December 17-23, 2001
volume 12, no. 162

The Egalitarian Revolution    part eleven

The New Feminism

    In the last few installments, I have described that first stage of feminismo arrabiata, or furious feminism. But something began to happen to the feminist movement after the fury of the rabid '70s began to wane. Feminism began to lose credibility and go through a serious crisis. This was to be expected, since it had separated itself from the natural order in its absurd claims that there were no differ-ences between men and women. And it had alienated many people by link-ing itself with the most radical movements like Liberation Theology, Mother Earth movements, and Lesbian or Homosexual Rights groups.

    In these unfavorable conditions, the progressivist Church stepped in to the rescue. In effect, the movement was saved by the Catholic Church, who deviated it from this anti-natural and radical path, and steered it on the pathway of a "new feminism," (1) a kinder and gentler feminism, so to speak.

    In his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, among the 105 paragraphs written by John Paul II, paragraph 99 jumps out:

    "It depends on women. It depends on them to promote a 'new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of male domination' in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society and to overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation."
    Women were quick to notice the novel language and, paradoxically even some conservative women began to promote conferences to help define this "new feminism." The new feminism, as John Paul II affirmed in his 1995 World Day of Peace Message, was specifically rooted in post-Vatican II teaching which stressed equality between the sexes, applauded the assumption of new roles by women and apologized for members of the Church who place obstacles in the way of women's progress. Let me note that there is no mention of a hierarchy in marriage, with one who commands and one who obeys.

    For example, in a 1995 Apostolic Letter to Women prior to the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference, John Paul II says,

    "There is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, …. equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of the everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State."
    I have many pages of the allocutions and teachings of John Paul II on the New Feminism, and I'm sorry to say, they are only the tip of the iceberg. There is, I note again, never a mention of the monarchical principle, the kingship of the man in the family.

    As Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard University and champion of the conservative new feminism movement ecstatically observes: "The implications of John Paul II's writings on women are truly revolutionary …. and for the most part yet to be explored." (2)

The Key to the theology behind the new feminism.

    The new feminism does not claim women and men are the same, nor does it openly claim the superiority of women. It promotes a more subtle equality between man and woman in their "dialogue" with each other. The philosophical and theological principles that support the new feminism are laid out in John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, a kind of Benjamin for John Paul II, who claims that "everything I have written on this theme in Mulieris Dignitatem, I have felt since I was very young, and, in a certain sense, from infancy."(3) He suggests meditation on it as a spiritual exercise. (MD, §1)

    That is not so easy to do. Some of you may have tried to read and understand it. The philosophical and theological ramblings are long and quite obscure in many places. I didn't find the key to understanding the new theology behind it until I read a chapter of Volume 8 of Mr. Guimarăes' Collection on the Council, entitled Eli, Eli, Lamma Sabacthani? ("My God, My God, Why Has Thou Abandoned Me?") Vol. 8 deals with the progressivist new look of women. (4) I want to give you this key, because it will help you to understand all the mumble-jumble of theologians and scholars who explain this important document, which is, at base, a new theology that clashes violently with prior teachings of the Church on the relationship between men and women.

    According to the John Paul II's dialogical, or personalist, principles, the full realization of man would not take place by the development of his individuality alone before God. Rather, this development would be the fruit of the "dialogical" integration of man and women together. The "I" would only be realized in the "you." Don't be alarmed - this is just the new personalist language. Basically, it means that man would only be realized in the woman, and vice versa.

    A couple becomes one person only when your "you" lives in "me", and my "I" lives in "you." In other words, to fulfill his or her own personality the man and the woman should not seek to fill their vocations either alone or living in community. Every man would have an essential need of the woman in order to complete himself and vice versa. (5) Thus, he would have to renounce his own individuality to try to find himself in the woman. The woman would do the same in an analogous process.

    This thesis is the opposite of the Thomistic notion of the person, which is based on a person's individuality. The personalism of John Paul II supposes the abolition of the individuality of man and woman to form a new element, which is the couple. In other words, the same renouncement that pantheism demands from the man to make him a part of the whole, the pan, personalism demands to make the man and woman part of the couple. If you like, I could say that this personalism is a pantheism lived by two. This is the key I wanted to give you. Depending on the philosopher or theologian, the theory can be presented with different approaches and under various names. But the base is the same.

    This is the way progressivism is presenting feminism. The woman no longer wants to be like the man - it is admitted that the sexes are different. But now it is stressed that they are equal in their complementarity. However, by denying any hierarchy and reducing man to the dimension of the woman (he only would complete his personality by being realized in the woman), the principal characteristic of man is denied or destroyed. That is, to be the king of the creation, to be the head of the family. In the end, it is still the woman who is the measure for the man. The new feminism is not the defeat of feminism, but a victory for its egalitarian principles.

    Let's go back to the encyclical. There, John Paul II makes a strange and novel exegesis of Genesis to establish a foundation for this perfect equality. Male and female He created them, Scripture says (Gen. 1:27). This is interpreted as the notion that men and women were not separated in the original plan of God. They were one thing. (6)

    Therefore, the characteristics of the man - dominion, rationality, strength, justice -are not the respective natural attributes of the man. No, John Paul II presents them as consequences of original sin. Now, to "return" to the stage of humankind before original sin, to a kind of paradisiacal stage, man should renounce his "masculine" characteristics -- of dominion and power in particular -- especially in his relations with women. (7)

    And, the other side of the coin, the feminine virtues of reconciliation, nurturing, emotions, etc. should be cultivated. Original sin, then, is equal to dominion. John Paul says this many times. And it is the so-called feminine characteristics that need to be emphasized to have the new civilization of love.

    This is just the bare outlines of the new personalist philosophy and theology, which is a kind of disguised feminist theology. No, it no longer blatantly claims the woman is equal or superior to the man. But it implies this. So there we have it, the furious feminism of the '70s and '80s, replaced by a so-called "Catholic version," baptized and blessed by John Paul II in the Encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem.

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.


  • (1) - Ed., Ralph McInerny, The Catholic Woman, Proceedings of papers presented at a con-ference sponsored by the Wethersfield Institute, New York City, September 28, 1990, (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1991).
  • (2) - Mary Ann Glendon, "The Pope's New Feminism," Crisis, (March 1997).
  • (3) - JPII, Crossing the Threshhold of Hope.
  • (4) - Atila Sinke Guimarăes, Vol. 8 of the Collection: Eli, Eli, Lamma Sabacthani?, n.p. Two volumes of the Collection are presently published in English editions: Vol. 1, In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, and Vol. 4, Animus Delendi I (Desire to Destroy). Both are available from Tradition In Action, Inc.
  • (5) - "Moreover, we read that man cannot exist "alone" (Gen. 2:18), he can exist only as "unity of the two" and therefore in relation to another human person. It is a question here of a mutual relationship: man to woman and woman to man. Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other 'I'." (MD, §7)
  • (6) - "Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God. …The biblical text provides sufficient bases for recogniz-ing the essential equality of man and woman from the point of view of their humanity. … From the very beginning they appear as a 'unity of the two.'" (MD, §6)
  • (7) - "The 'beginning' and the sin: This 'domination' [of the man over the woman' indi-cates the disturbance and loss of the stability of that fundamental equality which the man and the woman possess in the 'unity of the two." (MD, §§ 9-10)

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    For past columns by Dr. Horvat, see Archives of Echoes of True Catholicism

    December 17-23, 2001
    volume 12, no. 161
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