I was first introduced to pro-lifeism at a dinner party some years ago attended by “conservative” Catholics in their twenties and thirties. During dinner, the topic of the film Knocked Up was raised amid a discussion about the pro-life movement.
Knocked Up, for those of you fortunate enough to not have seen the film, is a 2007 “romantic comedy” about a career-driven young woman who has a one night stand, gets pregnant, and with the father of the child decides to keep the baby. “Romantic” the film is not. It is a film full of obscenity. It is the crassest of crass comedies. To watch it is to be extremely scandalized. It is a film that should never have been made.
However, there is a small pro-life thread in the story line. During a discussion the baby’s father has with his buddies about what to do about getting the woman pregnant, one of his buddies pleads with him to not go the abortion route. And he doesn’t. The few seconds abortion is discussed in the scene is part of a larger conversation full of unimaginable obscenity.
At the dinner table, Knocked Up was praised by the guests who were actively involved in the pro-life movement as a good film because it is “pro-life.” When I protested that a film full of obscenity could not be considered good, a veteran pro-life activist stated that if a film puts forth a pro-life viewpoint, regardless of any other considerations, it is good, period.
I should explain that I had seen the movie based on the recommendation of a Catholic, pro-life acquaintance. I could see the pro-life aspect of the film, but I was so scandalized by the rest of what went on in the film it effectively cancelled out any good messaging contained in it.
However, “pro-lifeism,” in its rigidity and obtuseness, does not see the problem of recommending a lewd film to young adults if it has within it a pro-life aspect.
This is pro-lifeism. It provides a kind of immunity against what would normally be considered serious concerns or problems with a film, an institution, a public figure, etc.
To give you an idea of how much the pro-life movement liked this movie—seven years after its release, when Harold Ramis, the actor who played the father of the baby’s father, died, a pro-life news site ran an article titled, “Harold Ramis, The Pro-Life Voice in ‘Knocked Up,’ Passes Away.” This praise was due to the fact that when the baby’s father discusses the one night stand and resulting pregnancy with Ramis’s character, he calls the baby a blessing and is supportive of his son keeping the baby. Of course, we also learn in the conversation that Ramis’s character is divorced and smokes weed frequently, and taught his son that is it okay to smoke weed.
Among the few non-obscene sentences in Knocked Up, there are “pro-family” gems like this, spoken by a father of young children: “Isn’t it weird though when you have a kid and all your dreams and hopes just go out the window…”
Influential Christian writers such as Michael Medved and Ross Douthat praised the film at the time.
Medved, the syndicated columnist and radio host, praised the movie as having an “unexpectedly potent pro-life and pro-family message.”
Douthat wrote about it in the National Review, calling the movie “a clear-eyed, hopeful, and hilarious celebration of doing the right thing.” It “is exactly the sort of social conservatism we need,” he wrote.
In 2007, Christianity Today included Knocked Up in its review of pro-life films that came out that year.
A 2009 Breitbart article asked who is “making the most morally conservative films in Hollywood?” The article’s answer: Judd Apatow, director of Knocked Up. (Apatow has made a string of crass comedies including 2005’s The 40-year-old Virgin and he also created the ghastly TV series Girls starring Lena Dunham.)
It was never Apatow’s intention to make a pro-life film. He is pro-abortion and said the reason the main character in Knocked Up didn’t get an abortion is because that would have made the film eight minutes long. This is from an interview with Apatow and Seth Rogen, who played the baby’s father.
JUDD APATOW: Well, I think as, as Seth says, if she got an abortion in the movie, the movie would be eight minutes long. So that is the main reason for the anti-abortion subtext.
SETH ROGEN: Just because it allowed us to make a movie.
JUDD APATOW: Because what I was interested in wasn’t really the – the choice about whether or not to keep the baby, I was interested in telling the story of two people who decide to keep the baby and are trying to decide whether or not they could like each other and whether or not they would ever raise the baby together as a couple.
If it hasn’t become obvious from my description of the pro-life movement’s reaction to Knocked Up, pro-lifeism is based on a mixture of desperation and compromise. The pro-life movement is so desperate to find evidence of a “culture of life” in American culture that they grasp at the minor and unintended pro-life subtext of Knocked Up while ignoring the immorality of the film and what it means for a person’s soul to see the film. So desperate are they to claim the film is pro-life, that they ignore the pro-abortion aspect of the film such as in the scene where the baby’s mother has her first ultrasound and they refer to the baby only as an “embryo” and “it.”
Why the desperation and compromise? If the pro-life movement were to admit that the culture is pro-abortion, then overturning Roe v. Wade and appealing to “democracy” loses some or all of its value. The pro-life movement upholds modern liberal democracy as a good and just system, and one which they believe would uphold pro-life values, if only the pro-abortion activists would relent. But what if American culture and the people that consume it—Americans—are pro-abortion? The pro-life movement then has little to stand on in appealing to liberal democratic principles (which is what they spend a lot of time doing). America is a liberal democracy—as opposed to say, a Catholic state wherein the morality of the Church is imposed on every citizen— and in a democracy, where the “majority rules,” if the people want abortion the state should permit it (as Antonin Scalia famously said in his 1996 speech at Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome). This is what American democracy gets so wrong—deferring to the will of the people as opposed to the will of God. People seem to forget that before Roe v. Wade many states had already passed legislation legalizing abortion with restrictions. To find a particle of pro-life values in a lewd comedy and exaggerate its significance is to grasp at straws and ignore reality: the modern liberal democratic system, in which the pro-life movement has invested so much, has shown itself to be antithetical to the Catholic belief in the sanctity of life from conception to death.
That was my introduction to pro-lifeism, the term for which I learned only recently when a Traditional Catholic blogger wrote about it saying that it is when “the human embryo – not the Kingdom of Heaven – is the ‘pearl of great price’ for which they are pleased to sell everything, including whatever commitment they may have had to the mission that Christ actually gave to His Church.” In short, pro-lifeism is putting pro-life values ahead of one’s Catholic Faith.
The Secret Feminist Inside
Pro-lifeism goes hand in hand with what I call The Secret Feminist Inside (SFI) although both concepts can stand on their own. The SFI is a phenomenon found in both neo-Catholic and Traditional Catholic circles. While both groups, more so the latter, eschew feminism, especially what they mistakenly call “radical feminism” when they really mean “liberal feminism” (see essay The Many Faces of Feminism), at times they show support for that which they supposedly reject.
SFI, like pro-lifeism, is a particular way of compromising with liberal values.
An example of both SFI and pro-lifeism appeared on a Traditional Catholic news site, The Remnant, in an article by Remnant editor Michael Matt, just after the U.S. election. The article sung the praises of Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager.
In the article, Matt lists Conway’s career accomplishments, including helping Trump achieve victory, and asks the question, Why does the media ignore her when she could “be the pin-up girl for feminists everywhere?” Matt’s answer is that she is ignored because she is “a champion of the unborn” and is “a woman who didn’t sacrifice femininity for success.”
Matt then goes on to discuss Conway’s pro-life “cred” and how she can influence Trump and even become president herself one day.
He writes that because she is not murdering babies and burning bras she is not the “right kind of woman” to be celebrated by the mainstream liberal media.
In a world at war with real women, Mrs. Conway is a charming threat to the entire feminist enterprise. Trump’s pro-life and proud practicing Catholic advisor—and likely next Chief of Staff—gives hope for this new administration to many Americans
Interestingly, in the combox, a commenter named “Heloise” posted the following:
Could someone explain to me (genuine question from the ‘no-access to Trad. Priest’ lady) why sometimes career women are lauded to the skies on here when they are supposedly ‘faithful Catholics’ but the Traditional Catholic teaching is (isn’t it?) that mothers should be at home looking after their husbands and the children? This lady can hardly have any time to be a good Catholic mother. Does she even see them much?…
…Very mixed messages. Can anyone tell me what the Traditional Catholic teaching would have been about this?
The moderator, perhaps Matt himself, does not address Heloise’s concerns or answer her question about what the Traditional Catholic teaching is. He does however, chide Heloise for questioning how it is possible for Conway to work in such a demanding job and be present to raise her family: “it would be unfair, I think, to conclude that Mrs. Conway is neglecting her children when we have no idea how she’s juggling family and other obligations.” The moderator also states in his answer to Heloise: “It’s quite possible for women today to be with their children, to home-school them, even, and to answer the call to fight for the unborn in powerful ways, for example.”
Heloise’s reaction to Matt’a article about Conway is my own reaction. However, I am armed with, having done considerable research on the topic and written about it previously on this site (see essay The Catholic Church and Feminism), the Traditional teaching of the Church that Heloise inquires about.
In short, Heloise is correct in her musing that “…mothers should be at home looking after their husbands and the children…” She is also on the right track in stating that “This lady can hardly have any time to be a good Catholic mother. Does she even see them much?…”
The idea that a woman can have a family and have a demanding career is straight out of Feminism 101. Popes consistently spoke out against this very thing:
Pope Benedict XV, in his 1917 letter Natalis trecentesimi, wrote:
With the decline in religion, cultured women have lost their sense of shame along with their piety. Many, in order to take up occupations ill-befitting their sex, took to imitating men. Others abandoned the duties of the housewife, for which they were fashioned, to cast themselves recklessly into the current of life.
In an address given to a delegation of the Union of Italian Catholic Women in 1909, St. Pius X said:
After creating man, God created woman and determined her mission, namely, that of being man’s companion, helpmeet and consolation…It is a mistake, therefore, to maintain that woman’s rights are the same as man’s. Women in war or parliament are outside their proper sphere and their position. There would be the desperation and ruin of society.
In Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical on marriage, Casti Cannubi, he states that if “the mother of the family… is compelled to go forth and seek a living by her own labor” it is “to the great harm of the home.”
In October 1945 Pius XII gave an address to various Catholic women’s associations, titled, Women’s Duties in Social and Political Life, in which he lamented:
Has all this improved woman’s condition? Equality of rights with men has led her to abandon the home, in which she used to reign as queen, and subjected her to the same burden and the same hours of work. No heed is paid any longer to her true dignity…
In media interviews Conway sometimes brings up the fact she is the mother of four young children. Which leads to the obvious question: then why isn’t she home with them instead of being interviewed?
“You know where I live? I live with four kids who need their mother, in a household that I run,” she said in a recent interview with New Yorker magazine.
How can one person run a household and a U.S. presidential campaign at the same time? Impossible. Someone else is picking up the slack at home.
On Megyn Kelly’s show on Fox in an interview in the wake of Trump’s victory, Conway again said, “I have four small children and I need to balance all types of personal and professional considerations.”
The question again, is, If Conway has four kids at home why is she sitting with Kelly doing an interview instead of sitting at home with her children? Could not a man do her job instead?
In a world where common sense prevails, a man would fill the demanding position of campaign manager in a U.S. election, working 18 hour days, and a mother of four would stay at home to care for her children.
This is not that world though, and Conway was hired to help Trump get the “woman vote.” She is a seasoned pollster known for knowing what women want—she wrote a book of that title in 2005, What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live. But if a traditionalist can’t see the problem of a presidential candidate hiring a mother of four children to work 18 hour days to help get the “woman vote,” then something is amiss in the traditionalist camp.
That there is such a thing as the “woman vote” that must be sought is a direct result of feminism. (For an essay on why women shouldn’t be voting in the first place, read essay The Antis.)
Another interesting part of Matt’s article is that he claims Conway didn’t sacrifice her femininity. It’s interesting because Conway herself said that because she works in a male-dominated field, she is a “man by day.”
Several days after this article appeared on The Remnant I watched Conway on CNN sitting in a white arm chair talking with Chris Cuomo. Conway was dressed all in black leather, and her skirt was so short that with the camera angle and the way she was sitting it looked like she hadn’t any skirt on at all. Conway often dresses in an immodest fashion in public.
Is it not sacrificing one’s femininity to dress immodestly for national television?
On the question of modesty, does it matter? After all, she’s pro-life.
This is pro-lifeism.
Since Conway is pro-life, took her husband’s name, and has more than the prescribed two kids, Matt gives her a pass on other things, like leaving her children with someone else all day and dressing immodestly.
This is also the Secret Feminist Inside Michael Matt—he is admiring a woman living out the feminist dream of “having it all.”
What neo-Catholics and some Traditional Catholics don’t realize is that Conway is a feminist, regardless of whether she is a self-proclaimed one or not.
The marks of a feminist are not short hair, childlessness, and waving a pro-abortion placard.
Today’s feminist is the empowered career woman, most of who are married and have children. This is the epoch of feminism known as the “having it all” epoch—marriage, motherhood and a fulfilling career.
Feminists don’t burn bras and hate men. They are your average working mother who chooses a career over staying home with her children.
Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly put it well in their 2011 book, The Flipside of Feminism:
If you ask any woman today who has young children and a full-time job, or any woman who sleeps around indiscriminately, or even the average middle-class single mom who most likely initiated her divorce, she’s likely to say she’s not a feminist…Indeed, she has probably never joined a feminist cause in her life, nor does she necessarily have a strong opinion on the matter. But her lifestyle is a direct result of feminism’s influence in her life. That is the insidious nature of the feminist revolution, and it is the reason why it’s the most significant social movement of our time.
Danielle Crittenden wrote about this in her 1999 book, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. While doing research for an article she was writing she spent time talking to young women on university campuses, and had this to say about what she found:
While it was true that most of the students I spoke to—women who said they were going to be doctors and lawyers, professors and bankers—declined to describe themselves as feminist… every opinion they expressed would have warmed the heart of the most fiery “libber” a quarter century ago… the students I interviewed had neither adopted nor rejected feminism. Rather, it had seeped into their minds like intravenous saline into the arm of an unconscious patient. They were feminists without knowing it.
Conway has drunk the same feminist kool-aid as any other high-powered career woman, she just tempers her feminism with her pro-life views and Catholic beliefs.
With her immodest way of dressing and her choosing to work instead of staying home with her children, Conway is no role model for traditional women.
Conway fits easily into the category of the modern, over-achieving woman. According to her own mother in an interview with the Press of Atlantic City Conway “just had to be first” and “always had a hardworking and competitive streak” and “knew what she wanted from an early age.”
In that same article her mother, who looks after Conway’s children while she is at work, let it slip that Conway often leaves the house at 5 a.m. and doesn’t get back until after 11 p.m.
Conway’s own description of her life in a blog post on the blog Bergen Mama, sounds like a stereotypical feminist:
“I am also thrilled that my three daughters see examples of different life choices. They see my cousin who, like our grandmother, did not work outside of the home, and then they see their mom who works, and they know we both are happy. My girls should learn that yes, they can have it all but just not at the same time. I worked plenty of weekends and delayed marriage and motherhood by nearly a decade. Also, and maybe this is because my father left my mother when she was just 25, it seems important to have a way to support my family in case my husband loses his job or I lose my husband.”
The feminist ideal of the overachieving career-driven woman who hands her children off to someone else for the day is typically vilified by traditionalists. However, if a woman is pro-life and Catholic, it suddenly becomes okay for her to be a working mother, and no one dare question what she does with her own children while she is running around saving the unborn. This is both pro-lifeism and the Secret Feminist Inside.
How can we stand up to liberalism and all it has spawned if we praise immorality, as the pro-life movement did with the film Knocked Up, and laud classic feminists in disguise, as The Remnant did with Kellyanne Conway?