Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com. (Photo by Renata Grzan Wierczorek, RenataPhotography.com)
I recently spoke on Catholic Answers about Mary and the modern woman. A man called in asking about his daughter, saying that although he homeschooled her and taught her the catechism, at 17, she now had little regard for the Church. It was clear he was struggling with how he had failed her. Based on what he told me, this concerned dad was not the problem.
Many of us have had a similar situation where we think we are teaching our children well, and then at some point they just leave it all behind. But we have to look honestly at what we are up against. Everything around us—everything—is pushing back against the Catholic faith. In America today, unless we live under a rock, we are affronted with a barrage of messages aimed at demolishing the last resistance to a culture of death, the Catholic Church. But it is much worse among women because in every major corridor of power in our country—from New York, to L.A., and everywhere in between—an elite chorus of women is calling the shots.
This chorus, which elsewhere I have called the matriarchy, has its hands in every cultural pot. Look at New York, the heart of big media which largely controls the news narrative. Most smaller news sources rely upon the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the major television networks. But also in New York is the fashion industry. As The Devil Wears Prada made clear, fashion is big business. When Andy Sachs, the idealistic new assistant to Miranda Priestly, is caught laughing at serious chatter about denim skirts, Miranda pulls no punches:
See that droopy sweater you’re wearing? That blue was on a dress Cameron Diaz wore on the cover of Runway—shredded chiffon by James Holt. The same blue quickly appeared in eight other designers’ collections and eventually made its way to the secondary designers, the department store labels, and then to some lovely Gap Outlet, where you no doubt found it. That color is worth millions of dollars and many jobs.
Interestingly, these layers of influence within the fashion industry are well-known and generally appreciated by fashion conscious women. What is not well-known is that these layers of influence have also bled into the world of ideas by the media and or cultural celebrities, such as Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Maureen Dowd. Ideas pitched by these elite women (and sometimes men as Sue Browder made clear in her book Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement) trickle down into the daily lives of millions of women across the country and around the world through media, such as Rachel Maddow or The View, and then into sitcoms, such as Lena Dunham’s Girls. Notions like, women can only be free if they are able to abort their children, gender is a fluid thing (unless one wants to become heterosexual), masculinity is toxic, or women must become the same as men, all started somewhere and are piped into our lives like elevator music.
These ideas have been chiseled into public policy in Washington, D.C., where there are few female politicians not beholden to Planned Parenthood. There are a lot of platitudes and impassioned cries to fight for all women, just so long as we are talking about the right women (and not those waiting to be born). Comments like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” are subtle ways of virtue signaling how all women should think, or more importantly, vote.
Skipping over flyover country, we move to Hollywood and the music industry, which work hand in hand to further the message that sexual license of any stripe is fun, liberating and free of consequences. Some of the underbelly of Hollywood is being revealed, showing (a) that men are benefiting a whole lot from the matriarchal narrative (Harvey Weinstein was a huge Planned Parenthood donor), and (b) that the myth of sisterhood among liberal women extends only so far when male bosses are calling the shots; it seems there were plenty of women who were aware of what was going on behind closed hotel doors.
And then there is the publishing arm of the culture of death—Cosmo, Marie Claire, People, Vogue, and so on, that reach women at the checkout stand. These have become toxic blends of celebrity worship, virtue signaling about politics, and old-fashion gossip.
Does it work?
Yes, these realities are troubling, but at least they explain why it is so hard to make the faith stick in women’s souls. The true tragedy, however, is that the message of the matriarchs hasn’t made women happy—suicides, obesity, drug abuse, depression, and divorce rates all point to some very unhappy women—to say nothing of men and the family. However noble feminism may have been at its roots, it too has become another sterile ideology.
So why do women fall into the trap of following this line of thinking? For one, the matriarchy acts as a kind of gatekeeper, preventing different voices into the public square. Additionally, because it is so ubiquitous, most women assume that this is the right route to happiness; surely all these experts must be right about relationships, culture, human sexuality and careers? Never, however, is the disconnect or gap between what the matriarch presents and what actually brings happiness addressed. We don't hear about the broken woman after an abortion, the career woman who wishes she had more children, the extensive damage physical caused by the Pill, or children devastated by divorce. And yet, this is the wreckage left behind by the culture. On the other, we also don't we hear about peaceful and joy-filled religious sisters who have given their lives for Christ, or very contented mothers of big families who wouldn't trade their job for the world.
As ever, Catholicism is the only antidote left standing to deal with all of these struggles in the feminine heart. It is not a trendy diversion, as women from the last 20 centuries can attest, but the most powerful force on earth when unleashed. Even this laundry list of obstacles to our faith is nothing compared the transforming power of God. We can debate all we want about what will appeal to women and try to contort the Church and its message into many things, but the real appeal is what it has always been: Christ. He offers the kind of love that women’s hearts crave—to be known just as we are, intimately, uniquely and purposefully. It was this love that transformed the Magdalene. It is this love the brought us Sts. Helen, Hildegard, Joan of Arc, Bridget, Bernadette and all the Catherines (Alexandria, Siena, Labouré), to name a few. And it is this same love that can transforms the hearts of every American woman.
But this kind of love is not currently available in the public square, and that's where the real work is for Christians. We cannot leave it to someone else to tell women where they can find true happiness, even if they don't yet have the ears to hear us. Somewhere, seeds of our example, our prayers, and the truth, will sink in—if only because it is different from what everyone else says. And when it does, then the soul will be ready to face the God-Man, who fulfills the desire of every living thing.