What do women want? The answer to this age-old question has eluded the male segment of mankind for millennia as one of the great mysteries of the universe.
The brand of feminist thought that has strongly prevailed in our culture for the past 40 years–and which describes itself as “radical feminism”–got dangerously off-track with its proposed answer. Radical feminism, in its sincere but misdirected quest to establish much-needed equal rights for women, asserts that women want power and pleasure. But our social experiment in recreational sex, abortion on demand, and a quest to be unisex workhorses who value career far above family has proved to leave women profoundly unfulfilled at best.
At worst is the worst. A January 2003 peer-reviewed survey of the long-term impact of abortion on women’s health found that women who had undergone abortion were three to six times more likely to commit suicide. A March 2005 study seems to confirm the hypothesis that women are often coerced into abortion by partner violence and emotionally unsupportive men by showing that post-abortive women are much more likely to be the victims of homicide.
It seems that far from liberating us, the radical feminist idea of what women want–uncommitted sex (pleasure) and abortion rights (power)–has facilitated the sexual exploitation of women on a scale far grander than men could have ever thought up by themselves. It’s time to reevaluate.
So, what do women really want? A world-renowned philosopher and human-rights advocate has unmasked the simple answer. He is known as Pope John Paul II and he has consistently written and spoken out for over half a century on the human dignity of women (based largely on his study of a Jewish philosopher named Edith Stein, who later became a Catholic nun before she was martyred at Auschwitz).
The bottom line of the Holy Father’s profoundly insightful study of what he calls the “genius of woman” comes down to this: Women want to love and be loved. That’s it.
And he’s not talking about the distorted concept of “love” that is really a license to use and be used (See his early book entitled Love and Responsibility). Rather, John Paul is talking about the beauty of human love where sexuality is an authentic expression of committed and mutual gift of self. (See John Paul II, Theology of the Body).
This answer finally rings true in the heart of woman. Now matter how much pleasure, or power we have–or even purses for that matter (although really cute purses probably run a close second)–at the heart of every woman’s search for human flourishing is a deep desire to love and be loved. Shockingly countercultural, but true.
Take a look at the words of an authentic feminist, Pope John Paul II:
In transforming the culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a ‘new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination’, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.–Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, par. 99 (1997).
And how about these words for emphasizing the equal human dignity of women:
In the second creation narrative, through the symbolism of the woman’s creation from the man’s rib, Scripture shows that humanity is not complete until woman is created (cf Gen 2:18-24). . . . . “Created together, man and woman are willed by God one for the other” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 371). Woman’s presentation as a “help similar to him” (Gen 2:18) does not mean that woman is man’s servant–”help” does not equal “servant”; the Psalmist says to God: “You are my help” (Ps 70:6; cf 115:9-11; 118:7; 146:5). Rather, the expression means that woman is worthy of collaborating with man because she is his perfect correspondence. Woman is another type of “I” in a common humanity, constituted in perfect equality of dignity by man and woman.–Pope John Paul II, General Audience, “Woman as Masterpiece of God’s Creation,” November 24, 1999
As the seed of Pope John Paul II dies in the ground, it is now time to watch the growth of a mighty tree that will bear the fruit of his groundbreaking writings on women and the beauty of human sexuality in the context of authentic love.
As we unpack the writings of John Paul II over the next century, our culture will learn in exciting new ways how an authentic embrace of women’s true rights and interests must recognize that both women and men find fulfillment in self-giving, not self-assertion.
What do women want? We want to give love. We want to receive love. And in solidarity with the bold authentic feminist hopefully to be known in the near future as Pope John Paul the Great, women must unapologetically speak this truth in love.
–Dorinda C. Bordlee is senior counsel and executive director of the Bioethics Defense Fund, a public-interest legal organization that advocates for human rights from beginning to end. Bordlee’s popular presentation entitled “How Roe Ruined Romance, and How Authentic Feminism will Re-humanize the World” is available on audio CD.