Vainglorious man in the role of guide, equipped with a map compiled from his own abstraction, would lead society to destruction.
In Part 1 of the post “Why Catholics Can’t Be Feminists” I discussed how the roots of feminism are found in liberalism and the nativist, Protestant milieu of 19th century America—intellectual seedbeds in opposition to the Catholic Faith. The ideology of feminism that grew from these roots is further evidence that Catholicism and feminism are incompatible.
Liberalism, which replaces God’s authority with that of man’s, has incorrect ideas about liberty, equality and rights. In liberalism, liberty, equality and certain rights are inherent in human nature independent of God and His law. In liberalism, political authority and the social order does not descend from God but arise from the will of the people. This ideology inevitably “frees” people to seek liberty, equality and rights on their own terms according to their personal beliefs and desires. Feminism took these incorrect ideas and applied them to the role of women in society.
The idea of liberty is central to feminist ideology. At the heart of feminism is the demand to be “free.” Feminist ideology assumes that woman is oppressed by man, and feminism becomes the means to free her from her “enslavement.” Betty Friedan, in the 1960s, set down in her influential work The Feminine Mystique how woman was to become free: she was to leave the home (described as a “comfortable concentration camp” by Friedan). Women were to leave the housework and care of children to professionals and find a fulfilling career that would give them both economic independence and personal fulfillment, the latter being dependent on the former.
Friedan was not the first feminist to write about woman’s emancipation in this way. Feminists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries already saw economic independence, or, working outside of the home, as key to woman’s freedom. They talked of the need for daycares and birth control (see my essay: The Total Anti-Feminist). The problem of what to do with one’s baby while taking on the world became a big problem for feminists—one that has never really been resolved despite the proliferation of daycares and nannies. The “problem of the baby” has never really been resolved because no matter how many subsidized daycare spots become available, there is and will always be something unnatural, even abhorrent, about a mother leaving her child with strangers every day while she goes off to pursue her own ambitions.
Here we come to the problem with feminism’s idea of freedom. Amidst the accusation that woman is oppressed by man, feminists sought a much deeper “freedom” than that of ending their supposed subservient position to men. They sought to escape the very nature of their sex, which, being of a human nature, is a fallen nature. Feminists rebelled against the real and symbolic increase in their labour pains that became their lot after the Fall. Essentially, feminists rebelled against God and His law in order to be free of the natural burdens and constraints of being a woman.
Most, if not all, leading feminists from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Betty Friedan wanted freedom from what they considered the burdens of a housewife. Stanton wrote in her autobiography:
The general discontent I felt with woman’s portion as wife, mother, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular.
Hence, looking after one’s family becomes drudgery that would be better left to a professional. Hence, abandoning one’s child to the care of strangers becomes an opportunity for a child’s healthy “socialization.” Further, a violent crime—abortion—becomes one of the most cherished and untouchable “rights” of the American people. In feminism, as with all Godless ideologies, what is unnatural becomes natural and what is wrong becomes right.
Because feminism quests after a mistaken idea of freedom, the freedom feminism won for women has enslaved rather than freed women. Feminism was supposed to make women free, but now they are slaves to the feminist ideal of “having it all.” Women must do what only men used to do, but continue to do what women have always done as well. She must have a career and have children, otherwise something is missing from her life. Feminists recognize this “double bind” and ask society to reorganize itself so that women can “have it all” instead of admitting that women should choose one role, their most natural one, and stick to it.
Feminism enslaves women because she is no longer free to be herself—to show her weaknesses and to be loved for herself, not for what she does in the world. There is no longer any premium placed on the self-sacrificing, loving, behind-the-scenes woman who quietly upholds the world by seeking the good of her family, not herself.
Freedom becomes tyranny unless it has God and His goodness as its source and its end.
Feminism tyrannizes the women who blindly follow it because living up to the feminist ideal of the career woman forces them to abdicate their natural role and instead fit into a masculine ideal. The tyranny is complete because, as I mentioned earlier, in addition to twisting themselves into the masculine they must still participate in some aspects of the feminine. In this confused state selfishness and unhappiness are bred, leading to the crime of abortion and the tragedy of divorce which is leaving a terrible mark on women, the family and society. Women cannot change their own nature—it is not socially constructed as feminists would like one to believe—and denying this nature is the cause of many of the problems we fail to attribute to this, their true cause.
Feminism also tyrannizes women who try to resist the ideal, because they no longer fit into the new feminist-designed society and the service and good they do is not recognized for its worth. No one today places a housewife on the same footing as the career woman. If that career woman also has children, even if they are farmed out to a daycare or a nanny, the respect for her only grows since she has managed to “have it all.”
Feminism, like liberalism, ultimately seeks freedom from God and His law. The right to an abortion, feminism’s crowning achievement, is the best example of feminism’s flight from God.
For Catholics, who try to run to God rather than flee from Him, freedom is not for gaining our own fulfillment in this world through a career, travel, or even through marriage and family life. Our freedom comes from God, not man, and it is given to us to know, love, and serve God, so that we can someday be with Him in Paradise. We are only free when we avoid evil and sin and choose God and his goodness.
Pope Leo XIII sums up the essence of freedom and how liberalism—and by extension feminism—contradicts true liberty in his 1888 encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum:
…that man, by a necessity of his nature, is wholly subject to the most faithful and ever-enduring power of God; and that as a consequence any liberty except that which consists in submission to God and in subjection to His will, is unintelligible. To deny the existence of this authority in God, or to refuse to submit to it, means to act not as a free man, but as one who treasonably abuses his liberty; and in such a disposition of mind the chief and deadly vice of liberalism essentially exists.
Another essential aspect of feminist ideology is the idea of rights. Feminism’s first surge in the 19th and early 20th centuries was within the woman suffrage movement which demanded the vote for women as a natural or “inalienable” right.
In 1848 at the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration of Sentiments the “repeated injuries and usurpations” come not from the King of Great Britain directed at the people of the thirteen colonies, but from man directed at woman.
Among other claims, the Declaration of Sentiments claimed that man has never permitted woman “to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” The Declaration of Sentiments, like the document it is modeled after, is based on the philosophy of the Enlightenment and its “rights of man” ideology. The Enlightenment, which sought to destroy man’s sense of God’s authority in our lives, introduced a concept of rights that corresponds to the desires of the individual rather than to rights, with their corresponding duties, granted to us by God.
One doesn’t need to be Catholic to realize that calling voting an inalienable right confuses the whole idea of inalienable rights. How can the right to vote and the right to life both exist in the same category of “inalienable rights?” Protestant anti-suffragists recognized that voting is not an inalienable right, and pointed out that enfranchisement was never designated as an inalienable right of man in the Declaration of Independence. Yet, this was at the crux of the original argument for woman suffrage.
Feminists dropped the use of the term “inalienable” when years later they declared that abortion is a right, but the intellectual tradition on which they based their idea of rights was and is the same one that the suffragists based their argument on: Enlightenment rationalism and its offspring, liberalism. For followers of this tradition, the individual becomes the arbiter of truth, not the Church—the result of which is a complete subversion of the truth. In a 2014 speech at the UN, uber-feminist Hillary Clinton declared: “There is one lesson from the past, in particular, that we cannot afford to ignore: You cannot make progress on gender equality or broader human development, without safeguarding women’s reproductive health and rights. That is a bedrock truth.”
Russell Kirk, in a 1951 article he wrote on Edmund Burke’s view of natural rights, said, “Man’s rights are linked with man’s duties, and when they are distorted into extravagant claims for a species of freedom and equality and worldly advancement which human character is not designed to sustain, they degenerate from rights into vices.”
Feminists, whose quest for emancipation is one long road of rebellion from God’s authority, have always been more concerned with their rights rather than what is right. Just as with freedom, rights, when they are disassociated from God and His authority and are hitched solely to the wagon of man and his thoughts and desires, degenerate into evil.
Feminism’s ideas about freedom and rights are inextricably linked with its ideas about equality. While feminists recognize that equality does not mean sameness, and some even celebrate women’s differences from men, they are very much mistaken about what equality means.
Feminists base their ideas about equality on the idea of man’s “natural” equality that was introduced by the Enlightenment “philosophes.” This idea of equality denies that God ordered the world so that some men would have authority over others, just as God has authority over all men. The idea of man being subject to a higher authority outside of himself was what the rebellious thinkers of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution rejected. Feminists similarly reject that men and women have different, fixed natures that God has created.
The historian and writer Adam Miller described the problem of equality as presented to us by the Enlightenment philosophes in an article he wrote on the Declaration of Independence:
This also means we must accept our state in life and the duties enjoined to it. But the very “Enlightenment” idea of equality encourages (or better, tempts) an individual to desire more than what his state in life posits. It beckons individuals to want more—because he thinks he has the “right” to have more, because he thinks he is equal to all others and thus is entitled to what those in more priviledged states of life have, and he thinks he is entitled to the same rights as those in higher states in life, and on, and on, and on. Thus, the entire idea of equality has in fact enslaved men to the constant desire for more because they think they have the “right” to more and more (since he thinks he is equal to everyone). As a result of this, the fundamental Christian duty of accepting one’s state in life—and the duties it requires—is rejected.
Feminists were spurned on by the belief that women deserved more—they deserved whatever men had or whatever they wanted of what men had. The feminist movement proper is made up of thousands of women each of whose life experience led her to compare herself to men, and decide her female lot was not good enough for her, and that she should have more. The whole feminist movement can be reduced to the infantile scenario of a little girl playing in the sandbox with her brother and she is grabbing after his truck because she is bored of her doll. He seems so contented to play with his truck in the sand, and she wants that contentment for herself.
Feminism’s goal of equality denies that the differences between man and woman are built into our natures by God. Instead, they prefer to see these differences, in as much as is possible, as socially constructed and therefore malleable.
It is true that a woman can train her body and mind to do the same things as men do. Further, feminists advocated birth control, abortion and daycare to free women physically from childbearing and childrearing, and this has worked as we see how many women are in the workforce and have only one or two children. However, freeing a woman from maternity and childcare does not free her from being a woman.
In The Soul of Woman, published in 1921, the Italian anti-feminist Gina Lombroso writes in detail how woman differs from man. She writes that, unlike men, “women’s first ambition always is to love and be loved,” and, “In order to be happy she must love and be loved, she must create life, take care of living creatures around her—all this constitutes her passion, the basis of her joys and sorrows.” In another passage she writes:
Woman is created to be something for others rather than to be a personality on her own. She is created to be primarily a daughter, mother or wife, and the light and shadow which she casts on the people around her are more important than the size of her own light. It is no use for women to protest or to try to imagine that they can change things. Things are as they are. When God created woman out of Adam’s rib to give him a companion she became, except as mother, man’s complement, nothing else. Just so is man, in regard to woman’s maternal function and the transmission of life, a complement to woman, nothing else.
Rather than relish her special role and mission, women are jealous of men for being the rib. Further, her primary need of loving and being loved makes her dependent on others which she resents, especially when she sees that men are not nearly so dependent on others. If she does not learn to accept this dependency and her mission in life, which is always attenuated to her maternal nature, she becomes unhappy and wants to escape. Feminism offers her this escape by promising her a new equality with man, to have what he has, to be like he is—to be the rib rather than what was created out of it.
However, as Lombroso states, we cannot change the order of things—God has created it so.
Unlike liberalism’s abstract notion of equality, which lends itself to all sorts of interpretations, the truth is our only real equality is in our all being made in the image and likeness of God. That should be enough for us. For Catholics, our lives and our status as human beings is found in a God-made order and design from which we cannot escape. We must come to terms with a natural inequality that God deems just. Why, for example, does one person suffer terribly in life, while another is untouched by any major sorrows? It’s a mystery that God has decided and implemented, and that somehow works for our good.
It is now almost impossible to discover women’s true role within God’s plan because feminism has influenced us to such a great extent when it comes to our thoughts about women. Women “foolishly want to alter inequality rather than to achieve truth or justice,” wrote Alice Von Hildebrand in The Privilege of Being a Woman.” We don’t know what truth and justice looks like for women because of this destructive desire for equality.
Ultimately feminism, like liberalism, is a rejection of God and His authority. Women’s freedom is not to be found in an equality with man that gives her the right to participate in the world as he does, but in accepting the inevitability of her nature and role as created by God. The bottom line is that childbearing ties her to the home (or at least it should) and if women followed their God-given rights and duties we would find them focusing less on themselves (getting an education and having a career) and more on the other (making her husband happy and nurturing and training her children).
In the next part of this post I will discuss how the effects of feminism we see around us should give pause to Catho-feminists.
Part 3 of this essay will be posted next week.