Endow Weekly

Letter to Women – Week 4

Week Four: Equal in Dignity

In the Holy Father’s own words: 

My word of thanks to women thus becomes a heartfelt appeal that everyone, and in a special way States and international institutions, should make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect for their dignity and role. Here I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism, and even a sin!

John Paul II affirms what we now categorize as “first wave feminism.” Unfortunately, the second and third waves of feminism are not authentic expressions of the feminine genius. Because of this, John Paul II calls for a “new feminism.” 

Emily Stimpson Chapman writes in Chapter 4, “As John Paul envisioned it, this ‘new feminism’ would champion women’s rights, while upholding the inherent dignity of the human person. It would recognize real differences between men and women, but applaud the complementarity of the sexes, all while rejecting ‘the temptation of imitating models of male domination.’” 

In reading and studying Chapter 4, I appreciate the historical categorization of the first three waves of the feminist movement: 

First wave (19th/early 20th century) 

Key Players: Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton 

Key Issues: Voting rights, property ownership, and educational opportunities 

First-wave feminists opposed abortion, promoted traditional marriage and motherhood, and the temperance movement. 

Second wave (post World War II) 

Key Players: Shulasmith Firestone, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan

Key Issues: Denial of the good of marriage, support for contraception, abortion, and promiscuity 

Third wave (late 1980s/90s)

Key Issue: Gender ideology (gender as distinct from biological sex and is therefore “fluid” and “socially constructed”) 

Unfortunately, third-wave feminism has permeated most modern institutions of influence. St. Teresa of Calcutta, our beloved Mother, and one of the most magnificent expressions of the feminine genius wrote in her own Letter to Women:

I do not understand why some people are saying that women and men are exactly the same, and are denying the beautiful differences between men and women. All God’s gifts are good, but they are not all the same. As I often say to people who tell me that they would like to serve the poor as I do, “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” It is just this way with the differences between women and men.

Pray on it: Do I experience masculinity as a threat to my femininity? Or do I experience masculinity as a complementary “ezer” (Hebrew for “helper”) to my life? Am I tempted to “imitating models of male domination?”