The last 200 years have seen several significant waves of the feminist movement. From securing for women the right to vote to advocating for equal pay, feminists have worked hard to bridge the gap between men and women. While some of these efforts have been beneficial, the movement has had several unintended consequences that are becoming painfully obvious.
This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Dr. Carrie Gress, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of the new book The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has Destroyed Us, to discuss the damage that the feminist movement has done over the last two centuries.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Edith Stein once said, “The world doesn’t need what women have; it needs what women are.” Well, this statement seems even more poignant today. For 60 years, feminism has been the prevailing narrative for women in Western societies. But after more than a half-century, the fruits of this philosophy are disappointing at best.
Well, today’s guest argues that feminism has, in some ways, even been responsible for erasing women. Dr. Carrie Gress is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, she’s a scholar at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America, and she’s a homeschooling mother of five. She joins us today to discuss her newest book, The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has Destroyed Us. Dr. Carrie Gress, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.
CARRIE GRESS: Thanks so much. It’s great to be back.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You’ve got a very serious allegation here in the title of that book. And I know among conservatives, feminism is often a bad word. But it hasn’t always been the case, right? There are roots of feminism that were much different than we see now. So, talk a little bit about what good has been done and how did it become what it has morphed into today.
CARRIE GRESS: No, I think that’s the big question, the one that I really tried to answer with this book. I had initially done some research on the second wave of feminism, but I had always been told that the first wave was really good and promoted great things. And so I thought, you know, I just need to go back and look at this myself and sort of dig into it. And I think, actually, the surprising thing is what the research uncovered looking at original sources, secondary sources that were sympathetic to these original sources, early feminism, first wave, was actually pretty bad and had a lot of problems that I think have been carried over to really make fertile soil for what happened with a second wave. But I think fundamentally, you know, going back to even the 1790s when Mary Wollstonecraft is writing and then her son-in-law, who she never met, but Percy Shelley and his wife, Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, that there was some major issues that were happening in first wave feminism that I think have been polished over largely.
But the initial one is really the question I’ve asked; it wasn’t how do we help women as women? It was how do we help make women like men because they saw that men had much easier, they believe, much easier lives than women did. And so that was really the goal. So when you start looking at feminism as a whole with that question in mind, then I think it really makes sense to sort of start piecing together what’s happened in the first wave that few people know about, but then in the second wave, and then of course, now with the whole trans issue is this real change in what it means to be a woman.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, so very interesting. So, you disagree with the fact that there were good roots to the feminist movement. Do you want to give us a little bit of, I guess, a nod, at least to the accomplishments that women have made since feminism began?
CARRIE GRESS: Well, I think absolutely, you know, the feminist movement has done things like promote voting; it’s also helped women with issues like custody. I mean, this is one of the tragedies of reading through older material about women and seeing just how difficult women’s lives were, largely because of their fertility or because if you had a bad husband, he was the one that maintain custody of children. So these are obviously tragic things. And many of them have been corrected. Of course, we even, you know, look at the workplace. And I work, and I have an advanced degree; I’m incredibly grateful for those opportunities. But I think, on the whole, feminism itself as a movement is really an ideology that, in many respects, has undermined itself and has undermined women and has done a lot more damage than good.
If you look at, certainly the statistics that we see on women now, in terms of women’s happiness, I think even, of course, the abortion issue is a huge one. We would not see in any way, shape, or form the kinds of numbers that we have on abortion that we see today if women were not told over and over again by feminism that children and husbands are an obstacle to happiness. So, really, this idea of this myth of this independent woman who could have this amazing life without any kind of family that actually goes back to the early 1810s. And it was first formulated by Percy Shelley, the English poet, and this character named Cythna. So it’s really interesting when you start really digging into it and seeing all these patterns that emerge. And it definitely begs the question, did we really have to destroy Western civilization and what we’re seeing so much of today in terms of decadence in order for these things to happen? And I think the answer is no, we didn’t need feminism in the form that it came down to us to see these great advancements for women.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you suggest that feminism has made male lives the norm for everyone, devalued the typical attributes and, virtues and strengths of women. So, talk more about how that looks.
CARRIE GRESS: I first started really digging into this question years and years ago when my probably three or four-year-old daughter asked me what was better about being a woman, and I just didn’t have an answer. And I was really disappointed in myself because I loved being a mom; I was a stay-at-home mom at that point, and I just didn’t feel like I had a good answer. And so again, when you start digging into the research, and into this question of what has happened with women, you really see, certainly, I mean, obviously, I’m trying to give a very superficial read on this, but the details are so much more rich, obviously, in the book. But when you look at what communism specifically has done women, Marxism. Marxism has tried to make women into great workers. And initially, feminism didn’t seem could work with a movement.
And then later on, certainly the work of Betty Friedan, we see this major transition happened where Friedan is trying to get women out of their homes, which she called concentration camps, and into the workplace doing productive work there. She was absolutely communist, and that was, I think, one of the areas of research that was really the most interesting, because she always said that she was just a housewife and wasn’t really interested in women’s issues until the 50s. And her biography obviously tells a very different story of real involvement with the communists. So what’s happened is this idea of making women into workers. Still, also, you know, the free love aspect of the movement has been there really, almost from the very beginning, this idea that women should be able to have sexual relationships the way that men do without the very long-term consequences that come with pregnancy and raising children and whatnot.
So that was the idea is the feminist ideology really embraced both this concept of getting women to work as a good Marxist, and then also for this free love notion. And then finally, of course, there’s this whole added layer of the occult that was brought into the movement and very much kind of a part of it over the years; you can see it sort of wane and wax in different ways, but certainly came to the fore in the 70s. And I think even now that we can see so much evidence, even TV shows, The Good Witch, and you know, this kind of concept that there could be a good witch. And you know, astrology, and horoscopes, and all these kinds of different ways in which women are encouraged to dabble in things is absolutely part of what has been given to us through this ideology.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You have some shocking testimonies in your book.
CARRIE GRESS: Yeah. The earliest ones were really from women that were on the receiving end of kind of this free-love attitude that took place in the 1800s. Mary Shelley is one of them, and her stepsister, who had a relationship with Lord Byron. I mean, these are two women, Mary Shelley’s obviously married to Percy Shelley. And so they both had children with these men who were very much involved in free love and breaking every kind of taboo that they could. And both of them, I mean, it’s just heartbreaking to read about the number of children that died between them, that the stories of these young children dying from not being treated well or being pushed to move to places that they shouldn’t have gone when they were sick, or you know, things like that.
And it’s interesting because in the 1800s, you still have the feminist movement still talks about the beauty and the center relationship between mother and child; that all changes in the 1900s. It’s very difficult to find a testimony of a feminist woman talking about this relationship between mother and child and the importance of it, the tenderness; it all turns to this one word, drudgery, which is just used over and over and over again, you know, the drudgery of motherhood is all we hear about.
So those are the early stages. And then, of course, you move on to later stages. And I’ve been featured in the book Stevie Nicks, who, of course, is well known for being on a stinking iMac and whatnot. And just this interview that was done with her in the 90s. And it’s just amazing. She had had four abortions, and she didn’t want to have any children because she believed that she had a responsibility to her job and the people that work for her, and she just didn’t want to give up working. So, I think it was four different abortions for different fathers, all of the relationships ended. And Stevie Nicks, in this 90s interview, actually looks like a little girl. Like she talks, her house is very cutesy, and whenever she goes on tour, people have to go ahead of her to her hotels to make sure they have sort of this cute doll house appearance to them. And you know, it’s just the kind of thing where you just realize, obviously, this woman has done a lot of drugs over the years, and I think was finally clean when that interview was done. But this is, the psychological damage that was done on this woman is just unreal. And I think there’s a lot more of that than we even realize in terms of mental illness. We know there’s lots of depression, and all of these kinds of things can really be sourced back in many respects to abortion and to this rejection, really, of what it means to mother someone else. And this has obviously been promoted so much by the culture and the ideology.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Why have we not heard a lot about this?
CARRIE GRESS: Several things going on. First of all, the women that would be aware of it are academics, and their careers could be in jeopardy; the advantage I had is I don’t have a tenure position that I’m trying to protect. I’m largely a stay-at-home mom, and that’s really, you know if everything else went away. I would still be happy to be a stay-at-home mom, so I didn’t feel threatened in that respect.
The other thing is, is that I think the left has done an amazing job of both characterizing their own position as the correct position that women should take. But they’ve also characterized what they articulate as the position against them. So, if you think about every time there’s an abortion issue, who do you see? You see all those women in the red robes and the red bonnets, you know, the Margaret Atwood kind of Handmaid’s Tale images, because what they’re trying to communicate is that if you are not a feminist and with them, then you must be this kind of woman who’s bought into infertility cult and might as well just go buy yourself a red robe right now, you know, so they, they’ve been amazing and masterful in terms of defining the opposition, they’ve also been able to make us look like doormats, or we’re ignorant or backwards or whatever.
So most women, I think, don’t really even have a sense that there could be something other than those two categories. Because we don’t really see it in culture, we see one extreme or the other. And we don’t really have that sort of the mental hooks to really say, no, there’s actually a healthy way in between both of those. And we need to start seeing it.
We don’t see it in the media, we don’t see it in magazines, you know, anything like that. So I think that’s why there’s been just, first of all, a lot of reticence to try to articulate or to move against feminism because it just feels like you’re really putting yourself out there in this very unfashionable and weird world. Still, the other thing is, is that there’s a lot of polish on these women and these histories. And you know, Elizabeth Cady Stanton is made out to look like she’s this, you know, heroine. And when you really start looking at what Cady Stanton was up to, and the amount of mediums that she was using and seances. You know, all of these scandals that ended up actually getting kicked out of the organization that she founded. These are the kinds of tales that are not being told in our history classes or history books,
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I have a lot of other questions, but we’re getting to the end of our interview, and I don’t want to leave without giving you an opportunity to tell us what we can do. Are there some positive ways that we can address some of these very serious concerns that you’re raising in this book,
CARRIE GRESS: I think the first thing is we have to just really let go of the term feminism. I know so many of us have tried to find ways to really make it fit with Christianity, but when you know the defining characteristics of it are the occult, free love, and smashing the patriarchy, there’s just nothing compatible with it. You know, if women do use the word, I think they have to be absolutely specific about what they mean by it. Because the regnant belief is built into those three concepts from the very beginning, almost. So I think that’s huge.
I think the other thing that we can do is just really start coming back to this idea of really understanding that our happiness is embedded in our families, that this is the sad story of so much of what I hear these days are women who have been living the feminist worldview. And they get to a certain point and say, “Why did I do this? It’s too late; I don’t have a family, I don’t have a husband. I might have a good bank account, but that’s not going to get me through the rest of these years in a way in which I dreamed.”
So I think that that’s the other aspect is really just start focusing on the gifts that we do have as women and the ways in which we can contribute, obviously, biologically, as mothers, and I think this is a missing piece is recognizing that all women are made to be mothers, whether it’s biologically, psychologically or spiritually. And to really press into that and see we have these incredible gifts that we can pass on to people because what does the mother do? She nourishes, provides shelters, she tries to create a place in which people can grow into the people they are meant to be, the people that God made them to be. So, I think that’s a pretty exciting vocation when we start reframing it within that context. And instead of all this emphasis on ourselves, and we start saying, “How do I use my gifts to help others?” And, of course, we know that fundamentally, the real key to happiness is that gift itself to others, not in a codependent, sort of creepy way that the feminists have articulated, but in a real beautiful Christian way in which we use our gifts that God gave us to help bring out the gifts and others.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, Carrie Gress, author of the new book The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Has Destroyed Us, where can our listeners go to follow your work and learn more?
CARRIE GRESS: The best place is my website, CarrieGress.com, or I have a blog called TheologyofHome.com. And the book can also be purchased if you want a signed copy from TheologyofHome.com. So those are the best places.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, Dr. Carrie Gress, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
– END –