My life was transformed by the feminism of John Paul II. I am a woman, a daughter of God the Father, and a sister of Jesus Christ. I am made to contribute something meaningful, beautiful and lasting to the kingdom of God. I’m made, precisely as a woman, to reflect the creative and loving genius of the Blessed Trinity.
But I didn’t always know this. In fact, for most of my life, I didn’t think much about my femininity. I certainly never perceived that I have a feminine genius: a unique way of thinking and seeing and loving, as a woman. Like a lot of people, I had a tepid relationship with secular feminism: I was aware that cultural and historical advances benefitted me as a woman, and while grateful, I also was uncomfortable with the aggressive excesses of radical feminists.
But I became a feminist—a true feminist—when I read John Paul II’s 1995 “Letter to Women.” John Paul’s feminism is rooted in the idea that women and men are creative and active complements—together mirroring the active, creative love of God. John Paul told me—and all women—that we have a unique and vital role to play in the family, in the Church, and in the world.
“Thank you, every woman,” said John Paul II, “for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”
I became a feminist when John Paul II told me that women can bring grace and virtue and goodness to the world in a unique way.
The “Letter to Women” was written to precede the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women. John Paul wrote to express hope that the U.N. would recognize that “in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation.”
Sadly, the United Nations has failed to recognize that women fulfill their deepest vocation in the service of others. The U.N. has adopted policies that harm women, especially in developing nations and broken families. United Nations’ programs endorse aggressive forms of population control, sanctioning heavy-handed tactics to persuade poor women to abandon the centuries-old traditions that come with large families, in favor of economic incentives for birth control. The United Nations talks a great deal about human trafficking and forced prostitution, but does very little even to stop its own paramilitary forces from sexually exploiting women and children.
Most recently, the United Nations lambasted the Catholic Church for its pro-life convictions, which are decidedly in favor of protecting the lives and health of women.
In short, the United Nations has succumbed to a dangerous secularist agenda—minimizing the unique dignity of women, endangering their health and safety, and failing to grasp that nurturing, enabling and protecting—biological, spiritual or cultural motherhood—are at the heart of women’s identity and of the feminine genius.
On March 8, the United Nations will celebrate the 18th International Women’s Day. The day’s theme will be “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” I agree with this sentiment. Recognizing and protecting the equality of women enhances the wellbeing of us all. Men and women are complementary, and the subjugation of woman erodes the dignity of the human community.
John Paul himself reflected that there is “an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens.”
But equality is rooted in a true understanding of the human person: of the things we have in common, and the things that make us distinct. Women cannot be regarded as equals without a recognition that women and men are different—made to complement one another, in different roles, and in the freedom to live, and love, as God created them.
On March 8, I will celebrate International Women’s Day. I’ll pray for all women, and give thanks to God for the gift of the feminine genius. I’ll also pray that we’ll all begin to realize what made women unique, and what they can offer to the world. And I’ll pray that the organizers of International Women’s Day will become feminists—real feminists—who know that the power of women lies in their ability to share in the powerful, creative and nurturing love of Jesus Christ.
Terry Polakovic is a co-founder and executive director of Endow, a Denver headquartered organization that promotes the new feminism of Pope John Paul II.