I used to wonder why any 21st-century woman would call herself a feminist.
Feminism has become something utterly toxic. Maybe the word once stood for something useful and good, but feminism today means abortion on demand and without apology; now it means contempt for virginity, contempt for children, contempt for motherhood. Why would any right-thinking woman even want to use that name, when it puts you in such dreadful company?
And anyway, why do we even need feminism anymore? Aren’t we done? There once was a real need for the movement. Long ago, women truly had to fight for basic freedoms. But now we can vote, now we can own property, now we have as much as a men do in the way our lives go. We can go to school where we want, work where we want, wear what we want, travel where we want — and if we want to stay home and raise babies, assisted by female doctors and respected by our enlightened husbands, then feminism has won that right for us, too. It’s a golden post-feminist age, if we play our cards right.
In the past, when someone questioned the need for feminism, I would think of my mother, my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, the way they lived and how they struggled. My mother tells me of how she was suffering through a difficult labor. The male doctor, irritated, responded by strapping her down and injecting her, without her consent, with a drug that left her pain intact, but made her unable to cry out. “She feels better now,” she heard the doctor say, and she couldn’t argue with him, because she couldn’t form words.
So that’s why we needed feminism. Because unless someone told them otherwise, there would always be men who treated women like vessels, like nuisances, like inferiors, like property — and women, because they are the vessels of life, needed to fight back against this treatment. They needed to demand justice.
But no more, right? The women’s movement was necessary, but it’s done its work. Thank you for your efforts, suffragettes. And now we can rest, because we are all set.
Well, think again. I’m 39 years old, and feeling it. I read the blogs and comments of younger women, and I know that they’re living in a different world. Now, when I wonder if there is still a need for feminism, I look to the future of women, not the past.
When I was in college, there were a few cads and perverts on campus. But there was no such thing as nonstop porn — violent porn, available for free, 24 hours a day, on tiny devices that could be carried in your pocket. There was no such thing as generation of men who thought of themselves as decent guys, and who expected their girlfriends to act out that porn which is normal normal normal. There was no such things as websites dedicated to teaching guys how to drug their dates into submission, or how to trick their reluctant girlfriends into getting an abortion. There was no such thing as mainstream retailers like Target ads featuring a girl whose entire vulva was Photoshopped away, to make her trendy thigh gap gappier. There was no such thing as feminist who vehemently defended sex-selective abortion. No such thing as women live-blogging their abortions, gleefully posting pictures of their bloody baby’s remains and calling it liberation. No such thing as women selling eggs to get through college — selling their bodies to make it through college. No such thing, at least, as these things happening and progressive people calling it . . . empowering.
And if you think these outrages only exist in the godless secular world, you are sheltered indeed. Men and women in some Catholic circles believe that marital rape is impossible, because the marriage debt means that women never have the right to say “no.” They believe that if men use porn, it’s the woman’s fault for not being compliant or submissive enough. I know a woman whose priest told her that it’s a mortal sin to refuse her husband sex even one time, for any reason. I know women who’ve gotten an annulment after enduring years of rape and physical and emotional abuse, and the congregation shuns . . . the woman. And her children. Because marriage is sacred.
This is why we need feminism — yes, still. This is why we need it more than we needed it twenty years ago. Yes, the movement went astray. Yes, some evil people call themselves feminists, and do dreadful things in the name of feminism. So what? People do dreadful things in the name of democracy, and people do dreadful things in the name of beauty. People do dreadful things in the name of Christ our savior. That doesn’t mean we abandon the name. That means we rescue it, we rectify the misuse.
When I call myself a feminist, I don’t mean that I break out in a cold sweat when McDonald’s asks me if I want a boy toy or a girl toy in my kid’s happy meal. Some people use “feminism” to mean “being upset all the time” or “getting revenge on men” or “stamping out everything that makes women seem feminine.” So what? I don’t use it that way. Neither did John Paul II.
Yes, we still need feminism. A lot has changed in the world, but there is much more that never will change. Women will always need men in a particular way — just as men will always need women in a particular way. Barbara Valencia said it well in a recent Facebook conversation:
Left to their own devices, human beings will always drift back into oppressing and abusing one another. The strong will dominate the weak, the weak will in turn manipulate the strong. It’s like a bad wheel on a stroller that will always send the thing veering off the sidewalk into traffic if an extra counter force is not applied in the opposite direction. Christianity is supposed to be that counter force, so is feminism. Indeed, the reason why JPII’s theology is so compelling is because it uses feminist ideas and “completes” them.
It’s not about men or women being more important than the other; it’s about learning how to work in harmony. Ever hear a choir practice? Constant tuning, constant correction.
Maybe sometime in the future, we will be able to retire the word “feminism.” Maybe there will no longer be any need to struggle against injustices that men (and women!) perpetrate against the feminine. But that time is not now. That time is not coming soon. We need feminism. Yes, still.