Can True Feminism Be Found in the Church?

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This was my latest column in the Catholic Free Press from the Diocese of Worcester, MA. The editor chose to title it “Real feminism embraces the Church.”

As a disclaimer, I realize this article is preaching to the choir. In no way am I implying that readers and contributors of CatholicMom.com are part of this problem. This is more of a commentary on society in general and the irony of the “fruits” of feminism.

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Our daughter moved out of the house over the holidays prompting me to reflect on her and other young women her age. While she is fortunate to be in a committed relationship with a good man, we’ve often spoken about her friends and their boyfriend troubles.

I then found myself recalling a confirmation retreat I recently attended as a chaperone. Several young people of high school and college age gave testimonies, speaking with candor about their lives and what their faith meant to them. Two young women talked at length about relationships with boyfriends and the lengths they went to in order to keep those relationships alive. They confessed to setting aside their long-held beliefs and going against their consciences. Never mind that the feelings might not be mutual nor the sacrifices shared or appreciated. In the end these young women immolated their self-respect and came away with nothing but a broken heart and a shattered sense of self.

I’ve seen this bit of theater played out again and in again in young women I have known. In their twenties, these women of such promise will do anything to keep their boyfriends. They assume the responsibility of the precautions, offer their bodies, and get back nothing in the way of committed love or respect. Sometimes these relations become controlling and abusive.

These twenty-somethings are the first generation of women to fully realize the fruits of feminism. What have we taught our daughters?

We fought hard for equality of opportunity and made sure our daughters would reap the benefits. We preached higher education culminating in a successful career. We taught them to strive for individual achievement, power and control. All of this was supposed to fulfill and empower them.

And yet instead we see this this theater of the absurd—seemingly intelligent girls, raised in good families, given so much opportunity, who instead toss aside their self-respect, their morals and their beliefs for a boyfriend who often does not return the favor. Where is the equality in these relationships? Where is the commitment?

In all of the worthy gains of feminism, have our daughters learned any real sense of themselves? Where is the cultivation of the inner life, the life of the soul that leads to true discovery of the self?

The Church seeks to cultivate this life but has been perceived by many feminists as the enemy. Made up of fallible human beings capable of sin, the Church as an institution has made mistakes and works to make amends. But the Gospel is never mistaken. The message and example of Christ is clear: all people, men and women, are equally loved by God. We are all made in His image and we are called to lead authentic lives. The Church despite its problems is the vehicle for the Gospel message; it is the beloved Bride of Christ.

This leads me back to that confirmation retreat and an eighteen year-old high school senior who perfectly exemplified the Gospel in her life. As I listened to her gripping story of the difficult decision she had to make for her best friend that placed their friendship at risk, I recognized that this young woman had a strong sense of self, knowing what was right and what was wrong. The Church provided her with a place to go where she could be broken before God, to sit and listen to that still, small voice inside. This girl found what she needed in her Catholic faith to make her strong.

I knew I would never have to worry about her sacrificing her self-respect out of desperation for a boyfriend that might not be worthy of her.

And it occurred to me that the Church in her wisdom, despite any problems, has much to say to all young women to help them discover their full potential. Isn’t this what feminism ought to be for women, to realize our authentic selves as the image and likeness of the eternal, perfect God?

Joyce Rupp, in Praying Our Goodbyes writes, “…when we enter the home of our God, we also enter the home of true self.” Instead of ignoring the life of the soul, let us nurture it. Rather than viewing the Church as the enemy of women, let us embrace this Church which our Lord gave to us.

Let us give ourselves and our daughters all that the Gospel teaches to help make wise choices, promote self-respect and equality, cultivate strength of character and grow a life of love for ourselves and those around us. This is the heart of true feminism.

Copyright 2014 Susan Bailey

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About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series.
Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.

4 Comments

  1. Beautiful article, Susan, thank you. Having two daughters in their 20’s has caused me to often reflect as well on the concept of feminism and the Church. Our culture provides many lies for them to counter, but the truth is….the Church ( which is where we find Jesus Christ and His Mother)is exactly where the fulfillment you speak of is found!

  2. Susan, I totally concur with what you are saying; I am considered on the cusp of both the Gen Xers as well as the Millennials, and so I grew up with several people in my life encouraging and even pushing me to “do it all:” have the lucrative career, the marriage and 2.5 kids, live the suburban life, etc. But truthfully, I didn’t WANT to “do it all,” because I knew I could NOT. I had to choose, because something would suffer eventually.

    To switch points but stay on topic, I would say that I have learned there is an antidote to the secular feminism we know exists and it is the AUTHENTIC FEMININITY exemplified perfectly in Our Lady. I wish more women, especially young girls, would try to emanate her more and love her more.

    Thanks for a great topic and more food for thought!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Mary is SO misunderstood. A careful examination of her life (and better yet, a relationship with her) reveals so many treasures that would benefit so many women if they could just overcome the false stereotypes and approach Mary with an open mind and heart.

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