On Saturday, while I was attempting to find a church in Pittsburgh that actually offered morning Mass (as opposed to Confirmation services, healing services, and Communion services), I noticed some women walking through the streets.
At the time, I didn’t pay much attention as, 1) They were few in number and kind of angry looking, and 2) I was getting kind of angry looking myself after trying three separate churches and striking out at each one.
Later that day, however, I happened upon Soraya Chemaly’s latest column, “March, Because Equal Enough for Women is Not Enough,” which informed me that the ragtag band of Pittsburgh protestors were actually part of a national march organized to protest the oppression of women by the likes of John Boehner and the USCCB.
In her column, Chemaly outlined the rationale behind the March.
“American women need to be recognized as full citizens…It is evident that conservatives do not believe women can be trusted to think for themselves and make their own decisions… about when to become parents, money, faith, nothing. Instead, in almost every sphere of life, their agenda is designed to keep women dependent on the good graces of men and competing for the resources that men have traditionally provided and keep them vulnerable in the process.”
At first, I found the whole column, not to mention the march itself, rather silly. In an age when women are fast outpacing men in both education and earning power, people like Chemaly bemoaning their own oppression sound like hypochondriacs whining about their latest “malady.” One is tempted to give a good eye roll and walk away.
But then I thought a bit more about the women marching through Pittsburgh.
And I got angry.
The fact is, women are being oppressed today. Only, men aren’t generally the ones doing the oppressing. Women are. Women are oppressing themselves by making any number of bad choices and subscribing to an equal number of bad ideas.
Once upon a time, the law made objects of women. Now we make objects of ourselves. And the women marching through Pittsburgh were marching to enshrine some of the very means of women’s self-objectification and self-oppression. Which strikes me as the epitome of crazy.
In truth, if women want to throw off the shackles of oppression and live life as subjects, not objects, they should forget about half-baked marches and try the following:
1. Just say “No”…to men who don’t love you enough to pursue you, work for you, and, old-fashioned as it may seem, wait for you. First, because you’re worth it. You really are. Second, because love, among other things, means never asking someone to commit a mortal sin. And if a guy is asking you give yourself to him, body and soul, outside of marriage, that’s exactly what he’s asking. He’s failing in love by asking, and you’re failing in love by assenting. That’s bad. It tends to lead to lasting wounds, not lasting happiness, and a wedding ring rarely follows. If, against all odds, a ring does come, divorce is also far more likely. Stop the cycle of use, abuse, and heartbreak by never letting the cycle start.
2. Put the kibosh on porn. Pornography—all pornography—is deep, dark, evil stuff. To start with, it reduces men and women to objects. It also strips away from sexual love the divine elements of self-gift and new life, while leaving only the dimension of self-seeking pleasure. Above all, it makes it increasingly difficult for men to love real women. It changes their perceptions of us, our bodies, and how we need to be loved. Study after study has demonstrated that pornography wreaks havoc on a couple’s sex life and relationship. So don’t tolerate it. Don’t turn a blind eye to your husband or boyfriend’s porn habit, and don’t develop the habit yourself.
3. Feed yourself. Food is not the enemy, something to be dreaded and feared. Nor is it a weapon, something to use to punish yourself or control your world. Food is nourishment. It’s life. It’s one of God’s great gifts. Receive that gift. Give thanks for it. Enjoy it. Stop trying to define your self-worth by numbers on a scale or find your happiness in a clothing size. Both will only keep you in a prison of your own making. And there is no joy in that prison. There’s no peace, and there’s no wholeness. God has given you a body so that you can love and be loved. Care for that body. Keep it healthy and fit. But don’t make controlling its size and shape the focus of your life.
4. Ditch the Pill. In no known universe is it a good thing to dose yourself daily with a class-one carcinogen that dampens your sex drive and makes you a moody, miserable wench. It’s not empowering. It’s not liberating. It’s dangerous—physically and spiritually. Along with every other contraceptive in the culture’s medicine cabinet, the pill has deluded billions into thinking of sex as a consequence-free recreational activity. Dramatically increased rates of abortion, adultery, divorce, poverty, infertility, and depression paired with declining numbers of marriages are the ugly offspring of its widespread use. As Mary Eberstadt makes clear in Adam and Eve After the Pill (a book every adult in America should read), the cultural legacy of contraception is a nasty one, for men and women. Don’t contribute to that legacy.
5. Stop confusing “Sexy” with “Beautiful.” It’s okay to want to be beautiful. You should want to be beautiful. That’s part of the feminine genius. We’re the beautiful sex, the sex that images a God who is Beauty. But beautiful is not sexy. Sexy is a synonym for smutty, risqué, dirty, bodacious, and toothsome. And there is nothing smutty, risqué, dirty, bodacious, or toothsome about God. God is wise. God is good. God is gentle. God is all-merciful. God is love. Pursue those things. Then strive to have the beauty you’re cultivating on the inside be reflected on the outside. Don’t obscure it with smuttiness or frumpiness. Seek to be lovely, not hot—again, a subject, not an object. Be a reflection of God, not a distraction from Him. Remember, He’s the one we’re called to more perfectly image, not Brooklyn Decker.
6. Avoid women’s magazines. Elle, Vogue, Cosmo, Glamour, Shape—these rags are not your friends. No magazine that runs headlines like “31 Days of Hot Sex” is your friend. No magazine that routinely airbrushes an average of five pounds off of already emaciated models is your friend. No magazine that makes a literary art form of gossip is your friend. The vast majority of these magazines feed on women’s deepest insecurities and compound our greatest struggles, reinforcing all sorts of wrong-headed notions about feminine beauty and sexuality. Don’t feed the beast. If you need some light reading, try Agatha Christie instead.
7. Get to know God. If you want to be free, truly free, you need to know who you are. You also need to know who you’re called to be. Which means you need to know God. He’s your Father and Creator, the source of your dignity and worth. He really does have all the answers. And if you want those answers too, you need to spend time with Him. That means prayer and study, worship and sacraments. It means talking to Him about everything and anything, from the meaning of the universe to the new dress you want for your date on Friday night. It also means obeying Him in all things, dying to yourself so you can become more perfectly yourself.
Doing that, like doing everything else on the list, requires a bit more work than simply walking a mile or two on a sunny spring day. But it’s the only path to joy. It’s the only path to life. It’s the only path to freedom.
Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years,” where she dishes on the Church’s teachings about women, marriage, sex, work, beauty, suffering, and more.