Jenny Uebbing: Catholic Feminism
Q: “As a Catholic woman who wears the hats of mom, wife, and professional, how do you live out true authentic Catholic feminism? I am not asking for the ideal, but the reality of what it looks like in these areas in a normal lived out week. I have so many friends who are feminist in the secular sense, and they bond together and fight and grieve over the same issues they share, but I don’t have a good idea what Catholic feminism looks likes nor feel part of a larger community of women fighting to live it authentically. Help.”
A: I am tempted to reject the notion of “feminism” entirely, because I think the premise of the thing has drifted so far afield from the original intentions (or at least what I pray the original intentions were for Susan B. Anthony and her comrades in arms) of our foremothers. I heard someone turn the phrase “feminine-ism” in an essay once, and while phonetically it is kind of a disaster, I do think it speaks more to the heart of the feminine genius than feminism, which has become so fraught and contentious.
I bother with the linguistic parsing because words mean something, and the proper use of language is critical to the building up – or tearing down – of culture. When I speak of Catholic feminism, what I mean is a total embrace of what it means to be a woman: self giving, creative, strong, and capable of profound sacrifice and leadership. I think that the modern feminism has become too conflated with Planned Parenthood’s agenda of sexual free for all and an angry, even violent rejection of motherhood and fertility. Feminism that calls a woman to reject and mutilate her body is only suppression and degradation by another name.
Women in our culture are angry – and rightfully so. Our bodies have become a different kind of currency, greasing the wheels in an economy that runs on sex and outrage. We are told that we are strong, capable, and equal in every way to men, and then simultaneously degraded in every way, our parts dissected to sell products and our hearts numbed with the lie that “what you do with your body has no consequences, no deeper meaning, and you have no business believing otherwise.”
For a Catholic woman living in a culture that has patently rejected the truth of the human person, and in a particular way the female person, it can be difficult to know where to start, and what common ground we share, if any. I think the place to start is dignity. We all have a desire to be truly seen and heard. And for all the cultural negatives of our present age, we do have the unprecedented ability to communicate and to contribute to the conversation in a way previous generations of women could only dream of. It falls to us to take up that mantle of responsibility to clearly and tirelessly communicate that message to the women of the world: you are good. The way you are made is good. Your differences and intricacies as a woman are good.
God saved the world through a Woman once, and maybe He wants to do it again. Through a revitalization of culture, a rejection of the shallow and unfulfilling lies about what makes a woman happy, about what a woman is for. Edith Stein – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – said it best: “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.”
As Catholic women, it is our high calling to offer ourselves to the world in a way that is rooted in reality and the eternal truth of what we are. We are not powerful when we take our clothes off and offer our bodies to be exploited and used; we are powerful when we say to the world, “no, look up here, in my eyes. See me. Listen to what I have to offer.”
We are not powerful when we reject the high calling of motherhood, whether expressly through the brutality of abortion or more subtly through the denigration of the smaller, weaker “other.” We are powerful when we cast of the shackles of calculation and cost analysis, refusing to reduce the grandeur of a single human soul to an equation in which he could come up short.
Women have the eternal responsibility to raise the level of the culture to something higher, and it is our great privilege and profoundly difficult task to engage in that work – now, here, in whatever sphere of influence God has placed you – and to refuse to settle for the mediocrity which this culture whispers to women from birth is your destiny. Use people, offer yourself to be used. Trample on the weak. Oppress the powerless. Make war with the opposite sex.
But there is another way. A higher way. And that is the way of truly authentic Catholic feminism. Do not settle for the lies of this present age, but raise your voice so that your sisters can hear the truth. Do not let your destiny be dictated to you by marketers, pornographers and for-profit “healthcare” corporations. You were made for more. Demand more, and be prepared to do battle for that dignity that is yours by birthright.
Jenny Uebbing is the author of the popular blog Mama Needs Coffee covering topics of sex, life, marriage, culture, and the Catholic Church. She is a revert to Catholicism with a deep love for the Faith and a desire to grow in knowledge and understanding of what we believe, and why.