Perhaps at no point in human history has the urgency of the proclamation of the “Gospel of Life”—the name given to the 11th of Pope Saint John Paul II’s 14 encyclicals—been so apparent as today. Indeed, on this 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae (promulgated March 25, 1995), more ferocious than ever is the systematic and ideological calling into question of the dignity and protection of human life, by the very institutions that have been traditionally charged to protect it: the state, the medical profession, even—and perhaps most sadly, as John Paul II pointed out in this same encyclical—the family itself, “which by its nature is called to be the “sanctuary of life” (EV, 9). On a more positive note, it was within the context of this “culture of death” (12) and even of what he considered a “conspiracy against life” (17), that this holy pope, in “cooperation” with “the episcopate of every country of the world” (5), pointed to women as “occupy[ing] a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive” in “transforming culture so that it supports life.” For this reason, he called upon us, women, “to promote a ‘new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination,’ in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence, and exploitation” (99).
What is the “new feminism”?
Drawing from the important passage of Evangelium Vitae cited above (no. 99), one can point out the following characteristics of this so-called new feminism. 1) Its primary goal is that of transforming the culture in view of promoting and sustaining human life. 2) It proceeds from the thought and action of women, which is to say that it cannot be limited to theory or praxis, but seeks a marriage between the two. 3) A new feminism draws from the fact that women’s thought and action are “unique and decisive”: our contribution is not, in other words, identical with that of men (and the next phrase reaffirms this point by insisting that it “rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination’); nor is it incidental. 4) A new feminism challenges “male domination,” in contrast, for example, to male headship or leadership. This is not to say it denies leadership roles to women. In any case, leadership—like headship—is always to be understood and lived as service for others. 5) Beyond its affirmation of women’s unique thought and action, a new feminism encourages women’s “true genius,” the content of which remains undefined, although we will seek to fill that out in what follows. 6) Far from limiting the scope of women’s influence—to the domestic sphere, for example—it seeks to foster it within “every aspect of the life of society.” 7) A new feminism seeks to “overcome all discrimination, violence, and exploitation”; that of women, certainly, but also that of children, the handicapped, the elderly, and all those who are weak and defenseless.
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