In our metaphysically confused age, pro-life feminist groups like the New Wave Feminists are offering women an alternative to the Feminist Magisterium and its limited view of human personhood.
The NWF was founded in 2004 by purple-haired Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa. Herndon’s conception was unplanned. She calls her mother’s choice to carry her to term—and all the sacrifices that went along with it—a demonstration of “true feminist strength.” According to her, abortion is not a solution to women's oppression, but a symptom of oppression:
We have this culture that trains women from a very young age that their sexuality is their only power, which...breaks women down from such a young age and sexualizes every aspect of their being. Then when they end up becoming pregnant, they feel like the merciful thing to do is have an abortion because they’re not good enough to be this child’s sole provider—that they can’t do it. So that all kind of goes back into...this mentality that women aren’t strong enough. And when we started putting those connections together, we realized that we couldn’t just be pro-life, we couldn’t just be feminist. These two both have much more in common than we even realized.
Though formally disinvited from the 2017 Women's March for their pro-life stance, the new wave feminists attended the march anyway. “We don’t work toward making abortion illegal, but we work toward making it unthinkable and unnecessary by supporting women,” Herndon said. Much of their work includes advocating for women’s healthcare and offering opportunities to women in crisis pregnancies (most recently with the HelpAssistHer app).
Herndon’s claim that her mother’s sacrifice of giving birth is a demonstration of true feminist strength indicates that strength is not just the exercise of power, but the gift of self. It is this uniquely feminine mode of giving that distinguishes a woman’s dignity from a man’s. This call to give is written in the reality of our bodies. If a woman defines her dignity solely in terms of political agency, then she runs the risk of reducing herself to a mere mechanism in a machine of power. Until feminists approach matters of personhood with a healthy sense of realism, they will never be able to transcend the oppressive systems they are trying to escape.
The NWF movement is not the only group of pro-life feminists—others were featured in the independently-produced Pro-Life Feminist documentary. NWF does not make any explicit ontological claims about what constitutes personhood, and seems uninterested in challenging other problematic aspects of the mainstream feminist platform (for instance, NWF promotes identity politics and contraception). Still, its vision of feminism should serve as a wake-up call to secular feminists who believe feminism must be pro-abortion.
The rise of pro-life feminists indicates this is the ideal moment for Christians to build on this movement's achievements, and offer women a means of transcending the logic of power through a more nuanced philosophical anthropology. Christians can fill in the blanks that feminists—both mainstream and New Wave—tend to ignore, and the framework established by personalistic philosophers like John Paul II and Edith Stein would be a useful place to start.
John Paul’s coining of the term “feminine genius” in the 1989 letter Mulieris Dignitatem offers a vision of what constitutes a woman’s dignity. The woman’s genius is derived from her integral structure, in which her body, psyche, and spirit move in unity with one another. John Paul “reads” the human body according to the “hermeneutic of self-gift.” The woman’s mode of self-gift is written in her body—her capacity to generate new life in the womb. Her genius is rooted in this “internal” awareness and capacity to receive.
Edith Stein’s writings on women develop a vision for how women can use their creative gifts in the workplace. Stein proposed that men need women’s “complementary” presence in male-dominated work environments. But her case for women in the workplace differs from the power-driven logic of her secular, second-wave feminist counterparts. Women don’t just deserve the right to be in the workplace—their gifts are needed there. The woman’s capacity to give can be of value both in the home and in the world.
every profession in which woman's soul comes into its own and which can be formed by woman's soul is an authentic woman's profession...For a wholesome collaboration of the sexes in professional life will be possible only if both achieve a calm and objective awareness of their nature and draw practical conclusions from it.
The logic of self-gift transcends structures of oppressive power. To merely aim to obtain political power is to ignore the real value of women and the gifts they can offer society.
The pro-life feminist movement suggests that more and more people are realizing we need a new feminism which affirms the unique gifts of women and men both in the home and in the world—a need that Christians are uniquely able to address. Without a more complete vision of femininity and human personhood, mainstream feminists will continue their harmful campaign to eliminate the supposed “obstacles” in their way, leading to gnostic nothingness.
Stephen G. Adubato writes from New York City. Follow him on Twitter @cracksinpomo.
Photo by Elvert Barnes via Creative Commons. Image cropped.