"Feminism" is not a dirty word for Catholics

I haven’t often seen the Gospel story of the woman taken in adultery paralleled with the story of Susanna from the Book of Daniel. Susanna is a beautiful woman. As she takes her bath, she is approached by two lecherous men who tell her that unless she has sex with them, they will testify that they have caught her in adultery. The reason why this is so terrifying is because under the Hebrew law system, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible; only men’s testimony would have been. In other words, it is not merely these two men’s actions that cause the injustice–it is the social structures of the society which enable and encourage the injustice, and make it so terrifying. I sometimes wonder if that’s not what was going on with the woman “taken in adultery” from the Gospel.

To radically question and challenge social structures that create injustice against women (yes, very much including the “hook-up culture” and other contemporary evils) is something that the Gospel calls on us to do. And such structures do indeed exist; they are all around us, if we have the eyes to see. And they are structures that Christians have often been blind to; and indeed that they have perpetuated; take for example the historically common interpretation that blames David’s taking of Bathsheba on her, completely doing violence to the text, or Saint Augustine’s very disturbing comfort with spousal abuse.

For example, with all the nuance that we all know a Twitter hashtag allows, the #YesAllWomen phenomenon highlighted something that we are all-too-often unaware of: the fact that a great many women are subjected to various levels of harassment and violence (or suggestions of violence) of a sexual nature in their daily lives, something which it is very easy for men to miss or ignore. But as Christians we are called to have “eyes to see” injustice and to combat it; and it should be self-evident, I hope, that sexual harassment is a form of injustice. But because “feminism” is such a totem-word, some conservatives who happen to be Christians have gone a bit haywire and turned what should have been an important teachable moment into yet another front in the culture wars.

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