On Women's Word & Work ... 50 years later

We've been marking some significant 50 year publication anniversaries of late.  Last September, for example, was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In Silent Spring, Carson reflected on the impact of pesticides on songbirds and asked deeper questions about the impact of humanity's technological power on our natural environment.  She pointed to the "disturbing magnitude" of our power to contaminate air, ground, and water, power which was growing at an alarming speed. Such pollution, she noted, was "for the most part irrecoverable," with chemicals forming part of a "chain of evil" in humanity's "war against nature."  Her powerful and prophetic words sparked the environmental movement.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the publication of another watershed book, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  Friedan also looked at the world around her, specifically the role of women in relation to a patriarchal society.  It is by no means an exaggeration to say that her words helped spark another movement, that of second wave feminism.  I actually had the opportunity to meet Betty Friedan several times, in her later years.  She was my father's across the hall neighbor in his assisted living center in Washington, D.C.  It was an honor and a privilege to meet this woman whose words had had such an impact on society and my own life, opportunities, and perspective as a woman.

You cannot underestimate the power of words and the impact that both Rachel Carson and Betty Friedan have had on how we relate to each other and all of creation.  A friend pointed out to me that even Pope Paul VI met with Betty Friedan, which got me curious.  I searched the New York Times archives, and sure enough, found this little item from the October 15, 1973 edition (when I was just learning to walk).

The Feminist and the Pontiff Have a Short Dialogue 
The women's movement and the Roman Catholic Church have not always shared common ground, but yesterday Pope Paul VI and Betty Friedan, the feminist, met for five minutes in an exchange of medallions, viewpoints, and restrained tributes. 
"The Catholic Church is coming to terms with the personhood of women," Mrs. Friedan said, though she suggested that the Church had a long way to go.  The Pope, she said, told her that the Church was continuing to examine the role of women but would not be making any "radical" changes. 
Mrs. Friedan added that the Pope had expressed his thanks "for the work you have done for women" and presented her with a bronze medal.  In turn, Mrs. Friedan gave the Pope a medallion of the women's liberation movement, featuring the biological symbol for female encircling an equal sign. 
"I got a chance to say all I wanted to say, and I was pleased," said the feminist author.  "But, well, as my protocol aide said, it was the meeting that was the message."

Indeed.  What a meeting that must have been! I wonder if the medallion is somewhere in the Papal archive. I think it is fair to say that the Catholic Church is still examining the role of women.  My experience as a woman in the Church and society is certainly different than that of my mother and grandmother.  In other ways, however, there is still a long way to go to embody the vision of equality that seems so evident to me when I read the Gospels.

We have another 50 year publication anniversary coming up in Pacem in Terris, what many have called the last will and testament of another Pope, John XXIII.  I'd like to end this post with some of his words on the role and dignity of women as one of the things which "characterize the modern age."

...  the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

And so I pray ... in gratitude for the word, work, and lives of women.  I pray in hope that men and women, made in God's image, may work together to build a world where every person may live a fulfilling life which respects the dignity which belongs to them as children of God.  I pray that we may unlearn patterns of domination, be it against other peoples or God's creation, and instead teach each other to reverence the gift of life in all its manifestations.  Jesus, born of a woman, friend of woman, defender of woman, I pray this in your name.  Amen.

1 comment:

Garpu said...

SAdly, I can't think of many in the hierarchy who would meet with her today. On the one hand, I know things are better for us. On the other...it feels like things are sliding back into the abyss of home, children, and the 1950's. Kind of a depressing time to be Catholic, in a way.