Almost by definition, the overarching goal of any feminism is to realize — in action, in the world — the dignity of the human person who is female. In Evangelium Vitae, the Pope [John Paul II] refers to this when he says that feminism acknowledges and affirms “the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society.” The marks of a new feminism, a Christian feminism in service to life, are distinctive, however. Women’s well-being is not pursued in isolation; rather, our well-being, dignity, and freedom are always related to the well-being, dignity, and freedom of others.
As the members of the human race who bear the next generation, who have a special relationship with new life, we must never forget that all freedom is relational. As the Pope states: “You are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are present in a special way in the relationship of husband and wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every other interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes you acutely aware of the other person.”
Thus, we must bring to every struggle undertaken in the name of a new feminism an acute sense not only of women’s rightful place but of the well-being of others. While wholeheartedly supporting true equality for women in all arenas, we must also attend to the needs of those who are affected by our actions — most especially the needs of children. As relatively powerless people, children merit our special care and concern to ensure that their needs are not trampled upon. New feminism, for example, must honestly confront the moral dilemmas faced by the working mother, something old feminism never adequately addressed. Caught up in a fight to allow children to be “disappeared” by abortion, old feminism could never quite bring itself to grapple with what mothers owe their children.
New feminism must also remember that men are profoundly affected by the path of women’s lives. It never adopts an “in-your-face” attitude but remembers that true freedom for women respects the dignity of males as well. Think of the progress that could be made in respect for women if men were seen always as partners, not adversaries! And every woman with a supportive husband or a father who is sure his daughter can do anything understands what I’m talking about.
A new feminism also remembers that it is a waste of time to rail against objective truths. Trying to be free of our bodies’ reproductive abilities or of the emotional consequences of promiscuity is as futile as trying to be free of gravity.
We need to jump off a building only once to know that we cannot escape the reality of gravity. True freedom with respect to our sexual selves respects our God-given nature to give ourselves sexually only within the lifetime commitment of marriage. Giving ourselves in any other context gives too much away that is never retrieved.
Finally, and most importantly, a new feminism, a Christian feminism, remembers God. How can we fail to understand the dignity with which we’ve been endowed if we remember the One who created us and why. The beauty of the story of women’s creation and the dignity and holiness of Mary and of the other women in Scripture — in the Old and New Testaments — speak volumes about who women were created to be. Throughout the New Testament in particular, Jesus’ respectful encounters with women were as noteworthy in that day as they ought to be in our own. A new feminism must remember that God will never underestimate women’s potential or the gifts we can bring to private and public life. At the same time, it remembers that, like Jesus — the model for humanity — and like all human beings, we are created to serve others. Such a feminism will leave no victims in its wake. When we embrace a feminism that remembers God, we will reject abortion, we will not taunt men, we will not abandon our families.