The rise of feminism within the Catholic church requires a look into what it means to be a Catholic Feminist. Feminism is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a social, economic theory and political movement which argues that legal and social restrictions on women be removed in order to bring about equality of the sexes in all aspects of public and private life. It is that which demands that women receive the same respect as men as independent, capable human beings.
There are many variations of feminism over time in the same way we have diverse doctrines and theology in Christianity- most of which are coloured by the personality of their primogenitors. There is radical feminism, Liberal feminism, Marxist and socialist feminism, cultural feminism, eco-feminism. The radical feminism extends beyond personal dignity, freedom from sexual harassment and rape, equal work opportunities, equal pay with male counterparts. It also embraces abortion on demand, sexual freedom for women, lesbianism and freedom to engage in extramarital affairs with either men or women.
A catholic feminist on the other hand is one who subscribes to the “new feminism” which was ‘established’ and enthused by Pope John Paul II. The concept of new feminism was founded on the teachings of “feminine genius” which came as a response to the male domination radical feminism. The concept seeks to promote the acceptance and acknowledgement of the true abilities and genius of women in every aspect of life and society. It fixes the woman in the traditional and natural position while it shies away from “male domination and express freedom” as practiced by main stream/ radical feminism.
The “feminine genius” in the letter by Pope John Paul II espouses qualities such as: receptivity, empathy, protection of life, sanctity and modesty. Each of these qualities seeks to “strengthen and enliven the feminine character and should serve to be inspirational and uplifting, and should in no way be hidden or repressed”. Hence, a catholic feminist is one who embodies those qualities and practices them in her day to day activities. The pope recognised the equal nature of all sexes and the need for the recognition of the dignity of women at all fronts. He however, firmly beliefs that there are roles defined and given by nature and the ability to fulfil those roles is embedded and given to each gender. For example, a woman is a natural nurturer- her body was carved for that purpose and cause, refusing to heed to that demand of nature, seeking to act and be like the other gender would be working against herself. Thus the “new feminism”, which catholic women were encouraged to practice and be its model would make them “catholic feminist”.
Howbeit, for clarification reasons, the term “Catholic Feminist” differs from a person who is regarded as “Catholic and feminist”, in that a “Catholic and Feminist” is one who embraces the values of radical feminism. It is the brand of people who contend against the catholic theology of the “male personage of God” which they claim has its roots in misogyny. They are the ones who stage attacks on the purported oppression, patriachalism and male dominance which they believe has deeply compromised Christianity.
- Merriam Webster Dictionary – https://www.merriam-webster.com
- Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem Of The Supreme Pontiff John Paul Ii On The Dignity And Vocation Of Women On The Occasion Of The Marian Year Retrieved from https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem.html
- Pope John Paul II (2017). Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women. Retrieved from https://www.genuinefeminine.com/single-post/2017/01/13/Letter-of-Pope-John-Paul-II-to-Women
- Koedt, Anne; Levine, Ellen; Rapone, Anita, eds. (1973). Radical feminism. Times Books. ISBN 9780812962208.
- Girltalkhq (2016). The Push For Gender Equality In Catholic Church Leadership Is As Varied As It Is Important. Retrieved from http://girltalkhq.com/the-push-for-gender-equality-in-catholic-church-leadership-is-as-varied-as-it-is-important/