Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Part Two: My Feminist History

“Feminist” was sort of a dirty word for me until recently. It isn’t that I wasn’t one, more that I was scared to admit that I was. In 2006, I applied for a domestic and sexual advocacy position at the local shelter. I was so nervous to interview: the interview taking place before me took a very long time, and I just knew they had already found someone to fill the position. I knew I wanted the job and I was eager to begin working in a field where I felt I could make a difference, but I was afraid that the fact I did not consider myself a feminist would show through and I would not be hired. It felt at first like just a job in some ways, but I also could not imagine doing anything else once I started.  I enjoyed working with survivors, and I learned a great deal from them as well as my coworkers. I still did not think I was a feminist though. After all, you could not be a feminist and be pro-life. Many of the mainstream feminist organizations told me this. You also cannot be a feminist and vote even the slightest bit conservatively. Perhaps most importantly, you cannot be a feminist and be Catholic.

My time as an advocate made me acutely aware of many things about the reality many women face day after day. They face a series of systems that set them up to fail. Women are told in nearly every advertisement, magazine, TV show and movie how they need to be in order to “get a man”. The over-sexualization begins younger every season. We tell our women that they must fit a special mold to be a woman, and then when they fit this mold, we tell them it is their fault when they are sexually assaulted. We blame them for being in abusive relationships. We blame women for being victims but that is what we ask them to be when we do not focus instead on how we stop the abuse.  Then these women are left to pick up the pieces amid chaos.

In a way, mainstream modern feminism contributes to this by focusing on the aftermath versus the problem.  The concept that abortions should be available in case someone gets raped or molested does not help keep these things from happening. Changing how our society views women is a far more complex, but it is a path that will give real solutions instead of more victim-blaming.

It was not until the past few months that I began to really look at the history of feminism. As I mentioned in my first post, I have often felt ostracized in these conversations by both sides, and this finally kicked me into research mode a few months ago. The fact that the first feminists were pro-life and that the number of pro-life feminist groups continues to grow was a truly life-altering realization for me. I had resisted the research and at times I resisted making connections with other women, because I was certain feminism was in opposition to my faith because the brand of feminism I was familiar with was anti-Catholic.

This concept of being a Catholic Feminist is so new to me; there are still many things I have to learn. I do know that we are having the wrong conversations if we think Catholicism and Feminism are mutually exclusive.

What I find humorous in all of this is that I have been entrenched in “Cathofeminism” for most of my life without realizing it. A few days after I began my advocacy work, a coworker asked me if I had studied for the interview because 99% of my responses were spot on despite not having any prior training. Much like my faith, the feminist torch had been passed to me by my mother, my aunts and my grandmother.

Our challenge now is to begin having the right conversations.

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