who believe that being a Catholic, for example, necessarily entails being pro- or against the death penalty. These people are wrong. The way to respond is simply to say that, it is not to hyperventilate or go into histrionics.

The way I would talk about feminism, in order to rescue it from being a totem word, would be to start by saying that, as an empirical finding, women, in most every social setting, though in different ways and to varying degrees, suffer injustice as a result of being women; that such injustice is common enough, and too-often-ignored-enough, that it calls for a specific kind of awareness, a specific kind of discourse, and a specific kind of movement, to redress it.

These are all things that Catholics can (and, I think, should) affirm. Stripped of its totemic qualities, this is all, pretty much, that feminism means. To say all this is not to say that all varieties of feminism are acceptable, or that none can be critiqued–as, indeed, self-identified feminists constantly squabble amongst themselves about the correct answer to various questions, as happens in all movements.

The reason I know feminism is not a dirty word for Catholics is because St John Paul II used it in his magisterium. He called for a “new feminism”–which means he thought certain varieties of feminism are not unworthy of critique, which is definitionally true of any intellectual corpus, but also that “feminism” was not, by itself, a dirty word. I want to be very clear on this: from the standpoint of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, rejecting a priori all forms of feminism is, strictly speaking, error.

The Gospel calls for, I want to say, a certain quality of awareness and of being. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” says the Lord. Jesus says this within the context of the famous judgement episode. The justified do not know why they are justified; they do not know that they served Jesus when they were serving the “least of these.” Before even serving the least of these, we need to have a specific awareness of who are “the least of these.” One must have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.” The Christian should have a sort of Sixth Sense for injustice.

Sometimes it is obvious who suffers injustice, but sometimes it is not so obvious, because the social structures of our society create patterns of injustice. And, like the proverbial fish in the water, because we have been brought up in such societies, we do not see the patterns. But Christians are called to be in the world, but not of it. What is invisible to everyone else should be visible to us. The Gospel relativizes social structures so that even when they are good social structures, like the family, Christians cannot hold them to stand in the way of justice.

Our Lord, of course, gave a perfect example of this. I sometimes say that the Gospels are the first feminist stories in the history of world literature. There is one pattern that shows up over and over again: a woman speaks up, says something; she is casually and brusquely dismissed by a man, as would have been normal in that society; the woman ends up vindicated. This is the case, for example, of the woman who anointed Jesus with the expensive oil (yep, the Gospel denounces #mansplaining). This is the case of the Blessed Virgin Mother at Cana–Jesus dismisses her before acquiescing to her wish. This is the case, most strikingly, of the women at the Tomb. Cultural patterns that dismiss or devalorize women’s perspectives are pointedly, repeatedly rebuked by the Gospel. Jesus’ public ministry is bookended by affirmations of the validity of women’s perspectives, from the “first sign” at Cana of Galilee to the greatest sign of the Resurrection.

I could go on and on. Because of her sexual promiscuity, the Samaritan woman is ostracized by her community, and yet she is the one that Jesus chooses to announce the Gospel to her community. To say that–of course–Jesus does not approve of sexual promiscuity does not exhaust the meaning of this profound, powerful sign. Such ostracism because of sexual promiscuity is something that Jesus would have been painfully aware of. The Gospel of Mark tells us that when Jesus began preaching in his hometown, the people who listened to him dismissed him saying “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” What’s striking here is that in the culture of 1st century Palestine, you would not refer to someone as the son of their mother; you would refer to him by the name of their father. Jesus would have been Yeshua ben Yossef. Except that we know that after the Annunciation, Mary went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth for several months before returning to marry Joseph. She would have been visibly pregnant on her wedding day; or in any case, Jesus was born significantly less than 9 months after his mother’s wedding (and ancient peoples knew how long pregnancy lasts just as well as we do). What this is saying is that Joseph might not have been Jesus’ father (of course–the Gospels are not without humor–this was true in a way the speaker could not have imagined). “Is this not Jesus the son of Mary?” is a cruelly underhanded way of saying “Is this not Jesus the bastard, whose mother is a whore?”, with all the violence this would have carried in a tight-knit, traditional community. We can imagine this one man saying “Is this not Jesus, the son of Mary?” and the other people around him guffawing or exchanging knowing, mocking, contemptuous glances. By this time, Jesus was in his thirties–it almost certainly wasn’t the first time he’d heard such talk. So Jesus would have known very, very well how the Samaritan woman had experienced her social status in her community.

I haven’t often seen the Gospel story of the woman taken in adultery paralleled with the story of Susanna from the Book of Daniel. Susanna is a beautiful woman. As she takes her bath, she is approached by two lecherous men who tell her that unless she has sex with them, they will testify that they have caught her in adultery. The reason why this is so terrifying is because under the Hebrew law system, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible; only men’s testimony would have been. In other words, it is not merely these two men’s actions that cause the injustice–it is the social structures of the society which enable and encourage the injustice, and make it so terrifying. I sometimes wonder if that’s not what was going on with the woman “taken in adultery” from the Gospel.

To radically question and challenge social structures that create injustice against women (yes, very much including the “hook-up culture” and other contemporary evils) is something that the Gospel calls on us to do. And such structures do indeed exist; they are all around us, if we have the eyes to see. And they are structures that Christians have often been blind to; and indeed that they have perpetuated; take for example the historically common interpretation that blames David’s taking of Bathsheba on her, completely doing violence to the text, or Saint Augustine’s very disturbing comfort with spousal abuse.

For example, with all the nuance that we all know a Twitter hashtag allows, the #YesAllWomen phenomenon highlighted something that we are all-too-often unaware of: the fact that a great many women are subjected to various levels of harassment and violence (or suggestions of violence) of a sexual nature in their daily lives, something which it is very easy for men to miss or ignore. But as Christians we are called to have “eyes to see” injustice and to combat it; and it should be self-evident, I hope, that sexual harassment is a form of injustice. But because “feminism” is such a totem-word, some conservatives who happen to be Christians have gone a bit haywire and turned what should have been an important teachable moment into yet another front in the culture wars.

Thankfully, Catholic Tradition, which is the life of the Spirit within the Church, gives us plenty of examples of saints and role models who are feminist icons. Starting with the women of the Gospel–Mary, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe. Joan of Arc. Blanche of Castille. Mathilda of Tuscany. Catherine of Siena. Maria Montessori. Mother Teresa. And many, many, many more.

Nope, feminism is not a dirty word for us.

See also: A good start for a Catholic feminist discourse >>>




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  • Thank you!! I call myself a feminist precisely because we as Catholics need to acknowledge our debt to feminism and engage more thoughtfully with feminist critiques. Our theology isn’t so much littered with misogyny as drenched in it. Equally, I call myself a feminist because women everywhere need to know that the Church is *for* us and that things like abortion, contraception, sexual immortality, and a capitulation to measuring success by dollars earn and hours spent in the office harm both women and men. We *all* deserve better.

    • Thanks!

    • BTP

      I’d suggest feminism owes considerably more to Catholicism than Catholicism owes to feminism. And the statement that our theology is ‘drenched’ in misogyny reveals quite a lot about why the use of the term as a totem is so practical, much as PEG would wish it were not so.

      Thus, you present a logic chain that seems to connect a recognition of the evils of abortion and materialism with use of the term, ‘feminism’ and, finally, with the claim that Catholic theology is ‘drenched’ in misogyny. If that’s not merely bad faith, it is certainly hiding something.

      That’s ultimately why PEG’s thesis is mistaken: you can’t rehabilitate a symbol or a totem that doesn’t want to be rehabilitated. Put differently: if I hang a Confederate battle flag in front of my house and tell you that, for me, it’s a symbol of honor and courage against great odds, do you think I’m telling a lie? Would it matter?

      • I didn’t mean to suggest there is an equal relationship between the Catholic Church and feminism. (Sorry, thought that was a given!)

        By alluding to abortion and materialism, I was simply recognizing that for many, these are considered key elements of feminism even though they are incompatible with the nature of feminism as a movement for equality for women. Many feminists recognise this.

        As for our theology being drenched in misogyny, I did word that badly. I should have clarified that I meant much of our theological explanations for Catholic doctrine is pervaded by an attitude that regards men as inherently superior to women. It does so in a way that is structurally and often personally misogynistic. It’s not that every bit of theology is like that but when sex/gender or femininity do come up… it’s sickening reading.

        Finally, feminism doesn’t want to be rehabilitated? I’d argue there are plenty of Christians and others who do want to rehabilitate it and that’s what we’re trying to do. Feminism is a diverse movement that has changed and is still changing. I want to at least see if we can make that a change for the good. 🙂

        • Antiphon411

          “…much of our theological explanations for Catholic doctrine is pervaded by an attitude that regards men as inherently superior to women…”

          1) Examples?

          2) Different need not mean superior. If–e.g.–men are more suited by nature to lead and women to nurture, that does not mean men are superior. It might mean they are better leaders and women are better nurturers. It only becomes an issue of “superiority” when you have a value-system that views power as the supreme good, which most feminists do. In Church terms, men are priests and women are nuns. Are priests superior to nuns? Are forks superior to spoons? Are garden hoses superior to olive oil?

          3) Feminism is a totem word–as your comment shows. You say vague things and don’t make a clear point. You just assume that everyone will know what you’re talking about because: “…feminism…equality for women… misogynistic… women…superior…sex/gender…sickening…diverse”

          • IRVCath

            It is likely, having read some of her stuff previously, a misstatement. Certainly we all here uphold the Holy Father’s teachings on the priesthood. But it is outside the cloister or monastery or the parochial house where the misogyny exists. Particularly among some popularizers of theology.

            The kind of feminism she talks about (and, say, John Paul talks about) fights primarily against the perception among some of us that women are to be treated like minors, an idea condemned by IIRC Pius XII, (sarcasm) who we all know was a dangerous radical bent on destroying Holy Mother Church (/sarcasm)

          • Thank you Almario for coming to my rescue again! You’d think I’d learn never even to mention the word feminism by now! :p And absolutely, “drenched” was the wrong word – I meant it more in the sense of deeply embedded into our theological understanding. It’s a weed alright but as long as we don’t acknowledge it, we can’t pull it out completely and let the plant flourish as it should. Pope Francis was right that we need a better theology of women – and a better theology of men too!

          • IRVCath

            Also, I will point out that in respect to their own members, women major superiors exercise the same amount of authority that a bishop would over you and me. The problem is not in the cloister or the seminary, but in the pew.

          • The LCWR in America is a sad counter-example to your claim. In fact, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY are basically lost theologically as an entire order.

          • BTP

            {sigh} Deeply embedded, soaked, drenched, pervaded, whatever.

            “Finally, feminism doesn’t want to be rehabilitated? I’d argue there are plenty of Christians and others who do want to rehabilitate it and that’s what we’re trying to do. Feminism is a diverse movement that has changed and is still changing. I want to at least see if we can make that a change for the good. :)”

            Yeah. That’s why I used the Confederate battle flag as an example of another symbol that doesn’t want to be rehabilitated: These symbols mean pretty much what everyone thinks they mean and those who argue differently lie somewhere between used car salesmen and Mephistopheles on the morality scale. I’m sorry, but that’s what I think, and the more you explain yourself the more I’m convinced I was correct the whole time.

          • I completely agree that men and women are equal but different! Neither is this about the priesthood or calling God Father or anything else. The idea, however, that men and women are different but equal is relatively new. Until very recently, the accepted norm was that men were different from and better than women.

            The first examples that come to mind are St Augustine who said that “Woman does not possess the image of God” and Aquinas who held, along with all other Christians, that women were born into a state of subjection and inferiority. Basically find any homily from any Church Father on anything to do with women and you will find attitudes towards women that are unacceptable.

            Also, I’m sorry if I was being obtuse. Not my intention! 🙂

          • Jesus didn’t. The last shall be first, and the first, last.

            Hmm, Queen Mother of Heaven as the chief of the apostles?

          • Antiphon411

            Men tend to be more rational and more just.

            1) I am in academia and have met and worked with men and women of the finest intellect. The men have struck me as more logical and reasonable. They tend to be more dispassionate, which helps. This has seemed true both in their work and in conversation.

            2) The maternal instinct doesn’t mesh well with justice. Mothers tend to favor their children’s (and husband’s) best interests over those of strangers even in cases where that would not be fair. Naturally, a woman’s society is the home because it is difficult to bear and care for numerous children while participating fully in public life.

            The man, because he must provide for and protect his family, naturally tends to participate in public life. He must leave the home to acquire resources. This requires him to be a member of the community, for often resource acquisition relies on cooperation. So, too, with defense. To ward off raids, community coordination is necessary.

            Justice is, therefore, essential for men. If men of a community are going to band together for the common good, they have to believe that their fellow men will subordinate their private good to the needs of the group. They have to rely on each other to do their fair share if work and derive their fair share of benefit. A man’s reputation for justice and fairness give him standing in the community.

          • St. Basil of Caesarea would certainly say otherwise in his 2nd homily on the origin of the human condition. And in context, the Augustine quote is on the right track, similar to St. John Paul II emphasized Man being made imago Dei as the communion of persons, in imitation of the Trinity, in addition to the gift of reason. And Augustine is right, in a way. I found a really clear article here: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~nmcenter/women-cp/augustin.html

          • On #2- I’d even say that men, as leaders, are called first not to lead, but to protect and serve. Which kind of puts women in charge.

          • Antiphon411

            That strikes me as a rather sloppy logic. The shepherd protects and serves (cares and provides for) his sheep. Are the sheep in charge? The father protects and serves his children. Are the children in charge? God protects and serves His people. Are the people in charge?

            The husband protects and serves his wife. She serves him, too. Marriage is an institution with mutual service, but authority cannot be divided and resides in the man. Leadership is a major part of his service.

          • “The shepherd protects and serves (cares and provides for) his sheep. Are the sheep in charge? ”

            I’ve been a shepherd. Yes, the sheep are very much in charge. Everything you do from day to day is dictated by the schedule of the sheep. You only think you are in control.

            “The father protects and serves his children. Are the children in charge?” Been a father too- of one very strong willed special needs child, no way to beat the stupid out of a kid whose brain doesn’t work right. The best a father can do is hope to teach and form the child, but doing so means working within the child’s abilities and schedule.

            “God protects and serves His people. Are the people in charge?” And thus we get to the doctrines of free will and original sin….

          • Well, objectively the priesthood is a superior vocation, especially in its combination with the monastic life. That has been the case in the Christian East and the West since the late 4th century, in a contrast (and I would argue a conscious move away from) the practice of lay asceticism among the Syrian and Coptic monks. But it is not about power: it is about the conformity of one’s life to Christ and dedication to the contemplation of the Lord. So a lay religious, whether male or female, has a higher vocation than a married couple. However, marriage should not be denigrated for it expresses the creation of Man in God’s image as a communion of persons and is a way instituted by Christ through His Church for our sanctification. And true, priests have power because they are priests, but *only* because they are priests of the Lord forever in the line of Melchizedek, through whom the True and Eternal High Priest acts to offer the pure, holy, and spotless Sacrifice of Calvary. Not all can be priests, even among men, and nothing in man ontologically gives him that power. It is only by the change in his soul and the grace of the sacraments he celebrates (as grace builds on nature, and working independently of his own holiness) that the sacraments are performed, and the modernists confuse in a very glaring way the role of the priest. They see power, whereas the Church sees grace.

          • cmfe

            I humbly submit my children as evidence against the superiority of your vocation.

          • I’m not a priest…and I am called to the married life. But this is what the Church teaches. S Pope John Paul II and his predecessor Ven. Pius XII, the Council of Trent, and St. Paul in 1 Cor. all taught this clearly.

    • The charge of misogyny causes abortion and contraception.

      • IRVCath

        I don’t follow your logic

        • The most obvious physical difference between males and females is the ability to get pregnant. Just about every tradition labeled as misogyny, is due to the naturally evolved instinct to protect mothers.

          Removing motherhood from being female becomes the obvious way to end misogyny. Which is why feminism, during the sexual revolution, latched on to it with an iron grip.

          • IRVCath

            Which is one of the aspects that tears feminism asunder. It’s called the mommy wars. Though this is gladly changing, in favor of reassociating motherhood and femaleness. A pity it took people four decades to learn this.

          • The real pity is the genocide it caused.

    • $51060174

      This is crazy stuff. Modern feminism is evil, of the devil. It doesn’t belong in Catholicism. It is a bad word.

      • IRVCath

        Then why has the late Holy Father – who we have raised to the altars, mind you – spoken well of feminism as a basic concept? And why do his theses receive the approbation of both his successors? Or are we to judge the validity of Catholic validity by what our Protestant neighbors will think?

        That said, I will disagree necessarily that our theology is drenched in misogyny, at least any more than any other stream of intellectual thought in our world today. The problem is more on the level of popular culture than in the teaching of Holy Mother Church. As we have previously corresponded, Laura, the problem is that Americans tend to have a very unique, classical if you will, definition of terms like justice, rights, equality and so on. The problem, in summation, is less in the theology books as to what the layman believes is in those books.

        To other claims, it is true that feminism owes a lot to Holy Mother Church. So does Christian Democracy, yet no one argues that Christian Democracy is superfluous because we have Holy Mother Church.

    • Nordog6561

      >>Our theology isn’t so much littered with misogyny as drenched in it. <<

      How so?

      • IRVCath

        See corrections, infra.

  • As long as abortion-as-choice exists, feminism can’t be rescued.

    “The way I would talk about feminism, in order to rescue it from being a totem word, would be to start by saying that, as an empirical finding, women, in most every social setting, though in different ways and to varying degrees, suffer injustice as a result of being women; that such injustice is common enough, and too-often-ignored-enough, that it calls for a specific kind of awareness, a specific kind of discourse, and a specific kind of movement, to redress it.”

    We’ve seen that movement- it results in contraception and abortion, because it fails to take into account that injustice is always a two way street, and that there are as many misandrist women as there are misogynist men.

    Update: Just found a website that actually agrees with both of us- that the route to rescue the word feminism, must begin with a strong pro-life stance: http://www.feministsforlife.org/

    • IRVCath

      In light of what you have just learned, is there really that much disagreement, then?

      • As long as the rejection of pro-choice (and the resulting embrace of motherhood and the need of children to know their fathers) is explicit, I have no problem with feminists.

      • I just started reading the links. One level of disagreement is I don’t buy the whole “gender is only socialization” meme. I consider it to be junk science at best.

        For instance, Peg wrote “Ms Adichie denounces that girls are socialized to view finding a marriageable man as the highest calling. Is this a giving-in to the postmodern relativist desacralization of marriage? Or what would Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, or Dorothy Day make of a society that views marriage as the highest calling for girls?”

        I’d say that girls aren’t socialized to that, they are called to that by 2 million years of evolution under God, and changing it has cause an immense amount of poverty and destruction.

    • cmfe

      “there are just as many misandrist women as misogynist men” Really? Was slavery also a “two way street” of equal culpability? Surely someone who is smart enough to write in complete sentences can see the inequity between genders in our society?

      • “Was slavery also a “two way street” of equal culpability? ”

        Given the fact that there are *still* African tribes today engaged in the slave trade in Africa, the answer to that is yes.

        ” Surely someone who is smart enough to write in complete sentences can see the inequity between genders in our society?”

        I can. Men who aren’t independently wealthy have been blamed for the crimes of the wealthy for 40 years now, while women have gained equal pay for equal job title and time at work. The majority of college graduates are now women, not to mention the obvious physical advantages of being a woman in a culture that no longer values fatherhood, aggression or physical strength.

  • JohnMcG

    I propose that instead of a defensive apologetic crouch, which is what I often read these to be (and that may be on me), we should affirmatively proclaim Christianity as the answer.

    Yes, I’m sure both Christians and the institutional Church have done things that contribute to these structural problems, and we need to acknowledge and seek forgiveness for them. But we shouldn’t be putty in the hands of these movements, always apologizing and bending ourselves to suit them, either.

    What movement tells you you are more than your paycheck, or more than how you look, or more than how many people you’ve slept with?

    Who offers celibacy as a path of honor, not something to be ashamed of?

    Who affirms the worth and dignity of every human person?

    I’m not terribly interested in rescuing the term “feminism” or any other term. I am interested in proclaiming the Truth that can set us free from a world that measures our worth and dignity in perverted ways. If that means we have common cause with feminists, conservative, traditionalists, gay rights activists, civil rights workers, pro-life activists, or any other political movement, and our working together makes those movements better, that’s great.

    But I don’t think rescuing these terms from poor stewardship needs to be a particular concern of ours.

    • JohnMcG

      To expand on my uneasiness, groups such as feminism often extract enforce their own orthodoxy tax one must pay in order to call someone a real feminist. This is not unique to feminism, or ideologies/movements of the left.

      In the case of feminism, often this tax includes positioning oneself against teachings of the Church on abortion, contraception, and the male priesthood.

      I don’t think this is a tax we should be willing to pay, and I must confess that the fight to repeal this tax is not one that particularly interests me.

  • mochalite

    As always, you write beautifully. I will tell you honestly that I lost sleep last night thinking about yesterday’s Twitter convo on this topic, asking God where I was wrong and praying for His wisdom, clarity, and charity!

    I absolutely agree with you when you say: “To radically question and challenge social structures that create injustice against women …is something that the Gospel calls on us to do” and “as Christians we are called to have ‘eyes to see’ injustice and to combat it ….” So, I have no problem with people using a
    Twitter hashtag to call attention to injustice. Twitter is an international bulletin board. I have no problem with the word feminism and am a big fan of FeministsForLife. What I do object to is using public venting as an end in itself, which is very typical of a modern liberal and, sadly, female approach to problems. Sharing and good intentions matter more than actual solutions.

    In YesAllWomen, though I certainly didn’t read all of it, the tone moved quickly from “This is my experience, it should not be” to “This is my experience, it should not be, and I should not have to do anything about it … men need to change.” Suggestions of what women can actually do to deal with sexism were met with derision; betrayals of sisterhood. Feminism has many good things going for it, but this blindness isn’t one of them. You said, “Totem words elicit idolatry or reverse-idolatry.” So do totem hashtags.

    God has promised us that when Jesus comes again, there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth. There will be no pain, no death, no tears, no weeds … Hallelujah! But that’s not now, and I will weed my garden today rather than tell the weeds they shouldn’t be there. Societal structures of injustice, as you say, have
    been around forever, and they’re not going away (e.g., more people are in slavery today than at any time before today). We combat them, we outlaw them, but we’re fools to think we eliminate them.

    Leviticus has several passages about mold in a house. They’re very cool reading. God says to deal with mold in your house finally and for good, you have to tear down the whole thing. That’s the picture of sin and injustice, and it took Jesus Christ to tear the whole thing down. To the extent we abide in Him, we don’t practice injustice; but our world doesn’t abide in Him. In our sin-sick world, refusing to educate women in how to deal with sexism because they “shouldn’t have to” is like hearing your doctor saying, “You have asthma. There’s no cure, but here are some therapies that will help.” Instead of responding, “Yay, I’ll do those,” you respond, “No, it’s not right that this exists … make it go away.”

    So, when I read a post that says, “A cabbie wouldn’t let me out until I gave him my phone number,” I think, here’s what you do: You take a picture of his hack license and call 911. If you regularly use cabs, you’ve researched the law on false imprisonment as it applies to cabbies, and you either recite or read it to him. I can guarantee that he wants his license more than he wants your phone number. Or, you carry one of those car-window-breaking hammers, and let yourself out.

    When I read a post that says, “A man followed me home from work,” I think, here’s what you do: You learn how to spot a tail, so you’re sure. You don’t go home. If you’re in a car, you drive to the nearest police or fire station, and you go in with blinkers flashing and horn blaring. Be sure to memorize the stalker’s tag number as he’s driving away. If you’re on foot, you blow your police
    whistle (it’s on your keychain) and go to a neighbor’s place. You’ve gotten to know your neighbors, as that’s the #1 thing a woman alone should do. Or
    you go to a designated SafePlace in your area. You know where they are, because you’ve researched them. Be sure to get a good description of the stalker for the police.

    When I read a post that says, “I have to find the seat on the bus that is the safest,” I think, absolutely! In novels and movies, the spy or the marshal always takes the seat with his back to the wall so the bad guys can’t get the drop on him. It’s cool … be the heroine of your own novel! Take Krav Maga,kickboxing, carry classes, whatever. Take joy in being strong and prepared.

    Hand to God, PEG, I would embrace, cry with, pray with, and lavish love on any woman who was a victim of abuse! But I would then help her dry her tears and introduce her to practices that would toughen her up and make her better able to live confidently. If men want to work on their end of this thing at the same time, if churches, schools, community groups want to preach and educate, fabulous! If all we Christians want to pray for reformation (small r!) of our culture, fabulous! In the meantime, I and other women need to learn to live victoriously in what is.

    • JohnMcG


      The headline of the Slate piece PEG linked was something like, “why men are clueless about sexism.” Essentially, the theme was that much of misogyny and sexism are invisible to most men because it happens when they’re not around.

      An alternative title could have been, “The vast majority of good men are the best protection against sexism.” But that probably wouldn’t draw as many clicks.

      The type of men who engage in this behavior are outside the mainstream of society, and in many case have actively opted out. The implied preferred remedy seems to be to ramp up the lecturing in mainstream culture. Don’t teach women how to avoid rape; “teach men not to rape.” Most men already know not to rape. All that this lecturing will do is cause more men on the margins to retreat to the misogynistic subcultures.

      They’re responsible for that choice, of course, but if we really want to address the problem, we have to consider whether the means we are employing are ordered toward doing so.

      • mochalite

        Agree. Almost every man I’ve ever known has been the good, responsible, Godly type you describe. The few that haven’t … Well, there’s the “third rail” in discussions of sexual injustice. We’re not allowed to talk about how women often choose to participate in their own subjugation.

        If teaching women to deal with the problem is considered ignoring the problem, teaching women modesty in talk and behavior is totally unacceptable. Several of the YAW posts were “women should be able to dress any way they want, even go naked, and not fear rape.” We’re all supposed to applaud the progressivism instead of saying, “Are you out of your mind??”

      • cmfe

        The thing is, we have been teaching women not to get raped for ever. We know how to be careful at night, etc. There are many cultural messages that encourage the objectification of women and harm to women. Why wouldn’t good men want to be part of addressing that? Why only if asked very, very nicely?

        • JohnMcG

          1. It seems to me that one lesson of the Slate article is that good men *are* already a part of that even without being asked. That much of the harassment and violence happens when other men are not around, in part because these harassers know they would never get away with it with other men around.

          2. I understand the dynamics are different, but if there was a hashtag campaign from white people expressing their fears and stories of violence from black people, I don’t think it would be surprising if the black community’s response was something other than empathetic listening followed by a plan on how to address those complaints.

    • cmfe

      Hindsight is 20/20. When one is very afraid, it is hard to take action in one’s defense. Also, it is disingenuous to ignore the vulnerability of women.

      • mochalite

        1. This isn’t about hindsight; it’s about foresight.

        2. Of course it is. In fact, the rule of thumb is that when highly stressed and emotional, we lose 50% of our accuracy and effectiveness. That’s why women must train and plan purposefully in advance for how we will act.

        3. I agree entirely, but tweeting about vulnerability has no effect on the reality of violence women are vulnerable to. I would love to know, two weeks after the venting, how many of the #YAW women feel safer today? Nothing has changed for them. Had they spent those same two weeks in a Refuse To Be a Victim class, a carry class, or something similar, they’d all feel better, stronger, safer, more able to deal with whatever their reality is.

  • Antiphon411

    That is a stunning painting of St. Joan of Arc. Do you happen to know the name of the painter and title of the work?

    • Jean-Dominique Ingres, Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII

    • Billiamo

      Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Ingres (1854).

  • Kathleen Worthington

    “I sometimes say that the Gospels are the first feminist stories in the history of world literature.” I’ve always been partial to Penelope. 😉

    • Penelope dutifully “saves” herself for her husband for decades, meanwhile Ulysses has tons of lovers in his adventures. 🙂

      (And hey, I love the Odyssey.)

      • Kathleen Worthington

        Is feminism defined by how the man acts? Or is that a twist the “feminists” have given to the word? Honest question.

        Penelope is brave, resourceful, dutiful, honorable and faithful. She manages to be a woman in trouble who isn’t a damsel in distress. If I can’t claim her as a feminist story, I think we’ve jumped off the tracks.

        • Ha! Fair enough. The story itself doesn’t evince a feminist point of view, was my point.

          • Kathleen Worthington

            Very true. I will now return to my coffee and my attempt to wake up. 🙂

    • If we use the Bible Deborah, in Judges, has a good deal of respect as I recall. And at least some feminists have been drawn to the story of Judith slaying Holofernes to save her people.

  • Ted Ung

    I find a huge gap between “great many”, “sone”, and #YesAll… Terrible acts? Yes. Widespread? Possibly. Widely perceived? I’d guess yes. Universal? I guess I don’t believe in universal anything in human voluntary behavior.

  • Certainly the status of Our Lady was denigrated after the Apostolic era had passed. But the Evangelists paint Joseph as the putative father of Christ, at the finding in the temple and in John 6 among other places.

  • It would be great if feminism meant, or could mean, even something like “To radically question and challenge social structures that create injustice against women” but that’s not all it’s going to mean. And if you use it to mean that, in a way compatible to Catholicism, feminists are going to be clear with you that you don’t even understand what gender-injustice is.

    It might be nice to try to “reclaim the word” and maybe within specifically Catholic or Christian circles that would work. But outside those circles most feminism fairly clearly is an ideology opposed to Catholic teaching. It rejects, or greatly diminishes, any notion the sexes have any inherent difference. It believes in an absolute rightof “body autonomy.” The forms of feminism that do not do these things are mostly not deemed feminism.

    • Christina Hoff Sommers has already done some work to reclaim the word by distinguishing between “equity” and “gender” feminism and many more have embraced this notion than the gender feminists would wish.
      But I think a third category can be identified from the feminisms people believe in and embrace: “progressive” feminism. Going beyond equity feminisms, progressive feminism would view all archaic gender roles, on men and women alike, as impositions on liberty and autonomy and worthy of resistance.
      This additional category goes beyond what has always been an unsatisfying “equity” feminism, it isn’t at odds with Vatican II Catholic Christianity and it creates a place where people can continue to push for the advancement of autonomy for all, without taking on the baggage and objectionable features of gender feminism.
      The trick to taking back the word is to really use it. When feminists oppose putative father registries, when they advance abolition of female gender roles but are silent on male gender roles, when they are found ignoring or suppressing the very notion of male reproductive rights, when they have to be dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge the realities of female on male domestic violence and male victims of rape … they are being “gender” feminists and we should call them on it and while affirming feminism, we should condemn this “rights for me but not for thee” variety of gender feminism.

  • You can elevate the discussion of feminism by distinguishing between different feminisms. Christina Hoff Sommers does this by distinguisging between “equity feminism” and “gender feminism”. I have argued in “one feminism to rule them all” that is incomplete and that there are many who would not go the route of gender feminism for whom equity feminism is not a strong or full enough description so to fill the gap I consider “progressive feminism” a third option. I believe if you look at the totality of her lifetime works and writings Betty Friedan hews closer to the idea of a progressive feminist, which is a progressive movement opposed to legal, cultural or archaic impositions based on gender placed upon individual autonomy but not limited in its application to women only and sans the identity politics, making it more than equity feminism, but without the objectionable features of gender feminism, the latter of which indulges identity politics and works to abolish archaic female gender roles but is content to leave male gender roles intact.

  • James Wyss

    This is utterly ridiculous. Women face no more discrimination than men do, they just like complaining about it more.

    • Sophia Sadek

      Good point. There were almost as many women popes as there were men.

      • James Wyss

        What does that have to do with anything?

        • RiseOfDivergents

          It is feminism logic, if there is no equal representation then it is because of discrimination. With that logic 100m Olympic sprinting does not have white males for last 3 decades so there must be some racism going on.

          • James Wyss

            The problem is the rules change and white men are privileged so they cannot possibly experience discrimination.

      • James Wyss

        It’s silly to reference a female pope on a Catholic blog. That just shows you’re not really Catholic or at the very least don’t pay very good attention to the Church’s teachings.

        • Sophia Sadek

          I pay a great deal of attention to the Church’s teachings. Some of my
          students are recovering Catholics. It is important to know what they
          are recovering from. I personally think of the pope as the vicar of
          Caesar. It would be silly for a woman to represent Caesar. My comment was intended to be cheeky, or tongue-in-cheeky.

    • cmfe

      …and what color is the sky in this world of yours?

  • Sophia Sadek

    Gerhard Mueller seems to have a serious problem with feminism, so do his supporters.

  • RiseOfDivergents

    Feminism has been promoting hate, violence and call for male genocides for decades:

    Feminists teamed up with liberal academia to advocate for eugenics, mass sterilization, and mass murder in the United States.http://hnn.us/article/1796

    Feminists using violence to silence speakers at University of Toronto

    Feminists are encouraging women to beat their husbands and boy friends:

    Feminists calling for male genocide using twitter: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23killallmen&src=hash

    7000 Violent feminists attacked and sexually assaulted christian men

    Recently, feminists sent death threats to double tree hotel and its staffs because they are hosting Men’s issues awareness conference, http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/AVFM-Security-Letter-REDACTED.pdf

    Feminists are sending death threats to the people concerned with current men and boys issues.

    , it is time to take action to maintain democracy, peace in our society. Sign the petition to ask the government to class feminism as a terrorist group