Sex, Catholicism, and feminism.
Do I have your attention?
These words are spoken about more frequently these days, both online and in Catholic culture.
You might not think that those three words go together at all. In many ways, these words do go together. The intersection of these words have powerful implications for the Catholic Church and for women.
Defining Terms and Exploring History
A few years ago while browsing the FemCatholic recommended books to read, my eye was caught by Sue Ellen Browder’s book Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement. As a woman who values certain but not all ideals held by feminism, I was very interested to read this book from the perspective of a woman who used to identify as a secular feminist.
One of the main things I learned? Abortion and contraception were never originally a part of the 1960’s women’s movement. I was shocked. The book went more deeply into the background and history of how those changes came to be.
Fast-forward to the present day.
Sex and the Catholic Feminist Book Review
In January of 2020, Sue Ellen Browder released her newest book, Sex and the Catholic Feminist: New Choices for a New Generation.
The premise of this book delves more deeply into tracing back the roots and history of feminism in the United States while taking up a battle cry for the ardent need for Catholic women to take back the word (and ideals) of feminism.
Secular feminism has reduced a woman’s dignity and personhood merely to her sex organs and desirability. At the same time, it denies motherhood and marriage and exults abortion and contraception.
How Did We Get Where We are Today?
The author does an incredible job of laying the historical foundation of feminism in this country (also covered in her previous book). In this book, she also introduces readers to several women from the women’s movement in the 1960s and how their individual influence has brought our culture to where it is today.
I want to highlight two of them so you can get a fuller picture of how we ended up here.
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Betty Friedan + The Feminine Mystique
When asked to conduct a survey for a college reunion, Betty began to realize how the prosperity and consumerism of the day was not making women happy. While unhappy in her own marriage, the Smith College survey revealed that many other educated, suburban women were struggling with a sense of emptiness in their lives.
Betty defined what she thought was the problem: a deeply-ingrained cultural belief that feminine fulfillment was to “just be a housewife” (the feminine mystique). Betty believed the solution was work.
The problem is that she oversimplified and misnamed the problem. Clearly looking at modern culture today, the world of total work has not set women free at all.
Interestingly enough, Betty’s book and call for feminism initially included things like marriage, motherhood, college degrees, and careers.
But how did this original feminism go so far off the tracks?
Helen Gurley Brown + Sex and the Single Girl + Cosmpolitan editor-in-chief
Her book Sex and the Single Girl, a forerunner to the TV show Sex in the City, came out in 1962. It quickly became a sensational best-seller which strove to blow away the “myth” that a woman must be married to enjoy a satisfying life.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Helen was one of the leading women in America promoting Alfred Kinsey’s reduction of a woman’s personhood to the level of a sexual animal. Interestingly enough, she was also the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years.
High numbers of these women living a supposedly fulfilling, sexually-liberated life didn’t actually exist. Her solution? She and writers for her magazine made them up. Yes, writers began to lie and make up stories about women to change their minds and hearts about sexuality.
Several chapters further explain this in the book, and it blew me away.
A Foundation of Lies
So in many ways, you could say that the secular feminism of today was built on a foundation of lies.
More or less, the seductive marketing story Cosmo told (and still tells) is that sex without commitment is glamorous.
One of the powerful things this book left me thinking about is the power of media, stories, and how those things can sway people’s beliefs and opinions.
Lifting the Veil
Without giving away more of this gem of a book, I hope this review gives you an idea of some of the important themes the author discusses.
Sue Ellen takes the reader on a journey of the transformation of her heart, which eventually led her home to the Catholic Church!
As Catholic women, as a Church, we need to know these parts of history to better understand how to minister and reach the hearts of women in the world around us.
We have a right to know the truth about the stories of how things played out in the history of the women’s movement and feminism.
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