Professor explores true feminism


Professor Rebecca Bratten Weiss addressed a packed audience of students in Franciscan University’s International Room, giving students a glimpse of feminist history and what it means to be Catholic and feminist.

Weiss opened her talk on a light but deep note, quoting Rebecca West, a feminist and British author, journalist and literary critic: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

After stating this quote from West, Weiss said that the word “feminism” comes with a lot of baggage. People immediately have either very good or bad value judgments when it comes to feminist ideology.

Weiss said that feminism is essentially about grappling with one’s image. How should women present themselves? How should we present our bodies?

In this vein, Weiss said that feminism is about a woman’s image, and because it is so, feminism also becomes about sexuality. A woman is what a man craves. She appears to men as a sexual being.

“Just look at the goddesses in ancient times,” Weiss said. “All gods of love were mostly female. If you are looking at a love deity, you are looking at a woman.”

Weiss said that women are associated with shame and desire and that women do not want to be defined merely as sex objects. Feminism sprang out of this desire.

Weiss said that first wave feminism was the suffrage movement and the crusade for political equality. It began as a movement purely of peaceful protest but then escalated to some violent protests.

The second wave feminism is “where stuff gets hairy from a Christian perspective,” said Weiss. This is the feminism that dealt with social identity and gender roles. Here, two important distinctions should be made. “One, if you are a woman, you are a female, both psychologically and physiologically ,” Weiss said. “Two, this is different from being feminine. To be female is different from having virtues such as being sensitive, nurturing and intuitive. Both women and men should possess these virtues.”

The third wave of feminism was a movement out of modernity into post-modernity that took place in the 80’s. The question of the roles of men and women continued to surface.   Black women who still faced enormous amounts of prejudice and social difficulties said that their issue was much more important than the petty concerns of white, middle class women who were gaining equality ground.

The fourth wave of feminism questions the ideals of the early feminists and seeks to incorporate all different types of feminism. Weiss said that Catholics should embrace the feminist issues, but be kind, forsaking the “bra-burning” mentality of feminists who started the movement.

Weiss also stated that feminists today should have a pluralistic knowledge of other religious backgrounds and not be afraid to question traditional gender roles.

“It was helpful to learn the history of feminism and understand my role (more fully),” said freshman Thomas Wilkinson. The talk tonight, “affirmed my belief that it is ok to be a traditional feminist,” said Sarah Gutierrez.