Over the last 60 years or so, the “sexual revolution” has transformed nearly every aspect of American society. Propaganda for the sexual revolution flowed from the pages of such publications as Cosmopolitan, where a young journalist named Sue Ellen Browder (among others) worked hard to push unmarried sex, contraception, and abortion as integral aspects of feminism and liberation for women. Browder’s life and her role in the movement are chronicled in Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement (Ignatius Press, 2019). Browder now works tirelessly to make reparation for the part she played in the sexual revolution.
Her latest book is Sex and the Catholic Feminist: New Choices for a New Generation (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2020). In this book, Browder looks at the Christian and Catholic thread of the feminist movement, exploring how it has been ignored by the mainstream media for over 50 years. She challenges the notion that feminism is inherently atheistic. She emphasizes that feminism is about a search for personhood and identity—a search that will only find what it seeks in God.
Browder recently corresponded with Catholic World Report about her latest book, feminism, and her role in the sexual revolution (and how she hopes to atone for that).
Paul Senz, for CWR: How did the book come about?
Sue Ellen Browder: I wrote this book as an act of atonement. From the 1970s into the 1990s I worked first on staff, then as a freelance writer, for Cosmopolitan magazine, where many stories we concocted about women having all these exciting, “fulfilling” sex lives were completely made up. Cosmo‘s editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, even had a list of “rules” on how to write for Cosmo, which included guidelines on how to fabricate anecdotes about women who were living this supposedly carefree Cosmo lifestyle. It was only after I became a Catholic that I saw what terrible damage those lies had done. That’s when I realized I had to write a book about all the lies we told—to set the record straight and to keep more women and girls from being hurt.
CWR: “Feminism” is a term that is just loaded with baggage today. There are so many competing definitions of the term, so many appropriations of the feminist ideology. Has the term always been so divisive?
Browder: I think the word “feminism” has always been divisive because it’s been associated with political movements, like the campaign to win women the right to vote (which was quite a controversial demand in its day). But the term became even more divisive in the late 1960s when feminism became so closely aligned with sexual politics, including gender ideology and the sexual revolutionaries’ demands to repeal all abortion laws. There are so many forms of “feminism” in our culture today that many people understandably believe the word has become meaningless. But as Joseph Pieper wisely put it, abuse of language is abuse of power. Rather than abandon the word “feminism,” Christians need to restore it to its proper meaning. In the days of the suffragists, feminism was primarily a Christian movement. That’s just one reason we need to reclaim the “F-word” (feminism) and shout it to the skies.
CWR: How would you define true, authentic feminism?
Browder: True, authentic feminism is about defending a woman’s personhood. Authentic feminism, which includes mothers, calls for women to be treated with equal dignity and respect in all areas of our society, both at home and in the public square. What did Betty Friedan, who launched the 1960s feminist movement with her book The Feminine Mystique, say feminism was all about? Was it about sex? Gender? Money? Power? No, Friedan said feminism was all about a woman’s personhood. And where does a woman find this fullness of her personhood? We find our true personhood—or what’s popularly called the “true self”—not by demanding power for ourselves but through self-giving relationships of love with God and others. Pro-life feminism defends the dignity of every human being’s true personhood from conception to natural death, which is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches. That’s why I am now firmly convinced the pro-life movement (visible in the March for Life, Feminists for Life, and hundreds of other pro-life organizations) represents the authentic women’s movement of the 21st century. Pope St. John Paul II called upon Catholics to embody a “new feminism,” and I believe pro-life women (along with the pro-life men who support them) are doing exactly that.
Read more at Catholic World Report
Sue Ellen’s book is available here