1. Ms. O’Leary, can you begin by helping us understand what is meant
by feminism, and whether there are particular distinctions among
feminists that are important to recognize?
It is important to distinguish liberal feminism from radical feminism and these from the search for authentic womanhood based on the truth about the human person.
Liberal feminism springs from a belief that the differences between men and women are irrelevant and can and should be ignored. The goal is equality of treatment in all areas of life. Radical feminism applies a Marxist analysis of class struggle to the situation of women. For the Radical feminist, women are the primal oppressed class. According to this view men invented marriage and motherhood as a way of controlling women and liberation will come only when men and women participate in every activity of life from executive positions to care of children in statistically equal numbers. Radical Feminists are also for absolute sexual liberation, which in turn requires access to contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, and easy divorce.
The search for authentic womanhood begins with the truth about the human person, namely that we can find ourselves only through a sincere gift of self. Both Liberal and Radical Feminism seek to discover the truth about woman by detaching her from relationships, but because we are made in the image and likeness of God, who as a trinity is defined by relationship, every person comes into the fullness of self-understanding in relationship. In searching to understand authentic womanhood, we believe that men and women are different by design and that these differences are a blessing. On the other hand, we want to avoid narrow stereotypes that restrict both men and women.
The problem with Liberal Feminism is that sometimes treating men and women the same is just and sometimes it is manifestly unjust – for example, pregnancy affects men and women differently. Radical Feminism on the other hand rejects the truth of sex difference. In a very real sense, Radical Feminists have declared war on human nature.
2. In your work “The Gender Agenda”, you describe your own family history in which there are concrete examples of how women have not always or necessarily been oppressed historically. How did this personal history lead you to pursue research in the broader area of the feminist movement and the socio-political agenda.
First of all, as a child my father, my grandfathers, and my mother all expected me to achieve academically, to go to college, and to have a career. My teachers all had the same ambition for me. No one every told me I couldn’t do whatever I set my mind to. Although my father wanted me to go into physics and my mother thought I should be a lawyer and my professors hoped I would get a doctorate in history, I knew that first of all I wanted to get married and have babies and that is what I did -- a decision I have never regretted. I had thought that once the children were in school, I might work outside the home. However, once I reached that stage I saw that the children needed me to be there and I was.
As the children grew, I saw that a woman who doesn’t work outside the home has the potential to turn her energies into community service and I combined my primary vocation as mother, with studying and teaching the Bible in parishes. When my daughter was a junior in high school, I became involved in a sex education controversy and realized that I wanted to be a political activist. My degree in history had prepared me to research and to analyze texts. I started out working on the abortion issue. Through my research, I discovered two things: first that abortion was devastating for women and second that the people doing and having abortions knew it was a baby. When I confronted the defenders of abortion with this, they countered that abortion was necessary if women were going to be liberated. I realized that I didn’t understand feminism and I began to research feminism. My analysis of Radical Feminism is included in my first book The Gender Agenda. It soon became clear to me that the issue of homosexuality was inextricably linked to that of Radical Feminism and this lead to intensive research on same-sex attraction and my second book One Man, One Woman.
3. Can you help us better understand the psychology of the feminist movement? Could you discuss what you meant when you wrote that actions such as abortion, sexual promiscuity, lesbianism, and the rejection of motherhood seemed reactions resulting from childhood trauma rather than courageous self-liberation?
The key to developing a strategy for countering anti-family, anti-life activism is understanding the way your opponent thinks. You have to get inside their heads. The problem is that much of what motivates Radical feminists is so far from reality that, once in there, you feel like Alice in Wonderland.
In my research I discovered that the Radical Feminists were highly influenced by Marx and Engels. For them everything was class struggle. Why did these women adopt a Marxist analysis when it was so obvious that all Marxism has produced is ugly, failed systems? Because Marxism offers a justification for anger and envy. And why are some women so angry and envious that they are susceptible to Marxist ideology? Because their childhood experiences of what it means to be a woman were not positive. I would read their stories and see fathers who did not make them feel like princesses and mothers who were not models of strength and courage, competence and joy. Turning your anger into activism does set you free from feelings of unworthiness and depression, but there is a price to pay. Un-forgiveness binds the heart. The Feminists are afraid of forgiveness because they see it as excusing the offense, when in fact it involves acknowledging that a person has a right to be treated justly, has been grievously wounded by the action of another, and has the right to prevent if possible any further injury. Forgiveness sets you free.
4. While the feminist movement purports to lift up women, your research shows how it threatens the right of a woman to be a woman, particularly in her vocation to motherhood. Can you reflect on how you arrived at this conclusion?
I believe in a woman’s right to work outside the home in any field she chooses, but also in a woman’s right to make motherhood their primary vocation. Some women who choose motherhood as their primary vocation may have a secondary vocation of work outside the home, but family comes first. According to the Radical Feminists, no woman should be allowed to make motherhood her primary vocation because so few men make this choice and this choice prevents the absolute equality of the sexes. The Radical Feminists recognize that the majority of the world’s women wanted to make motherhood their primary vocation. They see this as proof that women were brainwashed by the system, thus they have worked to force all women into the workforce. Simone de Beauvoir, Shulamith Firestone, Nancy Chodorow, and other feminist writers demanded that women be freed from motherhood, even if they didn’t want to be.
5. Your research suggests that some feminists are characterized by an inability to forgive and forget insult, rage at things that cannot be changed, etc. Have you found in your research that feminists are more likely to divorce or have more difficulty sustaining relationships because of these interpersonal struggles? What is the impact on their spouse and children?
The answer to Radical Feminism is forgiveness and healing. When I was teaching Bible classes, women would come with spouting feminist slogans. I could answer all their challenges, but I saw that the problem was deeper. I would take them aside and ask “Tell me about your father.” The tears would come and I would hear stories of abuse, neglect, or insensitivity. I would explain that they had to forgive their fathers – or never say the “Our Father” again. Once they forgave, they were no longer susceptible to feminist nonsense, they were able to see the blessing of being a woman.
As the years went by I saw the Radical Feminists take over the women’s movement and push out the Liberal Feminists. Among Radical Feminists women with same-sex attraction became dominant and their concerns primary. When you look at the biographies of the leaders of the feminist movement -- Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Path, Germaine Greer, Susan Brownmiller – you can see how, in spite of their talents and successes, they had sad, messy lives. I am convinced that most divorces occur because one or both comes to the marriage with unhealed childhood wounds. Wounded women are more vulnerable to Radical Feminism.
6. Is there any connection between these relationship difficulties and gravitation towards a lesbian lifestyle? Are you aware of any research that suggests that a woman can heal from these difficulties and pursue a healthier lifestyle?
Each woman with same-sex attraction is a unique individual with her own personal history. Nothing can be said which applies to all, but there are some common patterns. There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that same-sex attraction in women begins in early childhood as an attachment disorder, in particular one caused by a depressed mother. Research has discovered that a baby is born with a need to attach to the mother, to be held and see the light in the mother’s eyes. If this attachment does not occur, the baby is left with an emotional hole. A depressed mother doesn’t meet her baby’s need and the baby grows up looking for love. If the father is loving and supportive, this deficit can be ameliorated. However, if the father is demeaning of women, treats the mother with disrespect, is distant, cruel or abusive, the girl will grow up with a confusion about sex difference and her place in the world. She will, perhaps without knowing, be looking for the intensive attachment to the mother that should have happened in childhood. She may confuse the intensity of this need with sexual desire. On the other hand, some fathers not only demean womanhood, but also encourage their daughters to be like a son.
Elaine Seigle was a Freudian psychoanalyst and thought of her self as a committed feminist. A group of lesbians asked her to help several troubled members of their group. She was surprised to discover that when these women’s childhood conflicts were exposed and resolved, the same-sex attraction in half the clients disappeared. It appears that while women with same-sex attraction are more likely to suffer from a number of serious psychological disorders, they are also more likely to benefit from therapy.
7. Part of the Culture of Life mission is to understand the truth about the human person at all stages of life; I am wondering if you have any comments on how a woman who had invested herself in the feminist agenda in her 20s is now experiencing life, and the impact it has made on her children and grandchildren as a woman in her 60s?
How can a grown woman heal? By forgiving all those who have injured her in any way, especially her father and mother. By developing a strong positive relationship with God as father, and Mary as mother. Science teaches us that our brains are able to change, to build new brain cells, new connections, to let old patterns die. No matter how deeply we have been wounded, if we are willing to forgive, we can become a new creation.