On the 25th Anniversary of Women for Faith & Family
To Witness with Courage and Grace
by Margaret M. Whitehead
In the November 2003 issue of The Family in America, Allan Carlson, the editor of that journal and a leading authority on families, wrote about a discussion he participated in at the beginning of the new millennium:
At one point, the conversation turned to the question: Over the course of the 20th century, what ideology had enjoyed the greatest success? Which worldview had been most influential in reshaping ideas, attitudes, and institutions? … in the end, we concluded that the greatest success had been registered by a surprise candidate: the ideology known as liberal or equity feminism.1
In our society, the success of what Allan Carlson calls “liberal or equity feminism” is generally considered to be a good thing; it has been considered an overdue recognition of the dignity and equality of women. In fact, however, this radical type of feminism, while it has favored some elements beneficial to women, such as equality before the law, has in other respects been harmful to women especially in the way that it has been carried out, as Dr. Carlson points out in his article, and as we have often been able to see in our world today.
Instead of recognizing the true dignity and importance of the “feminine genius”, it has in many ways become a movement to promote an equality based on a distortion of the true and proper relationships between men and women and resulted in a downgrading of the specific qualities of women. Although men and women are equal, they are not identical. As Pope John Paul II has observed: “In the sphere of what is ‘human’ of what is humanly personal ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are distinct, yet at the same time they complete and explain each other” (emphasis added).2
Radical feminism has further resulted in the downgrading of the importance of families and of those things that are done for love rather than for money or status. The role of women as mothers and wives in the home, for example, is often considered of little importance in the view of this ideology and such views have had many negative effects on the relationships between men and women, not to mention some of its disastrous effects on the well-being of children.
Concepts such as love, trust, mutual respect, dignity, vocation and motherhood all seemed to fade away or even disappear when equity feminism took over. Instead, concepts such as choice, empowerment, autonomy, equality, and the “right to abortion” were proclaimed to be the true ideals of women, and were promoted relentlessly in our media, in our schools, and in our society generally. All these things were among the unfortunate results of the rise of equity feminism.
By 1984, when the six founders of Women for Faith & Family decided to start a Catholic women’s group that would be based on an authentic understanding of the nature, dignity, and vocation of women, radical feminist ideologies were having a negative impact even within the Church, and, meanwhile, there was no visible organized response from faithful Catholic women.
Such a response was absolutely needed, however, in order to help our clergy, and, indeed, our society, in general, to deal with the cultural tsunami unleashed by radical feminism. By basing its response to the feminist onslaught on authentic Church teaching and applicable Church documents such as Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, Evangelium Vitae, and Mulieris Dignitatem, WFF has been able to enlighten, strengthen, and spread the truth about men, women and children.
Pope John Paul II wrote in Mulieris Dignitatem, “the dignity and the vocation of women as well as those of men find their eternal source in the heart of God”.3 The fact is that women and men live in relationship to each other and are meant to be “gifts to each other”; that though they are equal they are not interchangeable; and that love and trust should be at the basis of their relationships these are truths that are missing today from the minds of too many modern women (and men). Perhaps the most deleterious of all the effects of radical feminism on women has been the widespread loss of proper appreciation for the great gift of motherhood that women enjoy by nature and along with this, the increased use of contraceptives and abortion, which deny a woman’s nature and her specific gifts. The pope explained:
The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way.... A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God, “entrusts the human being to her,” always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself.4
Radical feminism, then, which has caused so much harm to our society, to families, to men, to children, and, especially, to women themselves, is opposed to both truth and nature; in the long run, it cannot last.
Women for Faith & Family had the courage and grace to witness to the essential truths both of our faith and of our nature, and we are thus very grateful for the leadership and support that it has provided for the past twenty-five years. For the rest we rely on the graces of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His Mother Mary for the courage and strength to live out our womanly vocations.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in Mulieris Dignitatem:
In Mary, Eve [woman] discovers the nature of the true dignity of woman, of feminine humanity. This discovery must continually reach the heart of every woman and shape her vocation and her life.5
Ad Multos Annos!
2 John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §25.
The Church documents mentioned in this article can be read on the WFF web site:
Margaret M. Whitehead is a wife, mother, and religion teacher and is a member of the editorial board of Voices. She developed the outline and questions for WFF’s Evangelium Vitae Study Guide that appears in this issue of Voices.
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