Why I’ve Struggled to Call Myself a Feminist

It wasn’t until I entered college that I really heard the term feminism. My degree is in criminology which is within the sociology department. I had a few classes that were downright hostile to anyone who was more conservative in thought. Since I have always been one to speak my mind, it brought me into a lot of conflict with a few of my professors. I was never rude or disrespectful, I just challenged their way of thinking and it was clear that they were not interested in being challenged. It had been my understanding that college was a place to debate and challenge each other, but that was not the case in some of my classes.

The class that was the worst was my Women’s Studies class. What I learned in that class was that if you were truly for women you had to 1. Be pro-choice 2. Hate men, unless you could use them for sex 3. Only desire a career and 4. Be completely down with the sexual revolution. I was pretty much the only person who challenged the professor’s way of thinking and, needless to say, I was not her favorite.

For me, if being a feminist meant advocating for abortion, suspiciously eyeing all men as oppressors, desiring only to find success in a career, and touting the freedom of sleeping around than I was NOT a feminist. I wanted to be as far from that word as possible.

There were so many contradictions that I encountered with feminism.

My Women’s Studies class happened to be on the same day as my Air Force ROTC classes and so I was always in uniform. On one particular day, my professor called our American military forces “baby killers.” In another class she went on and on about the “glories” of abortion. To be consistent, one has to condemn the taking of innocent life at all stages, not just when it’s convenient for your agenda.

I have seen through the years the almost idol worship of having the choice to have an abortion. Having the choice to end a child’s life is held up as a right. Yet, I see visceral comments launched at women who choose to have more than 2.5 children. I cannot understand how choice is praiseworthy if one is choosing to end a life, but swatted down if a woman chooses to bring life into the world.

Through the years the messages that I have received is that if I’m not getting in there and doing all the “man” things than I’m somehow letting down women. On the one hand, feminists are yelling that women were just as valuable as men. Then on the other hand, they look down on anything that is deemed feminine, i.e. raising children, traditional female occupations, volunteer work. What I take from this is that I’m only advancing the women’s cause if I’m more like a man. This is not a celebration of womanhood.

I have been told that the reason I’m not a feminist is because my father brainwashed me. This is nonsense, of course, because I’m very outspoken and work very hard to think for myself. I worked as a counselor/advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence. For three years, I immersed myself in helping fight injustices against women. In my Master’s degree, I chose to focus on sexual violence, because it is so important to me to be there for victims of this terrible crime.

I have been told since becoming Catholic that I am living under a patriarchal institution. This is nonsense, too, coming from people who don’t understand the Church or don’t want to understand the Church. There are volumes upon volumes connected with the Church that upholds the beauty of womanhood and the dignity of the woman.

So, I’ve distanced myself from identifying as a feminist. The other day, though, I listened to a podcast that helped me to understand why I’ve had such trouble accepting feminism.

It was a podcast by a woman who worked for the magazine Cosmopolitan when it first came about in the early 1970s. She worked for the publication for 20 plus years. She talked about how very early in the 60s, the feminist movement was about equality in the workforce for women. She mentioned that feminists were advocating that women be able to sit on juries, enter medical and law colleges, have equal pay for equal work, not be fired for getting pregnant, and be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. All these things I obviously support. She said that initially abortion and “sexual freedom” were not even an issue on the table for these early feminists.

The interesting thing is that when she went to work for Cosmo, they wanted to merge women’s rights with the philosophies of the sexual revolution. They wanted to feature women who were working successful jobs all while not being burdened with children and free to sleep with whomever. The problem was that they couldn’t really find these women, so their boss encouraged them to make up “Cosmo girls” and “make up” quotes from people in authority and run with the story. So, millions of women were sitting back in the 1970s, reading these made up stories and thinking this is what represents true womanhood. As women read these stories, they soaked up this manipulated ideology of the “free woman” who is out there just loving life. She’s unchained, unburdened, free to jump into bed, and is working with the big boys.

To be honest, I was shocked. Here was a woman who had worked for Cosmo for over 20 years sharing her story about how her boss encouraged them to lie in order to sell a way of life. She even wrote a book about how she feels that she helped the sexual revolution. It’s not something she’s proud of in any way.

One of the greatest surprises I’ve found since becoming Catholic has been the discovery of a movement of feminism that I had never been introduced to before. It’s one that embraces life, because as women, we are the bearers of life in our womb and the ones that issue forth life into the world. It is our unique role. Not only does the Church see the beauty in biological motherhood, but it also recognizes that all women play a role in taking care of life in some capacity. Religious sisters give enormous amounts of time caring for the sick, poor, and unloved. Some women take on the noble role of loving orphans and adopting them into their homes. The Church has numerous female saints that are honored for the many different ways they made the world a better place because of their love of Christ. Some female saints are considered Doctors of the Church which is an extremely high honor.

And…Mary. We have Mary. We honor her in her unique role as the Mother of God and hold her in great esteem.

As women, we are the caretakers of those that are the most vulnerable, because we understand what it is like to be vulnerable. It is so contrary to our nature to side with death and destruction. Women are givers. We pour out everything we have to make sure others feel loved and when there seems nothing more to give, we pour more. We make houses homes. Where there is callousness, we bring compassion. Where there is hurt, we rush to heal. Where there is ugliness, we want to bring beauty. We are smart and creative. We have much to offer and give. I love being a woman and I love what we bring to the world. We are equal in our dignity and worth to men, but we are different in what we bring to the table and how we bring it. This doesn’t make us less; it makes us needed.

The world doesn’t need what women have; 

it needs what women are. 

–Edith Stein, a Catholic Religious Sister and Canonized Saint

The feminism that I witnessed in college was bitter, ugly, destructive and uninspiring. What I’ve learned through the Catholic Church about true womanhood and through reading the lives of heroic female saints is joyful, beautiful, life-giving, and inspiring. When I learned through the podcast that women were sold a big fat lie to press an agenda, I was sickened. I was angry.

I still hesitate to call myself a feminist and the reasons are not because I hate my own gender. I believe that the label of feminist carries with it so much baggage. If it had stayed true in its form of championing women’s rights, I think I could get on board. My husband always says that you must work to get people on your team and I think in this day and age the word feminism draws a line in the sand. You feel forced to commit to it or be against it and I hate that.

Jesus is not just for men, He is for women, too. Jesus is not just for the rich, He is most definitely for the poor. He is for children, the elderly, Jews and Gentiles, the disabled, the forgotten, and everyone in between. He is universal, which is what the word Catholic means. Catholic means universal and I’d like to think that is what I am. Each of these groups needs our support and help. Obviously, historically, women have needed to fight for equality and rights. This was good and right and there is still work to be done. As a mother of a son, though, I am also concerned with the state of manhood. Authentic manhood, as God intended, is being assaulted and, therefore, I must work to change the tides there, as well.

I don’t begrudge the movement of many women to change the face of feminism into something better. My past experience with feminism and the way I feel it has been highjacked by the secular culture is troublesome to me, making me hesitant to wear that label. So, I will just call myself Catholic. I can be proud of calling myself that because I know that it means I stand for life, no matter how small. It means that I stand for supporting women in pursing work or staying home. It means that I love to celebrate when a momma announces her pregnancy whether it’s her first or her sixth. It means I can realize that not all men are bad and that most of them truly want to do right by the ones they love. It means that I can stand for equality in the workplace. It means that I can rejoice in being a woman and not feel that I have to be more like a man to have worth. It means that what I bring to the world, as a woman, is needed.

 

The book I referred to is called Subverted: How I Helped The Sexual Revolution to Hijack the Woman’s Movement by Sue Ellen Browder.

The podcast I listened to is from Catholic Answers and I highly recommend listening to it.

2 comments

  1. sonrie says:

    I really found your post interesting, and have from time to time thought very similarly to what you have expressed here. I’m going to listen to that podcast!

    • Amy Thomas says:

      It really helped me to flesh out my thoughts. It’s something I’ve struggled to articulate. It’s a very interesting podcast and I’m definitely interested in reading the book.

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