Editor's note: This story has been updated post-rally, since the original Aug. 1 version.
WASHINGTON — In a fiery political protest against the federal mandate requiring religious employers to pay for contraceptives and abortion drugs, hundreds of “new feminists” attended a rally here on Aug. 1 across from the White House.
Gathered in Lafayette Square, the crowd of some 200 women from 20 states spoke out boldly through bullhorns against the agenda of the “old feminists,” who continue to claim abortion and the pill have set women “free.”
“There is no war on women; there’s a war on mothers,” shouted Washington lawyer Cynthia Wood, whose remarks sparked cheers from the crowd.
To rousing applause, Maya Noronha, another attorney, shouted, “I went to Georgetown Law. But my classmate Sandra Fluke does not speak for me. … I can speak for myself. And I speak for religious freedom.”
Observing that he felt he was “witnessing another historic moment” akin to the first Tax Day Tea Party Rally, held on the same spot on April 15, 2009, American Thinker reporter Doug Mainwaring wrote, “This is Main Street America springing to life to save our government from itself.”
But women themselves say it’s more than that. Organized by George Mason University law professor and founder of Women Speak for Themselves, Helen Alvare, the protest rally, they say, is just one visible sign of a far deeper and broader trend that’s happening nationwide.
A vital “new feminism”— what some refer to as feminism’s “third wave” — is popping up everywhere across America, in university philosophy and theology departments, workplaces, hospitals and schools.
New feminists say they’re sick and tired of women at “second-wave” feminist organizations like the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America claiming to speak for them. As more than one woman at the D.C. rally cried, “Enough is enough!”
“Women regularly tell me, ‘Those women don’t represent my version of women’s freedom at all, and I’m just tired of it,’” Alvare said.
In mid-February of 2012, Alvare and her friend, attorney Kim Daniels — who now serves as a spokeswoman for Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — drafted an open letter to President Obama, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and members of Congress, stating that those who claim to speak for them on matters of sex, marriage and family life do not, in fact, have their story right — and that contraception and abortion are not linchpins of women’s freedom. Among the more than 40,000 women to date who have signed the letter online are Catholic and non-Catholic educators (many of whom home school their own kids), along with what Alvare describes as “thousands upon thousands of nurses, doctors, business owners, lawyers — these women are very smart, focused and determined.”
‘Old Feminism’ vs. the ‘New’
“The new feminism differs from the old feminism in the sense that it encourages women to be who they are,” said Terry Polakovic, executive director of Endow (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), which has chapters in more than 80 Catholic dioceses across the country.
“As John Paul II said when he described the ‘feminine genius,’ a woman has the capacity, just by her very biology, to make room for another,” Polakovic explained. “Not that everyone is Susie Homemaker. But whether or not she’s a stay-at-home mother, a woman, by nurturing others around her, helps create a life-giving environment. That’s just who she is.”
Veteran pro-life feminist and journalist Mary Meehan said the new feminism is “the legitimate descendant of the ‘first-wave’ feminist movement in this country in the 1840s and 1850s.”
Early suffragists, who lobbied for women’s right to vote — women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony — “were pro-lifers who opposed abortion as an exploitation of women,” said Serrin Foster, who heads Feminists for Life of America (FFL). “The same women who fought for the rights of slaves to be free and the rights of women to vote also fought for the unborn to be born,” said Foster, who invented the slogan, “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion.”
The oldest pro-life feminist organization in the U.S., FFL was founded in 1972, one year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, specifically to protest and oppose what many women even then perceived to be the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s wrong-headed embrace of abortion as a women’s “health” issue.
Foster says that, by embracing abortion, NOW essentially betrayed women and let universities and workplaces off the hook. Rather than having to provide housing, maternity care, flextime and other resources to pregnant women, university administrators and employers could simply say, “It’s your baby, your choice. If you want to give birth, that’s your private choice, but we have no further obligation to you.”
For nearly two decades, Foster has led FFL in its intensely focused and determined fight against such pregnancy discrimination on college campuses. “You can refuse to choose between forcing women to terminate their education or terminate their babies,” Foster said.
Although pro-life feminism and the “new feminism” collaborate closely with each other, there’s a subtle difference between the two. Polakovic said the “new feminism” includes opposition to abortion, but it also goes beyond protecting the unborn, in that “it’s for every stage of your life” — from conception to natural death.
“The new feminism is bigger than the issues of abortion, contraception and religious freedom,” Alvare agreed. “Still, old feminists got these crucial issues so wrong it’s no surprise that the new feminism grew up initially in disagreement with them.”
Sex, Love and Relationships
New feminists say that, while the old 1960s’ feminist movement was driven primarily by the need for economic and educational equality and equal pay for equal work, the old feminists missed the boat when it came to sex, love and relationships.
By excising God from their thinking, they failed to ask and answer the bigger questions. These questions include: Who is a woman? What are her rights and duties? And what will promote her true freedom and happiness?
“Contrary to popular belief (and old-guard Catholic feminism), following Church teachings on sex and marriage, in spite of the sometimes arduous difficulty of doing so, actually helps women to flourish — physically, emotionally, relationally and socially,” declares new-feminist author and attorney Erika Bachiochi in Women, Sex and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching.
Far from demeaning women and sexuality, Church teachings actually elevate “the meaning of sex at a time when our consumerist culture has debased sex, treating it as simply another form of entertainment,” Bachiochi says. She argues that ample evidence, scientific and anecdotal, reveals “that premarital sex, and especially casual sex, is inherently anti-woman.”
What the old guard failed to understand, this fresh new breed of feminists explains, is that a woman’s true self is found not in radically independent isolation, but in relationship — and most completely in a committed and lasting communion of love. “The old feminism really thought it could excise marriage and kids out of women’s lives, except on the terms they wanted them,” Alvare said. “It turns out these are elements you just can’t declare by fiat are no longer relevant to women’s freedom or happiness.”
Far from seeing women and men as enemies, third-wave feminists see the two sexes as collaborators.
“Our movement, more often than not, also includes men in the conversation, because it takes two to make a baby,” said Meg McDonnell, Women Speak for Themselves’ communications director.
“Women are very keen on the idea of making sure we give proper acknowledgement to the fact that men are involved in this, too.”
Sue Ellen Browder is author of the forthcoming book
The Revolution That Betrayed Women:
How the Sexual Revolution Hijacked
the Women’s Movement (Ignatius Press).