Ten Resolutions of a New Feminist Man
The answer to the question of women’s rights, as with all other serious questions, is in an understandable, sensible and revived Christianity.
— Vladimir Soloviev
In his 1995 “Letter to Women,” Pope John Paul II, continuing in the tradition of his encyclical Mulieres Dignitatem, stated what may be considered the fundamental theme of New Feminism:
Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.
As the pope illustrates here, New Feminists desire to find and appreciate the place of women in the modern world. They seek to overcome the mistakes of the past, mistakes which have limited the role women have had in the public sector. New Feminists want to hear the voices of women and what they have to say on what it means to be human. They do not reject the masculine; rather, they want to understand how the masculine and feminine complement each other.
Because of the use of the term feminism, many think New Feminism is a Trojan horse trying to justify radical feminism with a Catholic veneer. They fear that if we help women achieve the dignity and status they deserve, men will suffer. New Feminism rejects this: What it wants is a proper appreciation of both genders. The ways in which women have been held back in our society have created unjust and invalid expectations of men, damaging our understanding of what it means to be a man, just as much as it has hindered us from appreciating and understanding what it means to be a woman. In this way, John Paul is right in saying we have had an impoverished humanity.
New Feminism is called “new” not because its concerns are new, but because it represents a new, Catholic way to deal with the questions feminists (of all stripes) have raised through the years. Catholics cannot neglect these concerns: They must now give new, Catholic answers to them.
As a male representative of those who follow the New Feminism, here are ten goals and resolutions I have for the new year:
1. To reflect more on what the New Feminism should mean for the masculine; to continue to work out all the underlying structures that have hindered an appreciation of the masculine; and to encourage men and women alike to understand themselves according to their gender and appreciate those differences, instead of seeing them as a hindrance.
2. To help people see the reasons why the New Feminism is a necessary component of the Catholic tradition and why John Paul paid it so much attention in his papacy. To do this, I will try to reflect more on the historical conditions that brought about the New Feminism and share those findings in my own writings and conversations with others.
3. Reintroduce myself to some of the great women of Christian history (such as Sts. Macrina, Monica, Mary of Egypt, Claire of Assisi, Hildegard, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Edith Stein) and ponder not only their influence on Christian history, but what they might tell us of the dignity of women.
4. Ponder more deeply the works of recent theologians such as Paul Evdokimov, Adrienne von Speyr, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the issue of gender (and decide how much of what they said is appropriate and valuable to us today).
5. Try to find ways to better help women in need with the skills and abilities I possess — or, if possible, lead them to others who could help more than I.
6. Encourage more men to research the authentic Catholic understanding of gender so that they will not find themselves confused, angered, or overreacting to those concerns the Church rightfully brings up.
7. Promote a better appreciation of life and, with it, the kinds of relationships that are necessary for us to live morally in this world.
8. Seek internal peace in whatever situation I find myself, and work at bending more to the will of God, instead of hoping that God bends to my own.
9. To work for authentic, moral peace in the world — a peace that can only exist in the light of justice and truth — being careful not to undermine justice for the sake of peace, nor to undermine truth for the sake of improper compromise.
10. To work for better cooperation of Catholics in all walks of life, from all levels of understanding, so that we can work together as Catholics first and above all things.
Ten Resolutions of a New Feminist Woman
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
New Feminism must be understood as one movement among many aimed at “cultivating everywhere a culture of equality, which will be lasting and constructive to the extent that it reflects God’s plan,” as Pope John Paul II said in The Genius of Women. While New Feminism builds on the achievements of the 20th-century feminist movement, it recognizes that, as Elizabeth Fox-Genovese puts it in Women in Christ,
the strategies of old feminism have seriously undermined essential features of our culture and moral life, notably our ability to value and nurture human life in all its diversity . . . our willingness to honor any form of natural or divine authority . . . and our ability always to see other persons as ends in themselves, never means to another end.
Some may already be thinking, “Feminism ruined the culture. So why keep pushing a ‘new’ feminism?” But I suggest that we quit quibbling over the word “feminism” during 2010, and instead strive to learn what this new movement means and what it demands of us to effect a true “culture of life” and a “new model of the way to be human” (Women in Christ). We all stand to gain, because New Feminism offers hope to a broken humanity — male and female alike.
I offer ten resolutions for 2010 to further the New Feminism — both within my own heart and within my community. Can we, this year, make New Feminism a way of living, not just a ground for dispute? These are ten steps I plan to take to bring “the feminism of life” into the exercise of living:
1. No excuses. I will not compromise my relationship with Christ this year, not even to host dinner for the eight visiting businessmen who, my husband says, “love pasta, bread and red wine. Please honey?” I will prep the meal, but go to Perpetual Adoration anyway.
2. Primary prayer. I will use prayer as a primary tool to expand New Feminism and seek the conversion of a particular radical feminist I have in mind. I will pray for her daily. I will read her online writings all year, no matter how ill they make me — and I will respond if it is God’s will to give me charitable words.
3. Honor my husband. I will not stay up and write past 3:00 a.m. more than once a week — and I will try to do so only when my husband is away. He is my first and greatest gift; I ought to spend the night with him, not this keyboard.
4. Pornography patrol. I will scan our home computers for pornography. I will delete immoral material and initiate the painful, patient process of correction. If I find no pornography, I will tell my sons how proud I am that God has a “pornography free” home in San Francisco.
5. Patron saint. I will pray daily to St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) that she will guide the voice of New Feminism in expression and expansion. I will continue reading all of her translated works.
6. Financial support. I will reevaluate with my husband our charitable giving to focus on causes that promote an authentic “ethic of life” that is not compromised by denials, oversights, obfuscations, and bizarre rationalizing.
7. Core readings. I will slowly and carefully reread Evangelium Vitae, Mulieres Dignitatem, and John Paul’s”Letter to Women” of June 29, 1995. I will enthusiastically read the new contributions to New Feminism of other theologians and writers.
8. Connect with compassion. I will maintain calm with each young woman who confides to me her experiences with contraception, sexual promiscuity, and abortion. I will offer the same to each young man who confides his frustration in finding a young woman “without sexual baggage” and his consumption of pornography. I will recall Pope Benedict XVI’s call to the purity of Mother Mary, “to look at them with mercy, with love, with infinite tenderness, especially those who are most alone, most looked down upon, most exploited.”
9. Children first. I will, in word and deed, put the well-being of children foremost. I will remember my primary role as nurturer and teacher, even when I would like to lock my sons in their respective closets.
10. Responsible writing. I will espouse no theory of New Feminism unattached from the reality in which women live, love, and struggle to develop in their God-given fullness, alongside the men who support them in a determination to represent God’s love through our gender differences.