Monday, October 28, 2013

Is Feminism a Heresy? A Response.

Tony asked me very nicely to comment here in the blogsphere in response to this article. Here you go. My comments are in bold. As a little preview, the author attempts to argue that feminism is fundamentally about acting on a marxist-inspired critique of the natural family and that as such it is at odds with Christianity; I think the former premise is totally incorrect. Enjoy.

this is what a feminist looks like. taken by my son.

Is Feminism a Heresy?

The following essay first appeared in Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind, ed., John Zmirak. It is reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Some highly reputable Catholics call themselves “pro-life feminists,” and maintain that Feminism, if it could be purged of its attachment to abortion on demand, would be fundamentally good and compatible with the Faith.

Correct… because feminism is about fighting (drawing attention to, resisting, contemplating and weaving alternatives to) dominant misogynistic structures; it is not limited to any one issue, and embraces feminists of many different ethical perspectives, who believe in different theories of the origins of oppression, and with different motivations for identifying as “feminist”.

Test Yourself: Are You a Feminist?
… Nevertheless, most of us in the West have, often unwittingly, absorbed feminist premises that involve a wholesale re-evaluation of human nature and family life, and are in many respects incompatible with Christianity.
At its core, Feminism teaches that:

I object to this wording… please provide references to this nonexistent “Feminism” in whose mouth you are putting words if you want me to take you seriously…
  • Men and women tend to behave differently because of social conditioning, not because there are innate biological and psychological differences between them.
  • The chief reason women have been less often represented in the first ranks of public achievement in scholarship, the arts, politics, and war, is that in every human society of which we have evidence, throughout all of recorded history, they were repressed by a patriarchal power structure maintained through force and indoctrination.
  • Because large numbers of children in a family constitute both a barrier to the advancement of women and a threat to our ecology, small families should be the cultural norm.
  • It is unjust that the consequences of sexual behavior are biologically unequal for men and women. As much as possible, those consequences must be equalized through medical technology and reformed cultural attitudes.
  • To find meaning in their lives, women should look first to their careers, rather than to their role as lifegivers, culture bearers, nurturers, and educators of the next generation of human beings.
  • Women who regard themselves as mothers first are wasting their education and smothering their talents by staying home to raise their children.
I will simply say that not all feminists believe these things or consider them fundamental to their feminist worldview. The onus of proof is, I think, on the writer originally making the claim…

Our purpose here is not only to define Feminism but also to determine whether being a feminist is compatible with being a Christian. In any such assessment, an ideology must be judged by its “body count.” We need not argue political theory with proponents of National Socialism; we can simply point to the Holocaust.

Wrong. National Socialism, as a series or system of proposed truth-statements, can and must be judged on the truth value of its propositions. National Socialism would be wrong whether or not it had killed anybody. It is hard to take an author seriously when so early in her piece she apparently washes her hands of academic and human obligation to engage with truth and logic.

Feminism’s Marxist Roots

Where did feminists get the idea that family life needed a “revolution”? From those specialists in revolution, the Marxists (see Chapter 13). In his 1884 treatise, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Karl Marx’s best friend and co-author, Frederich Engels, asserted that the “bourgeois” family with its division of labor—men working, women raising children—was one of the greatest obstacles to the achievement of a socialist society. Engels argued that this barrier should be dismantled by encouraging women to see themselves as an oppressed class, like exploited factory workers, who must engage in Marxist “class warfare” against their fathers and husbands. Of course, “class warfare” in the workplace has been condemned by numerous popes, including Leo XIII and Pius XI.[ii] Applying that socialist principle to the intimate relations of the family is even more destructive: women who accept such a principle cease to see the family as a unit joined by common goals, and instead feel morally justified in seeking their own selfish interests—at the expense not just of their husbands but of their children. If a woman’s own children can be her enemies, it is no wonder that feminists came to endorse first contraception and then abortion as central requirements for the progress of women in society.

I don’t think feminists need to feel, or generally even do feel, as though their husbands or partners are the enemy. I think generally that women who identify as feminists are likely to seek partners whose worldview is supportive; with whom a real and fruitful, mutually supportive partnership can be sustained. I do not feel oppressed by my husband. Further, in the age of contraception or NFP, depending on where you fall on the spectrum, generally educated women in stable partnerships conceive children intentionally. I do not perceive my son as an enemy; he is the light of my life, my greatest earthly blessing. I object to the phrase “seeking their own selfish interests” as such without it being qualified – painting women with a brush that makes the pursuit of their interests and passions seem ugly or sinful is not okay unless that brush is used equally for her husband and children, which it is not in this article. I do think NFP is a central requirement for the progress of women in society.

From Class Struggle to Contraception
It is true, as “pro-life feminists” like to say, that early feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton accepted the belief, common in their era, that abortion is a barbaric crime committed by selfish men against women victims. Most nineteenth century suffragists thought that women voters, with their presumably nobler morality, would heal a world wounded by male selfishness. But their fundamental premise—that women were an oppressed social class, a “domestic proletariat”— eventually eroded the wholesome social principles they had inherited from a deeply Christian society (?). …

 A libertarian might suppose Feminism to be merely a strategy to give women more options, enabling those not called to motherhood to achieve other highly valued positions in society. Alas, no. For women who don’t embrace their agenda, feminists tend to advocate coercion instead of liberty. Simone de Beauvoir, author of the pioneering feminist work The Second Sex, admitted as much in 1975:
[A]s long as the family and the myth of the family and the myth of maternity and the maternal instinct are not destroyed, women will still be oppressed…. No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.[iv]

I suppose I should rouse myself from my irritation-turned-inertia to point out that not all feminists must or do believe that second wave feminist writers such as de Beauvoir were correct in their analysis and their proposals.  I think de Beauvoir was totally wrong… and I am not the only feminist who thinks so.

The Catholic Alternative
In contrast to the bleak vision of family life held by feminists, the Church has always taught that the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society. Children are gifts from God, to be cherished in love and educated for life in Christ, and a just society must ensure that a mother has adequate means to stay home with her children, doing that irreplaceable work.

First of all, we see here the first strands of turning a very short period in history in a particular part of the world into “the ideal just Christian society”, which I don’t buy. We are pilgrims on this fallen earth, and there are many ways we can structure our socioeconomic lives that are compatible with Christ’s Lordship in our lives.

Because of this, as Leo XIII and Pius XI wrote with papal authority,[v] a working man has a right in justice to a living wage—that is, a salary that can support his family in decent comfort. Indeed, as Allan Carlson documents in The Family Way,[vi] by the end of the Second World War, most American employers—influenced by politically active Catholics close to Franklin Roosevelt— were paying “family wages”—that is, offering higher wages to married men with children than to single or childless employees. The practice prevailed widely until 1964, when it was outlawed as “sex discrimination” by the Civil Rights Act. Ironically, that otherwise valuable legislation stripped from every mother the basic right to be supported as she cares for her baby—and replaced it with the feminist objective of uniform pay for anonymous workers in factories or offices.

Well, like it or not, we live in a capitalistic meritocracy. I’m sure lots of anarcho-feminists would be happy to discuss how remuneration paradigms could be structured to meet family needs rather than structured around merit and productivity, but the latter is our reality and I don’t think it is sinful that such be the case. If your skill, experience and productivity only earn you a certain wage, you plan your family size according to that and/or get more training to beef up your wage-earning potential… that is not an unCatholic solution.

From Contraception to Abortion

Yet, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, many Catholics—consciously or not—had also accepted the feminist premise that women must be freed from the “burden” of frequent child-bearing to take their place alongside men as breadwinners.

It’s a reality that in a market economy you have to have flexibility and freedom to earn wages. That’s not a “feminist premise”. The position that women “must” pursue careers is a different one, which again is not shared by all feminists and must be evaluated on its own terms.

Single mothers with children make up the majority of the newly poor. Three generations of latch-key children have grown up neglected, emotionally stunted victims of fatherlessness and inadequate mothering, in a culture warped into moral confusion by perverse sex education, doctrinally empty religious instruction, coarsely sexualized television, and raw pornography online. For the first time in our history, married women are more likely to be employed than married men, and according to the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau Report “Families and Living Arrangements,”[ix] only one woman in four with children under fifteen stays home to care for them.

 My only comment here is that I’m not sure why it’s relevant that “married women are more likely to be employed than married men”. Is that bad as such?

Was It Worth the Price?

Consistently, the popes have called the relationship between husband and wife one of equality in dignity and complementarity in function. Pope John Paul II was ridiculed when he cautioned men not to treat their wives as objects of lust, though what he advocated was the very mutuality feminists claim they seek.[xi]
Great. We Catholic feminists have no problem with that…

The sole advantage of living in a lawless time is that you can refuse to be a child of your age. Almost everyone in this workers’ society is too preoccupied with his own place on the treadmill to pay much attention to your eccentricities. What devastated our culture was the flight of mothers from their homes. Society is drowning in the consequences, but nothing prevents you and your family from living your lives differently. Our culture will never be restored until women again take up rearing their children as their chief and indispensable task—and men make the sacrifices needed to support them in that decision. While aggressive forces continue to push the nation toward family disintegration, a healthy resistance movement is awake and growing. It is made up of uncompromising religious believers, pro-lifers, and homeschoolers, both organized and autonomous, along with back-to-the-land agrarians and Tea Party independents. One Virginia women’s organization summed things up in a bumper sticker reading “Be Countercultural: Raise Your Own Kids.”.

Market economies are not universal in time and space. Nor is the relative anomaly of women “raising” their children in this particular extended view, in which staying at home to homeschool is perceived as the ideal. “In a survey of 186 cultures around the world, researchers found that older kids, rather than mothers or fathers or other adults, are the primary caretakers of young children… To be sure, infants until they are mobile at around one year of age, and often until they are weaned at two or three years of age, are the responsibility of mothers. But once those babies move into early childhood, again usually at one year of age, older children, usually siblings, are in charge” (Small, 2001, p. 28). Adults work, whether or not they are paid for it, and children do not need to be with their biological parents, much less their mothers, to learn and thrive. 

An appetite for achievement is built into human nature. If women choose to model their lives on the Valiant Woman of Proverbs (31:10-31) by raising and educating their children in a genuinely Christian environment, they will have to find ways to present them with a culture no longer found in society’s mainstream. This will be their most demanding, most absorbing, most gratifying task, requiring all their gifts, but eminently worth doing. Human imperfection always makes the future uncertain, but choosing freedom offers you and your family the best hope of finding joy in a deeply Catholic life.

Maybe… maybe not. Depends on how much you love your day job, how much money you make at work, the educational options in your area, how many children you have, whether or not you have local friends to spend time with during the day, whether you can afford paying for domestic help, etc… The Church has not at any time made the homeschooling lifestyle the ideal for Catholic families. Some families try homeschooling and hate it. There are no promises that it will be enjoyable, that it will use all of the mother’s gifts, that it will be gratifying or worth doing or any of it. Sometimes the right choice is to enjoy the career you love so you can pay for your kid to go to an awesome school, and enjoy good food and wine, be able to give to charity, share your gifts to the world, and have lots to talk about with your husband, whom you see as your partner. It sure works for me.


  1. Yup. Putting words in other people's mouths is something this sort likes to do. They do it with "Gay" too. I dunno how aware straight Catholics are of this, but there is a huge debate regarding whether "gay" is something Catholics can validly identify as. Usually, the arguments against it involve insisting that "gay" somehow NECESSARILY means more than just "same-sex attracted," even though really the meaning of the word is in the understanding of the context and the intent of the author.

    As a friend pointed out about this article: " 'In consequence, “Feminism” takes on whatever color a listener gives it' an odd sentence. It ought to be, ' "feminism" takes on whatever color an AUTHOR gives it.' But written as it is, it perfectly captures the problem of listeners defining words without bothering to figure out what the speaker means!"

  2. Yes for sure, I am very aware of the gay identity debates. It's crazy. And exasperating.

    Yes I also found the wording there awkward and problematic, but I didn't even want to start addressing the problems of philosophy of meaning, writing style etc.; just responding in tidbits to the feminist stuff was all I could handle.

  3. Feminism started when society gave permission for women to vote.

    I do not think it is necessarily a bad thing that women have the right to speak up, or the right to vote.

    But it now becomes an evil thing because so many women have used this "permission" and escalate it to something different.

    It has led women to believe that they are superior than men, that they can be EQUAL to men, that they do not even need men at all---all of this which is the opposite of the laws of God, and the specific roles which He gave to man and woman.

    Most women today feel oppressed and say they are inferior. But we REALLY are inferior. Let me prove it to you: In the Bible (Creation story), wasn't Adam the first one God made? This alone proves that man is superior over woman. I never recalled anything anywhere regarding the creation that God created woman first.

    There you have it. Woman was made SECOND. And the thing is, many women today seethe at the thought that they are SECOND. But they SHOULD REJOICE in that. Because that is what God wanted. It is HIS DESIGN that we should not be superior to man. Therefore, we shouldn't try to cross lines by trying to make ourselves more powerful than man by tossing him away (e.g. dominant women who believes she can live alone and not need any man, single mothers who refuse to let her kid's biological father visit, women who use the "rape" issue as a weapon against men, etc) because by doing so, you are saying you want to be more superior and deliberately disobeying God's design.

    This is why I hate the modern world. I see women everywhere (even young kids and teens) who use their femininity to hold power over men, therefore making men weak and so they SIN.

    When men sin, do you think they are the only ones responsible? No. Since woman is the partner of man, she is also responsible for whatever sins a man commits. And vice versa.

    The feminism of today is shown in women like the "Pussy Riot" and FEMEN groups who go around the streets naked, spraying paint on their private parts and desecrating Catholic Churches just to prove to themselves that their bodies are their own and that they don't need men to tell them what to do.

    But women aren't really told what to do. It is already inherent in them that they should be SECOND to man, to be a mother, to be the ones to raise children. A woman who is in their right mind doesn't need to be told this. It is already by design. Even a woman's body is specifically designed to ovulate and to produce offspring. So, any negative comments a woman might utter regarding this---is no contest. She is lost in her right to speak even before she speaks. Her body alone, her existence alone, her life and her purpose---all these are facts of nature alone that SHE COULD NOT argue against because it is by design.

    So, no, I don't believe in feminism. I don't believe in women feeling superior and acting like an idiot. I believe in having my own opinions WITHOUT undermining the value of the superiority of man. I believe that no matter how a woman may try to "escape" her duties, everything about her just points that God has chosen her and has planned all her roles for her and no woman cannot hope to win that argument.