Feminist. The f-word of femininity.
Ok, maybe that’s a little over the top and not exactly true, but stay with me for a second here. The emotions and negative perceptions that this one little word can stir up in conservative circles is really not much different than what a tirade of curse words would result in at a church ladies luncheon. It’s just not proper or polite fodder to entertain such uncouth conversation about “girls gone wild” with our fellow church-goers.
We think of Feminists as the women of the 1960-70s Sexual Revolution; the women who boldly put careers in front of families and embraced the practices of birth control and abortion as a means to free themselves of the “comfortable concentration camps of the home” ( from Betty Frieden’s Feminine Mystique). We think of the women at NARAL rallies and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards when we think Feminist. Short haircuts, pant suits, Hillary Clinton…..need I say more?? We think of women who are really very un-womanly and in fact seem to want to emulate masculine traits and eschew the very things that make them uniquely feminine.
So what would you say if I said that I consider myself to be a Feminist? (Gasp! Why would she ever want to tell readers of a Catholic blog that she’s one of them?) Well, mostly because I am very decidedly NOT one of “them” and I want you and other Catholic women to understand and embrace what our late Holy Father John Paul II called “New Feminism”.
In 1988, John Paul II sent out an Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, or, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women. In this letter he began the use of the term the “genius of women” in describing the special attributes and contributions of females. He outlined the special characteristics that set us apart from men. And in a refreshing move, he upheld these unique talents as both beautiful and necessary to compliment the traits of men. This came not long after a time when women’s gifts were often belittled and considered “female weaknesses”. A woman was considered a “weak” leader if she felt empathy for those working under her. This deprecation of natural feminine characteristics is what led many women in the decades before Mulieris Dignitatem to leave their roles as wives and mothers and seek the recognition and appreciation they needed elsewhere. While he encouraged all women in their roles as wives and mothers, JP2 also encouraged further participation in politics and economics. JP2 never said women’s gifts were only useful in the home raising children. Instead he first worked to affirm that these traits were innately good and necessary, and then made the move seven years later to more directly challenge women to bring them to every aspect of their lives.
In 1995 JP2 wrote Evangelium Vitae, and called for a “New Feminism” to take root in the heart of the Catholic Church. He called for the women of the Church to infuse our world with our “feminine genius” and return to our culture the role of motherhood and the beautiful truth about women’s true talents and contributions. He called for us to “promote a “new feminism that rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination” in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, exploitation, and violence.” He even went so far as to say that this was a prerequisite for creating a Culture of Life and placed this task in the hands of the women of the Church. (EV n.99)
There has been some debate about his use of the term “feminist” saying that what he called for was something so completely foreign to the Feminist mantra that we should avoid using the word altogether when describing this new movement of women who embrace and love the feminine genius. Some have suggested the term “Complimentarianists” is a better fit. (Although even typing it is honestly a trial!) And others have just not wanted to create confusion and be mistaken with the women we talked about so fondly earlier. They fear creating scandal by association with that word. I tend to think John Paul II knew exactly what he was saying when he chose to send us forth as New Feminists.
You see before there were crazy “My Body, My Choice” feminists, there were Suffragists who were nothing like the women who hijacked their momentum roughly 60 years later. These Suffragist Feminists were overwhelmingly pro-life, pro-family, and anti-birth control and abortion. They fought for and won the right for women to vote in 1920. But yet in today’s history books (or “her-story books” if I want to be politically correct) somehow these women are considered the Mothers of Feminism, despite their complete disapproval of most of the new movements causes. They have been dubbed The First Wave of Feminism and the women we tend to think of as Feminists, the Second Wave. Their legacies have almost been wiped out by the new movement’s momentum and claim to their victories. Second Wave Feminists have managed in many cases to rewrite our understanding of these First Wavers and twist their stories to fit their current agenda. Yet they do so in a way that seems almost complimentary and with sisterly adoration. They gloss over the parts they do not agree with and chalk them up to a different time period with less education and technology available to these brave women. They assert that the First Wave would have held the same opinion they do if they had been born 50 years later (awfully presumptuos!). They focus on the Suffragists strong spirits and the successes of these women to build support for their own agendas.
I say JP2 knew exactly what he was saying when he used the term New Feminist because in doing so he set a challenge before us to not run out and create an entirely new movement that alienates and separates women from one another. He didn’t want to see an “us vs. them” situation. He has challenged us to take the same approach executed brilliantly by the Second Wave Feminists in how they assimilated the followers from the First Wave Suffragist/Feminists. He is asking that we try very hard to honor Second Wavers as sisters and give them the gracious benefit of the doubt that surely their opinions and ill-conceived solutions were not the result of malice, but of the time period and a lack of proper education and the technological advancements that are available to us today. He asks that we recognize their spirit of goodwill and give them a gracious opportunity to bow out of their antiquated ways of thinking. Then we quickly move on to how we all now know better and that by working together we can truly bring about a better state of affairs for all humanity. He is asking us to use our “feminine genius” and the traits of Empathy, Interpersonal Relations, Emotive Capacity, Subjectivity, Communication, Intuition, and Personalization to reunite women with one another in reclaiming authentic femininity.
Do I think this will be easy or that the Second Wave Feminist ideas will die easily? Absolutely not, but I think JP2 was on to something big and it resonates in my heart. I know I have been called to this work and that if I can do it with authentic love, the truth will be made clear and soon we will see a huge shift in our societies’ understanding of femininity and human life in general. It is through women and our ability to mother and accept others with hospitality that the world will learn how to accept and love one another.
So yes, I am a Feminist. I am a New Feminist and I invite others to join me in helping to share the truth about who God created us to be.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Leah-Jacobson-e1318950563716.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Leah Jacobson is passionate about John Paul II’s “New Feminism” and teaching women about the amazing dignity and worth of their bodies. She founded the Guiding Star Women’s Center in 2009, a non-profit focused on uniting the pro-life movement in Duluth, MN, and coordinates a national effort called The Guiding Star Project whose vision is to create a Culture of Life by creating greater unity and collaboration of pro-life groups. As a homeschooling mother of four (soon to be five!) young children, and a lactation consulting graduate student, she feels she understands pretty well the pressures and stresses facing women and families in our current culture.[/author_info] [/author]