Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

February 28, 2009

Catholic Feminism Revisited

I'd like to share some more thoughts about being a Catholic feminist. Edith's post got me thinking, and I wanted to get my critical wheels turning to work out some things in my head. Like Edith, I question some women's motivation to define themselves as feminine precisely against what has been the traditional understanding for thousands of years. I think we should search to understand the good they are seeking: some of these traditional values have been used for the subjugation of women in absolutely despicable ways. (N.B. It's helpful to think of subjugation not only in the American sense but in the sense of barbaric treatment of women in other countries that is often unspeakable). However, when something traditional is written off, I think it's best for that group to critically examine what they are opposed to and not to write off the whole thing. After all, in my understanding, tradition is something (a belief or practice) which is passed along throughout generations because it touches on something real or true, even if it looks different in different eras.

I think it would be helpful for strong women of faith (and by strong I mean opinionated, engaged in the world, and fully alive) to understand the four waves of feminism, because we should not dismiss those who are defining themselves against our traditions because of our frustration with them; we should seek to understand so as to dialogue. Perhaps others' insights might help strength our own, either by strengthening our convictions or helping us to define our Catholic femininity more sharply.

First wave: Some of my favorite suffragettes (cue David Bowie, "Suffragette City") begin the movement. Our American foremothers spoke up for our ability to own property, to be considered equal in dignity before the law, and to protect ourselves in bad marriages. With the exception of Margaret Sanger's promotion of Planned Parenthood, I think we can say this wave supports Christ's demonstration of women's dignity and purpose, no? As a side note, not one of the first wave ladies supported abortion; they thought it was an affront to women's dignity.

Second wave: In general, this movement focused on ending discrimination against women in society and in the political sphere. Sounds fine to me! I do not pretend to understand the sociology of "sexist power struggles," but it seems to me that we have been granted so much more freedom because of this positive part of the second movement.

Third wave: And it's here that I start to shutter. Though there is an internal discrepancy about what this movement consists of, in general it seeks to challenge previous generations' definitions and concepts of womanhood. It seeks to explain and explore gender as a consequence of social conditioning and tries to redefine femininity in new ways. In many ways, they are a reacting to the first and second movements or are claiming they didn't go far enough or in the right direction. The question is, how do we speak with this group about gender as something with a real essence (this is me going metaphysical on you), something grounded in being, something in nature but also with a supernatural purpose? It is here that Catholic women have to tread carefully, to acknowledge sociological phenomena and their influence on our lives, but also to tap into sociology being part of the natural law and the precept to live in community (and how living in community touches on something both natural and supernatural). This is where we need to get our hands dirty and dialogue.

Fourth wave: Post-feminism. Some people say we're here; some people say we aren't (it's just the same stupid, silly debate in the academy that is not going away anytime soon). My scholarly Wikipedia source for you (ha!) cites Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones as examples of post-feminists. Two professional women, engaged in the world and in pop culture, enjoying their "sexual liberation," but ultimately seeking that traditional end of a boyfriend or a spouse with whom they will share a life and support one another.

Aside from the twisted understanding of true sexual liberation, I can kind of see myself in a Carrie or a Bridget. What a privilege it is to be single. Everyday is mine. Not mine to do exactly as I please; instead to sanctify my work, to serve those in the workplace, to be social with friends and to enjoy people and places and things. I am able to pursue the things that I am passionate about: to get a graduate degree, to teach in a prestigious school and work with the demographic that I am called to, to enjoy fashion (cheap chic!), and to feel satisfaction in supporting myself financially, etc. And at the same time, my single life is fully feminine. I feel so blessed to try to sanctify the world by being immersed in it and by taking advantage of all of the opportunities that I have to engage the world that were given to me by strong, beautiful women in the past.
God Bless America and God Bless Women!

1 comment:

Angela Miceli said...

What a great post! I am with you on the necessity to dialogue with contemporary feminists. I think we are blessed to have such amazing sources from which we can draw. And I gotta hand it to feminists too, because without what they did, I might not be where I am.

So, perhaps the approach would be to go back to that first wave feminism -- it seems that it's the third wave that went wrong. We might start by asking what went wrong and why? Perhaps a return to some of the original sources will give insight on how to go right. This a great conversation! I'm loving it!

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