In these days of the dictatorship of political correctness—the culmination of the ideology of liberalism brought into the world at the time of the French Revolution—those who call themselves “conservative” or “traditional” have supposedly embarked on a war against the dictatorship. However, there is one topic subject to political correctness that even the most stalwart of warriors against the dictatorship either avoids, fails to recognize the importance of, or fails to address properly: the role of women.
Yes, books and articles are written on a regular basis about women’s choices; however, the entire discussion takes place within the safe precincts of political correctness.
Women and their choices is sacrosanct, and criticizing women for their choices has become akin to oppressing them.
This is in part due to one of the great successes of feminism—its manipulation of men’s desire to love, honour and protect women. Feminism played upon men’s sense of chivalry toward women to silence and emasculate them while feminism took to implementing its program of empowering women and instituting a subtle matriarchy. Feminism made any critique of woman’s climb out of her traditional role as wife and mother synonymous with chauvinism and barbarism, labels no man wants to bear.
Women themselves are generally incapable of properly criticizing feminism because they’ve organized their lives according to the feminist paradigm of what a woman should be—the Betty Friedan recipe for success: an educated, career woman in a leadership position. Women have been indoctrinated by feminism to the extent that they can only criticize its excesses, because to tear it all down is to tear down their own lives. Hence, the public gets “soft” attacks on feminism through books such as Danielle Crittenden’s What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman.
The lack of proper criticism is also because of confusion about what feminism is and where it comes from. I addressed this topic at length in the essays The Total Anti-Feminist, Why Catholics Can’t Be Feminists and The Many Faces of Feminism where I put forth the case that there is no good or benign form of feminism.
Typically, when feminism is critiqued the focus is on “radical” feminism. However, radical feminism gets confused with moderate, liberal feminism. For example, Betty Friedan launched the second wave of liberal feminism, yet many critics of feminism include her in their critiques of what they consider radical feminism.
When “conservatives” (particularly conservative Catholics) criticize feminism they often insert “radical” or “modern” in front of “feminism” to avoid attacking all of feminism since they believe that feminism before the 1960s was benign or that feminism in the 1960s and 70s had merit but was hijacked by radicals.
Feminism in its entirety—including woman suffrage—is rarely critiqued.
The two feminisms, however—radical and liberal— are two sides of the same coin, and early and later manifestations of feminism are based on the same ideology. If we fail to understand this, we can’t have an honest, full discussion of what the role of women should be. Do we need such a discussion, one might ask? Only if we want to understand woman outside of the superficiality of the working mom superwoman ideal that feminism has set for her. Before our era of political correctness and closed-mindedness there was a lively discussion about woman’s role, and articles on the topic were frequently published in popular magazines. Now, we follow feminism’s dictates as our sole guide for womanhood. This shouldn’t be.
It is this combination of political correctness and lack of knowledge about feminism that keeps it alive in even the most stalwart “conservative” and “traditionalist” circles. When one examines the foundations and substance of feminist ideology, however, it should become easy to reject, unless one is unable to un-harness himself from the reins of political correctness.
Liberal feminism, which has shaped our world into a subtle matriarchy, descends from the Protestant Revolt, the 18th century Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and is a key aspect of the overall “Revolution” that has slowly dismantled the Christian social order and replaced it with the Godless system known as liberalism. The liberalism I am talking about is not what the Democrat Party represents, or the Liberal Party in Canada—it is the social, political and economic system that the entire West ascribes to, regardless of whether one is politically “conservative” or “liberal.”
Thomas Storck, in his 2015 book From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond, provides a good description of liberalism:
Liberalism is that general movement in Western civilization, which has sought freedom from the restraints imposed by Christian teaching, and therefore has attacked Catholic culture, first on the level of Christian economic morality, secondly on the level of the political rights of God, and lastly on the level of the human person itself
Feminism is at its heart an attack on the nature of woman. It is an attempt to dismantle woman as God formed her and to build her up according to Satan’s destructive plans for mankind. Regardless of what aspect of feminism is at issue—women’s right to vote or women’s “reproductive rights”—the entire movement to gain and ensure rights for women is based on the same root error. This error is the same error that all of liberalism is based on, whether classical or modern: that man, or woman, is sovereign, that is, is his or her own authority free and independent from the authority of God.
Pioneering feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1892 “The Solitude of Self” speech, which is said to be one of the best expressions of liberal feminist ideology, states this idea of self-sovereignty:
The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty.
Liberalism and its daughter feminism seek to free the individual from authority, specifically, the authority of Christ and the Catholic Church. Liberalism denies the sovereign rule of God over all people and nations, and makes little kings and queens of men and women. “I am my own ruler,” was Stanton’s message, and is the message of all liberalism.
We are so lost today in the stormy sea of modernity, being tossed about with only our smartphones as anchors, we fail to see and attack the root causes of our Godless system. Instead of attacking all of liberalism and feminism, for example, we attack legal abortion, as if making abortion illegal will put an end to women aborting their babies. It is too little too late—like putting a band-aid on a leg full of gangrene. It is the rotting leg that needs to be amputated in a case of gangrene, or, a miraculous healing must be prayed for.
What then, is the proper role of women?
Feminist ideology has taken over the entire discussion on this topic, and puts forth an answer that is now thought to be the only answer: She is equal to man and so should have the same rights and opportunities as man. This translates into her having the same role as man in society. Therefore, the proper role of woman is man’s role: head of the family and head of the state.
And, while woman takes on the role of man, those duties and responsibilities that she assumed in her former role as wife and mother, her traditional role, fall to either men or paid professionals. And, while woman takes on the role of man, feminizing it and turning it into a shell of what it once was, man becomes a displaced person, although not yet relegated to the Displaced Person’s Camp. If the matriarchy ever becomes more overt, however, such Displaced Person’s Camps may very well exist for men whose roles were stolen from them by the women of the “Revolution.”
We cannot let feminism be the guide for women’s lives. It is purely destructive—a descendent of the “Revolution” whose aim is to destroy the Christian social order.
One needn’t fumble around to find guidance on what the proper role of women is, however, once one rejects the feminist paradigm I’ve just described.
This description of woman’s role, which is based on the teachings of the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II, sums things up quite nicely:
The woman is the companion God created from man to prevent him from being alone. She was created to influence man, not to command him or have equal powers to him. She received the complementary and irreplaceable mission of giving birth to other men, but she does not have the mission to govern other men and rule over creation. She should have an important voice in the decisions of the family life; however, as a rule, she should not exercise a role in public affairs. (Atila Sinke Guimarães, Bird’s Eye View of the News, Tradition In Action, May 2016)
This is the politically incorrect truth no one dare say—if it is recognized at all—even some fervent Catholic “traditionalists.”
There are exceptions to this guide for woman’s role—mainly found in past epochs—such as Isabella of Spain—and we should celebrate such exceptions. But exceptions prove the rule.
The true role of woman, when you slough off the thick layer of feminist ideology from your thinking, is that of wife and mother. It is feminist ideology and feminist ideology alone that has set up women as career-minded individuals taking on the same roles as men. This goes against nature and common sense. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that women weren’t made to help man in works other than “generation” since other men can help him more efficiently in these works—while only women can do the work of generation.
However, it is a mistake to think that feminism does not allow for women to be mothers, or even stay-at-home mothers. All the discussions about and supposed backlash against women having to choose between a career and motherhood only led us to the new norm of the working mother. Women “having it all”—motherhood and a career—is a phenomenon created by feminism. Staying at home while your children are young and then reentering the workforce is acceptable to feminism.
As I’ve written several times on this site, liberal feminism did not suggest women become childless, single, career women. Betty Friedan was too realistic and too smart to suggest this. She was a mother herself, and made statements such as, “Feminism was not opposed to marriage and motherhood…You want a feminism that includes women who have children and want children because that’s the majority of women.”
Friedan preached that women must reject the housewife role, but not necessarily reject marriage and motherhood.
It is woman as wife that feminism completely denigrates. Motherhood is easily integrated into feminist ideology, but wifehood is not. A mother can still be an empowered, overachieving woman taking on a man’s role (thanks to daycare and nannies). A wife, however, is defined by her relationship to her husband—a man. A wife’s primary duty is to look after her husband—a man. A housewife does not earn her own salary and is financially dependent on her husband—a man. This is all anathema to feminism, which rests on the idea of woman’s independence from man.
“Wife,” however, is key to woman’s role, and feminism has succeeded in this never being brought to our attention. There has been no backlash against and no discussion about what effect women voting and leaving the home for the workforce has had on women as wives. Career women who have left their jobs citing they wanted to be better mothers have even garnered positive media attention. Feminist Anne Marie Slaughter famously wrote about it in a 2012 article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in The Atlantic. Slaughter had quit her job as director of policy planning at the State Department because she was missing out on being with her children. But, has any modern woman left her job citing she wanted to be a better wife to her husband? Yet, woman as wife is central to woman’s nature and role.
With that in mind, I turn to what is a sure guide to the role of woman: Scripture and Tradition.
Here is the infamous passage from Ephesians, much denigrated by feminists and often only paid lip service to by Catholics:
Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is Head of the body the Church, as well as its Savior. As the Church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Next, here is what popes have said about Ephesians and the role of woman in modern times—but before political correctness infiltrated the Catholic Church.
Leo XIII in Arcanum Divinae (On Christian Marriage), published in 1880:
11. Secondly, the mutual duties of husband and wife have been defined, and their several rights accurately established. They are bound, namely, to have such feelings for one another as to cherish always very great mutual love, to be ever faithful to their marriage vow, and to give one another an unfailing and unselfish help. The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties. For “the husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the Church…Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things.”
St. Pius X in an address given to a delegation of the Union of Italian Catholic Women in 1909:
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. Woman, created as man’s companion, must so remain under the power of love and affection, but always under his power. How mistaken, therefore, is that misguided feminism which seeks to correct God’s work. It is like a mechanic trying to correct the signs and movements of the universe. Scripture, and especially the three epistles of St. Paul, emphasizes woman’s dependence on man, her love and assistance, but not her slavery to him. Woman’s duties, however, are not confined within the household’s walls. She has a great social mission, a place in every charitable cause; work to perform on behalf of the sick the suffering and the criminal; the protection of women and children. In this great and common action women should unite and should strive to secure the means necessary to exercise the apostolic injunction of social charity.
Pius XI in his 1930 encyclical on marriage, Casti Cannubi:
26. Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that “order of love,” as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: “Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church.”
27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.
74. The same false teachers who try to dim the luster of conjugal faith and purity do not scruple to do away with the honorable and trusting obedience which the woman owes to the man. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity, that the rights of husband and wife are equal; wherefore, they boldly proclaim the emancipation of women has been or ought to be effected. This emancipation in their ideas must be threefold, in the ruling of the domestic society, in the administration of family affairs and in the rearing of the children. It must be social, economic, physiological: physiological, that is to say, the woman is to be freed at her own good pleasure from the burdensome duties properly belonging to a wife as companion and mother (We have already said that this is not an emancipation but a crime); social, inasmuch as the wife being freed from the cares of children and family, should, to the neglect of these, be able to follow her own bent and devote herself to business and even public affairs; finally economic, whereby the woman even without the knowledge and against the wish of her husband may be at liberty to conduct and administer her own affairs, giving her attention chiefly to these rather than to children, husband and family.
75. This, however, is not the true emancipation of woman, nor that rational and exalted liberty which belongs to the noble office of a Christian woman and wife; it is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family, as a result of which the husband suffers the loss of his wife, the children of their mother, and the home and the whole family of an ever watchful guardian. More than this, this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself, for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne to which she has been raised within the walls of the home by means of the Gospel, she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery (if not in appearance, certainly in reality) and become as amongst the pagans the mere instrument of man.
76. This equality of rights which is so much exaggerated and distorted, must indeed be recognized in those rights which belong to the dignity of the human soul and which are proper to the marriage contract and inseparably bound up with wedlock. In such things undoubtedly both parties enjoy the same rights and are bound by the same obligations; in other things there must be a certain inequality and due accommodation, which is demanded by the good of the family and the right ordering and unity and stability of home life.
The popes emphasize the headship of the husband and the wife’s subjection to him, as well as her dependence on her husband but not her slavery to him. And, they condemn the “false liberty” of woman’s “emancipation,” and do not divide feminism into “good’ and “bad” feminism or “radical” and “moderate” feminism. This condemnation took place during the “first wave” of feminism which some “conservatives” are wont to separate out from 1960s feminism as a noble reform movement. According to the popes who ruled while the first wave of feminism was unfolding, it was no such thing.
In Scripture and Church Tradition, the wife represents the Church while the husband represents Christ, who is head of the Church. This basic teaching serves as the foundation for woman’s role.
Women though, are no longer encouraged to be good wives to their husbands because of the ideal of womanhood set for her by feminism. Women must be independent at all costs—this was the main objective of feminism. But in her newfound independence from men she has upset the natural balance between herself and man. This is a rejection not just of her natural dependence on man, but on God as well. Hence, woman’s unnatural independence imparts into the social order a revolt against the obedience all people and nations owe to Christ, our King.
This is why woman suffrage, the first real battle of feminism, was so important. Before woman suffrage it was understood that the man, as head of the family, represented his wife and children when he went to the ballot box. This idea and practice is in accord with Scripture and Tradition, as just discussed. Woman suffrage, however, upended man as head of the family, laying significant groundwork for feminism to triumph in the West. During the woman suffrage campaign many men and women recognized woman suffrage as a threat to marriage and the family and they campaigned heartily against it on those grounds (for a lengthy discussion of the anti-suffrage campaign see my essay The Antis).
Woman’s financial independence—having a career outside the home was the main message of 1960s feminism—is key to her overall independence from her husband. For, whether she realizes it or not, this financial independence acts as a leverage to absolve her from true obedience to her husband—by giving her the same position in the family as her husband. Now, there are two breadwinners and two heads of the family—husband and wife are “partners” in marriage, both being one half husband and one half wife.
Feminism became accepted doctrine by creating myths and implementing propaganda about women’s lives. It was feminism that created the myth of the unhappy housewife based on the experiences of a handful of upper middle class suburban women. There is no evidence that women as a group were oppressed and unhappy before feminism came along. There is, however, evidence that women were content in their role as housewife, as was shown by Elizabeth Roberts’ study on women’s lives in Victorian England: A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working Class Women 1890-1940. Roberts, a feminist, interviewed 160 people from three towns in Lancashire asking them to recall their memories of family life as children, youths and as adults, and found that the women she interviewed showed a sense of satisfaction with their roles as wives and mothers. These women “knew their place, were secure in it, and gained much satisfaction from their achievements.”
Feminist leaders, all being of the upper middle class, had an embarrassment of riches—material wealth and comfort, and the freedom to do as they pleased. Feminist leaders, blinded by pride and ideology, were unable to recognize that since medieval times Christianity had been transforming women’s lives for the better, and that the dissatisfaction feminists felt with their lives was not because of an oppressive patriarchal society, but because of the oppressiveness of enslaving oneself to creatures and ideologies rather than submitting to God’s sovereign rule over us. These women chose to deal with their “enslavement” by creating feminism. Instead of admitting to the obedience a woman owes to her husband and to God, feminists rebelled against it and denigrated it.
Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, a contemporary of woman suffrage campaigners such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who wrote ridiculous statements like, “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her”) was a Catholic and an anti-suffragist. In an 1871 anti-suffragist pamphlet, she wrote the following about woman’s work which gives us a glimpse of the freedom women had at the very time suffragists were claiming women were not free:
At present the professions, as well as the various trades, are open to women. Divinity, law, medicine, shop-keeping, brokerage, musical and literary composition, painting, and sculpture. Women may make shoes, or work in wood, iron, etc. They may be chosen for many offices—post offices, and others of a public nature are held by them—if to no great extent, at least sufficient to show that no obstacles are laid in their way other than those which are natural and cannot be removed.
Women need to realize that feminism is based on lies and that it has enslaved them to ideals that are unnatural and destructive. They need to realize that the dichotomy of the “fulfilled” working mother who “has it all” vs. the “drudge” housewife is a false dichotomy created by feminism to entrap women in feminism’s designs on the world. This dichotomy was created by women who themselves were unhappy with their own lives, and so decided that all women must be unhappy like them and in need of release from the traditional bonds of womanhood. This amounts to a mistaken solution to a problem that didn’t even exist.
Women need to throw off the shackles of this false dichotomy and not fear the traditional bonds of womanhood—the role of wife and mother.
If we peeled away the years and layers of feminist ideology that have grown up around us and were able to find woman alone, unadorned by the trappings of feminism, we would find the average woman relatively content as wife and mother, no doubt with various complaints and dissatisfactions as are to be expected in a fallen world. More serious problems are also to be expected like infidelity and addictions. However, such problems of individual marriages do not warrant, and are not properly addressed by, tearing down the traditional roles of man and woman and seeking to create a utopian matriarchy where women have perfect control of their destiny.
Feminism also obscures the real issue: the real problem is not woman’s oppression, but is what has been slowly unfolding for several centuries—a problem of both men and women—the rejection in the West of a Christian social order in favour of liberalism.
The “Revolution” with a capital R seeks to destroy the influence of the Catholic Church in both the private and public spheres. It is from the beachhead of the Revolution—the Enlightenment and its spawn, the French Revolution—that liberalism and feminism emerged. As Thomas Storck writes in From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond, liberalism is the chief enemy of the Catholic Church and has made a successful assault on it. Liberalism is an attack on the authority of Christ who is head of the Church and to whom we owe our obedience. Feminism contributes to this attack by denigrating the authority of the husband who is head of the wife.
And yet, armed as we are as Catholics with Scripture and Tradition teaching us about the role of women, we have met the onslaught of feminism as if unarmed, capitulating to it and paying only lip service to the firm anti-feminism of the pre-Vatican II popes, for example.
Now we are contending with the damage done by these outside influences on the Church—Protestantism, liberalism, feminism— that have infiltrated it and wreaked systematic havoc. Feminism, daughter of liberalism and the Enlightenment, has convinced even stalwart “traditionalists” to overlook what popes taught about women at the time feminism was planting the seeds it is reaping today. This is a harvest of rotten fruit: independent woman “free” to choose what her life will be, assisted with her choices at every turn by the modern liberal democratic state, uninformed by the wisdom of Tradition, unhindered and unhinged, and unshielded from a system that aims to destroy her.