Feminist theology is sooooo 1970s!

I’ve often said on this blog that, although I’m a new feminist, I refuse to align myself with feminist theologians. However, I haven’t really had a chance to explain exactly why. Since there have been a few comments of late that lump the two schools of though together, I thought that now would be the time to explain myself. Once and for all, let’s get one thing straight – the “new feminism” and “feminist theology” as academic/theoretical camps cannot be reconciled.

Feminist theologians apply secular tools (postmodern tools, in fact) to try to understand the plight of women, their place in the Church, and their relationship with God. As I said in a post last week, postmodern thought has been highly influential in forming their understanding of the position of women in the Church and within society. According to postmodern theory, knowledge (with regard to the Church – Scripture, the Magesterium and Tradition) has been constructed by the winners in society (in this case the patriarchy) and has therefore left women marginalised and excluded. Postmodernity rejects the absolute, conceiving all knowledge as a human creation. Feminist theologians have sought to apply these principles to theology. From a secular perspective, it appears that males dominate the Church; powerful men have created all knowledge (scripture, tradition and magesterial teaching). Therefore, there is a grave need, according to feminist theologians, to re-write history from the perspective of women so that they can be inserted into the Christian narrative.

Likewise, some Catholic Feminist theologians have turned to the tools of postmodern cultural analysis against the Virgin Mary, for whom it has little patience – at least in the form the Church paints her. For instance, they will often refer to the Simone de Beauvoir’s’ infamous reading of Genesis. She argues that the narrative created by powerful men in the Church throughout its history, and by in large is responsible for the deplorable and humiliating situation that women find themselves in. According to her reading, from Genesis woman has been declared man’s servant. She should be obedient, submissive, and accept her inferiority without revolt. To be in a subordinate position is God’s will for her and this is how she will attain salvation. Eve is created second, she is the one who eats the fruit first and then offers it to her husband, both are punished but Eve by far receives a worse lot – she is confined to suffering pain in childbirth and she was declared to be “subject to her husband”. According to Beauvoir, this continues into the New Testament. Mary declared herself the handmaid of the lord. Beauvoir writes “As servant, woman is entitled to the most splendid deification” Mary is praised for her obedience and submission. She is rewarded with becoming the mother of the Saviour by declaring herself the handmaid of the Lord. According to Beauvoir her final defeat is sealed when, after giving birth to a male child, she kneels in front of him and adores him. This act of adoration constitutes the ultimate male victory.

Another example of postmodern feminism applied to Christianity, is the call for goddess or Sophia worship on the grounds that a male God and Savior of Christianity does not reflect women’s experience.

Is Feminist theology a real Christian understanding of a true fight for authentic women’s rights? Give me a break! The new feminism (authentic feminism) advocated by JPII advocated a concrete understanding of the human person, both man and woman. He never based his thinking on the relativistic ideology of postmodernism. Women’s right to equal treatment and respect, like their right to equal partnership in the mystery of redemption, derives from their equal value as persons in the eyes of God. Moreover, a Catholic Feminist is one who embraces the notion of equality between man and woman but at the same time acknowledging that woman will most fully flourish and attain her true dignity if she embraces her vocational difference from man. Catholic Feminism isn’t about trying to change the nature of God and neither is it about trying to re-write the scriptures to be inclusive of women. I hate to break it to you, if you’re a feminist theologian, but scripture and tradition already upholds woman’s true dignity.

However, I think it is a matter of implementation. JPII actively promoted what he called a “culture of equality”. He has written that “respect for the full equality of men and women in every walk of life in one of civilisations greatest achievements” And he sadly acknowledges, “unfortunately even today there are situations in which women live, de facto of not legally, in a condition of inferiority”. Such injustice makes it even more “urgently necessary to cultivate everywhere a culture of equality, which will be lasting and constructive to the extent that it reflects Gods plan”.

Moreover, authentic feminism has nothing to do with fighting against the patriarchy; in fact, women can work together with men to truly attain an authentic promotion of the dignity of women. I think its time us Catholic feminists commence on an active apostolate by promoting a culture of equality, not wasting our time seeking to apply relativistic theories and philosophies. Viva la revolution!

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    Comments: 25

    1. Tuppence February 9, 2008 at 1:08 pm

      Filia Day, cheers for that post ey…if anyone wants further elaboration on that ‘difference’ between men and women and how an understanding of that allows us to throw off the shackles of angry 70s feminism (haha)…have a read of JPII’s Theology of the Body…Christopher West’s commentaries tend to be the best read.

    2. Don the Kiwi February 9, 2008 at 1:56 pm

      Excellent stuff Filia.

      I always enjoy your articles – well researched, logical and thought provoking.

      I have not heard of Beauvoir before, probably because I am a bloke and am not really interested in delving into feminist theological de-construction. Being of the aged category, as you are aware, I grew up with a lot of this stuff through the 60’s and 70’s and have always treated it with disdain. Until recently, that is, because of the very detrimental impact it has had on our Church.

      Interesting is Beauvoir’s interpretation of Genesis. But she runs into a major philosophical problem – “The last in execution is the first in intention“. The fact that God made woman last, confirms that *she* was the aim and purpose of creation; man – that is mankind, being the high point of God’s creation – *she* is the jewel in the crown – so to speak.

      Scott Hahn also has, to my mind, the correct take on who was at fault in the Garden of Eden. Even though it was Eve who was tempted by the serpent to take the *apple*, it was Adam who failed in his duty to protect her from the wiles of the devil, and so bears the responsibilty for the Fall. Its too long to quote here, but check out “A Father Who Keeps His Promises” by Scott Hahn, Chapter 3. An excellent book by one of our leading theologians.

      “Viva la Revolution !!!”

      To quote The Captain…Wha….What…..WHAT….WHAT !!!

      Let’s make it a little easier and tolerable ……..shall we say “Viva la Evolution ?? ;-)

    3. filias boyfriend February 9, 2008 at 2:07 pm

      Hmmm you know what all this talk about New Feminism reminds me about. I think that I can sum up what new feminism is in one word and I am sure the likes of JP3 and The Dumb Ox can verify and back me up on this. Drum roll please ….. HOUSE WIFE. Yes I don’t think that this is anything new, I think that they have found their true calling. Thats all really.

      As a friend of mine once pointed out to me: the difference between a housewife and a new feminist is that a housewife knows that she should be in the kitchen. A new feminist knows why.

    4. Don the Kiwi February 9, 2008 at 3:10 pm

      filias boyfriend.

      Wow brudder ,

      now you gonna cop some flack!! :lol:

    5. Chris Sullivan February 9, 2008 at 3:31 pm

      powerful men have created all knowledge (scripture, tradition and magesterial teaching)

      The problem with this assertion is that it just isn’t true.

      And Catholic feminists themselves (like Sr Joan Chittister) have been the ones to point out that it isn’t true.

      The bible is full of references to strong and courageous women, with even whole books like Ruth and Judith named after them.

      And the Catholic Church has always recognised a woman, Mary, has Queen of all creation, above even the Angels.

      Not to mention the heroic role of many women saints (eg Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day etc).

      However, it’s also true that, as JPII pointed out, and Benedict XVI has taken some significant steps towards realisation, that the Church still has a way to go to properly acknowledge the role of women and make proper use of their contributions.

      For example: there’s room to appoint considerably more women to positions of authority in Rome.

      And the recent announcement of male permanent deacons in the Auckland diocese (finally! some 40 years after Vat II) begs the question as to why women can’t perform the roles of a permanent deacon ?

      God Bless

    6. JP III February 9, 2008 at 5:50 pm

      “the difference between a housewife and a new feminist is that a housewife knows that she should be in the kitchen. A new feminist knows why.”

      Hey filia’s boyfriend, that is some serious wisdom and insight there. These new advances are really about understanding “why” women should be in the kitchen, and the home, and being domestic. I’m glad you’ve brought this up. Filia, I imagine you’ve posted this while taking a break from baking, and cleaning? Make sure you don’t neglect making Mr Boyfriend dinner, and desert


    7. Dei Verbum February 9, 2008 at 6:15 pm

      Chris do you read the posts before you hijack them It is not about power but authority!

      “Moreover, a Catholic Feminist is one who embraces the notion of equality between man and woman but at the same time acknowledging that woman will most fully flourish and attain her true dignity if she embraces her vocational difference from man. Catholic Feminism isn’t about trying to change the nature of God and neither is it about trying to re-write the scriptures to be inclusive of women. I hate to break it to you, if you’re a feminist theologian, but scripture and tradition already upholds woman’s true dignity”

      This has already answered your question about the deaconate, It is for you to refute this, not simply state your own agenda (again)

    8. poorclear February 9, 2008 at 8:08 pm

      Wow Filia. A fantastic post. Most insightful.

      I would like to take up something that Don has said in reference to Beauvoir’s reading of Genesis. It is that the last in execution is the first in the order of intention.

      This thought is very developed in the reading of Genesis by late Fr Marie Dominique Philippe, the founder of a thriving religious order, the Community of St John. He died just two years ago at the age of 93, founded his order of brothers and priests 30 years ago (as a young man in his 60’s) and today there are over 600 brothers and priests in it, along with two sister orders of comtemplative and apostolic sisters, numbering about the same between them.

      He has the most beautiful reading of Genesis I have ever seen, (It can be found in a book called “Wherever He Goes” which is a retreat on the prologue of the gospel of ST John in reference to the first 11 chapters of Genesis).

      He shows that in a gaze of wisdom, that is, trying to see things from God’s perspective, Genesis reveals that mystically, woman is the point of creation – the Benjamin, the fragile and most precious treasure of God’s heart. She is made last ccording to the order in chapter two, and is the finality of man who is made first in that chapter. She alone can be his helpmate in love, take him beyond the domination of work (which is a good of course) to the higher realm of gratuity, of personal love. He is made from the earth and the breath of God is poured into him. She is made from a more qualitative matter – the human body – man’s side. She has a greater sensitivity, which is a part of her genius.

      She is the place of fecundity, of the reception of God’s gratuity – “God has given me a son”.

      Ultimately, she is the flower of creation because she prefigures the Woman, Mary, the greatest creature to be made and the reason for creation – We can call her that because in her person and in her body the covenant with God, the everlasting covenant with man will be realised. For her he comes into the world as the CHrist, to save us all of course, but to bring us all into the love that is most realised between Christ and Mary, most transmitted to Mary, most received by her and responded to by her. The love of the holy Trinity communicated to Mary is the beginning of the Church and also what is ultimate in the Church.

      We are in the church in as much as we are close to her heart, to her response. We are drawn up into that love by the great gift of the sharing of that bond of love at the cross with the rest of her children, as APocalypse calls us.

      Already in Genesis we see the primacy of gratuity over efficiency and dominion. This then becomes a field of battle with the temptation, to be like GOd without God, because that is a temptation to absolute dominion, to the refusal of the gratuity of love. This battle is made fully explicit in the Apocalypse, the ancient revolt against God is played out in the dragon who makes war on the pregnant woman. He has 10 horns and seven heads, a disequilibrium, an obsession with power. She is in the gratuity of pure gift, she has received a son from the Lord. In her creation is able to image the fruitfulness of the love of God.

      By contrast, the feminism of the 70’s and of many feminist theologians has not seen beyond a quest for power and dominion. It operates in the Marxist dialectic of the haves and have nots. It sees humility and obedience as weakness and decision making as freedom. It is really on the side of the dragon with the seven heads and 10 horns I think, because it rages against the gratuity of the pregnant woman in her dependent fecundity.

      Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

    9. Joan February 9, 2008 at 11:54 pm

      Culture of equality I like. AND Lemon meringue pie I like.
      ..please would all those with more testorone than me start baking to prove their equality and show their dominion over the ingredients and there mastery of the power that the oven uses. In fact lets have a lemon meringue pie competition for the men! Mmmm I can smell them already and just look at those fluffy peaks of white snow tinged ever so slightly by dragons breath. Superb.

      Power, dominion, fecundity and dragons with seven heads and horns. Wow and people say Catholicism is boring!

      Viva la evolution and when is my pie ready?

    10. Don the Kiwi February 10, 2008 at 9:44 am


      I humbly admit and recognise that women are far superior at cooking than I , and probably most men.

      In fact, my wife – yes, the 5’2″ 47 kg Enforcer that some have met – cooks an amazing lemon meringue pie, and I would not for a moment suggest that I could do as well, for to do so would place myself in the most incomprehensible peril.

      ****S H U D D E R****

    11. Fidelium February 10, 2008 at 11:39 am

      Joan, super idea…

      And while we’re at it, let’s have a comp to see which women know how to change a tire on a car, or change the spark plugs…


    12. JP III February 10, 2008 at 12:08 pm

      …or get the lawn mower going :)

      Great post Filia.

    13. JP III February 10, 2008 at 12:10 pm

      poorclear, thanks for your illuminating comments in no.8

      Beautiful. :)

    14. Don the Kiwi February 10, 2008 at 12:30 pm

      Then, of course, there is the old joke, that when God made man he didn’t quite get it all right (aarrgh…..heretic ;-) ), but when he made woman, he put right any imperfections.

      Now, blokes, of course when our wives – or any of the feminine gender for that matter – are in our company or earshot, we naturally give obeisance to their claim.

      Well, DON’T WE ???

    15. Filia Day February 10, 2008 at 12:40 pm

      Filias boyfriend, JPIII et al,

      Your combined wit is impeccable.

      I have to admit it, I do love cooking – in between my academic job, activism, feminism, fashion, love of history, educational theory, unionism, politics, philosophy, theology. My apostolate relates to the home and the transformation of society….I plan to do both!

      I do believe, however, the profession of a mother has been marginalised within our society – we don’t give mothers enough support and generally we don’t give credit where credit is due….

      but be careful what you say – the blog hath no fury like a woman scorned….

    16. filias boyfriend February 10, 2008 at 12:48 pm

      - Now, blokes, of course when our wives – or any of the feminine gender for that matter – are in our company or earshot, we naturally give obeisance to their claim. –

      Haha, with regards to the husband wife theory, what does a pedestrian and a husband have in common? – They both know they have right of way until they try it.

      -but be careful what you say – the blog have no fury like a woman scorned….-
      Dearest Filia, my how we have come so far. I would like to add refinement to your list of activities….

      Speaking of dinner though what are you cooking for us tonight? hahaha ok maybe too far

    17. muerk February 10, 2008 at 1:26 pm

      I think New Zealand women are pretty lucky in that New Zealand men are quite helpful at home. Likewise I think NZ women are pretty good in a tool shed.

      I know my old Honda Civic broke down once in town and some kind gent came to save me which was very kind of him. Thankfully it was just a loose distributer cap which I could identify and fix myself. Likewise my husband can cook and dust. It’s not a big deal, just life skills.

      When I think of my pioneer ancestors and what they had to endure I am always impressed. Imagine having 14 kids and running a farm as well as breaking in new land. NZ men have always needed strong, capable women and have (I think) appreciated them. There’s always been strong women in Maoridom too.

      What has this to do with theology? Well it means I kind of resent being painted as an oppressed little wall flower that needs rehabilitating into a position of equality. As far as I’m concerned I already have equality and I don’t need the extra help, kthnxbi!

      One of my favourite books in the Old Testament is Judith, now there was a woman who was going to the darn job done. Poor old Holofernes never stood a chance!

    18. Fidelium February 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

      On the topic of women, their rights, and their gifts, the Anglican “Archbishop” of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recently tried to argue why there should be limited application of sharia law (Islamic Law) in the UK, for UK Muslims.

      See this video (requires broadband)


      In part of the speech he said that this could apply to marriage – I’m not sure what he means but could that mean ‘polygamy’?

      Not really a step forward for women in my view; or could this be the way forward for these ‘new feminists’?

      More women in the kitchen could mean more voting power in the household,…

    19. SAS February 10, 2008 at 3:02 pm

      On the topic of gender relations, a new and rapidly-growing body of scholarship known as ‘Manimism’ has come into being, which rejects the theory-centric approach characteristic of the feminisms (although Old Feminism is, admittedly, less prone to this flaw than New Feminism and Raging Feminism) and will, it is hoped, bring some much-needed balance to the gender-equality debate, which has thus far been marked by the pronounced tendencies towards theory-centrism and activism that have proven so instrumental in the oppression of masculine peoples throughout history and particularly in the current post-rage era as shown by Ioelu’s (2007) study of the mechanisms of feminine control and by Ulmer’s (2008) seminal work “What We Don’t Know They Can’t Use to Hurt Us: A New Approach to Male Liberation” which proposes that resistance to the designs of the feminine genius has by long experience been proven not only futile but disadvantageous to the realisation of true male dignity and well-being and that a less theoretical approach, bound neither to social nor to intellectual activism, is required for the achievement of a lasting and authentic emancipation of the “manletariat” (A term coined by Koovisk et al in their excellent 2004 discussion on the effects of the poly-promiscuous elite on manflation in North American university campuses) in his rightful role in society and the family as “husband and father” (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 25, 1981).

    20. TTM February 10, 2008 at 7:13 pm

      A breath of fresh air – thanks Filia.

      Another illuminating post (#8) – thanks poorclear. Beautiful.

      God bless you all.

    21. Dei Verbum February 11, 2008 at 6:54 am

      poor clear # 8 beautiful!

      At Mass on Sunday we had the Genisis story and what hit me was that it wasnt until both had eaten (and some time after Eve) that they realised their nakedness. It needed both to disobey God, what would have happened had one been stronger?

      Does this not say something about the gender debate, that we need balance between male and female and creation is a shared responsibility within different roles.

      Radical femenism only flourishes if men are weak?

    22. Chris Sullivan February 11, 2008 at 7:38 am

      In part of the speech he said that this could apply to marriage – I’m not sure what he means but could that mean ‘polygamy’?


      He means sharia courts to handle marriage disputes.

      Rather like we have our Catholic marriage tribunals and the Jews have always had Jewish courts to handle these civil but non-criminal matters.

      This idea was expressed by St Paul “Do you not have people able to judges these matters between yourselves ?”

      God Bless

    23. poorclear February 11, 2008 at 9:20 pm

      Dei Verbum

      You are very right. #21.
      There is something powerful in the cooperation of men and women that is lost when one becomes weak in respect to what they bring to the complementarity.

      Theologically, we can see from Genesis 2 that woman has a very special role in opening man’s heart to gratuity, to true self-gift, something his projects and dominion cannot achieve. She alone can finalise him, for she is a person, like himself. And there is something of the speciality of the heart in her. This power God has given her is to in order that love flourish in all its fruitfulness. In the fall, she falls first and then takes man with her, illustrating this very power, which when put toward evil can become fatal. The best corrupts to the worst, and a powerful good corrupts to a powerful evil. In the restoration, the redemption, which is even more than a restoration, because God goes further in his gift than he did initially, that power of the woman’s heart again becomes central – it heralds the triumph of love. Mary’s yes precedes Christ’s chronologically, according to human history, though she is graced for it by a grace applied in advance from his pierced side, so from his total yes. At the cross, we see that she is not just his mother at the physical level, not just an instrument that he be able to have a human birth, as she is sometimes reduced to by modern day Protestants (their founders certainly wouldn’t agree with them here). She is at the cross and is there as a sort of FINAL CAUSE – as the reason that Christ is hanging on the cross. He is dying for US, for us men and for our salvation – to fill us with grace, to fill us with divine life. He is dying because He loves us – and He loves Mary above all. He is dying for her – and drawing all men to Himself in her, making that link explicit in what he says to the disciple John. So the power of the Woman’s heart over man reaches its historical climax – in the fact that Jesus enters the world to save his bride, the Church, formed from his side, who is seen in person in the person and yes of Mary.

      They were two at the fall and were more divided from each other due to the fall. They are two at the redemption. A new Adam and a new Eve, who become perfectly one in the graced union of love.

    24. poorclear February 11, 2008 at 9:30 pm

      Regarding polygamy, the clear abomination here is that women are reduced to property. Behind it the deeper abomination of having a plurality of gods. It is curious that Islam does not see the connection here, though in fact pologamy in Islam is a continuation of pagan historical practice, while the polytheism of the pagans has been purified by Islam to monotheism. The connection isn’t made I think because there is no covanental aspect in Islam theology. The relation with God is not spousal, it is not friend. It is master – servant, and a master can have many servants, even if you cannot be a slave of more than one master. So perhaps Islamic marital ‘theology’ reflects a master-servant paradigm more than a spousal one.

      The exclusivity of One God united covenantally and irrevocably with His people who make up one Bride, is the underlying theological foundation to the rejection of divorce, in obedience to the explicit teaching of Christ, this God made man. God is faithful no matter what the infidelity of his people is – in mercy he calls them back to fidelity. He remains ever faithful to himself so never ceases to love them.

      There is no calling it quits on God’s part. And so human marriage which has been raised by Christ to be a sacrament of his marriage to the Church, is not able to be dissolved.

      There is only one religion that upholds the exclusivity and indissolvablity of marriage in the history of the human race, that founded by Christ when he espoused his Church through his pierced side.

    25. poorclear February 11, 2008 at 10:40 pm

      Regarding home or work:

      One thing that I think the old 70’s feminism did was rob us of a proper appreciation of the finality of work. Work is not an end in itself. Qualitative work certianly enobles man, but it is ultimately in service of something else. Work is for a more qualitative rest, a more qualitative milieu in order for man to flourish in a finality that is not work. Work doesn’t fulfill us or finalise us. It helps enable the necessary conditions for love to flourish more, for the gratuity of love to be less impeded by the conditioning. So a man goes off to work not to be there so much as to be home again in a more qualitative way. Now the raising of children is one of the most qualitative works imaginable because it involves the most qualitative matter: the human person. It is an effort to try to bring a little one more and more into their full self, into embracing most fully their finality in love of another person and of God. All education is ultimately ordered to this. It is not first careers education but education so that love may go further, be more real and authentic.

      To denigrate the mother who is home with her young ones in order that they may know the most qualititive awakening of their personhood, in the most loving environment possible is a terrible crime. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what really fulfils the human person. The efficiency of work is ordered to the gratuity of love and not the other way around. She is not at home so her husband can be at work. He is at work so she can be at home.