By Sara Engle
I am a conservative Catholic woman, and I am a feminist.
Those three words, “conservative”, “Catholic”, and “feminist”, may initially seem contradictory to each other, because the word “feminism” has become distorted from its original meaning to something that does not resemble true feminism at all.
I have a friend who has a shirt that reads: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”. Every time I see it, I laugh, not only because it is amusing, but also because it reveals the simplicity of feminism.
True feminism means women should be treated as equals to men—namely, women should be treated with respect and dignity. Under this perspective, I think it would be quite difficult to find a single person who thinks that women shouldn’t be treated with respect and dignity; by this standard, everyone in the world should be a feminist.
The movement to define and defend feminism began as a response to female discrimination, particularly in the workplace. But then, somehow, the definition changed from meaning, “treating women with respect and dignity” to, “treating women exactly the same as men”.
At first glance, it seems these two statements are identical—but let’s examine them more closely.
No one can deny that men and women were created as distinct from each other; this is evident in the differences between anatomical structure, cognition, and the capabilities God assigned to each gender (for example, men were not created to bear children as women were, and women were not created to father children as men were; women were created, in general, to be more sensitive to the emotions of others around them, and men were created, in general, to be physically stronger). Just as each gender has an equal but distinct contribution to the creation of new life, each gender has an equal but distinct contribution to nearly every element of true femininity and true masculinity.
“Equal” and “distinct” are not mutually exclusive to each other. Equal means, “like in quality, nature, or status”, and “distinct” means “distinguishable to the eye or mind as being discrete or not the same”.
“Unequal”, however, means, “not like or not the same as another in degree, worth, or status”. Notice that “distinct” is not the same as “unequal”—this is the contention that has divided true femininity from false femininity.
False femininity says: “I, as a woman, should be treated as if I were a man.” But this is absurd: why should I be treated as if I were a man if God created me as a woman?
When God created the heavens and the earth, all of His creations became gradually more complex and more beautiful; and since woman was the last of God’s creations, she is the most complex and the most beautiful creation. Therefore, I propose we understand true femininity as: “I should be treated as what I truly am—the crescendo of God’s creation.”
This is the most dignified and honorable treatment of women we can demonstrate, because it points to God, rather than to ourselves. It reveals our true identity, and refuses to accept both the lie that women are inferior to men and the statement that women are exactly the same as men. Femininity is one of the most precious blessings God has given us, and therefore must always be respected and cherished.
Sara is a senior studying music and Spanish at Oregon State University. She enjoys reading different perspectives on philosophy and theology, and is hoping to work in music and/or youth ministry in the Church.