Mama Mondays: feminist and proud
As I’ve read along this past week in my friend Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s book, The Domestic Church: Room by Room, I’ve felt the kind of exhilaration one feels when coming upon the refreshing truth about something. This certainly is not a message we women are used to hearing – that in our roles as mothers, we are taking part in one of the most significant and honorable endeavors possible. But it’s an important, vital message, and I can’t help but want to share it with others since it is so not the message we typically hear, but so the one I feel we need to hear.
Throughout the reading, my mind hearkened back often to the idea of the New Feminism, a concept a friend introduced me to about a decade ago. I remember what happened as she described all it encompasses: a billion bells began going off in my head. This is it! This is what I have believed for some time now but didn’t have a name for! It was amazing to me that significant aspects of my evolving identity – ones with few points of reference in the secularized world – had been formalized by others before me. To learn I wasn’t alone in the way I felt was incredibly affirming.
At some point during my college years, I’d begun considering myself a feminist because I needed to put a name to my feeling that my worth as a woman was not being fully acknowledged by the world around me. I was becoming aware of how women are commonly objectified, and feeling quite offended by this objectification, among other imbalances. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t truth. I wanted to feel honored in the way men, by and large, seemed to be being honored, so it seemed logical to add feminist to my growing list of young-adult self-descriptions.
In time, though, much of the feminism to which I’d been subscribing began to feel off. I came to realize that the kind of feminism the culture presents most often required me to deny certain parts of myself, those qualities that had been with me since my earliest years of playing dolls with my sister. Despite my longtime desire to be a mother, I’d been molded in college to believe that motherhood was a substandard goal, and that true happiness would only come through embarking on a “real” career. And in order for things to ever balance out in the men-dominated work force, my presence was required out there, not in the home.
I’m not saying it was all bad. My time of being fully engaged in that outside world did allow me to hone certain skills and better understand the world in ways that would have been more difficult to discover had I not been dwelling in that sphere for a time. But I also was beginning to feel deceived, not to mention quite empty.
Then, something changed everything: motherhood.
It was shocking to me how quickly I took to it, how almost instantaneously my priorities became reordered. It was then, as a new mother, that I began to question my previously-held views of the kind of feminism the world had dished out to me, because so much of that viewpoint did not match how I was feeling inside. Still, I was left to grapple through all of this, mostly alone and with little to no support from the outside world.
It was only through living my calling of motherhood and connecting with my children in a way I had never connected with a human being before that I came to discover the New Feminism, years before I knew there was a name for it.
Which is why I was so delighted the day my friend named it for me. Unlike the old feminism, she explained, the New Feminism embraced the idea of women and men having complementary roles, with neither gender being better than the other. It perpetuated the idea that men and women, while both totally equal in dignity, possess unique characteristics that, when honored, lead to a more harmonious world.
It was a no-brainer to me at that point. Yes, I was a New Feminist, and proudly so. There was no brainwashing taking place, either; not like before. This time, it was a case of me happening up the real truth, based on the life I had come to discover as part of my most authentic calling. I didn’t have to deny any aspect of myself within New Feminism. I could fully embrace my identity as a professional and a mother and a Christian and a female. Yes, within this “movement,” I could embrace my femininity. I didn’t have to be ashamed of it, to hide it away. None of my best qualities, talents and strengths would be denied me in this beautiful vision. And better yet, there was no competition to be had with my husband or any other male, not to mention among the women in my life. We all had significant roles to play in keeping the world moving forward, and we needed one another to carry out this vision of how life could best be lived. It required mutual respect, cooperation and the honoring of those differing strengths each were bringing to the world, the work force and ultimately, our homes.
In her book, Donna reminds us of a quote from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “This is our gift as women. We have been created to be the center and the heart of the family.” In other words, within those complementary roles that we embrace as male and female, females in particular, in their relational genius, are called to play a special and crucial role as center and heart of the hearth. This is not to take away all that men bring to the same sphere, but to identify the special and dignified role that a woman has as mother and wife.
Who can deny our unique and special roles as women, as mothers? Who can deny that there are some hats that only we can wear with that special flair and vitality? Likewise, there are hats the only men wear well, and men, too, ought to be empowered in those capacities. They need to be allowed to embrace their unique but vital areas of strength. It’s not either-or. Both and all are needed.
This vision – of the complementary service men and women are to be to their families, to one another and to the world – is hugely exciting to me. It makes both logical and emotional sense, and I honestly feel anyone would be hard-pressed to argue with it if they truly took the time to understand it as it has been presented by some, including Pope John Paul II, who so expertly explained the complementary roles of man and woman, husband and wife.
If this concept is new to you, I challenge you to go to this article, where you’ll be taken to a YouTube video that explains the New Feminism much more eloquently than I have. And then, I encourage you to come back and share your thoughts.
What does the word feminism mean to you? Has your view of it changed at all as you’ve moved through your life?