‘Family Is on The Chopping Block’: A Conversation with Dr. Carrie Gress on Feminism
As feminism remains a hot-button topic, The Washington Stand recently had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Carrie Gress about her upcoming book, “The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Destroyed Us,” which examines the history and ideology of the feminist movement from the late 1700s and figures like poet Percy Shelley to the 20th century and activists like Gloria Steinem to the present day. Dr. Gress is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a scholar at the Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America. She is also the editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.
The Washington Stand: Dr. Gress, thank you very much for being with us. In your new book, “The End of Woman,” you examine the history and the forming of the ideology of feminism. What do you think is the most startling find that you cover in your book?
Dr. Carrie Gress: In terms of the formation, I think the fact that feminism was probably crystallized best by a man was probably the most startling thing. And I don’t pull that out of the book, or I don’t really zero in on that in the book. I mean, I talk about Percy Bysshe Shelley a lot in it, but I think he was really the first to put together the three ideas which are the occult, the free love aspect, and then this restructuring of society which would later become the patriarchy, smashing the patriarchy. I think most people have no idea. And ironically, while his wife Mary Shelley is creating Frankenstein, he’s created this independent woman that was really part of his mother-in-law’s project. They obviously never met because Mary Wollstonecraft had passed away shortly after delivering Mary Godwin Shelley. But she was well known, her husband William Godwin was well known, and Shelley respected both of them and included them in his own work, in terms of the creation of this character, Cythna, who was this independent woman with no connection to husband children — her only relationship was really with Satan. So we can see these three elements really in his work and then that just perpetuates itself through the 1800s. So maybe that was one of the most surprising elements. Certainly, later on, I think the connection with communism was another huge insight that I just hadn’t ever dreamed of. So those are probably the two biggest things that surprised me. And then the second wave feminism I had already studied, so I wasn’t surprised by anything in that. But it was really the early stuff: I was expecting to find nice platitudes about women, nice women, sort of fighting for, you know, on the right side of things, and I come to find out that almost every aspect of the movement was very anti-Christian, very much tied with an ideology of one sort or another, and then ultimately becoming its own ideology, you know, leaching on to other ideologies throughout time, over time.
TWS: I found that really interesting as well. I was actually fascinated by Percy Shelley’s reading of Genesis 3 that you talked about in your book and the inversion of divinely-instituted order. Can you maybe talk about that in greater detail?
GRESS: I’m so glad you brought that up, because I think that one of the most fascinating aspects of it is — you know, someone just asked me if Christians can be feminists. And, you know, I think there are a lot of reasons why we cannot. But one of them is this inversion of the divine order. And of course, if you look at Scripture, we see very clearly that it’s laid out where you’ve got God who creates Adam, out of his rib is Eve the helpmate, and then over that they have dominion over creation. Adam names them and they have dominion over creation. What Shelley does is just completely turns that on its head because suddenly, in his reading of Genesis, Eve is no longer tempted and fallen, and Adam as well, but she’s given this opportunity by the serpent. The serpent gives her this sort of knowledge and wisdom that she wouldn’t have otherwise. And so what we see from that is the inversion where this serpent, Satan, is — or the creation is — influencing Eve the woman, and then the woman is lording it over the man, and then God just has no role in it. So it’s a complete turning of that order of Scripture on its head and of authority on its head. I think that’s just another fascinating piece of the puzzle that even Elizabeth Cady Stanton was very involved with and ran with and was interested in that idea as well. So yeah, there’s a lot in Percy Shelley. You know, who would think this romantic English author would hold so many keys to what it is that we’re living at and living through today?
TWS: In today’s culture, feminism is generally seen as a good thing. There are lots of people who, whether they understand feminism or not, label themselves feminists, almost as a badge of virtue. Can you maybe explain for us how feminism doesn’t necessarily help or empower women, but maybe strips them of what makes them unique?
GRESS: Yes, I think that this is very pervasive, this idea that women, just by default, we’re feminists because we’re pro-women. I think that’s what many people sort of think of it as — like if they had to define it, it would be “pro-women.” The problem is [that] it hasn’t actually borne the kind of fruit that people think that it has. It hasn’t made women happier. It hasn’t made women healthier. If we look at the statistics related to things like divorce and depression, suicide, STDs, all of these areas in which we can sort of measure what’s happening with women, there’s not an uptick of — you know, the more feminism we have, the more happiness we have — that’s not correlating. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. So I think that that’s the other problem too, is that feminism means so many different things to women. And it’s kind of actually why it survives so well, because women sort of impute their own meaning upon it and don’t really realize that. No, there’s actually a pretty solid definition of what people who have been, who claim to be, radical feminists are operating with. And so we’ve just sort of taken it very blithely and absorbed it in our in our own ways, sort of nuancing it in the areas where we see that nuance should happen. But yeah, I think that’s the hardest part, is trying to help women understand. Like we’ve actually been incredibly brainwashed by this movement into believing that it’s this benign grandmother that’s sort of watching out for us, when in fact it’s actually trying to distort us and reimagine and reshape our human nature entirely or to get us to ignore it entirely. And that’s one of the genius strokes of someone like Judith Butler. And people who think that our sexuality is a social construct because they’ve gotten us to divorce the body, our bodies from our gender. This notion of essentialism that they treat like a dirty word: “Oh, you’re an essentialist. You think that the body should somehow inform us about who we are as persons.” I mean, that’s genius, that they were able to detach those two ideas from each other. So as a result, we don’t know anything about ourselves. We’re just all sort of grasping and grappling and trying to figure it out. And there are plenty of people out there who are willing to say, “Well, that’s not really who we are. You’re this if you feel this.” And we’re seeing this in a very specific way with the trans movement and influencers who, you know, again, claim to care about us and love us and embrace us in this this “sisterhood.” And yet behind the scenes, they’re really demolishing the family, which is, we know really a source — the truest source! — of human love and human self-gift, and of really knowing who you are. That happens in the family, not with an influencer on YouTube. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about what feminism is, and that’s just how they’ve continued to perpetuate it as, like, a brand to get us to continue to absorb it and believe it and not reject it.
TWS: And you spoke just there about influencers and the trans movement in particular. I wanted to ask because I’ve noticed that there are some people who just don’t see the connection. Can you maybe elucidate the connection between feminism and the trans craze that we’re seeing now?
GRESS: It’s been going on for a long time. I mean, much longer than anybody realizes. The initial question that feminism was asking over 200 years ago was not “How do we help women as women?” but “How do we help women become more like men?” Because they recognized that it looked like men had much easier lives than women did. They didn’t have this concern about dying in childbirth, they didn’t have children to raise, they didn’t lose children in — you know, they weren’t affected by the death of a child, especially something like miscarriage. And so that really was the start of that question. And then you can see that uptick, certainly with the influence of communism, where communism is looking for the perfect worker. They’re not looking for the perfect family, they’re not looking for anything: it’s all about economics and becoming a good worker. And we see in the Soviet Union, what did they do? They broke up the family as best they could. They had husbands and wives both work, but they had different days off so they wouldn’t have time together. Children were farmed out to other people to raise. Abortions could happen for free, any time a woman wanted one, it was really a form of birth control for them. And the family was on the chopping block. So again, it’s this whole idea of “How do we make women more like men, these perfect workers, instead of as mothers?” And honoring that role of motherhood and the vulnerability and what it does to bring together the family. So then fast forward to the 1960s and 70s and you have this again, the New Left, this idea of communism where they’re just trying to erase gender entirely. That was really the goal of it, that a lot of them saw women and womanhood and especially lesbian relationships as something that should be prioritized over everything because it had the added benefit of not ever having to serve men and you didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant. It was a very easy sort of direction in which many of them really aspired to, I would say. So we haven’t, because of all of this background, we haven’t really said anything good about women as women for 50 years. And so you see all these young girls who — Abigail Schrier has written in her book called “Irreparable Damage” that these girls who are trying to transition into boys, they’re not really wanting to become like men, they’re not ogling girls and buying weight sets and things like that, she says. They just want to be non-women, they just want to not be women. And so it makes perfect sense that when you’ve been telling women forever that it’s better to be a man, that you’ve really put on a pedestal this notion of manhood as the highest reality that we can aspire to. You know, ironically, coupling that with this notion of lesbianism. You know, lesbianism is much more masculine in many respects, that this is what the pinnacle that you’ve been telling young girls that they should be aspiring to, then, of course, they’re not going to want to deal with their periods and, you know, all the pieces that come with puberty and sorting that out and dealing with it. And so, yeah, it becomes very clear that that’s the direction to which they’ve been pushing for a long time. It’s really the culmination of it because we now have the technology to create — or at least give them the impression that they’re becoming men — without it actually ever taking effect completely because we know it can’t happen because of the way our bodies are created.
TWS: That’s absolutely heartbreaking. You allude to this as well in the book: many people have this misconception that feminism was co-opted at some point in the 60s, 70s, and 80s by what we could call “radicals.” I know many people who describe themselves as feminists, but they differentiate themselves from “radical” feminists. But in your book, you argue that the principles advanced by the likes of Gloria Steinem have been a part of feminism from the beginning. Can you kind of expound on that idea a little bit for us?
GRESS: Sure. I was under that impression as well. I’d heard it so many times, and that was really why I thought, well, I just need to go see for myself what was back there, what was in the first wave, what was going on. I think that’s why I was so astounded by it, because I just had never heard anybody really be critical of the first wave of feminism. It was always the second wave. And of course, dramatic things happened in the second wave. You’ve got abortion on demand comes about, you’ve got this the power of the New Left, which was really evident in the work of Kate Millett and Angela Davis. They’re spouting the ideas of the Frankfurt School, New Left, radical communist-Marxist guys. Wilhelm Reich wrote the book in 1936 called “The Sexual Revolution,” which became the sexual revolution in the 60s. I mean, these ideas were very old and in a book. You know, here’s the manual and people just followed it. And that’s really what destroyed things in the 60s and 70s. So even there you see, back in the 30s, Reich is writing this and already anticipating what they want to see happen in the culture. And I think that the Frankfurt School really realized too, that they weren’t going to get anywhere just by talking about class warfare and that they had to go into that, talking about the battle of the sexes was just a perfect segway into getting their whole communist ideology into the culture by expanding it to men and women. Men were the natural oppressors, the women were the natural victims. So you see this playing out very, very early on. You also have just these fundamental ideas again, that came from Percy Shelley: that free love is really important. And of course we see that in spades in the 70s and with everything that happened with the sexual revolution. The occult is another huge piece that was part of the movement. And also the idea of Lilith, who’s a goddess, really beloved by lesbians in particular, because it’s again this idea connected to Eve and “Eve was framed” and, you know, all of that. I’m sure you’ve seen bumper stickers that say that. So that was all the way back in the 1800s. And then this idea of smashing the patriarchy, which again, that came from Mary Wollstonecraft. But the word “patriarchy” actually was first used by [Friedrich] Engels. Engels was writing after Marx died, and he’s used that language more in terms of class warfare. You know, you’ve got this patriarch over the land who’s oppressing the proletariat, but then it got usurped by this sexual warfare, the battle of the sexes. And suddenly the man is the patriarchy. So that’s really where that came from. So anyway, it’s just amazing to sort of see this continuity, but also these patterns. In fact, there was an interesting piece — and I don’t know that I put it in the book — but Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were really trying to focus on the suffrage question and coupling themselves with the race issue because, of course, the Civil War had just happened. You have all these slaves freed and they’re trying to say — these men, the culture is saying we need to give them the vote. And they’re [Anthony and Stanton] saying, “Well, we should get a vote, too.” And you can see how they connected these two movements together. Well, Susan B. Anthony never had any children, but she had a niece who was actually named Susan B. Anthony II, hugely involved in Communist Party issues. But they also glommed on to the civil rights issue. So it was the civil rights issue and then the feminists glommed onto that and then the gays and lesbians attach themselves to the movement that way. But at one point I was reading about how people just thought Susan B. Anthony II was just such a genius because she had all these radical ideas that no one ever thought of before, but they were basically Susan B. Anthony’s ideas —her aunt’s ideas. She had just read what she read and then applied them to the same period. So it was really interesting to see this cycling of the exact same ideas, or recycling of the exact same ideas, over and over again, throughout the movement. That might be too much minutia for you….
TWS: No, not at all. Not at all. I’m really fascinated by all of this. So my next question is — feminism is by no means something new, and as you pointed out in your book, it’s pervaded our culture; it’s essentially become part of our grammar. But from the dismantling of Roe v. Wade to the new “Barbie” movie, feminist rhetoric seems to be ramping up over the past year or two years or so as opposed to slowing down. Why do you think that is? Is it possible that feminism is maybe losing the culture wars?
GRESS: Look, they’ve had control of everything for about 40, 45 years now. They’ve never had any competition, any real competition. I mean, people talk about Phyllis Schlafly. Well, you know, Phyllis did amazing things, but she was no threat to them on the cultural level as far as locking in the minds of women. And they did to her what they’ve done to everybody, every other threat, and sort of neutralized it, humiliated it, ignored it, recharacterized it as you know, something really disordered and bizarre, awful, or backwards. So yes, I think that, with the Dobbs decision, what suddenly happened is they’re not controlling all the states anymore. They’re seeing some chinks in the armor, that places are being culled away from them in a way that they’re not used to. So that’s happening and that’s why you see all this outside money being rushed to places like Michigan last year and Ohio right now, to try and shore these places up to make sure that nobody else falls out of the purview of their narrative. You also have just an incredible age gap between the women that are influencing the culture. I mean, it’s just it’s amazing to me how much we still trust these women like Nancy Pelosi. I mean, look at how old Nancy Pelosi is and she’s still a voice out there. You know, at a certain point, it’s like, “Hang it up.” But they can’t really do that because they haven’t really formed another generation all that well, because they’ve been controlling it — you know, part of their power is holding on to that. That’s what I think they’re doing with “Barbie” is trying to shore that up and bring in something that feels nostalgic and really fun and not heavy in this “Barbie” movie. And so people are really flocking to it, and there’s obviously all these interpretations of it. But having watched it, you just see all the markers like, “Yep, there’s the patriarchy. It’s being smashed. Women are better. Women don’t need men. Men are idiots. All of them are unnecessary. Motherhood is a nice alternative, but not a not really a necessity.” And again, because “men are idiots.” So, you know, it’s the same narrative playing out in that film. So I think they are scrambling a little bit to make sure no one’s slipping, that they aren’t ceding any ground in the culture war. I think it’s a fantastic time and the opportunities are wide open for conservatives to start filling up areas that we have largely neglected for a long time. You know, why is it when you’re at the checkout stand at the at the grocery store, there isn’t a single magazine other than maybe Magnolia — Magnolia has had some celebrities — that you can read that you’re not going to be offended by or you’re not going to have to flip through pages because you’re horrified by all the warnings about whatever they’re peddling. I think we’ve looked at those kinds of things as fluff for a long time, and the Left has not looked at those things as fluff, they’ve actually seen how influential those things are. And I think it’s time we start recognizing this is how women are influenced, this is how women have been destroyed. We actually have a much better, more compelling message than they do. We need to start getting it out there instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by them through the “Handmaid’s Tale” robes and the different ways in which they try to humiliate and debunk our ideas.
TWS: You mentioned the motherhood aspect that “Barbie” brought up. I’m curious, do you think that maybe the advent of the trans movement is perhaps giving the feminist movement (or some section or faction of it) pause and causing that portion of the movement to reflect on what actually makes women unique and that perhaps it’s motherhood?
GRESS: I don’t know. I mean, I think that’s a good question because it’s going to be really interesting to see what the technological advances are in terms of what trans “women” have the capacity to do. But I think to just throw on some makeup and a skirt and call yourself a woman is obviously not sufficient. So it probably is raising a lot of questions in the minds of people. Other people are just trying to sweep it under the carpet and hope no one notices. This really doesn’t count. I think that motherhood in that film makes it clear that it’s something that’s very meaningful and important. But again, what’s amazing to me is it’s not within the context of a family, it’s not within the context of having a devotion to a man. And that’s something that women in the 70s also wanted, was this this idea of getting rid of men and they were just hoping they could use IVF and have enough semen on hand that they wouldn’t really need men. There’s really literature on this, I think there’s one called SCUM, the Society for Cutting Up Men. Really, that idea of how do we get rid of men and create this feminist utopia? And that’s what they did in Barbieland. Men were like, maybe they will get a job as circuit court judge, they can’t be on the Supreme Court. “Everything’s a mess when they have any kind of role in it,” is sort of the messaging. I think that there’s just this overriding sense of “Men are bad and um, trans men are okay or effeminate men are okay” — like Allan in the movie — “because he sort of identifies with us. But other men, men who are different than we are, are dangerous and need to be told to heal kind of thing.” Yeah. Does that answer your question?
TWS: Absolutely. Thank you. Also in your book, you look at the Marxist and communist roots (and you’ve already alluded to those a couple of times in our conversation) of feminism. Can you describe that ideological connection for us, as well as (perhaps more importantly) its significance today?
GRESS: Yeah. So this is huge. I think that communism as an ideology was interested in restructuring society: free love, certainly, because relationships weren’t important, the family had to be destroyed. And then atheism was sort of its state religion. Feminism, same as first two. They just liked the occult better than atheism [and were] much more involved in the occult, which historically we see a lot more of women engaging in witchcraft and things like this, so it makes sense. And initially the two were really at loggerheads with each other. The feminists were considered very bourgeois, and the communists were just considered icky by the women. And then suddenly they realized that if we just overlook your atheism and you overlook our occultism, we really have the same purposes, we really want women to be like men, we want them to be workers. And, you know, obviously it didn’t happen that way, it wasn’t like this conversation. But I think this was the realization over time, that they had these similar desires and goals. After the suffrage movement, feminism didn’t really know what to do with itself, because it had kind of lost its purpose, so that’s really when the two started working together — and it came together most specifically in this organization called the Congress for American Women. That was basically just a ton of Soviet propaganda sold to very elite women. You’ve got Mrs. Gimbel from Gimbel’s Department Store, her husband was the owner of it. She’s involved in it. You’ve got all these academics who are very famous, you’ve got Susan B Anthony II who’s involved in it, and also Betty Friedan. So it was really interesting to see who was involved in it and the ways in which this sort of spread throughout the culture, and certainly in Betty Friedan’s work. Over and over again, she just said she was just a housewife and she wasn’t interested in women’s issues, and yet there’s an incredible book on her life that shows a totally different story, totally different biography to what she claims to have happened. And you can see it in her book. I mean, it’s kind of genius what she did, because she took all of these ideas of feminism and made them very palatable to women, because she wrote on this sense of injustice and victimhood that women are naturally kind of open to, feeling sorry for ourselves in certain ways and feeling victimized. And she just nailed it. I mean, she used psychology to really foist this upon us and Simone de Beauvoir had actually said that if women are given a choice to go out of the home or stay, they’ll always stay, so we have to force them out. And Betty Friedan just pivoted and said, “No, no, I have a much better way to get women out of the home.” And this is what she did by appealing to our sense of victimhood and going so far as to call the home a “comfortable concentration camp,” which, having studied the Holocaust, having been to Auschwitz, it’s just appalling to even think that anybody, like any publisher, would allow her to use that comparison. But she did. And it was hugely successful, it sold 3 million copies within the first few years of its publication. And women left the home in droves because they thought this is where they’re being oppressed, they are victims and this is how they get out from men who are the oppressors, by leaving home. So those are kind of the pieces that I think most people don’t know. And then you can see it a lot more clearly in the work of Angela Davis. In fact, Christopher Rufo just came out with a new book called “The American Cultural Revolution” that I just read, and he features a lot of Angela Davis and explains her role in how we got to critical race theory and the whole woke movement, especially how it’s so deep into our government and institutions now. But she was obviously very involved in feminism as well. And then Kate Millett was another one, both of whom studied under, again, as I mentioned before, the Frankfurt School thinkers who saw we’ve got to get this into the culture. It can’t just be in these idiotic communist ideology groups. I think that answers your question. I could go on, but I don’t want to get too nebulous.
TWS: No, you’re perfectly clear, thank you. Last question. What advice or encouragement do you have for those who are seeking to end feminism and/or repair the damage it’s done? Can it be ended? Can that damage be repaired? And if so, what do you see as the starting points?
GRESS: Well, I think the first starting point is for us to recognize the damage that it has done and that it continues to do. And we’re all in various stages of recovering from it. I think the next thing that needs to be done is, for women that do reject it, I think we need to know that we’re not alone. That, I think, has been why feminism has been so successful, because most of us just feel like, “Am I the only person that thinks this is crazy and that I don’t want this for my daughters, I don’t want this for my sons?” I don’t want this in any way in my family’s life, my husband’s, no one’s. And I refer to these women as sort of the “flyover women” that, you know, they’re just in flyover country, but we’re the women who are really ostracized and rejected by popular culture sort of. And it’s been really heartening to see that movements like Moms for America, Moms for Liberty, you know — just what’s happening with moms, they’re really realizing the pull that they have, politically and otherwise, so I think that’s huge. I think the other — and I probably should’ve started with this — is really that idea of prayer, and of recognizing, you know, all of this comes from what Whittaker Chambers calls the world’s second-oldest religion, that worship of self or worship of Satan. And we’re not going to restore anything unless we’re worshiping the right thing, which is obviously God. So I think that that’s just absolutely vital. The whole thing is that connection with God, because otherwise you don’t know what you’re doing is right, you don’t have a moral compass to understand where the distortions are, where the problems are — you have nothing to work with, everything’s always shifting and transient and changing. So those are certainly the three things I think there’s a lot of opportunity for. Sharing these ideas of or getting involved: obviously my book is out there doing this, there are some other books, like Mary Harrington and Louise Perry have come out with books kind of similar. But I know Mary Harrington still calls herself a Marxist, but I think it’s exciting that these ideas are sort of entering the marketplace. So reading them and engaging these ideas and sort of seeing what people are talking about I think is important. And there’s various people I know in my own life, like there’s a lot of people I wouldn’t give my book to, but I might give a Mary Harrington book to, you know, that kind of thing. All of these are important. But I think more than anything, especially for men and women, is to just recognize that we have been brainwashed — I think men in particular, because feminism is such a silencer. It’s the last thing men really want to talk about, because they just feel like there’s no way that they can win. They don’t have to do things publicly, they don’t have to enter into public debate about this, but you can give out my book, you can start having conversations, you can be a better husband and father. You know, there’s all these different ways in which men can live an anti-feminist ethos without actually having to say that. And certainly prayer and entering into their faith is going to be part of that because we know that when men are faithful, it’s a lot easier for wives and children to follow than if it’s the wife that’s faithful — or if no one’s faithful. So a prayerful, devout, holy dad — you know, there are very few things that can top that in terms of changing the culture. And the last thing I would say, too, is start supporting organizations that you believe in and that you trust in. I mean, the amount of money that the Left has to promote their messaging I think is completely daunting when you compare it to how much we spend on culture and on fighting this. It’s very David and Goliath. It doesn’t mean it can’t be won, but it just means we’ve got to start funding people that are throwing the stones instead of putting our money into these places that are the Goliath.
TWS: Wonderful, Carrie. Thank you very much for your insights, for your time. It’s really been great talking with you.
Dr. Gress’s book “The End of Woman: How Smashing the Patriarchy Destroyed Us” will be available from Regnery Publishing on August 15, 2023.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.