Dear Pope, after much agony, I’m proud to call myself a feminist


Date: February 26, 2011
  • SHARE:

The Pope, one of the world’s most eminent patriarchs, has determined, in a pastoral letter on ?the collaboration of women and men in the Church and in the World? that feminism is at the root of all family ills. The time is right to ask ourselves what we mean by this much-maligned word.

The irony is delicious. The Pope, one of the world’s most eminent patriarchs, has determined, in a pastoral letter on “the collaboration of women and men in the Church and in the WorldÀ that feminism is at the root of all family ills.

What else could bring greater disruption to the cozy nest of mum, dad and kids than women who no longer want to be housewives; who relegate sex to “no more than a physical differenceÀ; who are pioneering “a new model of polymorphous sexualityÀ and regard men as “enemies to be overcomeÀ !

Could it be, dear Pope, that feminism is also responsible for the fact that in South Africa country, one out of every four women is battered; that women and children daily live with the fear of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse in the “safestÀ of all havens, the home? Or that 98 percent of these crimes are perpetrated by men?

Women who want to be housewives, says the Pope, should not be discouraged from doing so. Fair enough. But does the same apply to men like Bulelani Ngcuka, South Africa’s National Director of Public Prosecutions, who have proclaimed that they want to be house-husbands?

The time is right to ask ourselves what we mean by that much-maligned word: feminism.

Last year, Gender Links, an NGO which advocates for gender equality in and through the media, conducted some research in which we asked 172 male and female decision-makers across Southern Africa whether they regarded themselves as feminists. Interestingly, local councilors (men and women) were far more likely to call themselves “feministsÀ than anyone else, but then to admit that they had no idea what it meant.

Members of parliament (men and women) knew enough to be vehemently opposed to feminism – at least as they understood it. Cabinet ministers displayed considerable ambivalence to the term, with a few women and men ministers (notably in South Africa) having the spunk to circle “yesÀ.

Fascinated by these findings, we fished into the Oxford English dictionary for a definition and found the following: “one who advocates women’s rights on grounds of equality of the sexes.À Good lord, I’m thinking as I write this, even His Holiness could be a feminist!

When I first read his report, I found myself musing on when and why I started calling myself a feminist. In truth, there was no road to Damascus; it happened so gradually Saint Paul would have wanted to fast track the action.

It must have begun in my childhood when I watched my multi-skilled, woman-of-the-people mother plan, budget and organise while in public deferring always to a creative but dysfunctional father.

Deeply religious, schooled in the best of tradition, my mother tried without success to teach me how to darn my socks. I told her that when I grew up I would write stories, make some money, and buy new socks when I needed them. Little did I know of course, what journalists earn!

But the first real awakening of the budding reporter came when, a week after she got married, Colleen Lowe received a letter from her mother addressed to Mrs K. Morna. Could that be me, I gasped! I made the almost unheard of decision (20 years ago, that is) to have a double barrel name: Lowe-Morna.

Of course, I have since paid the price for this double burden of patriarchy – my father’s and my husband’s surnames – explaining patiently its origin at every airport (onerous, since 9/11) and living with every distortion from the glorious Mona Lisa to the less flattering Lawn Mower.

But what have I achieved? The young reporter stayed on the road, literally and figuratively, and had two daughters who grew up believing that it is daddy, not mummy who stays at home.

I look at what has changed in my life time: my two grandmothers were “housewivesÀ; my mother was a professional who took responsibility but little credit for running the home; and I am a professional who struck several compromises so that I could be whom I wanted to be.

My daughters? I don’t know if they’ll pull off the nuclear family thing that the Pope is so concerned about. But I have a hunch that they will be caring, fulfilled human beings who will have the economic base to make independent decisions.

My youngest daughter wants to be an investment banker, an idea she most certainly got from her father. The thought would never have entered my traditional childhood imagination. But decades later I feel liberated enough to say: you go girl.

Does that make me a feminist and am I guilty of reducing differences in sex to “mere physical differencesÀ that should not prevent a young woman from dreaming of a career on Wall Street? If it does, I’m proud to stand up and be counted. Amen!

Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information.


Comment on Dear Pope, after much agony, I’m proud to call myself a feminist

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *