That the unintended consequences of revolutionary political and social movements frequently surpass their original intent may be easily discerned in the study of history. This truth poignantly surfaces in Sue Ellen Browder’s Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement (San Francisco: Ignatious Press, c. 2015). She begins with this confession: “I can give you no justification for what I did I my former life. I will only say this is my weak defense: I was a young woman searching for truth, freedom, and meaning in the world, but I had no clue where to find them” (#37 in Kindle).
In part Subverted is an autobiography, an account of a modern journalist. As a youngster growing up in Iowa, Browder longed to escape her small-town environs and join the more exciting, opportunity-laden cosmopolitan world she saw in magazines and television. Determined to become a writer, she entered and then graduated from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. She then worked briefly for a publication in Los Angeles before going to New York and landing a job as a free-lance writer with Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan, which in 1970s was “the undisputed reigning queen of women’s magazines—the hottest women’s magazine in the nation” (#45). She basked in the glow of early success, seeing her talents displayed in the pages of a publication renowned for promoting the causes she most ardently supported—including the ‘60s sexual revolution.
She’d all so quickly realized her adolescent dream! “Only later would I realize how dark the dream had become. Eventually, it would lead to a cacophony of mixed, confused messages in our culture about women, work, sex, marriage, and relationships—errors that have divided our nation and continue to haunt us to this day. It would lead me to make disastrous decisions” (#63). But as she and her husband and two children moved about the country, finding a variety of positions and surviving as writers, she continued, for 24 years, publishing articles in Cosmopolitan, telling “lie upon lie to sell the casual-sex lifestyle to millions of single, working women” (#69).
So Browder’s purpose in writing the book is more than autobiographical—she wants to clarify where and why she went so wrong for so wrong. It all begin with here naive enlistment in the women’s movement. Though she’d been reared by parents clearly committed to her personal development, reading Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique when she was 17 powerfully affected her. “‘The only way,” Frieden declared, “for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is on other way’” (#265). That goal Browder successfully pursued. But she also met and married another writer, Walter Browder, launching a relationship which would put her at odds with the liberationist feminism Frieden promoted. She naturally “took the Pill without a qualm,” imagining she could “enjoy sterile sex and control my own sex life” (#334), not knowing how it would “put me on a hormone-powered emotional roller-coaster, which regularly plunged me into black pits of depression” (#334).
Despite the Pill she became pregnant and had a baby shortly before moving to New York—another complicating relationship! In her initial interview with the Cosmopolitan staff (knowing Helen Gurley Brown “saw the single girl as ‘the newest glamour girl of our times’ and viewed children as ‘more of a nuisance than a blessing’”) she carefully avoiding mentioning the fact she was a mother. “At Cosmo, I was a dedicated follower of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, the foremost proponent of birth control as a panacea to the world’s problems. Sanger idolized sex without kids. ‘Through sex,’ Sanger sang joyously in The Pivot of Civilization, ‘mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise’” (#556-557). Writing for “Cosmo,” the author laments, “I danced in Sanger’s procession” (#557).
Hired to write articles for Brown’s magazine, Browder quickly learned that lots “of the alleged ‘real people’ we wrote about in the magazine were entirely fictitious” (#527). While working in California, she’d seen journalists blithely make up “sources” and write articles without doing the hard work of actually investigating events, so constructing stories about a Cosmo Girl who would “sleep with any man she pleased” and enjoy an upwardly mobile career became quite easy for her. She just constructed imaginary stories, writing about an unreal world. She remained “a loyal foot soldier in the women’s movement’s media army. Even as I rejected the sexual revolution lifestyle as a sham, I scrambled to climb aboard NOW’s freedom train” (#694), promoting “a false path to freedom that was not just reprehensible but evil” (#717).
Blatant evil triumphed when Betty Frieden led the National Organization of Women to join forces with Larry Lader’s NAROL, an abortion-rights group determined to secure abortion-on-demand. “At Cosmo,” Browder confesses, “the one assumption I never thought to question in my confusion was whether or not abortion and contraception were good for women” (#930). On a personal level, Browder herself would abort a baby when family finances seemed to dictate. But she found that having an abortion was hardly the trivial affair Cosmopolitan readers assumed! Part of herself, as well as her tiny baby, died on that gurney. As she would later learn when she researched the subject, Lader’s spurious book, Abortion, was cited repeatedly by Justice Harry Blackmun in his Roe and Doe decisions. In time, Browder would carefully read and reflect on Blackmun’s role in prescribing abortion-on-demand for the country, finding the man and his judicial work seriously flawed.
Even while writing her Cosmo articles, at home Browder found in her husband and son a different world, a “better way,” a life “filled with light, laughter and love” (#595). Her success as a writer only temporarily satisfied her, whereas her work as a mother was “sheer delight” (#1831). She finally realized “that by focusing almost exclusively on money, power, and career, while denying women’s deeper longings for love and a family, the modern women’s movement got its priorities upside down and backward” (#2475). So she began asking deeper, more philosophical questions. Initially, she embraced the “self-actualization” psychology of Abraham Maslow’s—in reality a “self-as-god” way of thinking that cannot but fail. “Detached from God,” she laments, “I was ready to listen to any blowhard who came my way” (#1436). Ultimately, she and her husband “went back to church” and found, much too late in many ways, the truth she’d always sought. “After we returned to church, everything in our lives seemed fresh and new. Never had we been so happy” (#2192).
The Browders initially entered an Episcopal church in Connecticut. Later, while living in California and ever-more deeply hungering for God’s Reality, they entered the Catholic Church in 2003. To her amazement, “This wasn’t the ‘stuffy, old, patriarchal church’ I’d heard about. The Church’s teachings were all about love, joy, and forgiveness.” Still more: “This was a complete system of philosophical thought and mystical faith with answers the entire world needed to hear” (#3031). Subverted is an engrossing story, packed with important insights, that tells us much that’s gone wrong in our country during the past half-century.
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In Tied Up in Knots: How Getting What We Wanted Made Women Miserable (New York: Broadside Books, c. 2016), Andrea Tantaros sets forth a secular critique of modern feminism that blends praise and protest for what’s happened for and to women during the past half-century. She grew up taking to heart Betty Friedan’s message in The Feminine Mystique. Empowered thereby she pursued a media career and ultimately landed a position with Fox News, where she regularly airs her views before a national audience. What more could a young woman want? And she likes what she’s got and still supports the feminist agenda—“If I have to choose between feminism and the pre feminist days, I will choose feminism without hesitation” (#3320). Yet, it turns out, amidst all her success there has come a gnawing suspicion that there’s more to life than the feminist mantra of “making it in a man’s world.” Acting like men, feminists insisted they “pay our bills, open our own doors, and carry our own bags” (#757). But as they stopped acting like women real men steadily lost interest in them. Ah there’s the rub!
Certainly “women should be equal with men, but, at the same time,women aren’t men. Equal does not mean the same” (#199). Yet that’s what many feminists demanded. Consequently, “feminism doesn’t feel very feminine” (#204). What Tantaros calls “the Power Trade” negotiated by feminists was in fact “a deal with the devil,” for by imitating men women “abandoned our potent and precious female power” and ceased to act like ladies (#210). Indeed, many of the movement’s leaders have waged war against men and done lethal harm to healthy heterosexual romance and marriage. Speaking autobiographically, Tarantas says: “I have been a one-woman focus group on the tenets of feminism for three decades. But it wasn’t until I found myself single after two back-to-back long-term relationships that I realized how different the dynamic between the sexes had become” (#233). In short: she’d become a highly successful woman with neither husband nor children—and that’s not really how it’s supposed to be! Sadly: “Postponing marriage and motherhood comes with huge costs—and no one is telling young girls this” (#2753).
Given her own predicament, she’s written this book to try and understand it. But her analysis, alas, is too often as superficial as the life she’s lived! She makes interesting observations, tells vivid anecdotes and cites various studies, but she lacks the philosophical, much less theological, resources to address the real issues that so obviously trouble her. She knows she wants something but cannot actually understand what it is. So daydreams about the the “superrelationship” she and her “generation of women” await: “We want a soulful, sexy, and inspired union that can help us realize our full potential in life. We want a deep connection with a best friend, an emotional and spiritual confidant, and intellectual counterpart who gets our inside jokes, matches us financially, and who loves us with a passion that rivals Romeo’s. Women have gained power and are refusing to settle—and that is a good thing. Women can find that kind of love, but we just have to be patient enough to wait for it and refuse to settle for anything less than what we want: love, fidelity, kindness, respect” (#1142-44). Such soaring aspirations rarely find fulfillment simply because they’re basically unreal—so lonely women like Tantaras will forever be “tied up in knots” I fear.
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One of the 20th century’s most remarkable women was Edith Stein, a Jewess who studied philosophy with Edmund Husserl, taught philosophy in German universities, and then converted to the Catholic Church. She joined the Carmelite order, devoting herself to teaching (clearly her great vocation) in its schools. When the Nazis gained control of Germany, Stein fled to Holland but was in time arrested, sent to a concentration camp, where she perished. In 1998 Pope John Paul II elevated her to sainthood, standing as a wonderful witness to bother her intellectual brilliance and spiritual sanctity. During the 1930s she wrote and delivered as lectures a series of papers now collected in volume two of her collected works and titled Essays on Woman, Second Edition, Revised (Washington: ICS Publications, c. 1996). That few if any leading feminist thinkers (e.g. Betty Frieden) are first-rate thinkers becomes clear when one reads how a truly great philosopher addresses the topic! Given the nature of a collection of papers, many of Stein’s positions are routinely repeated and a careful perusal of a selected few would reveal the essence of her thought
Feminism, in accord with a litany of other ideologies, inevitably fails inasmuch as it misrepresents and endeavors to evade Reality. But as a serious philosopher, Stein understood her task: to see clearly and better understand whatever is. Thus she continually sought to probe the essence of womanhood—“what we are and what we should be”—discerning therein direction for evaluating the feminist movement and describing the proper life—and particularly the redemptive form of life—best for females. She applied St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of analogy entis to her work, seeing God’s image in human beings who need (like a planted seed) both human assistance and divine grace to attain their true end. Though feminists generally insisted there were no significant differences between men and women, thus calling for identical educational curricula and vocational opportunities, Stein upheld what she considered an indubitable truth: sexual differences matter greatly.
Thus, in “The Ethos of Women’s Professions,” she sought to discuss work in light of the “an inner form, a constant spiritual attitude which the scholastics term habitus” (#718) which necessitates we recognize “specifically feminine” vocations. To Stein, there are “natural feminine” traits that “only the person blinded by the passion of controversy could deny” (#747). As both Scripture and common sense make clear, “woman is destined to be wife and mother. Both physically and spiritually she is endowed for this purpose.” Giving structure to her bodily being is that spiritual reality—the anima forma corpus—which differentiates her from men of the same species. Thus she “naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning” (#755). Unlike men, with their penchant for abstractions and devotion to tasks, women relish more concrete, living things. Their “maternal gift is joined to that of companion. It is her gift and happiness to share the life of another human being and, indeed, to take part in all things which come his way, in the greatest and smallest things, in joy as well as in suffering, in work, and in problems” (#762). Works of charity, in particular, come quite naturally to her.
Understanding this God-given reality, women rightly enter various professions, and “there is no profession which cannot be practiced by a woman” (#815). Yet some work—nursing, teaching, social work—more easily accommodate the “sympathetic rapport” that comes naturally to them. Yet “the participation of women in the most diverse professional disciplines could be a blessing for the entire society, private or public, precisely if the specifically feminine ethos would be perserved” (#844). Still more, in light of the Thomistic position that “Grace perfects nature—it does not destroy it,” women should always seek to flourish in accord with their unique nature, their femininity, serving God through “quiet immersion in divine truth, solemn praises of God, propagation of the faith, works of mercy, intercession, and vicarious reparation” (#858). Surrendering to God, seeking to do His will, opens the door to human flourishing. “God created humanity as man and woman,” she concludes, “and He created both according to His own image. Only the purely developed masculine and feminine nature can yield the highest attainable likeness to God. Only in this fashion can there be brought about the strongest interpenetration of all earthly and divine life” (#955).
Stein consistently contends for “The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace.” If we carefully attend to what’s real, “the person’s nature and his life’s course are no gift or trick of chance, but—seen with the eyes of faith—the work of God. And thus, finally, it is God Himself who calls. It is He who calls each human being to that to which all humanity is called, it is He who calls each individual to that to which he or she is called personally, and, over and above this, He calls man and woman to such to something specific as the title of this address indicates” (#974). In the biblical creation account, Adam and Eve “are given the threefold vocation: they are to be the image of God, bring forth posterity,and be masters over the earth” (#990). Given that assignment, Eve is called to be Adam’s “helpmate”—an “Eser kenedo—which literally means ‘a helper is if vis-a-vis to him’” (#1000). Both sexes are equal and equally important, sharing responsibility to “fill the earth and subdue it,” though their roles in carrying out the assignment rightly differ. Theirs is a complementary relationship: “man’s primary vocation appears to be that of ruler and paternal vocation secondary (not subordinate to his vocation as ruler but an integral part of it); woman’s primary vocation is maternal: her role as ruler is secondary and included in a certainty in her maternal vocation” (#1228).
Rather than point to an evil “patriarchy” or unjust polity, Stein locates the source of the problems women experience: As a result of man’s Fall: “Everywhere about us, we see in the interaction of the sexes the direct fruits of original sin in the most terrifying forms: an unleashed sexual life in which every trace of their high calling seems to be lost; a struggle between the sexes,one pitted agains the other, as they fight for their rights and, in doing so, no longer appear to hear the voices of nature and of God. But we can see also how it can be different whenever the power of grace is operative” (#1264). So there is, in God’s Grace, hope for us all: “The redemption will restore the original order. The preeminence of man is disclosed by the Savior’s coming to earth in the form of man. The feminine sex is ennobled by virtue of the Savior’s being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind. Adam as the human prototype indicates the future divine-human king of creation; just so, every man in the kingdom of God should imitate Christ, and in the marital partnership, he is to imitate the loving care of Christ for His Church. A woman should honor the image of Christ in her husband by free and loving subordination; she herself is to be the image of God’s mother; but that also means that she is to be Christ’s image” (#1160).
As a committed Catholic, Stein defends the Church’s tradition regarding the priesthood. “If we consider the attitude of the Lord Himself, we understand that He accepted the free moving services of women for Himself and His Apostles and that women were among His disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet he did not grant them the priesthood, not even to his mother, Queen of the Apostles, who was exalted above all humanist in human perfection and fullness of grace” (#1375). Why? Because in the natural order designed by God, “Christ came to earth as the Son of Man. The first creature on earth fashioned in an unrivaled sense as God’s image was therefore a man; that seems to indicate to me that He wished to institute only men as His official representatives on earth” (#1391). Men and women are equally called to enter into communion with their Lord, but they are called to follow different paths in doing so. “It is the vocation of every Christian, not only of a few elect, to belong to God in love’s free surrender and to serve him” (#1391). This is, above all, everyone’s vocation and therein there is “neither male nor female.”
“God has given each human being a threefold destiny,” Stein says: “to grow into the likeness of God through the development of his faculties, to procreate descendants, and to hold dominion over the earth. In addition, it is promised that a life of faith and personal union with the Redeemer will be rewarded by eternal contemplation of God. These destinies, natural and supernatural, are identical for both man and woman. But in the realm of duties, differences determined by sex exist” (#1627). Especially in the process of procreating and rearing children, women must carefully sense and assent to God’s plan for man. Though single women like Stein herself have an important calling, for most women marriage and children should be fundamental—for it is, in truth, most vital to their being and ultimate happiness.
Had feminists in the 20th century thought as deeply as Stein—and followed the truth wherever it leads—much of the negative fallout felt by today’s young women could have been avoided! Were influential academics as committed to truth telling as Stein we’d not be burdened with the strident declarations that there are absolutely no differences between the sexes! Were Christians more concerned with God’s will than politically correct posturing, there would be greater focus and effectiveness to the Church’s mission.
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