Our Own Worst Enemy

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.

Women marching for the right to oppress themselves: The epitome of crazy

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.

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64 thoughts on “Our Own Worst Enemy

  1. Jonathon Chambers says:

    Ok I’m a male and Agnostic (I respectfully ask for no debates) and I have to say this was a good article and feel that it is worth sharing. You bring up many harsh truths about the American way of life that is a shame when you analyze. Thank you for this Article.

  2. Donna says:

    A note from a Pittsburgher : The Pittsburgh Oratory in Oakland has a 10 am Mass on Saturday. They also have Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration – Our Lord is on the altar constantly. He is only reposed during Mass, and from 11 am to noon Saturdays, when they clean the chapel.

    1. I know. I love the Oratory and go there often. But at 10 am I was shooting for a Mass near the coffee shop where I like to work. I really could write a whole post about my quest for Mass that day. Of course, if the Oratory had been in the plan, something probably would have prevented a Mass there as well. I was trying to start a 30 day Mass Novena on St. Gianna’s feast day, and I think the devil was trying to keep that from happening. I beat him though. Persistence always does!

  3. Oilda Perez says:

    Extremely honest, very well written, and actually quite beautiful, you are a blessing to women.

  4. Hector says:

    Fantastic blog entry Emily!

  5. Catherine Boyle says:

    Where did our daughters and grandaughters get the idea they had freedom, when it was just the opposite? The men were smiling as they had free live in sex kittens, maids and “female buddies”until they decided who they would want to be their life long friend,life long love,mother of their children ,the woman they would stand up to the world and call “Wife.”

  6. Marsha says:

    The availability of contraceptives does none of the things you mention Emily. Once again, you fail to see the actual cause of unwanted pregnancies: low self-esteem. Contraceptives do not cause low self-esteem. The existence of contraceptives is not due to low self-esteem. Women want to have sex because they like it. Believing that the use of contraceptives increases the number of abortions and divorces is non sequitur. You have made contraceptives evil because you believe that having sex for any other reason than pro-creation is evil. That belief, in and of itself, is a suppression of women. Women are human and women have a sex drive. So be it.

    1. Mary says:

      Sigh….Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, yet again you are incorrect. Apparantly you never read any of my previous posts with the documentation of the physical harm by oral contraceptives to women as well as the social problems. The availability of contraceptives do indeed do all of the things Emily mentions, including increase the number of abortions. I’ve posted the sources a dozen times before, so I won’t repost all of them, but there are some new ones below. These concern Plan B and other “morning after pills” which are making boat loads of money for drug companies and which have been touted as the answer to decrease unwanted pregnancies and abortions, but as the studies below show, is associated with increased abortions and teen pregnancy rates. I am a physician, but anyone can look up the sources and read them for themselves, even if they are not medical practitioners. Emily has read the sources–may I respectfully reques that you do the same. 1. Dick Churchill, et al., “Consultation Patterns and Provision of Contraception in General Practice Before Teenage Pregnancy: Case-Control Study,” British Medical Journal, 2000 August 19; 321 (7259): 486-489. 2. Tina Raine, MD, MPH, et al., “Does Improving Access to Emergency Contraception Through Pharmacies Make a Difference in Unintended Pregnancy Rates?” American Public Health Association 2003 Annual Meeting, November 19, 2003, Abstract #70869. ( This study was even supported by a research grant from Women’s Capital Corporation, manufacturer of Plan B and STILL showed no decrease in pregnancy or abortion rates.) 3. K. Edgardh, “Adolescent Sexual Health,” Sexually Transmitted Infections, 19 July 2002; 78:352-356.

      1. Mary, if I knew your address, I’d send you chocolate. Thanks for these comments.

      2. Marsha says:

        Mary, obviously you are only reading what matches your beliefs. There are many, many studies showing that contraceptive use lowers abortion rates. Google search “abortion rates and contraceptives” and read away. All the issues Emily mentioned (increased rates of abortion, adultery, divorce, poverty, infertility, and depression paired with declining numbers of marriages) are not related to the use of contraceptives but to other factors, primarily low self-esteem. You and Emily may want to believe otherwise but it just ain’t so. Contraceptive use has saved many lives, lowered abortion rates and given women an option that didn’t exist before.

        1. Mary says:

          @ Marsha I would like to meet you one day, I should think. While you are certainly passionate about what you write and say, and while passion is a good thing, it must be backed up with unbiased facts. Please read the actual primary sources Marsha,as I have done and do not be misled by any philosophized interpretations. Those who read the originals and then blog about it may have an agenda, and you seem to me to be an intelligent person who is capable of forming your own opinion without letting the media interpretation of a study to do it for you. It is easy to google search an opinion but one must actually go back to the raw data which only takes a little more time and is easy to do–just follow the bibliographies until you come to the original source. Be careful to not quote mere repeated opinions such as “studies show…” without actually reading and citing the original study itself. There is a big difference. “Studies” should be done by scientists with nothing to prove such as those I cited above, (although it’s also pretty interesting that the industry-supported study above showed their product doesn’t work and it increased pregnancy rates and abortions.) Let’s make it easy and narrow down the big, broad topic which can be overwhelming to the mere little piece of “emergency contraception”, as noted above. Please provide me with an actual original scientific study (not an interpretation of one) that shows how Plan B has decreased pregnancies and abortions, as I have done for you showing that it hasn’t. None of the studies I cited were done by a pro-life or church group, they were done by independent researchers, some with a vested interest in showing that there were actually a decrease, as you say, in pregnancy and abortions with Plan B. There was neither. Some studies show that the availability of Plan B increases its use, which is dandy–hey, you have more of something, more people use it, BUT even though use was increased, there was not the expected change in outcome measure–ie, NOT the drop in pregnancy and abortion. I am not in the business to promote a drug company so that they can sell more of their drug. The same is true of non-Plan B contraceptives if one actually goes to the original sources.
          You also talk about self esteem, which is a great point. Sexually active teens are much more likely than their abstinent peers to have low self esteem, to be depressed, and to attempt suicide. This data is from the government funded National Longitudinal Survey of Public Health, “Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide,” by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Lauren R. Noyes, Center for Data Analysis Report #03-04, June 3, 2003. Please provide the actual scientific study, not opinion or interpretation, that says otherwise.
          Low self-esteem is associated with teen sexual activity. I can give you real studies regarding self-esteem in other age groups besides teens comparing marital vs. extramarital sex if you want, too.

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