As many are certainly aware, feminism is not given much consideration at University of Dallas. Students seem to dismiss it offhand as a movement that is diametrically opposed to traditional Catholic values, a belief which is in turn based upon the misconception that feminism holds that women are superior to men. Rather than the superiority of women, however, feminism espouses as its first precept the essential equality of man and woman.
As a global social movement, feminism began roughly around the same time as the West transitioned into a modernist worldview in the mid-to-late 1800s. As a result, feminism is often blamed for the broad results of the rise of atheism, existentialism and individualism: the alienation and disconnection of the individual from a hierarchical structure of being, society as a whole and more intimate social circles such as the family. Many UD students are among those who draw such connections. Nevertheless, it’s both ridiculous and erroneous to either assume or pronounce that feminism itself is in effect responsible for the entire modernist shift in mentality, or to look at feminism in isolation from the social and philosophical climate into which it was born.
With this perceived connection between feminism and the rise of many modern maladies, three “antifeminist” claims have consistently emerged over the years that I would now like to examine in light of what feminism actually advocates.
Claim one: Feminism has destroyed the traditional relation of wife to husband. The essential claim here is that the freeing of women to the political exercise of their own minds has led to a similar “freeing” of familial bonds, starting with the epicentric bond of marriage. When marriage is viewed essentially as a partnership between equals – albeit equals with separate, traditional familial roles – this sanctity is not violated by feminist thought. Nor does feminism discount the idea that men and women naturally, and generally, tend to have certain separate roles within the family.
Claim two: Feminism has led to a blasé attitude about sex and an irreverence for the sanctity of marriage as per the first claim, leading to the rise of single motherhood. While it’s true that one of the larger issues of feminism in the last century was women’s reproductive rights, the human desire for sex is nothing new and cannot be framed as a new-fangled fault of women and the availability of birth control. Nor can the availability of birth control be traced directly to an increasing lack of desire or respect for marriage as an institution or sacrament. However the institution of the “no fault” divorce law in the 1960s certainly has led to the prevalence of a looser treatment of marriage.
Claim three: Feminism has led to the normalization of broken family units – in other words, as per claim two, single mothers and broken family units set an example for children which they institute in the structure of society in their own generation. This may be the case – such structures certainly have been normalized in our own generation – but the idea that feminism has led to this as well is based on the factualness of the idea that the feminist movement has led directly to a) single motherhood and b) divorced couples. The latter is true, though I have more trouble agreeing to the former.
Nevertheless, I believe both are still more largely indicative of a larger cause and philosophical climate that fostered women’s (and men’s) disconnection from society and the family.
All that being said, it must be noted that there is no such thing as a single and united feminist movement: Feminism can be described as fractional at best. The ultimate question that never seems to be addressed in so many circles in feminist and antifeminist camps alike is not that of what women’s role is in society or the family, but rather that of what constitutes women’s being. If we could focus on this question first and foremost, we might be able to strike at the heart of the issue and address the contentions that lie at the heart of the “feminist” question.