Rethinking Feminism

“I can’t talk to you if you hate women!”

Those are actual words I said one day to one of my best guy friends way back in eighth grade. We had just had a serious discussion about women’s rights in a class, during which he said something that convinced me that he was against me and all my fellow sisters in the struggle for equality.

Full disclosure: I don’t even know what he said. What I *actually* remember are the numerous conversations he and I would have in the years following, in which we joked and laughed about the day that I stopped talking to him and told my friends he was a “woman hater.” (Don’t you just wish you knew 13-year-old me?!)

Setting aside whatever you think about my middle school shenanigans, I think it’s safe to say that women have always mattered to me. The above is the first concrete example I have of it manifesting itself in a particularly vocal way, but it reveals something I think I’ve always known to be true: women are important and deserve to be treated as such.

There is a lot that can be said regarding this topic, from the way some people in the Church views even just the term “feminism” to the particular issues that feminist causes champion, in both Catholic and non-Catholic spheres. But that’s not what I’m concerned with here.

As a woman seeking every day to be transformed by the love and mercy of Jesus and allowing that to inform how I make my way through this life, I would be honored if you could consider the things that feminism means to me:

It means upholding the truth that women complete our knowledge of God.

The Church firmly teaches the complementarity of man and woman, that God created men and women with equal dignity but not with sameness. Since both men and women are made in the image of God, they each reveal something unique about God’s wisdom and goodness (CCC 369). This means that our roles in the world are dependent on one another and illuminate each other’s qualities — they are not in competition with each other but are meant to work alongside each other to make God known better. This is a beautiful and bold message for the world about our identities as male and female and how we should live.

Acknowledging the female essence of the Church is helpful in understanding this more clearly: the sacrifice of Christ makes the most sense if you recognize that He is laying down His life for His Bride, the Church. The Church is often described as our mother, to whom we ought to be faithful and loving. Both of these images describe the Church with inherently feminine language, even though the Church is comprised of both men and women.

When each of us as members of the Church seeks out and holds up women’s perspectives, ideas, experiences, and when we give women a place to speak into the life of the Church through their leadership and witness, we are actually living out the reality that the Church is a woman, bride, and mother. By doing that work of integrating woman in our understanding of God and the Church, we are responding to a proclamation that God made when He created woman — that she was necessary (Genesis 2:18-24). Feminism means joyfully reminding our brothers and sisters of this simple yet impactful truth: that women are absolutely indispensable for any honest pursuit of God. Period.

It means amplifying the voices, experiences, and perspectives of ALL women.

OK, so I know I said this is about what feminism means to me, but the truth is that feminism looks a little bit different depending on the person you ask. When I asked a bunch of my girlfriends what it means to them to be a feminist, here’s (some of) what they said, in their words:

  • “Refusing to let systems that stifle women’s powerful perspectives to persist”
  • “Unashamedly sharing the gift of authentic, bold femininity, confident in the goodness of God that it reveals to the world… or something like that”
  • “The fight for equality, not dominance.”
  • “The ability to love myself and be comfortable and proud to be a woman.”
  • “Embracing our identity as women and the unique ability and gifts we have to contribute.”
  • “Having confidence in the unique traits God has given women and using them to help others!”
  • “Standing with, supporting, protecting all my sisters who fight for equality.”

These statements — from women both Catholic and not — reflect the way that feminism is first and foremost a desire to rejoice in womanhood. It comes from a place of looking at women and saying, “You are good.” This is especially important to affirm in those moments when a woman feels like she is less than what she is because of her gender, ethnicity, relationship status, sexual orientation, mental health, physical ability, socio-economic status, weight, etc.

As the Church, we have to be the first to proclaim the goodness of every woman, a goodness that was given to her by her creator. The Christ in us should move us to affirm that Jesus cares about every woman’s unique voice, her particular story, her irreplaceable perspective — no matter how messy, complicated, or imperfect. There is more than one way to be a good woman: just look at the wildly different lives of a handful of women saints to see what I am talking about. Feminism has to be an enthusiastic celebration of womanhood, which has a variety of expressions that are true, good, and beautiful.

It means unapologetically rejecting anything that tries to oppress women.

Women are not afterthoughts, bystanders, or props. They are not secondary, the “lesser sex,” or undeserving. They aren’t too emotional, crazy, or off the rails. They are not objects, commodities, or eye-candy. They are equal partners in making God known to the world.

And yet, around the world, women still suffer unequally when it comes to poverty and hunger, education, decision-making, violent acts, and a number of other issues. In the United States, women are misled to believe that abortion and contraception are “necessary” for empowerment, are underrepresented in business and politics, are victims of the gender pay gap, and generally pay more for basic products than men. It gets even crazier when you realize that these issues disproportionately impact women of color.

These realities do not indicate that men do not suffer, but rather it demonstrates that, both historically and presently, women suffer simply because of their status as women, which we can recognize as an injustice. It is not helpful to ignore the many miles still to go in order for women to be able to confidently live out their femininity in this world. While we can certainly celebrate the milestones achieved along the way, both big and small, feminism means we are aware of our sisters in the struggle and work toward eliminating the oppressive systems that limit them.

Everyday Feminism

These three ideas have shaped my feminism in profound ways, and I pray I am remembered as someone who lived these well. I try to regularly reflect on the incredible strength in the women in my life — my mom, sisters, abuelitas, tías, primas, friends, coworkers — and to actively tell them why I admire them. I try to fight the temptation to think that I am “too outspoken” (which happens A TON) and instead look for the ways I can uniquely speak into situations. I pray to embrace opportunities for leadership instead of giving in to the idea that I am somehow incapable or the wrong person for the task who is going to ruin everything. I look to the lives of holy women who lived in fierce and bold ways for inspiration and for intercession. I try my best to advocate for women who still suffer just because of their gender, whether that be my loved ones or those in my community, country, and the world.

These characteristics of feminism are part of me. They reveal something of who I am as a whole woman seeking to follow Jesus. May they inspire you today to defend the dignity of women, honor their stories, and work against the injustices that limit them — wherever you may be.