Thursday, June 30, 2011

Movie and Book Recommendation: "Flipped"

We literature nerds will always tell you that the book is better than the movie.

In the case of Flipped, I'd say it's a toss up.

Written by Wendelin Van Draanen, the author of the Sammy Keyes mysteries, Flipped tells the story of Bryce Loski,  Juli Baker, and their first real crushes--on each other.  As readers, we get to experience our two protagonists' changing attitudes toward each other as the novel deftly switches back and forth from Bryce's point of view to Juli's. 

Bryce is very much concerned with surface appearances and fitting in, something he learns from his parents, especially his father. When they meet he finds Juli's open and unguarded manner to be bewildering and embarrassing, just as his father is annoyed with her family's unkempt lawn, her brothers' noisy band, and her father's painting hobby.  

Juli, who, like her father has an innate love of beauty, is at first infatuated with bryce when she sees his "dazzling eyes".   Each character has a distinct and believable voice, and as each learns to see beyond his or her own point of view, the reader is reminded by their differing perspectives that there is always more than one side to any story. 

Like any child's life, the novel is populated with quirky parents, irritating but lovable siblings, friends, rivalries, and plenty of amusing and yet painfully awkward moments.

As Juli and Bryce awkwardly navigate the social minefields of early adolescence, their school and their suburban neighborhood, they take their families and the reader with them. 

The film follows the book very closely. The only significant change is a shift in the setting. The novel takes place in the late 1990's, while the movie has a nostalgic 1950's backdrop.  Rob Reiner did an absolutely remarkable job of preserving the integrity and universality of the original story.  In translating the book to film, and with the help of a talented cast, Reiner artfully captures the realism of Van Draanen's characters and their complicated lives, which is central to the story's appeal.  The result is a visually captivating, deeply moving, and universally appealing story that manages to be wholesome without being saccharine or pedantic.

So, if you're looking for something to do over the Independence Day weekend that smacks of wholesome all-American goodness, grab a copy of the novel and watch the movie. Hey, it's a holiday weekend. You'll have time for both. 

The MPAA rating for Flipped is PG. Because of some very tense family situations, and a few instances of crass dialogue, the Catholic News Service gives this film a rating of A-III (Adults).  I have to say, however, that I believe the movie is also appropriate for older teens. The novel is intended for readers who find themselves anywhere between middle school and middle age (and even beyond). 

For artfully rendered characters and themes and fantastic writing, this schoolmarm gives both book and film an A+.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Missing: 160 Million Girls

It's not every day that the New York Times publishes an op. ed. piece with which I agree.  Today's "160 Million and Counting," in which Ross Douthat discusses the problem of sex-selective abortion and its impact worldwide is one of those rare pieces. Specifically, his article revolves around Mara Hvistendahl's recent book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.

Though Hvistendahl describes herself as "pro-abortion", her work is gaining attention from many different spheres. For those who favor abortion as a means of empowering women and for those who also favor population control, her findings are raising some very necessary questions.  For those who are pro-life, and especially for pro-life feminists, it confirms fears that (politically and eugenically motivated) American-sponsored abortion and population control programs in the third world would backfire, creating social change that actually leads to greater violence and increased  oppression of women.

Douthat discusses the implications of her findings in his article. He writes:
The spread of sex-selective abortion is often framed as a simple case of modern science being abused by patriarchal, misogynistic cultures. Patriarchy is certainly part of the story, but as Hvistendahl points out, the reality is more complicated — and more depressing.

Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less. In many communities, she writes, “women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,” because male offspring bring higher social status. In countries like India, sex selection began in “the urban, well-educated stratum of society,” before spreading down the income ladder.

Moreover, Western governments and philanthropic institutions have their fingerprints all over the story of the world’s missing women.


...A self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins, Hvistendahl insists that she hasn’t written “a book about death and killing.” But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she’s uncovered.

It’s society at large, she argues, citing evidence that gender-imbalanced countries tend to be violent and unstable. It’s the women in those countries, she adds, pointing out that skewed sex ratios are associated with increased prostitution and sex trafficking.

Read the rest at the New York Times

Hvistendahl's book has exposed the consequences of the kind of feminism that early American feminists opposed: the kind that says that women must be like men to be equal to them, and must sacrifice the lives of their children as a condition of participation in society.

Hopefully, in light of this, more people will begin to realize that some choices are wrong.

Schoolmarm ruler wave to The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy
For more on pro-life feminism, visit Feminists for Life of America.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corpus Christi

Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart - whether you would keep his commandments or not. He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
 (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)

Lauda Sion
(Sequence for Corpus Christi)

Laud, O Zion, your salvation, Laud with hymns of exultation,
Christ, your king and shepherd true:
Bring him all the praise you know, He is more than you bestow,
Never can you reach his due.

Special theme for glad thanksgiving Is the quick'ning and the living
Bread today before you set:
From his hands of old partaken, As we know, by faith unshaken,
Where the Twelve at supper met.

Full and clear ring out your chanting, Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst:
For today the feast is holden, When the institution olden
Of that supper was rehearsed.

Here the new law's new oblation, By the new king's revelation,
Ends the form of ancient rite:
Now the new the old effaces, Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.

What he did at supper seated, Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne'er to cease:
And his rule for guidance taking, Bread and wine we hallow,
making Thus our sacrifice of peace.

This the truth each Christian learns, Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail'd, nor thought conceives, But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow'r divine.

Here beneath these signs are hidden Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Sign, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken, Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.

Whoso of this food partakes, Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
Christ is whole to all that taste:
Thousands are, as one, receivers, One, as thousands of believers,
Eats of him who cannot waste.

Bad and good the feast are sharing, Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.
Life to these, to those damnation, See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.

When the sacrament is broken, Doubt not, but believe 'tis spoken,
That each sever'd outward token doth the very whole contain.
Naught the precious gift divides, Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides, still unbroken does remain.

Lo! the angel's food is given To the pilgrim who has striven;
See the children's bread from heaven, which on dogs may not be spent.
Truth the ancient types fulfilling, Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling, manna to the fathers sent.

Very bread, good shepherd, tend us, Jesu, of your love befriend us,
You refresh us, you defend us, Your eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.

You who all things can and know, Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav'nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be.

Amen. Alleluia. 

Related Reading:
The Feast of Corpus Christi and the Mystery of the Eucharist
Christ in the Eucharist 
The Real Presence
"The Institution of the Eucharist in Scripture" by Scott Hahn
Catholic Encyclopedia: The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

For a little humor related to today's feast, have a look at today's edition of "Not Said by Jesus Sunday" at Alive and Young.

Wave of the Schoolmarm Ruler to Fr. Paul's Homily Blog

Friday, June 24, 2011

Going Somewhere? Packing Quick and Light

It's the season for summer travel! Depending on where you live, it's also the season for evacuations due to natural disasters, including wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.

Whether you are evacuating or just going on a last minute vacation, the video below is very useful if you want to make a little luggage go a long way. 

I used to need a full sized duffel bag just to go on a week long trip, and it would take me all afternoon to pack. I've been packing light on several trips now, I'm able to make it go pretty quickly. With a little planning, the method above, and packing tips from Rick Steves, I can now pack for a trip in about an hour and a half or less, using this technique, and I generally need only one carry-on sized bag, plus a tote.

Happy trails!

Solfege and St. John the Baptist

Fr. Z posts today on the origins of the familiar syllables every choir kid has ever used to warm up, and they weren't invented by a certain singing governess.

They have their origins instead in a Medieval hymn sung on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which, incidentally, happens to be today.

Here are two versions of said hymn:

About this day, St. Augustine wrote:
The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we celebrate the birthdays of John and of Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit. John appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of “the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist.” Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ’s precursor, before they ever saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human frailty. When John was preaching the Lord’s coming he was asked, “Who are you?” And he replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” The voice is John, but the Lord “in the beginning was the Word.” John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.  

According to Fr. Z, the traditional celebration involved the above hymn, a bonfire sprinkled with holy water, and (in Rome) a feast of snails.  Who knew escargot had a place in the liturgical calendar?
 For more on this feast and various customs associated with it, head on over to Catholic Culture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Edited Out"

Drop by the American Chesterton Society blog for a brief but entertaining murder mystery about an editor who gets himself erased.

Movie Review: "Super 8"

Over the weekend my husband and I went with some friends to see this latest addition to the pre-teen-boy-adventure-movie genre.  Some people are already comparing Super 8 to films like Stand by Me and The Goonies.

The plot line of Super 8 certainly has much in common with its two predecessors.  All three movies feature as a main protagonist a fresh-faced young boy in his early teens facing a significant personal loss or problem (in this case, the death of his mother in a horrific industrial accident). He is accompanied by his small cohort of quirky friends, each with his own issues (in this case, one overweight boy with attention and control issues, another who has a strange fascination with explosions, and another with a tendency to be sick every time he is frightened).  An event ensues that sends them all down the road to an adventure (In this case a dramatic train derailment, which releases a mysterious and dangerous extra-terrestrial creature and uncovers a military conspiracy to keep the alien being captive and secret). The boys face danger together, grow up a little (at least, to a point), and are never the same again.

For a fuller synopsis--with spoilers--hop on over to Wikipedia.

While parents are largely absent in The Goonies and Stand By Me, they occupy a more prominent place in Super 8.  Deputy Jackson Lamb, the father of the main protagonist, has a difficult time coping with the loss of his wife and with single fatherhood.  He has an even more difficult time coping with his anger toward Louis Dainard, his wife's alcoholic coworker, since she was killed while covering a shift for him while he was drunk.  Dainard's daughter, played by Elle Fanning, occupies the novel place of token girl in a pre-teen-boy-adventure-movie.  Her own guilt and embarrassment over her father's behavior adds dimension to her budding friendship with the central protagonist, giving their relationship more depth than the typical "first crush".  Dainard himself is coping with guilt over his own actions, and anger at his wife for leaving him. Naturally this puts a strain on his relationship with his daughter.

The film revolves around the question of how to handle personal loss, and the importance of allowing one's own pain to turn into compassion, rather than destruction of self or others.  Even the mysterious alien creature is coping with its own grief and anger at its captivity at the hands of the military.  As the plot unfolds, each of the emotionally injured characters is forced to confront his or her own pain, and in the process, they help each other find healing and forgiveness.

Given that Stephen Spielberg is one of the producers, one would expect the special effects to be interesting, and these should satisfy anyone who enjoys action, noises, some gore, and (much to the satisfaction of one of the characters) spectacular explosions. Even with the very current nature of the effects, the atmosphere of the film, aided by the retro 1970's setting, hearkens back to earlier movies.  The alien creature is handled in a way that prefers suspense over spectacle.  The film's reliance on effects does diminish its opportunities for character development somewhat.

A roll of super 8 film.
If you do go to see the movie in the theaters, don't forget to stay for the end credits. They feature the amateur film the boys make using the Super 8 film from which the movie gets its title.

Due to frightening situations, some profanity, and one instance of less than glamorous drug use by an empty-headed store clerk, I'd say this film's PG-13 rating makes sense.  Young children would probably find the movie excessively frightening. Parents of younger teens should exercise their own discretion before allowing their youngsters to see this movie. Older teens and adults should  be able to watch the film with no trouble.

With its entertaining performances, well-timed scares and laughs, and relevant, if predictable, themes, I found Super 8 to served very well as weekend entertainment. The Catholic News Service gives this film a rating of A-III (Adults). This schoolmarm gives it a grade of B+.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Conan Does Dartmouth

If one has to invite a speaker to talk for half an hour at a graduation ceremony without putting people to sleep, an accomplished comedian is a good choice.

Conan O'Brien's commencement address this year at Dartmouth is probably one of the most honest and entertaining commencement speeches I have ever heard. It is worth a listen.

(Warning: Some profanity.)

State-Sponsored Eugenics in America

In our national conversations about the history of racism in the United States, I have rarely heard the Eugenics movement mentioned, much less properly condemned.

The machinations of eugenicists have affected real people in real ways, not just in far away places, but here in our own country. The frightening part is the extent to which the eugenics movement has influenced both our national conscience and public policy.

Maybe the following story will get us thinking and talking a bit more.

From BBC News:
Sterilisation: North Carolina grapples with legacy

More than 60,000 Americans were sterilised, many against their will, as part of a eugenics movement that finished in 1979, aimed at keeping the poor and mentally ill from having children. Now, decades on, one state is considering compensation.

In 1968, Elaine Riddick was raped by a neighbour who threatened to kill her if she told what happened.

She was 13, the daughter of violent and abusive parents in the desperately poor country town of Winfall, in the US state of North Carolina.

While she was in hospital giving birth, the state violated her a second time, she says.

A social worker who had deemed her "feeble-minded" petitioned the state Eugenics Board to have her sterilised.

Officials coerced her illiterate grandmother into signing an "x" on an authorisation form. After performing a Caesarean section, doctors sterilised her "just like cutting a hog", she says.

Read the rest at BBCNews 

Interestingly, sterilization of the "feeble minded", minorities, and other populations was one of the central goals of the American Birth Control League founded by Margaret Sanger.  Over the years that organization has remade its image to keep up with changing times.  Since the early 1940's, when eugenics began to lose its political popularity, that organization that began as the American Birth Control League has gone by the slightly friendlier name of Planned Parenthood.

Tip of the Schoolmarm Ruler to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Surviving the Economy and Avoiding the Servile State

It seems like everyone is talking about the economy and what ails it. Some blame big government and socialist thinking and policies. Others blame capitalism, republicans, and big business. They are both right. They are also both wrong.

Neither big government nor big business have the needs of human beings as their central concern.  Big business is too busy with its profits,  big government is too busy holding onto its power, and very often they are both too busy cooperating with each other to reach their respective goals to have any time left to take human dignity into account.  When Hilaire Belloc published The Servile State, he was concerned that trends at the time would lead to "the establishment of compulsory labour legally enforceable upon those who do not own the means of production for the advantage of those who do". Were he alive today, I think he would still be worried.

At the time, Belloc was more alarmed about big business running amok, but he also pointed out that an out of control government would ultimately lead to the same end: a society in which a few have total legal and economic power over the many (see the illustration below for a visual representation of this concept).  Considering the size of the government at present, as well as the current state of big business, we may have even more reason for concern than did Belloc and his contemporaries.

Belloc argued that the best way to halt our advancement toward the "servile state" was to encourage policies that favor keeping both government and business small, and ownership of the means of production (i.e. land, tools, equipment, skills, etc.) as widespread as possible.   The ideal economy, he believed, would be one consisting primarily of small, independent, family owned businesses. He reasoned that this would lead to a more human (and humane) workplace as well as a more just society. This economic ideal, which is neither capitalist nor socialist, is commonly called Distributism.

Over at The Huffington Post, Thom Hartmann is trying to make sense of the present economy.  He is right that, historically speaking, "There's Nothing "Normal" About A Middle Class".  His observation that social upheaval precedes two historical surges in the middle class population is also worth considering. But there are two flaws in his approach as he tries to figure out why a middle class is able to sustain itself in certain periods of history and not in others.

The first problem is that he fails to take into account the existence of widespread ownership of the means of production during the historical periods he cites. Without this, the middle class could not have grown as it did.

Hartmann points to the depopulation of the European continent during the plague, and the colonization of the Americas as points in history that allowed a middle class to form. These instances of social upheaval lead to movement away from a servile society to a more democratic one. Hartmann attributes this movement to the changed ratio of people to resources, but there is more to it than that.  This social upheaval led to the absence of landowning nobility, allowing the common man to take ownership of the resources around him.

Whether plague survivors or colonists, people in both periods of history Hartmann cites would have found themselves in a position much more favorable to ownership and self-sufficiency because they would have been able to control the land on which they lived and worked.  Stake out a plot of land, plant a few crops, teach your kids how to farm, and you have a family business. Or, at least, you have the means to feed yourself even if you can't make money selling what you grow.

Like commoners living in a feudal society, corporate and government employees of today spend their labors working with resources that are not their own.  What does this mean for employees? I offer the following dialogue from "Office Space" as an answer to that:

Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
Bob Porter: Don't... don't care?
Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my a** off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

In other words, employment is not the problem for the middle class. Nor is unemployment.  The problem is dependence, either on government or employers.

This leads to Hartmann's second problem: he ignores what the "middle class" was, and does not think carefully enough about what it is now.

In the past, the middle classes were those who were able to make a living for themselves without being born into the wealthy upper classes. Socially, they were commoners. Economically they were not, because they owned the fruits of their labors. That left them somewhere in between the two.

In present political discourse we are generally inclined to define the middle class as those who have an income that is--well--in the middle.  We do not often consider how many of those people do not depend on either government or corporate employment for their "middle class" status. Hartmann compares the merchant classes of the middle ages to present-day middle class citizens. Many merchants of that period (such as the father of St. Francis of Assisi) certainly made a tidy income. But they did so as owners of their own small businesses.  Small farmers would have been able to feed themselves without depending on corporate food distributors to provide groceries. They would have earned money selling their goods to the local community without having to contract with a large corporation in order to survive.  Farmers and merchants in pre-industrialized society were not at the mercy of an indifferent bureaucracy to "create jobs". They created their own.

G.K. Chesterton wrote "Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few." The social gap that ought to concern us today is not merely between rich and poor. It is between employers and employees. There are far too few of the former.

Unfortunately, we have a long way to go before we can change the structure of our economy.  Our culture and our education system still train us and our children to become employees rather than entrepreneurs or independent thinkers. Our political system thrives on the votes our politicians buy from us using our own tax dollars.
The solution to our present economic problem is not "investment in infrastructure" through another "New Deal".  This merely makes the government another big employer.  Nor is the solution to  give existing big employers more latitude to do whatever they want regardless of the human cost.   Common sense and a renewal of an independent human spirit is the answer.

I only hope that it won't take another bubonic plague to make us regain ours. 

Further Reading:

Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum
Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fashion Trend Trivializes Rosary

One of my favorite gifts that I received for my confirmation was a beautiful rosary bracelet.  I felt that wearing it provided me with  a way to express my faith publicly but not ostentatiously, and on occasion it became a conversation piece that allowed me to share my faith with others who do not know what the rosary is.  It also came in very handy if I happened to forget to bring a full-sized rosary with me when I might have need of one.

(Photo Source)
Those who wear their beads with genuine devotion are in good company. After all, many religious wear their rosaries in their cinctures, keeping them available at all times.  In our human frailty, keeping our rosaries where we can see them is probably the best way many of us have to remind ourselves to actually use them.

But, we have to be careful about how we do so, lest they become Pharisaical display or mere superficial ornaments.

I have noticed over the past few years that many more people, especially teens and young adults, are wearing rosaries as fashion statements.  Even Justin Bieber has jumped on this bandwagon.

Unfortunately, the comportment and dress of some of some forces me to doubt that they are wearing rosaries as devotionals.  Many celebrities whose public behavior is, shall we say, less than in line with Catholic morality,  have popularized rosary beads as superficial fashion statements.   Britney Spears and Madonna are among the most prominent examples.

At the most extreme end of this problem is the inclusion of rosaries worn around the neck in the attire of gang members.  This has even caught the attention of schools, law enforcement, and news media. The San Antonio Police Department Youth Crime Service Unit "Gang Awareness" handbook and USA Today both report that rosary beads are now common components of gang-related attire.

More recently I have seen items labeled as "rosary necklaces" for sale in shops that cater to the more unsavory trends in youth fashion.  These usually have features that are rather different from the real thing.  Hot Topic, a mall chain that features some of the more edgy fashions popular among suburban teens, offers a so-called "rosary necklace" with a charm that looks like a pair of brass knuckles where the crucifix should be, and a gun-shaped center.   Such items are especially appealing to teens and young adults who buy into the glorified images of street culture so common in entertainment media

On the one hand, it could be argued that if  someone is going to wear a rosary as a mere fashion statement, it is less disrespectful to wear a bad knock-off than an actual sacred object. On the other hand, calling the bad knock-off a rosary, instead of something else, mocks the real thing and suggests that it is OK to pervert an item that is sacred into a profane fad.  Either way, this trend displays a great lack of respect for Catholic beliefs and practices, especially when worn by those who have no interest in even the appearance of using them for actual prayer or following Catholic teaching.  This public trivialization of one of our most distinctive spiritual tools should be of great concern to those who understand its true value.

Pope John Paul II called the rosary "an effective spiritual weapon against the evils afflicting society" (Rosarium Virginis Mariae).  No weapon, whether temporal or spiritual is of any use if we do not understand it or know how to use it.

It may seem like I am splitting hairs here. It may seem like I am nitpicking when I express concern about this. After all, we have much to be concerned about when it comes to our kids and what they do and what they see on television.  The fact that Lady Gaga wears something resembling a rosary around her neck (or eats one) may seem trivial compared to everything else she wears (or doesn't) and the things she says and does.

But I'm not alone here. Even the bishops find this trend to be disturbing, and have encouraged efforts to catechize people who walk into Catholic shops looking for rosaries, and thinking they are merely buying a necklace. Some business owners have begun giving out free leaflets on how to pray the rosary to the customers who purchase them, hoping that this will at least encourage respect for it, and maybe even teach people something.

If prayer, and the rosary in particular, is the most powerful tool we have to combat all of those evils that threaten our children (and he who is behind them), we must be concerned if people begin to forget what the rosary is for.

Imagine if every celebrity, twenty-something, and teen who wore something like the absurd piece of jewelry above actually learned to pray a real rosary. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Catholic Feminism: Common Sense or Oxymoron?

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Eph. 5: 25-30)

During my engagement, I found myself explaining to a professional colleague (not a Catholic, nor, to my knowledge a practicing Christian of any kind at the time) that the passage above is, when taken in historical context, a feminist statement. In ancient times, men were expected to love their wives about as much as they were expected to love their cattle.   This message of Paul's was probably a bit of a surprise to them.

In the end, I told my colleague, if husbands do indeed follow the model above, women could safely "submit" to them without fear or loss of dignity, as the end result would be a mutual relationship in which each spouse places the other first.   If both strive for the ideal St. Paul lays out for us, neither spouse will be able to habitually treat the other as a mere object for exploitation.

This would also mean that both spouses should object to social and cultural trends that encourage violations of human dignity, and especially those trends which encourage gender-based exploitation and discrimination.

Simcha Fisher, a self-described Catholic feminist and blogger for the National Catholic Register, explains what Catholic feminist ideals look like in the present world in a recent post:

My husband says I’m a feminist. I know many liberal feminists would recoil in horror at that assessment: After all, I have all these kids, and I’m a member in good standing with that horrible old misogynistic Church, with its oppressive rules about reproduction and obedience. I’m pro-life and wholeheartedly follow the Magisterium’s teaching on the male priesthood and contraception, and try to make the Blessed Virgin my model.

So what makes me a feminist? Some would say that all faithful Catholics are feminists, because the Church is the most pro-woman organization around: The Church honors and values the particular gifts of women, and demands that men treat women with dignity and even a little bit of fear. John Paul II famously called himself a “feminist pope”; and in practical terms, the Church has probably done more for the physical well-being of women around the world than any other charitable organization.

Catholics who are feminists recognize that, while so many true wrongs have been righted in the last 50 years, the poor treatment of women in America has just been displaced, not eradicated. So now, instead of corsets and disenfranchisement, we have widespread pornography, abortion, and abandonment of every kind. We have gained some necessary ground, but lost so much else that is valuable in the process. Most of my Catholic friends see the world this way.


What change would I like to see? From the secular world: Stop thinking of women as sex objects; but at the same time, stop thinking of women as identical to men. Stop treating fertility like a disease; but stop pretending that women can be full-time mothers and full-time careerists. Stop blaming men for everything that is wrong with the world. It’s tiresome and counterproductive.

From my fellow Catholics: Stop thinking of women as objects who are here to save you from personal sexual sin; and stop thinking of women as intellectually inferior to men. Stop assuming that all women are meant to bear child after child no matter what; and stop pretending that if women just tried a little harder, men would be happy all the time. Stop blaming women for everything that is wrong with the Church. It’s cowardly and childish.

That’s for starters.

But feminism is not all about complaining and protesting. What I would like most of all is for women to ask themselves honestly, without worrying about history or politics, “What is it that I, as a woman, can do especially well? How can I help other women do what they do well?”

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