On Monday, November 23, the legendary feminist Gloria Steinem appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper and said this about the recent governement recommendation to discourage breast cancer screenings prior to age 50:
But what worries me is that I fear that, in some ways, the coverage of this, which is good, has so outweighed another huge health issue. I mean, one in eight women gets breast cancer. One in three women needs an abortion at some time in her life.
Last night during Vespers, the Church says this about St. Katherine the Great Martyr of Alexandria:
Let us now honor the feast-day of Katherine’s memory; for she cast down with firmness all the enemy’s powers, and the rhetoricians’ resistance, she quelled, by her words and her mighty deeds. O God, deliver us all through her holy prayers from all heresies and false beliefs.
Reflecting upon this today, I would argue that St. Katherine the Great makes a far better feminist icon than does Gloria Steinem. St. Katherine is a great woman. Some 1700 years before women were fighting for the right to vote in this country, she was challenging what modern feminists might call patriarchal authority. When Emperor Maximian came to Alexandria to organize a huge pagan festival, she challenged pagan philosophers to a debate. Not only did she convince these philosophers to become Christian, but even Maximian’s own wife was converted. When Maximian could not convince Katherine to sacrifice to idols for money, he imprisoned and tortured her. She, along with all those she convinced to be Christians, were martyred.
Despite all these great accomplishments, what makes St. Katherine a better feminist icon than Steinem is her faith. St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle:
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:25-28
In faith, St. Katherine put on Christ. She battled the great minds of Alexandria and won. She resisted the power of Rome. She endured torture. All of this was possible in Christ. As a “mere” woman, she proved the radical equality possible in Christ.
This equality — where all are called to the cup, where all are called to be saints — is only possible because Christ took on all our humanity. Without God, and without Christ, no philosophy, no political agenda, and certainly no form of government can create or protect true equality. There are too many objectively provable inequalities in this fallen world. Someone with cerebral palsy is not the physical equal of a professional athlete. Some one with Down syndrome is not the mental equal of a PhD in Physics. Inevitably we are all categorized and classified into different populations and judged by those very categories and classifications. There is no standard by which we can justify equality besides Christ.
That great champion of equal rights, Gloria Steinem, proves my point. She finds it necessary to murder and destroy one classification of human beings in order to advance another one. I quote again, “One in three women needs an abortion at some time in her life” (emphasis mine).
St. Katherine, on the other hand, was willing to sacrifice herself in order to advance others, in order to call us to that radical equality where there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female — that place where we are all one in Jesus Christ. Amen.