Laura's post on her blog, Catholic Cravings is about her understanding of the term 'feminist' in light of her self-characterization as "a pro-life, anti-contraception, mantilla-wearing, submission-preaching, chivalry-loving woman". At first blush, it seems like a reasonable argument: as a Catholic who has embraced her God-given femininity, she understands and appreciates feminism in its various forms for the good it has done for women over the decades, while still more than comfortable criticizing it for the numerous moral evils it has heralded.
The post does a great job breaking down three apparent stages of feminism in the US: Suffrage, the Sexual Revolution, and modern Feminism. Laura argues that, having achieved 99.9% of the legal goals that Suffrage asked for, and many of the (destructive) 'reproductive rights' that the second stage of the 1960's vociferously demanded, feminists now are forced to turn inward on their own bodies, to fight for things like the 'right' to dress scandalously or engage in all kinds of unnatural or promiscuous sexual experimentation on the grounds of a gendered 'self-expression'.
Laura notes that she doesn't think we should "jettison feminism simply because the feminist cri de guerre at the moment is that murdering babies in the womb is pro-woman". Because she has had the opportunity for a college education and equal pay, etc, she sees a reason to try to reclaim the word 'feminist', or at least to hold out hope that its application or meaning will morph again into a morally-acceptable entity.
I totally understand the mentality, but something kept nagging at me as I read it. For example, it seemed to make perfect sense when she wrote,
"Irony of ironies, feminism is the reason I could go to university to write essays arguing against feminism. And feminism is the reason that I could do so with all the assurance that my opinion was as important and valuable as anyone else’s. The truth is that no woman can argue against feminism without biting the hand that fed her."But on further thought, I asked myself...is that really the case? Is it true that we ('we' = women) can or should try to selectively appreciate or reclaim a term that has warped so much of our culture? And is my college education (or Laura's) the result of feminism, or the result of something else that has been appropriated as a victory by feminism?
The Vote: While I personally don't have a problem with a system in which the head of a household votes for his household, since we have been granted it, I also fully support, treasure, and exercise my right to participate in the electoral process. But did 'feminism' give me that? Honestly, I say, no. Women's suffrage did. Suffrage--which by definition is 'the right of voting')--is focused on, well, voting. It's a narrowly defined, narrowly applied category of activism. Furthermore, the 'right to vote' is a definable one, found in the amendments to the Constitution, namely the 12th, 15th, and 19th. For women as citizens of the United States to lobby for this kind of equal right was justified.
So, is it reasonable to include suffrage in feminism at all? I'd argue that it isn't. Suffrage is light years away, in specificity and parameters of acceptable results, from 'feminism'. Equating suffrage with feminism is like equating geology with neurology: both fit under the category of 'science', but they are clearly nothing to do with one another.
Similarly, but to a lesser degree, the ability to sit in a college classroom and the ability to kill your child are miles apart, yet both get labelled a feminist concern.
University Admission, Equal Pay, Consequence-Free Sex, Abortion on Demand, etc: None of these are rights, and all of these are associated with the kinds of feminism that are not suffrage. A right is as narrowly defined as suffrage--it isn't anything and everything to which you feel entitled. A right is a human being's claim on their identity as a child of God. In secular terms, it is 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness', where 'life' is the right to live at any age or circumstance, 'liberty' is the freedom to do what is right, and 'pursuit of happiness' is the search for the good and the true (aka, God, or, in secular terms, justice/morality etc). True rights are few. Privileges are many, but they are not innately deserved or owed, and a privilege cannot hyper-extend outside of morality. The right to kill your unborn child is no more a right than being 'entitled' to own a cell phone, and it is no more a privilege to be awarded than slamming into your neighbor's new car because you're jealous.
Christ said that you know a tree by the fruit it bears. I would argue that in examining what is blanketed as 'feminism', we are actually looking the fruit of two different trees. One that results in a fuller realization of female participation in society, and one which champions an array of perverted sexual license(s). To circle back to Laura's supposition in her post: As Catholic women, do we really owe anything to 'feminism'? As Catholic women, is there anything to be gained in reclaiming the term?
I myself have invoked the phrase 'new feminism' for the sake of convenience, meaning by it an authentic femininity that embraces its God-given role(s). But having read this article and thought about it, I feel like we need something that doesn't have the connotations 'feminism' has. The term is too closely knit to the activist portion--that's the fruit-producing part that has yielded abortion and the like--to try and salvage any semblance of anything else. Since, as I have tried to demonstrate, suffrage is a totally different beast, feminism as we know it has roots only in the Sexual Revolution, and what Catholic would want to be tied in any way to that movement?
(As an aside: By admitting that female activism has, on some level, yielded some good things to women, such as college education etc, does that mean I'm conceding the point? Definitely not. The ends don't justify the means, and while I can appreciate the results, I am under no obligation whatsoever to be beholden to the cause, if the cause is innately of the world, the flesh, and the devil.)
Now I'm not attacking Laura personally, because everything about her post indicates that she is an articulate, sincere, Catholic young lady. But it is abhorrent to me that Catholic women like her feel a compunction to compromise with the feminists and somehow give them credit for misappropriated victories. Feminists didn't accomplish those things; women did. I reject the idea that women and feminists are interchangeable terms. There is nothing womanly about what we know as feminism. We are under no obligation to align ourselves on any level with feminists, unless it is by the starkness of our contrasting lifestyle and example. And despite Laura's optimism that since it has changed twice already maybe it will change again, I don't think we need to waste anymore time on a cultural identifier that has at its very root things that we as Catholics claim to want to do away with. Be a suffragist, be a woman, be feminine. But don't try to perform moral and intellectual gymnastics to try and contort feminism into something you can get behind. You can't.