Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
If you heard some wild cackling last night, that was just me, lying on the couch and getting a little too much fun out of reading the latest exquisitely inane piece from Slate's Rebecca Schuman.
“Radical Self-Care: Meet the feminist academics who love K-beauty” is the article that gave me so much pleasure. In it, Schuman explains that she likes to put a lot of fancy creams and things on her face to make her skin look good. At first she felt weird about it, because something something patriarchy, but then she realized it was actually the most radical feminist thing ever, because something something reasons something.
If you think I'm being unfair, I invite you to read Schuman's piece in Slate, but don't forget to pack your angry eyes. She says:
K-beauty is also popular with self-identified feminist academics and scholars, several of whom told me that they view the elaborate routine not as vanity but rather as an act of radical feminist self-care.* Indeed, Stockton University English and digital humanities professor and Web designer Adeline Koh published an entire blog post on the subject. She wrote:
I’ve started to view beauty as a form of self-care, instead of a patriarchal trap. One of my deepest inspirations, the writer and activist Audre Lorde, famously declared that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” For many women, especially women of color, we’re often told that we are only useful, only valuable when we devote ourselves to others; that caring for ourselves in the last thing that we should consider.
I've spent enough time among academics to understand that there is a fine, almost invisible line between "coming full circle" and "disappearing up one's own area of expertise." Schuman, miraculously, has achieved both, here. It's only icing on the cake when her editor was forced to add this astonishing correction to the end:
This article originally misidentified the bloggers Tracy of fanserviced-b and Cat Cactus of Snow White and the Asian Pear as “self-identified feminist academics and scholars.” Neither blogger self-identifies as a feminist, and Cat Cactus is not an academic. The piece also stated that Tracy and Cat Cactus are among women who “view the elaborate [K-beauty] routine not as vanity but rather as an act of radical feminist self-care.” Both bloggers disavow this view, and neither of them were contacted for the piece.
In other words, the author made up something ridiculous that doesn't even mean anything, dragged a few strangers into it without their permission, and then lied about it for no reason at all. The good news is, she's been working on a book.
Anyway, the reason I'm bringing this up (other than that I thought you might enjoy an evil cackle as well) is that Schuman is clearly struggling with something that a lot of Catholics struggle with, too, in a different context. She finds herself enjoying something most people consider innocuous: taking care of your skin. But she's immersed herself in the world of academic feminism, which has been telling her that you can't be a rigorous, independent, woman and also get some pleasure out of nice-smelling creams and pretty little bottles. All of her intellectual alarms are clanging, "Incongruity! Cognitive dissonance! Ideological betrayal!" On the other hand, boy, her face skin feels niiiice.
What to do? She might shrug and say, "Oh, well, I guess not every last tiny thing is a big deal. Not everything has to be either feminist or anti-feminist. I just have skin and want to take care of it, and it doesn't really say anything about my ideologies either way." Instead, she twists herself into an autophagous academic pretzel that means so extremely little, the resulting editorial retraction is almost as long as the article itself.
And yes, my friends, Catholics do this, too. We find ourselves spending some time doing something that doesn't have any intrinsic moral content -- skin care, for instance, or watching an entertaining movie, or decorating our house in a certain way, or eating, or cooking, or cleaning, or running. We ask ourselves a reasonable question: "Does this contradict my faith?"
Sometimes the answer is obvious: No, it's not Catholic to spend way more than we can afford on beauty care. No, it's not Catholic to watch extremely violent or sexually graphic movies. It's not Catholic to obsess about eating (or not eating), or to refuse to cook for our family, or to live in complete squalor, or to neglect our kids. Those things are not Catholic.
But that doesn't mean it's The Most Catholic Thing Ever to make other choices. It's okay to say, "I just enjoy decorating my living room," and you don't have to claim that Catholic living rooms are decorated living rooms. It's okay to say, "I find strength training to be rewarding," and you don't have to claim that every Catholic has an obligation to honor his body by spending a certain number of minutes planking every day. It's okay to say, "This type of education works well for our family," and you don't have to say "This type of education is The Catholic Education."
Some things really are amoral. Not immoral, and not moral, but just . . . things. They don't carry any particular weight either way, unless you overdo or underdo them -- and it's starting to feel like Catholics are the only ones who remember this anymore. Catholics enjoy an amazing amount of freedom to live our lives as we please, following our tastes, developing our interests, and expressing our personalities in all sorts of ways, all without betraying our Faith.
Academic feminism, and a good many other modern ideologies, are incredibly restrictive and demanding. They require their adherents to scrutinize every last word, thought, gesture, and choice, and woe to him who sins against the holy writ, for he will be thrown out into the outer darkness, even if he has tenure. In order to stay within the good graces of what is, let's face it, their congregation, the acolytes of modern ideologies are required to dress up every minute, trivial act a new, ingenious, brilliantly counter-intuitive expression of their faith.
Sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Sounds like someone could use a day at the spa. If Schuman is lucky, she'll meet a Catholic while she's there, and maybe she'll learn a little bit about what freedom really looks like.