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New feminism

New feminism is a philosophy which emphasizes a belief in an integral complementarity of men and women, rather than the superiority of men over women or women over men.[1]

New feminism, as a form of difference feminism, supports the idea that men and women have different strengths, perspectives, and roles, while advocating for the equal worth and dignity of both sexes. Among its basic concepts are that the most important differences are those that are biological rather than cultural. New Feminism holds that women should be valued in their role as child bearers, both culturally and economically, while not being viewed as a "home maker" in the broader sense of the meaning. Its main aim is to promote the idea that women are individuals with equal worth as men; and that in social, economic and legal senses they should be equal, while accepting the natural differences between the sexes.


  • History 1
    • Recent use 1.1
  • Theory 2
    • Integral sex complementarity 2.1
    • Meaning of the body 2.2
      • The feminine genius 2.2.1
      • Masculinity 2.2.2
    • Positions 2.3
    • Proponents 2.4
  • Critiques 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The term was originally used in Britain in the 1920s to distinguish New feminists from traditional mainstream suffragist feminism. These women, also referred to as welfare feminists, were particularly concerned with motherhood, like their opposite numbers in Germany at the time, Helene Stöcker and her Bund für Mutterschutz. New feminists campaigned strongly in favour of such measures as family allowances paid directly to mothers. They were also largely supportive of protective legislation in industry. A major proponent of this was Eleanor Rathbone of the suffragist-successor society, the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship.

New feminists were opposed mainly by young women, especially those in the Six Point Group, particularly Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, and Dorothy Evans, who saw this as a retrograde step towards the separate spheres ideology of the 19th century. They were particularly opposed to protective legislation, which they saw as being in practice restrictive legislation, which kept women out of better-paid jobs on the pretext of health and welfare considerations.

Recent use

In recent years, the term has been revived by feminists responding to the Vatican's call for a "'new feminism' which rejects the temptation of imitating models of 'male domination' in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation".[2] "The true genius of women" is the idea that all of the ways in which women give of themselves are ways that reflect their capacity for physical or spiritual motherhood.[3]

John Paul II had begun his theologically-based affirmation of integral gender complementarity in his Wednesday audiences between 1979 and 1984, in what is now compiled as the Theology of the Body. In this work, he describes his belief that men and women are formed as complementary human beings, whose purpose, strengths and weaknesses are reflected in the physical make-up of their bodies. In 1988, John Paul II sent out an apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, or, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.[4] In this letter, John Paul II called on women to value their "feminine genius"[5] as mothers and caregivers as well as their participation in politics and economics. He describes the 'feminine genius' as including empathy, interpersonal relations, emotive capacity, subjectivity, communication, intuition and personalization.

John Paul II continued this call in his Apostolic Letter to Women prior to the 1995 Beijing Women's conference.[6]


Integral sex complementarity

While the Greeks acknowledged the possibility of sex complementarity, systematic developments into this philosophy of the person did not begin until Augustine of Hippo, who recognized the implications of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. The first western philosopher to articulate a complete theory of sex complementarity was Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine nun. Her advances were soon buried by the 13th century Aristotelian Revolution, and the lack of higher education for women in the following centuries.[7]

Philosophical developments in the concept of integral gender complementarity were popularized in the early 20th century by two students of Edmund Husserl: Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein. Von Hildebrand argued against the "terrible anti-personalism" of his age, stating that it is the "general dissimilarity in the nature of both which enables... a real complementary relationship".[8][9] Stein revived the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas to argue that a difference in bodies constitutes a difference in spirit, that the soul is not unisex.[10] New Feminist theories were also influenced by the Personalist and Phenomenology movements of the early 20th century.

Integral complementarity differs from fractional complementarity, in that that it argues that men and women are each whole persons in and of themselves, and, together, equal more than the sum of their parts. The concept of fractional complementarity argues that a man and woman each make up a part of a person.[11] By this theory, when they are joined together, they then comprise one, composite being.[12]

Meaning of the body

New Feminists promote an understanding of the human person as one who is made in the image and likeness of God (imago Dei) for the purpose of union and communion.[13] They see distinct differences in the ways in which men and women make a sincere gift of themselves through the 'nuptial meaning of the body', and see these gifts as shedding light on the mysteries of God and their own vocation, mission and dignity.[14]

Other ideas promoted by New Feminists include:

  • that the different bodily structures of men and women lead both to different lived experiences.
  • that the different ways in which men and women give life physically reveal how they give life emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
  • that being a woman means being a mother. New Feminists believe that whether or not they do it well, women are physically structured to be mothers, to develop life with their wombs.[15] They purport the idea that the physical capacity for motherhood gives rise to psychological, spiritual and emotional characteristics that women would need to be mothers.
  • that regardless of whether or not a woman ever gives birth, she has the capacity for maternal love in spiritual motherhood.

The feminine genius

The phrase "the feminine genius" refers to the idea that all of the ways in which women give of themselves are ways that reflect their capacity for physical or spiritual motherhood.[16] For New Feminists, these include:

Receptivity. Only women are created with a physical empty space inside of themselves with the sole purpose of receiving another person. Every time they conceive, they give a gift of self - their own bodies - so that others, their children, can receive the gift of life.[17] "A woman's entire being is oriented toward receiving and nurturing new life."[18]

Emphasis on the Person. Because they can receive and develop life within their wombs, women have a special openness to the new person - their child. This includes the capacity to unify all of humankind because people were all once united with their mothers in their wombs. "[W]oman tends naturally to wholeness and self-containment."[19][20]

Empathy. Because of the physical need to care for their developing children, within their wombs and as infants, women have "a profound need to share [their lives] with another and, consequently, a capacity for unselfish love, for commitment, a capacity to transcend the self...".[21] This also includes the gift of subjectivity.

Obedience and Dependency. In order for life to be physically conceived, a woman must allow a man to come inside of her. Independence, isolation and autonomy do not cause life, but the very opposite - a woman's willingness to be receptive to the man and yield to him.[22] For New Feminists, this does not mean inequality. Two leaders are constantly competing and fighting for the top. Women show men how to listen to the opinions of others, accept others into their hearts and minds, and allow God to work within them. This is also called the fiat mentality.[23] As Dr. Alice von Hildebrand explains, "Authority is...not the same thing as moral superiority."[24]

Guidance of Man. Women seek to draw out the best of man in the sexual act through all levels of his being. While he shares in parenthood, man always remains outside the process of pregnancy and birth. In many ways, a man has to learn his own 'fatherhood' from the mother. Women thus lead men to become all they can be as fathers, imaging the fatherhood of God.[25]

Despite the term's historical origins, there is no indication that any modern New Feminists oppose women's suffrage. Rather, they encourage women to participate actively in modern political life. For example, Edith Stein wrote in 1932, "[L]egislative and administrative functions also require direct feminine collaboration. Women are needed to deliberate, resolve, and initiate laws."[26]

Protection of Life. Because of the life or potential life within their wombs, women have a special vocation to care for all those who cannot care for themselves - the weak, the poor, the outcast - all those whose life is not valued. New Feminists believe that women are structured to protect their children, and they believe it to be a particular injustice when women support abortion, infanticide, embryonic stem cell research, or in-vitro fertilization.[27]

Sanctity and Modesty. Because the creation of life takes place within a woman, they have a sense of modesty to guard against the exploitation or objectification of that holy mystery.[28] Only total love - unconditional commitment and mutual self-giving in marriage - "has the capacity to absorb the shame of human nature."[29] For this reason, they are typically against what Russell D. Moore termed "the Concubine Culture" of couples living together and having sex outside of marriage.[30]


For New Femininists, being a man means being a father. In order to become a physical father, a man must give away his semen, in order to create new life.

In Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, spiritual fatherhood means spiritual priesthood - the offering of a man's body and blood for the sanctification of the world. It was because Jesus gave his body and blood away both as a sacrifice for his Church and as a gift to the Church in the form of the Eucharist that new spiritual life could be conceived. "A man is 'head' of his wife not to stroke his own ego, but in order to give up his body for her" and thus create new life.[31] As keepers of the Eucharist, men are entrusted with the body and blood of Christ. All men, whether single or married, are entrusted with woman - the body of the Church. "She is their Eucharist."[31]

All spiritual fathers, according to New Feminists, also have a responsibility to protect the mutual self-giving of man and woman. This sense of protection of their wives and families is also built into a man's physical capacities - in the greater physical strength of men, generally speaking, as well as their psychological need to feel competent and capable.[32]


Distinction, not Discrimination. "Discrimination is an evil, but distinction is God's design."[33] New Feminists claim that men and women are different and that this difference affects the way they live their lives, what they care about, and their strengths and weaknesses. Women can fulfill their vocational calling by acting as spiritual mothers in whatever their occupation: as wife, mother, consecrated woman, working professional, or single woman. Differences between the sexes should never be used to unilaterally discriminate except in cases when a task is subjectively contingent upon a person being of a certain sex. For Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, this includes the priesthood.[34][35]

Marriage as Communion. New Feminists consider marriage to be a reciprocal self-giving of persons in free, total, faithful and fruitful communion.[36] This means that marriage is more than a "partnership" and requires mutual service towards one another. A communion can only take place between persons who are united in their difference, male and female, not between those of the same sex (whose joining can never be fruitful). On the grand scale, however, all of humanity is part of an interpersonal communion.[37]

Celebration of the Family and the Home. New Feminists argue that a true feminism is not just about women, it is about the Family - both individually and collectively in the Church and Humanity. While the family as the foundational unit of society, many women do not have the choice to stay at home with their children because of social, economic or political pressures.[38][39][40] Women's work as mothers and in the home must be valued as complete and good in and of itself - not needing a career or outside job to extravalidate women's self-worth and accomplishments.[41]

Love and Service, not Power, Domination or Bitterness. New Feminists claim that other feminisms are preoccupied with "power", domination and positions of visible "authority" and claim that those are as masculine and faulty. Dismayed by what they see as the bitterness, hatred, or retribution of many feminists against men or other women for current or past injustices, they argue that men and women should cooperate with one another in interpersonal communion.[42] This means giving of themselves in mutual service and love.[43] They typically avoid using the tactic of consciousness raising because they believe that method promotes venting and bitterness instead of mutual commitment.

True Freedom Remembers Purpose, including Oughts as well as Rights. In order for men and women to be truly free, New Feminists assert that they must act in accordance with the way they are psychologically and emotionally structured to be as sexed human persons. Philosophy and Religion, then, are essential components in the search for how men and women should and ought to act for "a higher truth or good", not just how they want or can act.[44] New Feminists assert that people must remember God and purpose to recognize that life, in some way, is a gift and not a mere thing which a person can claim as his or her exclusive property.[45]

Fruitfulness, not just Productivity. While productivity is valuable, helpful and necessary, New Feminists claim that it is a very masculine way of looking at actions. New Feminists assert that we must also be fruitful - a process that takes longer, requires patience and the cooperation of others, and is appreciated not measured. Every act of service is a witness to the worth of the human person and thus promotes the progress of the whole human race.[46]

Fertility, not Sterility. Many New Feminists assert that fertility is a natural, healthy biological process, not a disease that women need to take the Pill to be cured from.[47] If women respect their fertility - their potential for physical and spiritual motherhood - fruit will have a place to grow. When a woman contracepts, she takes the essential factor of her womanhood - her ability be a mother - and rejects it, turning it into an unwanted intrusion.[48] The body is separated from spirit and purpose and is objectified for the pursuit of pleasure alone. The man, in contracepting, rejects her fertility as well. Their communion is now a culture of sterility, where fruit - physical and spiritual - is prohibited from growing. Thus, the vast majority of New Feminists discuss the spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits for men and women by following natural family planning instead of utilizing contraception.[49]


Contemporary proponents include Pia de Solenni, a moral theologian in Washington, DC, Janet E. Smith, Katrina Zeno, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Colleen Carroll Campbell of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Mary Beth Bonacci, Sister Prudence Allen, Alice von Hildebrand, Kimberly Hahn, Dorinda C. Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund ("Holistic Feminism" in law and policy), and Mary Ellen Bork. The work of earlier Catholic thinkers on masculinity and femininity, such as Hildegard of Bingen, Edith Stein and G. E. M. Anscombe, has also become recently influential in the development of New Feminism. Though primarily Catholic in origin, the movement also includes prominent non-Catholics, like Jewish author Wendy Shalit and Protestant activist Enola Aird.


Critics of the movement argue that it was created by a patriarchal structure for its own maintenance. “It will always mean that men are defining women and telling women what it is like to be a woman,” according to Sister of Mercy Mary Aquin O’Neill, director of the Mount Agnes Theological Center for Women in Baltimore.[50] Until women are members of this higher authority, it can never make authoritative decisions about their perspectives because they are excluded from the vote.[51]

Other critics maintain that no movement that opposes abortion and birth control in the form of artificial contraception can be positive for women. New Feminism may also be a form of gender or biological determinism, which may be seen as old prejudices in a new guise.[52]

See also


  1. ^ PDF
  2. ^ Pdf.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Pdf.
  5. ^ Note the Latin word used "ingenii" (cf. paragraph 30) as it comes from the root "ingenium" which is properly understood as 1. innate or natural quality, natural character; nature 2. disposition, temper, inclination 3. intelligence, natural capacity and should not be misunderstood in the common parlance understanding of the word "genius", but this more focused view of one's capacity and inclination, rather than intellectual aptitude (cf.).
  6. ^ Pdf.
  7. ^ pp. 213-315; 408-410.
  8. ^ Von Hildebrand, Dietrich. Marriage: the Mystery of Faithful Love. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1991. p. 53-55.
  9. ^ Von Hildebrand, Dietrich. Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1992, p. 91
  10. ^ Stein, Edith. "Letter to Sister Callista Koph" in Self-Portrait in Letters: 1916-1942. Washington DC: ICS Publications, 1993. Stein, Edith. Essays on Woman.
  11. ^ Allen, "Man-woman complementarity", p. 9
  12. ^ See also
  13. ^ De Solenni, Pia. A Hermeneutic of Aquinas's Mens Through a Sexually Differentiated Epistemology: Towards an understanding of woman as imago Dei. Doctoral Thesis. Pontificia Universitas Sanctae Crucis. Rome. 2000.
  14. ^ Online.
  15. ^ They have a "womb-shaped vocation. Caldecott, Leonie. "Sincere Gift: The Pope's New Feminism." Communio: International Catholic Review 23 (Spring 1996).
  16. ^ Zeno, "Every Woman's Journey", Chapter 3: The Genius of Women, p. 29-39.
  17. ^ New York Catholic Forum Lecture. January 14, 1997.On the Privilege of Being a Woman.Hildebrand, Alice von.
  18. ^ Zeno, Katrina. Every Woman's Journey. Steubenville, OH: Women of the Third Millennium, 2005. p. 31.
  19. ^ Mirkes, Sr. Renee. "Of Pillars and Spores: The Genius of Woman." Canticle Magazine. Vol.1. 2000
  20. ^ See also Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. "Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism." Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  21. ^ Stein. Essays on Woman.
  22. ^
  23. ^ Caldecott, Leonie. Sincere Gift: The Pope's "New Feminism". Communio: International Catholic Review 21 (Spring 1996). Section III.
  24. ^ Von Hildebrand, On the Privilege of Being a Woman,
  25. ^ Pelletier, Anne-Marie. "The Teachers of Man, for the Church as Bride." in "Women in Christ" ed. Schumacher, p. 232-250.
  26. ^ Stein, Essays on Woman, p. 114
  27. ^ See also Gallagher, Maggie. "Enemies of Eros: How the sexual revolution is killing family, marriage, and sex and what we can do about it." Chicago: Bonus Books, Inc. 1989.
  28. ^ Graglia, "Domestic Tranquility" Chapter 4, section on 'Female Chastity and the Preciousness of Women' p. 163-183.
  29. ^ Wanda Poltawska. quoted in Allen, John L., Jr. "Rome Conference offers 'new' feminism." National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2001.
  30. ^ Moore, Russell D. Modern Feminism and the Concubine Culture:The Gender Implications of the Condit Case. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. August 9, 2001
  31. ^ a b Zeno, Every Woman's Journey", p.115.
  32. ^ Crabb, Larry. The Silence of Adam. Zondervan, 1998.
  33. ^ Zeno, Every Woman's Journey, 119.
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Online.
  37. ^ John Paul II. Theology of the Body.Section 9, 'Man becomes the Image of God by Communion of persons.'
  38. ^ Online.
  39. ^
  40. ^ Online.
  41. ^ Graglia, F. Carolyn. Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism.Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 1998. p. 1-30.
  42. ^ Alvare, Helen. "A New Feminism" Liguorian Magazine. May, 1997.
  43. ^ As Janne Haaland-Matlary states, "The paradox for modern man is, of course, that Christian power is equal to service." from "Men and Women in Family, Society and Politics." Catholic Culture. L'Osservatore Romana. Vatican, January 12, 2005. p. 6-7
  44. ^ Alvare, "A New Feminism"
  45. ^ Glendon, Mary Ann. "Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse." New York: The Free Press, 1991.
  46. ^ Zeno, Every Woman's Journey, p. 72-74
  47. ^ Smith, Janet E. "Contraception: Why Not?" Catholic Physicians Guild meeting. Pontifical College Josephinum Columbus, Ohio. May 1994.
  48. ^ Online.
  49. ^ See Smith, "Contraception: Why not?" and Why Humanae Vitae was Right: A Reader" San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993; DeMarco, Donald, Ph.D. "New Perspectives on Contraception"; Anscombe, G.E.M. "Contraception and Chastity", London: Catholic Truth Society, 1975.
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ LaReau, Renée M. 'Redesigning women"

Further reading

  • Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism. Edited by Michele M. Schumacher. Cambridge, UK: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.
  • "Feminism is Not the Story of My Life" by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
  • Every Woman's Journey: Answering "Who Am I?" For the Feminine Heart by Katrina J. Zeno
  • God's Call to Women: Messages of Wisdom and Inspiration, Edited by Christine Anne Mugridge. Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 2003.
  • Essays on Woman by Edith Stein (Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Discalced Carmelite). 2nd ed. Translated by Freda Mary Oben. Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications, 1996.
  • Wings & Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism(Sophia Sirius Publishing) 2009. 1st Edition

External links

  • The New Feminism
  • Catholic Feminism
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