What It Means to be a Catholic Feminist
Yes, contrary to popular belief, Catholic feminists do exist.
And if to do nothing more than make a little elbow room for the men and women out there who are Catholic and desire the equal treatment of the sexes, I sat down with the creator of “The Catholic Feminist” podcast, Claire Swinarski. She’s been using her podcast to advocate for other Catholics who desire to be themselves — authentic, Catholic advocates for equal rights.
We chatted about honesty, Catholic inspiration, solidarity, and what a Proverbs 31 woman really looks like, just to name a few.
As Claire often says on her podcast, she “dropped some major knowledge” on me — of which I bolded for skimmability purposes 😉 I gotchu, friend.
1. You’ve identified an in-between space that a lot of Catholic women seem to be grappling with. Can you speak more to how you and the Catholic Feminist Podcast are creating room?
When I was a FOCUS missionary, I noticed a huge divide in Catholic women. When I met girls who wanted to embrace Catholic teaching and fight for the betterment of women around the world, they often were confused about where they fit. They felt like they had nowhere to sit at the metaphorical table.
But the Church is a huge, beautiful institution with plenty of room for a variety of personalities, passions, and opinions.
The Catholic Feminist is a space for devout Catholic women who want to learn more about Church teachings and how they intersect with society at large. They want to live out their authentic selves while growing closer to Jesus and using their faith to help others around the world.
2. I love the honesty you and your guests bring to the podcast, especially how you’re “still figuring it out.” Can you speak more to that?
I think one of the huge issues in society today is that people are terrified to admit they don’t know everything. It’s like we’re supposed to be total experts on every topic. But that’s crap.
We’re human beings who are still growing, learning, and developing — none of us are Jesus! We have to get to a point where we’re willing to learn more information and even potentially change our minds.
If I only had guests on the show who were well-known Catholics with watered down theology, how boring would that be? I want to dig into why the Church teaches what it does and how to truly live it out. There are Church teachings I couldn’t defend in a speech or essay, but I’m very open to learning more about them. I ask every Catholic woman listening to do the same.
3. “Inspired, involved, and intentional” are three descriptive words you use to describe Catholic feminists — what does that description mean to you?
I want each episode of the show to either inspire Catholic women to be better saints on earth, get them more involved in their community, or help them to lead more intentional lives.
So while one episode may focus on how to help the homeless in your area, another might be more focused on prayer, and another yet might look at a woman who’s been through a terrible situation and learned how to forgive.
Some are outward looking and some more inward, but both are incredibly important to our faith. If we’re not constantly seeking sources of Catholic inspiration, we won’t have anyone to look up to, and there are so many, from women here on Earth today to wonderful saints to our Mama Mary!
4. On the podcast, you don’t shy away from topics like the white privilege, sexism, alcoholism, miscarriage, just to name a few. How do you choose your topics, and why do you dive into all of these issues others seem to avoid? How do these topics relate to feminism in your eyes?
I think if we never want to talk about serious issues, we’re really doing a disservice to our faith. Racism, alcoholism, etc. are evils of Satan.
So we as Catholics should be at the forefront of fighting them. Catholics have a responsibility to change the world for good and to raise up disciples. We need to confront the evils of our modern life, or else we’re leaving a ton of people behind.
I choose topics on things I find interesting and important to the faith. Some I’m more well-versed on, like abortion or being a woman in the workforce, but some I’m straight up clueless on, like racism or same sex attraction or green living.
These relate to feminism due to intersectionality. Intersectional feminism is basically the idea that if we’re not fighting for all women, we’re not fighting for women at all. It’s a very Christian notion — we’re all one body, and to leave one body part behind is to greatly injure the body.
So we can’t simply fight for white, able-bodied, middle class white women. We need to look at the problems concerning our sisters who live on the other side of the world, look different than us, have different abilities than us, etc. Jesus made those women and loves them infinitely. I refuse to leave them behind.
I’ve never been afraid of tough conversations. It takes a major dose of humility — often on the podcast, I’m telling guests I have a “dumb question.” But the last shall be first, right?
5. In your last e-retreat, you spoke about being a Proverbs 31 woman. Can you speak more to that — how do you see the intersection between your feminist, Catholic identity and that of a Proverbs 31 woman?
For so long, a “Proverbs 31 woman” has meant a woman who cleans the house, pleases her husband, and keeps her mouth shut.
But if you look at the actual text of the verse, you’ll see it actually identifies a woman who is strong, smart, and business-savvy! At the same time, it’s a woman who loves and cares for her family. That’s a total feminist to me.
6. Why do you think a lot of people feel you can’t be Catholic and a feminist? The podcast is a testament that there is a middle ground, but how do you describe that to those who think they’re exclusive?
I think people don’t feel you can be both because society has completely warped the idea of what a “feminist” is. The mainstream, secular “feminism” means hot pink Planned Parenthood signs. This leaves Catholics feeling as if they don’t agree on anything.
But in truth, if you took away the word feminism and asked Catholics and secular feminists if they think we should end rape culture, close the wage gap, and support working moms, 90% of them would probably agree! If we start by focusing on what we agree on, we can make a lot more change than if we just keep yelling at each other.
The Church asks us to value women, embrace their gifts, and uphold their place in society. It does so within the writings of Edith Stein and John Paul II too many times to count. So it isn’t so much that there’s a “middle ground” as it is a full embrace of Church teachings.
7. If you had to boil down the lessons you’ve learned from creating this podcast series, can you name the top three?
Oh, my gosh. That’s hard.
- Women can have completely different callings and still radically change the world for Jesus.
- Most women fear that they aren’t the “typical Catholic woman,” even the ones who we think obviously are.
- Women are incredibly strong, especially when it comes to doing the right thing in the face of hard circumstances.