There’s absolutely no contradiction between being a feminist and a Catholic

Taken from the Catholic Universe 3 November 2013

Syrian Christian women facing persecution

I was privileged to be asked to participate in the BBC’s 100 women conference this week, which was the culmination of a season of programming and online features designed to highlight and propose remedies for the inequality still faced by women around the world.

At times the conference felt surreal in that being part of what appeared to be a conference mainly perpetuated by prolific middle-class women, most of whom had achieved either professional or personal success, hence coming to the attention of the BBC, the idea that we were all still somehow unequal, being discriminated against or not being listened to by the world at large, seemed contradictory.

To give the BBC their due not every woman was a notable or big name and it was particularly humbling to meet women such as Joyce Ako Aruga, a Kenyan woman currently studying to be a teacher at university, who had to fight every step of the way for her education, only being able to attend school, once she had escaped from her marriage at the age of thirteen.

 The overwhelming narrative was that of women as victims, which when one listens to stories such as those of Joyce’s, or Feresheth, a blind Iranian musician whose parents have threatened to burn her if she sings in public, is hard to disagree with.

Which is where Western feminism needs a wake-up call. Upon introducing myself to fellow delegates as a ‘Catholic feminist’, the responses from fellow delegates and activists ranged from a politely raised eyebrow to open-mouthed horror, people being unable to process that the two were reconcilable, as indeed are many of my co-religionists, feminism being thought of as a total anathema.

But as I reminded the assembled women, Catholic social teaching demands that we listen to the demands of the marginalised and oppressed, which is complementary to feminism when it is women who are particularly targeted by poverty and who have their rights and dignity as human beings, continually violated, with practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriages, being sold into sexual slavery and gender selective abortion.

To echo the words of Cardinal Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice Peace, ‘it must not be forgotten that today extreme poverty has, above all, the face of women and children, especially in Africa.’ Amongst the UN Millennium goals is the aim to reduce global poverty which identifies gender inequality and women’s access to employment, education and health care as economic problems. The majority of those who live on less than one US dollar a day are women and therefore putting food on the table, especially when it comes to feeding children, is predominantly a women’s issue.

There are many ways in which Catholic feminists can act in solidarity with these women, while at the same time explicitly rejecting the other Millennium goals regarding population control which are used to coerce women into taking potentially harmful contraceptive measures and in some cases act as justification for enforced sterilisation and abortion. Development efforts such as micro-loans for women, co-operatives and education programmes are key strategies for development which can all ethically be supported- it is a proven and widely accepted fact that economies grow where women’s conditions improve.

Another important issue when it comes to women’s rights is that of law enforcement for crimes relating to sexual and domestic violence. All too often in countries where the dowry system operates, various agencies turn a blind eye to dowry-related violence or so-called honour killings, with the perpetrators of such terrible crimes not pursued or given extremely lenient sentences. When sexual offences are treated as being of little consequence by the authorities, this further reinforces a culture of disrespect towards women, which is epitomized in the practice of gender selective abortion and the implicit acceptance that a girl’s life is of lesser value.

Where women are treated as a lesser species and denied basic human rights, then there is plenty of scope for Catholics to consider themselves as feminists. So why is this concept treated with such unmitigated horror by the contemporary feminists of today?

Part of the answer lies in the infallible teaching of the Church with regards to the male priesthood. The general public fails to get its head around the difference between job and vocation as well as the theology that disbars women from ever being able to be ordained. Being a priest is falsely perceived to be the only way of exercising any power or leadership within the church and the fact that a large proportion of the faithful are women who are completely happy with this state of affairs and not acting from a sense of oppression, seems to have escaped many.

But perhaps more crucially is that the feminist movement has rooted itself in the ideology of reproductive rights, despite the fact that abortion has done more than any other single measure to harm the cause of the woman.

 When it came to the final debate of the day centering around the issue of whether or not faith and feminism are compatible, thankfully most women were keen not to be seen to be excluding those of us who had a faith, particularly due to the many participants who were wearing the Muslim hijab. It’s a rum kind of sisterhood that is only open to those with a lack of religious belief and more like a club for self-identifying intellectual elites

 Ultimately feminism goes beyond albeit important issues of pay and workplace parity, frankly smashing the glass ceiling is irrelevant to the majority of women, for whom we should be ensuring that the floor is steady beneath their feet. By concentrating on the issues of reproduction and equal pay, the feminist movement have forgotten the deeper philosophical issues which should underlie the movement. Who is woman? What are her roles and responsibilities and what is going to lead to her freedom, happiness and flourishing?

 Which is why it is imperative that Catholics do not simply reject feminism as mere victim identity politics, but fight for more a more holistic and authentic movement.

Protectors of life, the family, friendships and each other

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No-one could fail to be inspired by Pope Francis’ homily at this morning’s inaugural Mass. He calls for tenderness, and describes how authentic power comes with service, reminding us of our duty to protect one another.

We must never be afraid of goodness, of tenderness which is a great sign of strength. A tender heart is indicative of a capacity for concern, compassion, and a genuine openness to others for love.

Just as these are the qualities shown by St Joseph in his role of loving protector towards Mary, Jesus and over the whole church, these are also the qualities inherent in motherhood, whether that be of a spiritual or physical nature. Like St Joseph all of us must watch over and protect Christ’s mystical body, but his homily was a potent reminder of why we must be protectors of life, at whatever stage, from its conception to it’s final moments.

It reinforced the message of Christ to me as a woman, wife and mother, reminding me of my duty to nurture and protect my husband and children, as well as reaching out to fellow women in their moments of danger and crisis.

Last night, following a germ of idea in which I thought it would be a great to have an online space where faithful Catholic women can witness to their faith, I set up a new website, catholicwomenrising.wordpress.com in which women can stand up and be counted for their faith and offer their love, gratitude and prayers for Pope Francis as well as register their unqualified support for Church teaching.

Please could those who commented in the comms box here, go and register their support over there, spread the word and pray. My hope is that this could be a real gift and blessing, not only to Pope Francis, but to the Catholic Church as a whole, countering the repeated negative media cliche that the Catholic Church is not representative of well over 50% of its members.

I’d like women to stand up and be counted for their faith, to show the world that they embrace the freedom and love that comes with adhering to God’s plan for the world. Far from being oppressive, the New Feminism is all about empowerment and recognising the inherent dignity of all women as created beings of God, free of cultural and society’s expectations to become sexual objects and to limit and crush our innate fertility and restrict our ability to love. The culture of death pressurises us to murder our unborn children, put limits on our resources to love and to reject our elderly, in favour of our own selfish needs.

The culture of life and love recognises our abilities and strengths as women, it does not expect us to be subjugated to male desire, it allows for us to fulfil our potential, whether we are married, single, mothers, childless, whether we are working or seeking work, whether we are homemakers, businesswomen, volunteers or a combination of all of the above. It does not seek to put a lid on the female achievement in whatever a woman’s chosen area.

Catholic teaching allows for us to love Christ, to love ourselves and thus reach out to and love and protect for one another. It is freedom, dignity and empowerment.

Please could you pass on the website and urge every Catholic woman you know who agrees to sign. It would be a simple act of faith, in this Year of Faith, but send an incredibly powerful message to the world, that here is a group of happy, fulfilled, empowered and spiritual nurtured women; a message of encouragement, not only to each other and to the rest of the Church, but also to those women who have become estranged from the faith.

The plan is to set up some separate posts and sensible forum debate, whereby women who do not agree with Church teaching (yet) can debate and discuss the issues in an atmosphere of openness and non-confrontation. Where those who might be struggling with some of the challenging issues such as IVF or contraception, can talk this through in a  non-judgemental way and receive gentle explanation, encouragement, support and resources in terms of alternatives.

But first and foremost, it would be amazing if we could muster as many women as possible to say “Yes, I love the Catholic Church, I follow her teachings, not because I am brainwashed or fearful, but with a heart and mind that is open to God”.

A different choice

Fr Ray Blake said something that gave me pause for thought the other day.

We should recognise most women have abortions because of economic reasons, that controlling the size of families through contraception for most people is an economic decision.
We need to promote an authentic feminism (and masculinism) that is based on relationships, we need to promote the real rights of women to be parents, simply to be able to have children without the constant anxiety to find childcare and to be able to afford it.

I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above, but I think it’s worth unpacking and exploring a little further. Most women do have abortions for economic reasons, the increasing numbers of abortions performed on women who already have at least one child, as capitalised upon by BPAS in their recent advertisements for abortion claiming that 50% of women who abort are already mothers, indicates that for many this is an economic decision. Most women who have already given birth are well aware of the various stages of foetal development and the reality that this is an unborn child whose life they are choosing to terminate, but feel that they have little other choice.

Few women who abort their pregnancies take the attitude of Caitlin Moran who claims (and I would posit that she’s in serious denial) that she gave the matter less thought than choosing her kitchen worktops. Most women would not choose to abort if they genuinely believed that they were killing a living human being, which is why so much sophistry is employed by the pro-choice advocates as well as attempting to involve irrelevant scientific arguments about sentience. Either life begins at conception or it does not. If the latter, at what particular point in its development is a foetus deemed ‘alive’, at which point science is invoked to justify philosophy. The biology is simple. A new independent human being is formed at conception, with separate DNA and capability to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism given the right environment.

It is precisely because the human conscience is pricked on the issue of abortion that women become quite so aggressive and defensive on the matter. If abortion is not the destructive of unborn life, then why do women get quite so angry about it and why are they bothered by the peaceful prayer vigils? If abortion is a difficult choice that isn’t undertaken without much soul-searching, why is that and why are they so bothered by the presence of people praying for them or trying to offer an alternative? Even the most well-meaning of pro-choicers will claim that abortion is an economic decision, women genuinely don’t have a choice and so abortion must be available for the most pragmatic and compassionate of reasons. The old “I wouldn’t have one myself but I wouldn’t deny it to those who need it” adage.

But undoubtedly there are a few women who abort, not solely for economic reasons but simply because a baby will not fit into their current plans. That’s not to condemn or cast judgement, society has to bear as much responsibility in that it implicitly encourages and coerces women into abortion, with babies being little more than a lifestyle choice, who aren’t fully alive until such moment as becomes convenient in the mind of the individual.

But regardless of whether babies are aborted because of lifestyle choice, economic necessity or even thoughtless recklessness in those rare cases where we see young women having undergone as many as 8 abortions, (I really don’t believe that many women have abortions because they can or because they are inherently cold-hearted or even evil) there is one factor in common and that is that a baby is seen as a burden or difficulty and never a blessing.

Whilst pro-lifers have to be careful not to overdo the sentimental saccharin schmaltz when it comes to the indisputable beauty of a newborn child, we have to ensure that we don’t fall into the opposite trap of over-emphasisng the gritty reality of child-rearing in an attempt to make our society equipped for unplanned pregnancies. The truth of babies is that they encompass both extremes. Having a baby does entail a lot of hard graft and often economic difficulty but it also brings with it an outpouring of joy, blessings and love to which no language can do adequate justice and which compensates for the difficulties. There isn’t a mother I know, not even mothers of severely disabled or terminally ill children, who wishes that her child had never been born, or that she hadn’t experienced the love of her child. Even mothers in the most challenging of circumstances wouldn’t wish away their children, but instead wish that their lives could be easier.

What pro-lifers need to do, is work for ways to make life tenable for women with unplanned pregnancies, whether that is the mother of 3, expecting her fourth child, the pregnant teenage mother, or the young woman with a career that seems to be going places.

Pro-lifers often focus upon the idea of free or cheap state childcare in order to incentivise a woman not to abort her baby and to help her back into the workplace. I’m not so sure that this is the right answer, admirable though it may seem. The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of women, having a baby will have an enormous financial impact upon them if they are already in full-time work. Although women can now, quite rightly, enjoy up to a year’s paid maternity leave, most do not look forward to the idea of returning full-time. And who can blame them? You give birth to a beautiful child, you spend at least six months giving them your full attention, nurturing them, feeding them, helping them roll, sit, manage solid food, you know them, you can recognise the signs when they are tired, hungry, you know how they like to be settled or held, which is their favourite cuddly, they haven’t been out of your care for more than a few hours at a time, maybe 24 hours at granny’s at a push, then all of a sudden you have to hand them over to a stranger for at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s no wonder that most women do not want to return to full-time work, but feel that they have little other choice. In addition it tends to be just as your baby is getting interesting, beginning to walk, talk and most mothers are devastated that they will miss their baby’s first steps or key milestones.

Perhaps because the state is becoming ever more intrusive or presumptive, but there is additionally, something a little sinister about having to hand one’s child over to state-approved childcare for the majority of the working day. For me the approach is summed up in our attitude towards single mothers who are expected to go out to work, as soon as is feasible after having a baby. The attitude of the former government was equally disturbing with Tessa Jowell trying to formulate policies to encourage mothers to go out to work and Patricia Hewitt describing mothers who stay at home with children under two, as being a ‘real problem.

Again we see how modern feminism has failed women, who are expected to be on equal terms with men in the workplace, to be able to work full-time, or work at all, as well as bring up children. I’ve been a working single mother and it was horrific. I had little other economic choice at the time, but on average I saw my daughter less than an hour and half a day, Monday to Friday, having to drop her off early in the morning before work and then having precious little time to spend with her in the evening, to ensure that she got a good night’s sleep. Quality time consisted of bathtime, stories and bed and I put myself through agonies of guilt. It meant that I had the worst of all worlds in that work saw me as not fully committed and I felt that I was selling everybody short. It is only now that society is realising that unless you are a wealthy fund-manager with a bevvy of nannies and housekeepers, that the idea of ‘having it all’ is nothing more than a myth.

So, what’s the answer, especially from a pro-life perspective? The problem with childcare, is that not only is it expensive and puts pressure on a woman to go out an earn her keep, but it also treats women as if they are only valuable if they contributing to society in a purely economic sense. I think if we are going to promote an authentic version of feminism, then we have to promote the innate value and worth of motherhood on its own. That’s not to denigrate women who do go out to work, but actually women need to be supported by economic policy to stay at home with their children, until such time that their children are of school-age, particularly if they are single mothers. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive and contrary to normal feminist principles an authentic feminism recognises the value women have as mothers and how the opportunity to spend as much time as one can with one’s children, is actually of benefit to society.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, because clearly the state is not a bottomless pit and clearly one can’t have policies in place, be they encouraging mothers to stay at home, or work, which will encourage state dependence, but I think to a certain extent society has to bite the bullet and accept that a single mother is facing more difficult odds than a two parent family and so enable a mother with children under school-age (say 5) to stay at home, regardless of her marital situation whilst implementing policies such as, for example, forcing employers to be more flexible and creative in terms of the working hours that they can offer to mothers and phasing women back into employment when their children are of school age. It is a difficult balance and most of us know of families who do not work, simply because with the cost of childcare it is not in their interests to do so and who are as a result, reliant on the state.

This is not to attack mothers who do want to work, often women say that they need the stimulation of a work environment, that they lack the patience to stay home and several women are trapped in the situation where they need to work for economic survival, but I wonder, if we began to value motherhood more, if we began to give examples of how intelligent, educated women can be stay-at-home mothers, or work part-time and still be happy and fulfilled would it transform society? I think so. I often think that women who state that they don’t have the patience or wherewithal to full-time parent their offspring, under-estimate themselves and with the right examples and in the right environment, would surprise themselves. I can think of at least ten of my friends who have Oxbridge degrees but who have eschewed the work environment to be full-time mothers and who have never been happier.

One of the reasons that families are financially struggling is not only due to rise of consumerism and the idea that it is only through material goods that we can find fulfilment, but more importantly because the expectation that women will automatically work, regardless of whether or not they have children, means that two income families entailed bigger mortgages which fuelled the rise in property prices. Every family should be able to afford or live in a decent home with access to a small garden. Affordable housing alongside the removal of the expectation that a woman should and must earn her keep would be another small part of the strategy. If we have more mothers at home, then our communities which have been so fractured will begin to heal. It was traditionally women who were at home with the children, who provided a mutual support network, who passed on valuable skills and knowledge in terms of child rearing and helped each other in times of trouble, with babysitting etc instead of having to pay a stranger. It was also the same women who helped to look after the elderly, who had them either living at home, or who would drop in and help their neighbours, enabling them to be supported at home, instead of reliant on a government for care and assistance. I’m not saying that women should be expected to do this kind of work, but it is a natural by-product of what happens when we have communities and besides there is nothing demeaning about caring for other people.

True feminism should allow women to have the choice as to whether or not to enter the workplace (something I’m hugely in favour of, if women want to work then they should and on equal terms) but equally, a real authentic feminism values motherhood as a vocation in and of itself.

We need to stop looking at motherhood as being demeaning, inadequate or beneath a woman’s dignity and celebrate it as a worthy vocation, one that benefits her, her children and society as a whole. We need to re-gear society to remove the current expectation upon women to work, unless and until men have the ability to bear children in their wombs! There is nothing innately sexist in stating that as women give birth to and nuture their infants, then they are best placed to provide the primary care. By all means allow women to work on equal terms, introduce legislation that gives women watertight protections to allow flexible working, allow women to reach the top of their profession, but by no means force a woman to work or define success in purely professional terms. Staying at home to help one’s children reach their potential, is not demeaning by any means.

A pro-life society does not buy into the notion that a child is a burden or economic problem that needs to be overcome, but celebrates motherhood and enables women to have real choice as to how best to raise their children, instead of expecting them to be handed over to someone else from an early age. And if this puts more responsibility on men to work and provide for their offspring – sorry but them’s the breaks. No wonder so many men identify themselves as “feminists”. Authentic feminism recognises motherhood as an innate good and children as a gift, flowing from the consequences and blessings of being part of the feminine sex. It recognises our ability and responsibilities as bearers of life, given to us from the Creator himself.

Feminist dissonance

A new and positive discourse seems to be emerging in Catholic circles, not just in the UK, but also amongst young Catholics in all continents, including the developing world, as to how Catholicism can counter the poisonous and popular narratives of misogyny propagated by the media and white chattering classes, and demonstrate that Catholicism offers an authentic and compelling vision of womanhood, one that offers total freedom, empowerment and is the only way that a woman may fulfil her true potential as a human being, created equal with men in the image of God.

Of concern is the way that a very narrow-minded definition of feminism, one synonymous with the misnomer of bodily autonomy, is now being globally evangelised with all the zeal of a nineteenth century missionary with the same patronising and even misogynistic attitudes, that accompanied the colonisers. If only these women in the developing world knew what was good for them, they would stop having so many children! Leaving the population agenda aside, these attitudes have been disturbingly crystallised by the Melinda Gates foundation, despite the fact that contraception is neither wanted nor needed by women in the developing world, as this open letter by a Nigerian women pleadingly testifies. Those wanting to help the plight of women in developing countries would do much better to actually listen to the voices of women in impoverished countries, rather than condescendingly deciding what is in their best interests – reinforcing and entrenching the disempowerment brought about by poverty.

The illogical, harmful and dissonant values of western feminism and sexual liberation were perfectly encapsulated in this characteristically vulgar pro-choice defence written by the 40 days for choice apologists. I’m going to disseminate it, not only to highlight the incoherence but also to ask, are these really the values that we want to be promoting to our children and exporting across the globe?

I’ve had sex with many different guys – in relationships, as one-night stands, in threesomes and foursomes and twosomes, in beds, on beaches, on trains. I’ve never had an unwanted pregnancy. – sounds like you’ve been very fortunate by all accounts, because the sexual behaviour and lifestyle would fall into the at high risk of pregnancy and/or STDs category. That’s not, to use society’s favourite verboten concept ‘judgemental’ or attacking your morals, it’s a statement of fact.
Thanks to the sterling work of teachers and parents, I’ve been taught about sexual health – great news! So you are well informed that you are participating in risky behaviour, you’ll know the risks of non-exclusive, non romantic and early sexual activity. You’ll know for example that you are at increased risk of cervical cancer, STD-related infertility, antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea and so on, before you’ve even thought about an unplanned child.

Thanks to the men I’ve slept with, I’ve never had to fight to get them to use condoms. – do most men in the Western world refuse to use condoms? Is it a struggle to get men to don prophylactics? Anecdote is not the plural of data, do we have any stats on that? Are we implying that most men are ignorant selfish misogynistic apes who don’t care whether or not they transmit disease or impregnate a woman? If we reverse the genders in that statement and say thanks to the women I’ve slept with I’ve never had to fight to get them to allow me to use condoms, does that not imply that a woman has to take sole responsibility for the consequences of sexual encounters? As does the original statement. It accepts that whatever may or may not result from sexual intercourse, it is always a woman’s responsibility. Doesn’t sound very empowered on in a woman’s favour to me. The men get off scott free!

Or, if it is a struggle to get men to use condoms, whether in the Western world (which I doubt) or more plausibly in the developing world, where there are cultural barriers to condom use, that implies that they are rather ineffective as a method of contraception. There seems little point in flooding developing countries with condoms. If one has to fight to get men to use them, sexual education is clearly not working, especially for men. So Nadine Dorries may actually have a point with her extra SRE targeted at girls then?

Thanks to sheer good luck, I’ve never been raped. – Let’s be charitable and attribute this to clumsy phrasing, but it is nonetheless offensive. Rape victims are undoubtedly victims of circumstance, be that the woman who is raped on the street, the woman who had something slipped in her drink, the wife whose husband has had one too many and refuses to take no for an answer and so on, but this just perpetuating the rape culture myth. Gender violence does undoubtedly exist and is a problem, but it is not the binary concept implied by this term. To state that it is lucky that one has never been raped, following on from a description of high risk sexual behaviour, like it or not implicitly victim blames. Is it due to her behaviour that she’s lucky never to have been raped? Or is it that all men are somehow pre-disposed to rape and she’s just fortunate never to have been a victim? In this context it is at best glib, ill-considered, and typical of the feminist genre.

It’s important to recognise the myriad things that could result in an unplanned pregnancy – the different bases that we have to cover, the balls we have to juggle, (ha unfortunate pun or turn of phrase considering the subject matter)to make sure that sex remains just sex. But most important is the base we just can’t cover – luck.

Best bit of unwitting Catholic sexual apologetics I’ve seen in ages. A tacit admission that sex is not designed to be a mere leisure activity. It is designed to be unitive, to reinforce pair bonding and procreative. Having sex could well result in pregnancy whatever you do. Stripping the emotional intimacy and potential for pregnancy from sex requires mental gymnastics and sophistry, it requires one to attempt to re-programme one’s innate inbuilt emotional responses, to condition oneself not to care about the other or get emotionally involve and it requires at least two methods of contraception or sterilisation to ensure that one doesn’t get pregnant or a disease, and even then it’s not guaranteed.

Wouldn’t a much better solution be a society in which monogamy, chastity and fidelity were valued and desirable concepts to reduce the risks of disease and in which women could be aware of their natural peak times of fertility and together make an informed choice with their partners as to whether or not to take the risk of pregnancy? If its all such a juggling act to keep sex as just sex, shouldn’t that tell us something? Sexual empowerment seems to be much harder work for women than it does men. All those threesomes, foursomes and one night stands are worth pumping one’s body full of huge doses of synthetic hormones, risking one’s long-term health and the killing of an unborn child?

Pregnancies are not solely caused by your own decisions. – yes they are. A woman who doesn’t have sex is not going to get pregnant.

As women who are desperately trying to get pregnant can tell you, one of the key deciding factors is luck. – yes, there is undoubtedly an element of circumstance when one is trying to achieve pregnancy, there are a myriad of measures one can take to attempt to maximise one’s chances of pregnancy, but there is nothing that one can do to guarantee that one becomes pregnant. There is however, something that one can do to mitigate the chances of not becoming pregnant. If you have sex and you are fertile then engaging in sex is something of a gamble, admittedly with measured risks. As the writer goes on to say: Can we beat the odds?

And so, what can we do when something as essential as sex is risky enough to make or break people’s lives? – so sex is essential now is it? We live in a culture whereby sex is essential? What happens if people don’t have sex? Do they turn into this?

No-one has ever died from not having sex. Sex is essential on a macro level for the promulgation of humankind, but not a micro level. Sex is pleasurable, feels good and is certainly important in terms of increasing intimacy in a committed relationship, but it’s not essential in terms of life or death or even overall well being, unless the writer is claiming that the significant proportion of the population who are not having sex are somehow deficient either emotionally or physically.

As for make or break, if sex really does have the ability to ruin one’s life, then abstinence sounds like the most advisable option. The idea that sex can totally transform one’s life for the better is delusional. The best sex is not merely physical but requires a level of mutual intimacy, love and trust. A relationship where sex does not constitute a stressful plate spinning act but a mutual and consensual outpouring of love.

For as long as we walk the planet we’ll be having sex. And as long as we’re having sex there will be unwanted pregnancies. As long as humankind exists, it will continue to have sex and there will always be unplanned or even unwanted pregnancies, no-one is disputing that, least of all me.

The lucky ones will avoid them, the unlucky ones won’t, but right now we’re lucky enough to have a safety net. Let’s keep it that way. – a new euphemism. Abortion is a ‘safety net’ – destroying an unborn child is a safety net when all other attempts to avoid pregnancy have failed. If the safety net is required, one needs to ask oneself why. Ultimately we need to have a safety net so that we can indulge our own selfish pleasures. A safety net implies that it is a method of last resort, there is no other option available. That means that women who are in poverty, who have been raped, who are in all kinds of reduced, straightened or desperate circumstances need a safety net as they have no other choice other than to abort their children. That’s not a status quo worth keeping and we should fight for change, otherwise we accept and promote injustice. And in all of this, where is the humanity of the unborn child? Its cloaked in euphemisms of safety nets and choices. Being killed before you have a chance to live does not sound like much of a safety net or choice to me.

According to this typical feminist perspective, being a woman is all about being a fatalist, a victim, the weaker sex. That isn’t something that chimes with my experience nor is a central principle of the pioneers of feminism, who recognised that women were equally strong, resourceful and powerful as men, but in different ways.

The early feminists fought for equality of opportunity – for women to have access to the same level of education, the same rights in the workplace, the rights to access the same choices as men. It was only through education could women begin to be on an equal playing field and enjoy equal status in society to men. That is why every woman is at heart a feminist, we don’t see ourselves as lesser beings or worthy of less opportunities.

But not every woman wants to identify as a feminist, in that some of us, I would argue most of us, do not see man as the enemy, the potential rapist of the typical feminist tropes. Our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons deserve better than being pathologised as potential rapists and aggressors. They also deserve better, as do we as women, than the sexual objectification of both genders that takes place in today’s society as a result of the libertine attitudes that prevail and dominate the sexual discourse. Sex can never be free of responsibility, this is an unobtainable Utopian ideal.

If sex cannot come without consequences, then the responsibility should always be mutual. To frame the issue as women’s bodily autonomy, (aside from the fact that bodily autonomy does not exist, a doctor won’t just cut one’s arm off because one asks him to) absolves the men from any responsibility for sex and leaves women co-opting with their own oppression. Lack of fidelity and monogamy exposes primarily women and children to poverty and exploitation and turns both genders into sex objects – simply means to require objective ends.

Francis Philips recently wondered whether or not the term feminism carried too much baggage amidst efforts to reclaim it. I think she’s right. I am leaning towards womanism, coined by the author Alice Walker, which has none of the negative connotations of white middle class feminism. Ultimately we have to recognise that women will always have different bodily functions and responsibilities to men. Men cannot bear children, nor can they breastfeed newborn babies. If we want a woman and child-friendly society, one that does not treat women as inferior, one that does not abandon them or their children to a live of poverty and deprivation, a society that acknowledges the dignity and contribution of all women to society, not just in our role of mothers, then we need the active support, co-operation and collaboration of men.

As a Catholic woman I want the same for my four daughters as for myself; access to equal education and the confidence that they can achieve whatever goals they set their minds to. I want them to take responsibility for their own fertility and bodies and I expect them to enjoy equal civil rights under the law. I want them to face every single challenge and setback that life may throw at them with confidence and grace; that they keep going in faith, hope and trust, no matter how difficult the odds.

What I don’t want is to raise weak women, who blame men for everything and who place themselves at the mercy of some fatalistic victim culture, or to expect special treatment or favours as a result of their gender thereby perpetuating a different form of inequality.

Whilst feminism continues in this vein of self-pitying victimhood and encouraging hatred of men, our companions in humanity, then strong women, who want to fight for a better future for all those struggling from oppression, should have nothing to do with it.