Document 6: Excerpts from Sidney Callahan, The Illusion of Eve: Modern Woman's Quest for Identity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), pp. 30-33, 115-16.

Document 6: Excerpts from Sidney Callahan, The Illusion of Eve: Modern Woman's Quest for Identity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), pp. 30-33, 115-16.


   Sidney Callahan's The Illusion of Eve was the first American Catholic feminist monograph. Callahan, a young freelance writer and mother of five, hoped to address Catholic sexism as well as assess the possibilities offered by the growing American feminist movement. She challenged the feminist movement for its anti-Catholic bias, and for a perceived tendency to trumpet women's freedom yet neglect women's obligations. To Callahan, the richness of Christian life entailed sacrifice on the part of both men and women, for the good of family, community, and the world. For a time, Sidney Callahan was the most prominent Catholic feminist, but she was soon eclipsed by the theologians Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Neither of these scholars focused on the themes of obligation and sacrifice, seen by many as antithetical to feminism.

[p. 30]

   Certainly, the values stressed by the "environmentalist" school seem attractive. Yes, every individual human person, regardless of sex, should develop to his or her full potential. Granted, there should be none of the past discrimination against women; society should provide equal education, and equal opportunities for women to use all their talents in useful, productive work. Women should not be arbitrarily confined to domestic work in the home or stereotyped feminine work in the world. The individual's freedom, dignity and specific talents should come before sexual identity.

   Yes, also, to the environmentalist's stress upon accepting man's control of the world. It is good to develop the science and technology which will free woman from domestic drudgery, improve maternal health, and provide work outside the home for women. It is important to accept all that is positive in our present culture and not condemn developments because they are new and different. And so, finally, a yes to the insights and perspectives gained from comparing our cultural assumptions with those of other people. Such an attempt to free ideas of femininity from particular cultural prejudices and concentrate upon future development is of great value.

   But then there are less attractive aspects to the proposals of this group for women. A certain Manichean odor arises from talk of woman's enslavement to her body and sexual functioning. At what point does projected control of nature shade into a rejection of the body and physical processes? Control can become abuse; and as a general rule this school assumes artificial contraceptives, does not balk at abortion, and repudiates Christian ideas of marriage and parenthood as outmoded. Few would go so far as Simone de Beauvoir in repealing marriage and recommending male brothels for ladies to patronize, but her proposals point out that equality with men only leads to the next problem, equality with men

[p. 31]

for what? Indeed, the aggressive attitude toward men is distressing; men are too often pictured as oppressive brutes.

   The problem of woman's role soon expands to the problem of man and woman's role. For one thing, an unqualified, uncritical acceptance of the "masculine" values of our culture is suspect. Are the equal work of women and equal opportunities only to be for the sake of exploiting others and aggressively achieving selfish ends? No wonder there is a contempt for all "stupid" manual work, especially unpaid (unselfish?) domestic work in the home. For this group the only work that counts is that intellectual, professional work which our society rewards with status and financial emoluments. Ultimately, the "worthwhile" is determined by the society.

   Unfortunately, too, the work of childraising is dangerously minimized. It is too readily assumed that mother substitutes or communal nurseries could free the mother for "meaningful" work. But can a communal nursery raise children well? Perhaps in our pluralistic, mobile, individualistic society, a child needs more individual care than ever to obtain emotional security, to say nothing of moral and cultural values. The personal fulfillment of the mother, or even the other needs of society cannot infringe on the personal fulfillment of the child.

   With such reservations about the cultural school, one is ready to accept enthusiastically certain values of the champions of traditional femininity. Yes, to the eternal feminine school's stress upon the importance of the mother to the child. Yes, also, to cultivating aesthetic, spiritual, and ethical values in the home. Yes, again, to the happy acceptance of reproductive differences between men and women with its high valuation of sexual functioning and physical creativity. The body, the physical world, matter in all forms is well esteemed, and housework and the domestic arts can be a celebration

[p. 32]

of nature. The contemplative and charitable aspect of manual labor is appreciated. It is important that women should be prepared for this side of life and value it highly. The true values of life do not necessarily coincide with the values society rewards with money and status. Love, the gift of self, and the hidden contemplative aspect of the traditional feminine role are important and not to be dismissed. The development of psychiatry alone has shown the importance of these intangibles in the human person's development.

   But one demurs when this view is carried too far. Irrationality cannot pass for mysticism. Glorious verbal assertions of what is feminine do not always correlate with reality. A woman is more than a sexual being; to deny her active intellectual powers expression is discrimination based on an inadequate scientific theory. It has not been proved that there is such a thing as a "feminine core," and it is rash to assert that intellectual training diminishes femininity. Women's education and opportunities should not be curtailed because of an unproved theory that her intelligence is different from man's. When the difference between men and women is overemphasized, the corollary is always discrimination in the guise of an irrational mysticism of sacrifice. Women are often denied equal rights and opportunity because it is said that her true fulfillment (determined by men and suspiciously convenient) is in giving herself to her husband, children and her home.

   The overemphasis upon sex and the physical differences is accompanied also by an overemphasis upon housekeeping. The cult of breadbaking and other domestic arts flourishes as appropriately feminine. What begins as a restoration and celebration of matter becomes a tyranny of things. Moreover, it is often a manifestation of nostalgia for a bygone rural culture,

[p. 33]

rather than a rational response to present-day life. If the cultural school has taints of gnosticism, the conservative traditional approach to femininity brings to mind the pervasive influence of the Mother Goddess of antiquity with her nature and fertility cults. The "fertility cult" requirement that every woman must find fulfillment only in husband and large family is unbalanced.

   At this point, after a cursory criticism of the two opposing poles of thought on women, it becomes clear that Christian values both confirm and collide with parts of both solutions. A Christian synthesis of the best of both arguments is badly needed. But before that can be done, a Christian view of woman has to be determined. This is no easy task, for conflicts within Christianity over the role of woman have never quite been stilled. Today as revolutionary winds blow within the Church, traditional ideas about women must be re-examined.

*    *    *

[p. 115]

   The word "homebody" brings up one other side of reality which puzzles many of those calling upon women to fight for separate identities and a place in the sun. Why are so many traditional women contented with their lot? The prevailing explanation of this acquiescence in the "housewife trap" is cultural conditioning to inferiority in a "feminine mystique," i.e., a basic immaturity. This may be true in some cases, but the important point missed by so many feminists is that a woman with a mature self-identity can freely choose to sacrifice certain self-fulfillments for the sake of husband and

[p. 116]

a large family. Admittedly, Christians have overemphasized the tradition of womanly sacrifice, and in so doing have exacted the wrong sacrifices from the wrong people, but at least they have recognized and conserved a whole spiritual dimension of life totally absent from current discussions of fulfillment. "Losing one's life in order to find it" makes no sense to the secular world; women who choose a hidden life of sacrifice in the home, or worse still the convent, are viewed as neurotic seekers for martyrdom. All such sacrifice has become suspect. Love, and its desires to give oneself to husband and many children, is discounted as contributing to a husband's "infantile phantasy" or a neurotic escape into "breeding." However, when all vocations and free choices are encouraged except the traditional feminine role, a new tyranny and a new stereotype have simply replaced the old one.


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