Women’s magazines occupy prime space on magazine shelves at the Hammes Bookstore and countless other stores across the country. Most covers of publications like Cosmopolitan or Glamour boast headlines concerning outfits to flaunt your body, a hypersexualized female celebrity dishing on her love life, and, of course, another 100-something tips for improving your sex life.
In recent weeks, Cosmopolitan has come under fire for “#CosmoVotes,” a political initiative devoted to promoting candidates who “support women’s rights.” The campaign focuses on issues including government-subsidized contraceptives, permissive abortion rights, and equal pay for women. One popular tag for such articles is “War on Women.”
Cosmopolitan and myriad other media outlets assert that conservatives and the Republican Party are waging this war. The issue hits especially close to home for us; Notre Dame’s lawsuit against the Obama Administration and endemic sexual assault continue to captivate campus debate. Discussing these issues requires an understanding of where the supposed attacks on women are coming from and what we can do to stop them. The prevailing cultural dialogue claims that it harms undergraduate, graduate, and working women when their university or employer refuses to pay for their health-insured contraceptives.
But Notre Dame’s objection to funding such contraceptive and abortifacient drugs does not stem from any disregard for “women’s health.” The Church teaches that human sexuality is a beautiful and fundamental part of our identity, and never argues that it is shameful. Channeling erotic desires toward unity and procreation leads to stronger marriages and happier families.
Rather, it is the vision of women’s sexuality promoted by the broader culture that debases women. We hear in the same breath that a woman is liberated when she “takes control of her body” through casual hookups, but that she does not need to seek validation from men through such activities. What is the true message here? Such claims do nothing to illuminate the truth of being a woman in modern society. Those who constantly draw attention to the supposed “war on women” are missing the source of the attack.
The real war on women tells us that sterile “safe sex” is the ideal for young women, and abortion is a fine solution for terminating any unplanned pregnancies. The real war on women tells us that we can cure endemic sexual violence by simply teaching men to stop committing assault, rather than proactively equipping women to defend themselves. The real war on women tells us that violence against women is permissible when it is in pornography.
Swallowing the pill of the women’s rights lobby means denying nature: of our bodies, souls, relationships, and humanity. These arguments medicate good and evil into something defined solely by emotion and redefined as often as we change our minds. The perpetrators of the war on women—coincidentally, those who employ the violent rhetoric of “war”—are those who fail to alert us to the true attacks on women, the evils in modern society that denigrate our dignity.
All too often, women are reduced to mere anatomy: From pornography, to displays in the windows of Victoria’s Secret, to popular music, we encounter such degradation and objectification every day.
Men and women alike are encouraged and sometimes expected to view pornography. Especially in college, countless young men and women struggle with this addiction. A culture with these assumptions directly attacks women and prevents healthy relationships. Pope Saint John Paul II famously said that the problem with pornography is not that it reveals too much, but that it reveals too little. Such videos and images do not allow us to see the beauty of sexuality, but reduces those in them to mere objects used to gratify misdirected sexual desires.
Even aside from pornography, hypersexualization in marketing, television, music, and other forms of media captures consumer attention and desensitizes even the most cautious person to debauchery.
This pattern of objectification throughout modern culture strips sexuality of its inherent connection to love, a connection that ought to inspire a self-sacrificial relationship between men and women. Instead of reaffirming the beauty of authentic relationships, these negative aspects of today’s culture teach women that their self-worth comes from their ability to attract sexual attention. In reality, each woman possesses inherent dignity that is best communicated through authenticity, and that demands the respect of men.
The “war on women” could even be considered a war on men. Men face an impossible task: knowing how to respect women when the chaos and depravity of contemporary American culture sends such mixed messages about what parts of women’s lives concern them.
An aggressive brand of feminism rejects the role of men as protectors and providers, and isolates men from issues that concern them. Abortion in particular has become polarizing, with many men afraid to speak out against the notion that termination of pregnancy should be a choice left entirely to women and their doctors, despite the fact that a man has a large stake in the matter.
Such an attitude further separates men and women when they should be cooperating, breaking down the essential partnership that ought to exist between them. In the shadow of the Fall, men and women rely on contraception, succumb to the hookup culture, and buy into a view of impermanent marriage. These individually harmful ideas are all exacerbated by those who propagate the dialogue of the war on women.
When both men and women seek virtue and intend to protect the integrity and dignity of the opposite sex, all benefit. The modern paradigm, however, rejects complementarity between men and women; from sitcoms to political discussion, men and women are portrayed as opponents when in fact they were created to work together.
The war on women can best be resolved by promoting a holistic view of love that both respects the dignity of women and encourages an understanding of the cooperative relationship between men and women—romantic and otherwise.
At “On Both Sides of the Screen,” Notre Dame’s pornography panel last spring, former pornography actress Crissy Moran reflected on the force that finally pulled her away from the industry. Put simply, it was love. It was people—at conventions and elsewhere—making her and other young actresses feel beautiful, dignified, and worthy of receiving love through their sincere words and acts of kindness.
Jennifer Hunsberger, in her talk before the University Faculty for Life on September 25, likewise explained that the most effective way to help women choose life for their unborn babies is to ensure that mothers’ emotional and spiritual needs are met as lovingly as possible.
October at Notre Dame is both Respect Life Month and Sexual Violence Awareness Month. The two go hand-in-hand and serve as a reminder of our call as a Catholic university. Notre Dame has the authority to address the root causes of this very real war on women. The problems facing the young women at Our Lady’s university will not be solved by handing out free contraception or accepting the hookup culture, but through cultivating an environment in which to lovingly pursue the truth of our dignity.
Various campus entities thrive doing exactly this. From Campus Ministry to Right to Life, from the Center for Ethics and Culture’s Fall Conference to the Edith Stein Project, we are blessed with many formal opportunities for growth. Informally, we have countless amazing professors, advisors, clergy, and staff who want to help us in our formation.
When members of the Notre Dame community fall into these destructive habits and face consequences—pornography consumption, sexual misconduct, unplanned pregnancy—we are tasked with continuing to show them love. We all make mistakes, whether big or small, and we must be able to seek forgiveness and healing, in addition to the guidance to avoid these mistakes in the first place. This forgiveness and guidance will not be found amidst radical feminists pushing the dialogue of the war on women. Such support can be given at Notre Dame, especially when we show women that the Church isn’t waging the war against them, but offering the best solutions.
Lilia and Alexandra think Beyoncé is a terrible role model. They prefer to follow Our Lady’s model of femininity. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.