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?”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/what-is-a-catholic-feminist/#ixzz1Oe03Z7Ui

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