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Toward a New Feminism

Interview With Author Michele Schumacher

FRIBOURG, Switzerland, MARCH 10, 2007 (Zenit) - Although women's "genius" is as old as woman herself, the work of articulating the theoretical basis of this reality through a new feminism is a relatively new development, says author Michele Schumacher.

Schumacher, a wife and mother of four, is the editor of and contributing author to "Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism," published by Eerdmans.

In this interview with us, Schumacher, who is a professor of theological anthropology at the European Institute of Anthropological Studies, Philanthropos, and external research collaborator in theology at the University of Fribourg, comments on the importance of articulating this theoretical basis, and the challenges in doing so.

Q: In his 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" Pope John Paul II put forth a challenge to found and articulate a new feminism based on the "genius of woman," a challenge you said three years ago had "barely been taken up." Has the situation changed?

Schumacher: I meant by that statement the challenge to articulate the anthropological -- that is, metaphysical -- foundations of a new feminism.

The precision is important, because although the theoretical articulation of a new feminism is recent, the lived reality -- the practical counterpart of the so-called theory -- is as old as woman herself.

From the practical perspective of acting in accord with our female genius -- which is in fact the basis of the theoretical formulation -- it is almost impossible to measure the scope of a new feminism and its influence. There is, however, no doubt that many women are effectively heeding Pope John Paul II's call and challenge to put their female genius "to work" in the promotion of a culture of life.

From the more theoretical perspective, the theme of a new feminism has "gone public": I am aware of a growing number of university classes dedicated to the subject, of conferences, articles and even books. Beyond this, and perhaps more significant, a lot of work is being done under the broader guise of Christian anthropology: from both philosophical and theological perspectives. I need only cite the recent and growing number of international institutes and journals dedicated to this important subject.

I esteem all of this more theoretical interest in a new feminism to be a good thing, for although the priority must be awarded to action -- by which I mean also contemplative "action" -- theory does influence practice. I have read enough mainstream feminist thought, for example, to realize how much these theories have infiltrated our culture -- both for the good and the bad.

Q: Why is that anthropological foundation of a new feminism so important?

Schumacher: It is important for many reasons, one of which is the intrinsic connection between nature -- who we are -- and operation -- what we do.

The very metaphysical anthropology that the Catholic tradition has espoused, and that I emphatically hold as true, presents nature as being both given and achieved.

Nature is the principle of operation; hence we become who we are by the exercise of our freedom and thus by our own -- including shared -- actions. This allows for real self-realization and thus also for vocation.

Another important reason for insisting upon anthropological foundations is the challenge posed by mainstream feminism in its reaction to two significant attacks upon a traditional metaphysics: biological reductionism and the social construction of nature.

The first attack would reduce women to their bodies and their vocation to motherhood, understood in the most diminutive sense of having babies and giving birth.

The second would allow society to dictate what is and what is not "natural' and to educate girls to this end. Hence, women are "maternal," for example, because girls are raised to be mothers and not because of some innate quality.

It is in this context that was born -- with due regard for the influence of Jean-Paul Sartre -- the very influential slogan of Simone de Beauvoir: "One is not born but becomes a woman."

Beauvoir's philosophy is a good example of feminism adopting the "divide and rule" mentality that it would ascribe to "patriarchal" thinking: the setting at odds of nature and nurture -- and thus also of the individual and the community -- of body and soul, of nature and grace, of man and woman.

With regard to that last dualism, allow me to interject that I do not regard male and female "natures" as absolutes: There is, as I have argued in my book, one -- human -- nature which exists in two modes or expressions: the expression of a man and the expression of a woman.

Q: Isn't the process of articulating the philosophical and anthropological nature ...

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