Years of praying, lighting candles, and asking for the intercession of any saint that would have me culminated on June 5th, 2005 when I married the love of my life. As the day was quickly approaching, many people were eager to share their words of wisdom, prayers, and good wishes. I have difficulty recalling much of what was said during the busyness of that time but there is one piece of advice that I don't think I will ever forget. Not because I drew inspiration from the words, but because the message was so disturbingly vacant.
A well-intentioned friend took me aside with two urgent pleas: she didn't want me to take my husband's name and she practically begged me to continue with a full-time career. She viewed this as the only way to ensure I wouldn't "lose" myself by "just" staying home to take care of my future children. She wanted me to keep growing as a individual and not allow a husband, and certainly not children, to define me. In her eyes, staying home to raise children was a complete dead end.
But how could that be? I knew many stay-at-home moms and some stay-at-home dads, too. They were all bright, well-educated people that had indeed put career goals on the back burner, slowed them down, or reshaped them a bit because they had discerned it was necessary, at least for a time, for the well-being of their children and their families. They didn't wither away, lose all intellect, or cease to grow as individuals.
The expression of these faulty attitudes was all too common. Throughout my college years, this same mantra emanated from the halls of the Women's Studies Department and from many of my so-called feminist advisors and professors. I may only have a B.A. in Criminology but I could have just as easily graduated with a Ph.D. in all things patriarchy. Conversations such as this one and my endless Woman's Studies courses always left me wondering: Why do modern feminists appear to hate their own biology?
One could argue that women most closely imitate Christ through mothering those who have been entrusted to their care, whether physically or spiritually, whether children, friends, or those in their communities. We make excellent attorneys, doctors, teachers, scientists, and CEOs but we were created for something more. In His divine and infinite wisdom God bestowed the gift of mothering upon women.
Women alone were designed to nurture a living soul within their very own bodies--a power not given to men. One would think that such a superpower would be recognized as the pinnacle of any truly authentic women's movement. Yet, in the face of this profound reality, modern feminists instead choose to celebrate a whiny Georgetown law student who arrogantly demands that everyone in society be forced to pay for her birth control.
What is wrong with this picture?
I came away from the conversation with my friend heart-broken, but not for me, for her. Here was a woman who had lived out much of her life dedicated to this kind of feminist philosophy and this was it. This was the best she had for me. She had unlocked her treasure chest of feminist female wisdom, opened the lid, and peeked inside in search of a treasure to give, only to hand me something worthless.
The urgency with which she spoke these words of fear and calls for self-protection seemed befitting of one about to be deployed to a war zone, rather than to a woman simply approaching her wedding date.
I have always been uncomfortable with the hostility that seems to surround the ideas of marriage, fertility, and mothering from a modern feminist perspective. It seems the only kind of marriage that gets their stamp of approval is one that has very little room, if any, for dedication to the needs of children, or one that demands a 50/50 kind of arrangement that carefully spells out all the lengthy terms and conditions. But, I didn't want to lease Matthew, I wanted to marry him and join my life with his.
Why wasn't this a choice worthy of celebration?
Modern feminism is a peculiar ideology. It professes to offer us, as women, all the choices in the world, to determine our own paths and not be hindered by the shackles of patriarchy. Yet, with all the exhortation for choice and empowerment for women, there is one choice that is like Kryptonite to these feminists--the choice of women to celebrate and honor their own nature.
When unwrapping this philosophy, it is impossible to escape the irony. The true enemy of the 1960s and 70s era Women's Movement is not patriarchy, but none other then Mother Nature herself.
Embedded deep within Modern feminist ideology is a fundamental flaw.
This brand of feminism views equality through the singular lens of sameness--completely unwilling to acknowledge our female biology and psychological and spiritual make-up. Instead of truly celebrating our diversity and uniqueness, it succeeds only in advocating an "equality" which extracts and then promptly discards everything that is most distinctly and most powerfully female.
You really start to wonder: Is this brand of feminism advocating for our advancement or our demise?
The Bible says "by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16). Yet, in a very real way we know modern feminism because it refuses to produce any fruits. Our fertility is deemed a hindrance simply because it doesn't look like or act like a man's. In their quest to advance the cause of women, they have somehow managed to make male fertility the gold standard thereby deeming women's fertility defective; our biology becomes something we are encouraged to mutilate instead of embrace. It has truly become the fulfillment of Bl. John Paul II's warning in Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) when he wrote, "There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfillment", but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness."
Unless women allow themselves to be defined by this rigid and confining notion of what it means to be a free and equal woman, completely ignore their biology and pretend to be less than they are, they will not find a seat at the table of modern feminism. It has indeed become the embodiment of that stifling patriarchy it fought so hard to overcome.
Kissing little cheeks, wiping little noses, washing little faces, bathing beautiful little bodies, nourishing hungry little tummies, and teaching vital life lessons in the daily interactions with children are more indicative of a meaningful life than the latest promotion, advanced degree, or year-end bonus. No president, no world leader, no CEO has more influence in shaping the world culture than those that commit themselves in the service of nurturing these little souls. There is no title on earth that comes with more power or prestige than that of "Mother".
Authentic Catholic feminism recognizes the beauty of our distinct nature and celebrates women in their entirety. It rejoices in the awesome power of creation that women have been given rather than apologizing for it. It acknowledges the nurturing aspects of our femininity, the importance that we place on relationships, and our centralness in the world family. We are truly raised up, mind, body and spirit as something beautiful and meaningful to behold.
I'll take that over burning my own bra any day.
During this month dedicated to women's history, let us remember and honor women that fought so our distinctly feminine voices could be heard without having to silence and disregard the voices of our husbands and children in the process. Although modern feminist leaders such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan worked to alleviate some terrible abuses and open doors that were previously closed to women, for which I am very grateful, their ideology remains woefully inadequate in truly advancing the cause and addressing the needs of women.
Try as they might, no self-congratulating documentary on PBS will ever be able to change that reality.
That day back in 2005 remains the happiest day of my life. I married a man who truly cherishes me--mind, body and soul--and I cannot wait to raise our children. Despite what I've been told by modern feminists, these desires are not in opposition to my self-fulfillment, but rather, its very foundation.
To my friend, I am well on my way to "losing" myself. If that is the case, then, please God, may I never be found.