09 March, 2012

Questions Before 30: Feminist or No?

So, it is officially a birthday in my late-twenties which means it is an appropriate time for question number two in my 30 Before Thirty series.

Am I a feminist?

This question is a recurring one in my life. As an outspoken little girl, a graduate of an all-women's college, and a female lay minister in the Catholic church I've had more than my fair share of occassions on which to reflect on my role in the world. Today the question was raised because of a statement written in the most recent edition of Sr. Joan Chitister's e-newsletter. It read;

"Only then did the brave ones begin to write about the kind of harems the West had constructed for its own women; the closeted wife of the nuclear family whose role was to maintain the conspicuous consumption that demostrated her husband's success..."

I thought that feminism was about having a choice. So long as my choice is free, keeps me free and does not impinge on the freedom of others, my choice should not be in conflict with the feminist belief, right? Apparently not.

Admittedly, her comment followed a series of true statements about how many things have been revealed in the feminine world and genius in the past 50 years. However, in noting those things she also implied that women today, "...risk wallowing in self-deception" as, "...we fail to admit that nothing much has changed as a result of them."

While I have a deep respect for the men and women in this world who have answered God's call to vowed religious life, I do not appreciate my vocation to married and family life being put in a box by a woman who has chosen neither. Furthermore, should she not be criticizing my generation's choices or situation, she still encroaches on the choices of my mother and grandmothers without whose choices I would not exist.

I care to respectfully differ with her opinion. While I am grateful for the great work that was done on behalf of the freedom of women, I believe that some of that same work is done at the expense of women's freedom. I have never been able to call myself a feminist for two reasons: 1. I believe that the true feminist is one that supports a woman's ability to freely choose her way of life and 2. I want to be uniquely feminine.

Let me expand. I believe that the true feministy is one that supports a woman's ability to freely choose her way of life. Freely, in my belief system, is that which makes one free. Choices that enslave me to grief, physical ill-being, or relational co-dependancy do not free me. The areas of financial stability, materialism, family planning, chemical abuse, medicine, and unhealthy relationships of any type are rife with choices that have the potential to enslave me.

It is of the utmost importance to me that I have all the options laid out for me in these areas - to be well-educated before making a radical decision. Instead, many "feminist" efforts lead women to believe that only one option suits their best interest without offering the freedom of a true, educated choice.

Moreover, if I choose to stay home to serve my husband and family by way of cooking meals, teaching values and maintaining a hospitable home, then so be it. If I choose to work full time and send my children to daycare, so be it. If I choose something in between, so be it. My way of living, so long as the decision is made freely and does not impinge on the freedom of others, is as valid as another woman's choice. No philosophy that claims to free women should imply that my choice enslaves me to a "harem" of any sort, western or otherwise.

Just because we can doesn't mean we should. Take Eve for example. God gave Eve the ability to eat of the forbidden fruit. All she had to do was reach up and grab for it. However, the lesson of that story is one of temptation and turning one's back on God's will. She used her free-will to eat of a fruit that enslaved her, and generations to come, to lives aware of and tempted by sin.

And reason number two I have never been able to call myself a feminist is that I desire to be uniquely feminine. I have no desire to be the equal of a man. Those that have accepted the "...male eye..." as implied in Sr.'s reflection have done so not at the hands of ignorance or oversight, but at the hands of a movement that has promoted an equality that can never exist. I am a woman with unique insights, perspectives, and gifts that are different from those of a man. Physically, chemically, and phsychologically we are different. Were we the same, credit to the great wisdom of our Lord, our species, as designed, would not be able to pro-create.

Moreover, men and women around this world and in this church are co-creators with the Divine. Together, we build God's kingdom on earth. I need not be a man to make my contributions count anymore than I need to be American. I stand grateful and humbled by the many gifts and priviledges that being a white, American woman has afforded me. That being said, I have not come anywhere close to the generosity and selflessness of men and women just like me around the world who are doing more than I am to use their God-given gifts to the best of their ability with much less priviledge than I. I stand in awe of them as they fight, like me, to live their baptism.

Fr. Robert Barron makes a short, but wonderful case for the ultimate role and power of a man or a woman of faith. Ultimately, wouldn't you prefer sainthood?

As a representative of one of the newest adult generations of the Church, I firmly believe that much has changed for me as a woman in my Church. I have a voice that in my experience has only been silenced by a previous generation of women who don't want to hear my experience of the teachings and truth of our faith. I have a role that has yet to be challenged where I can form my family, my friends, and the other women in my community. I serve under a Bishop who appointed a married mother of 2 to the USCCB committee on evangelization and catechesis because he recognize the importance of her presence and perspective in their vision for teaching our next generation. I am grateful to be a woman in this church and grateful for the complementarity of my unique gender.

There are indeed times and ways in which the Church takes caution not to simply bend at the whims of popular culture. Perhaps that is why the Church has existed for 2,000 plus years while most political, economic and fashion statements exist but a generation or two.

My ultimate answer: feminist, no. A feminine image of God's great spirit who believes in the unique complementarity of all God's creations, absolutely.

I am woman, hear me love.