Breathing New Life into Women’s Dignity.

Today many young women not only refuse to describe themselves as “feminists” they have no idea that “International Women’s Day” on March 8th, began on the day that women in Germany and Austria first attained the right to vote in 1911.

Christian women both in Germany and around the world were key players in promoting women’s education and vocational opportunity in this early history of the “women’s movement”.  Most inspiring and influential of these was the great martyr, academic – Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).

By the end of the 20th century, unfortunately, the course of feminism was deeply divided by a complex of secularist philosophies.

Many Christian women felt that the gains of the institutional and bureaucratic versions of secular feminism were either irrelevant to their real struggles to survive in contemporary life or were actually deeply detrimental to a Christian understanding of life, family and faith.

However, there also women, who want to reclaim what the great philosopher Pope John Paul II memorably called a “new feminism”- which is truly life-affirming, collaborative and open to the redemptive power of Christian principles and faith.

Saint John Paul II’s insights into the need to restore and integrate, active and creative feminism was influenced by the thought of Edith Stein.  These influences can be seen developed by St John Paul II in his Letter to Women (1995) and on the Dignity of Women: Mulieris Dignitatem (1998).   It includes these pillars which also serve to inspire the work of the Anima Women’s Network.

  1. A woman is called to be true to the deep mystery of her created reality. She must first rediscover the wonder of her own “creation” including God’s call to her. The full depth of her talents and dignity, the integrated and redeemed development of her spiritual, bodily, sexual and intellectual powers should be recognised and strongly defended by all.
  2. Women have an enormous capacity to see a person as a “who” not a “what”. When women use their talent for emotional sensitivity in gossip-mongering, manipulation of others and most tragically of all, when they are made to believe they cannot care for the unborn, the needy or themselves, they are being tempted away from this “genius”.
  3. Thirdly, women seem also to be drawn to the creation and protection of special and receptive “spaces”. They seem to know in what places they and others can flourish. They have a maternal instinct.
  4. The fourth and essential aspect of feminine genius is women’s unique and vital complementary, contributions and relationships with men. God “intended” humanity to be a collaboration and communion of “the two” male and female. Men and women, though they complement each other, are different.

Both  overseas and in Australia there are women’s groups aiming to breathe new life into the movement advancing women’s dignity- in public and personal ways. In Australia – Women’s Forum Australia, the various arms of the Catholic Women’s League,  various pro-women Respect Life Offices, new religious communities and of course our own Anima Women’s Network.

Helen Alvare is another a pioneer in translating Pope John Paul II’s vision of a ‘new feminism” into her pro-life work with National Conference of  US Catholic Bishops.  She is a mother and trained in Theology, is Associate Professor in the Columbus School of Law.

In her discussion on the need for a new calibre of women’s activism she diagnoses the problems of the old feminism as resting in part upon an isolationist idea of freedom, a consumerist notion of sexuality and a fatal attraction to all the worst features of male behavior and male power plays.

“How clearly these words describe the logic which led old feminism to embrace so many errors: material success for women as superior to work within the family; unencumbered choice as superior to marriage and family life; sex as recreation; children as burden; abortion; and even physician-assisted suicide as a right..”

The situation for modern women is indeed driven by contradiction.  Despite concrete measures against sexual harassment and violence, female sexuality is blatantly used for commercial, social and personal gain.

Instead of “freedom of reproductive choice”, women are isolated and hastily pressured into abortion – or socially coerced into surrogacy and IVF contracts, or condemned to drift into hopeless relationships which deny them their dream to be mothers.

There is too much work to do to celebrate International Women’s Day with any complacency, and too much good work done by our foremothers to fall into despair or abandon their heritage.

~ Article by Anna Krohn – Anima Women’s Network Convener.