In his first epistle, the Apostle John wrote, “as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn. 2:19). St. Paul wrote of a final antichrist, “the man of lawlessness…the son of perdition” who will arise prior to Christ’s return (2 Thess. 2:3).
The spirit of antichrist has been sowing its seeds in the world from the first century until now. In her fascinating new book, The Anti-Mary Exposed (TAN Books, 2019), Dr. Carrie Gress takes aim at a specific aspect of this anti-Christian spirit, one that, since the 1960s, has distorts the vision of authentic femininity found in Christian Revelation and enfleshed in the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Dr. Gress marshals a mass of scholarship, presented in easily-accessible language, to detail the cultural shift brought about by a small group of elite American women. They convinced an entire generation of women that they could not be “equal” to men, could not lead “fulfilling” lives until the relationship between mother and child was disrupted. In 2019, we live with the deadly fruits of this revolution: sixty million abortions, skyrocketing divorce rates, an increase in female depression, anxiety, STDs, and substance abuse.
Gress also boldly proclaims the answer to the culture of death: Christ, Truth incarnate, and Mary, his mother and partner in redemption. It is an incredibly book, and I was honored to interview Dr. Gress on behalf of Catholic Exchange:
Shane Kapler: Dr. Gress, you pull back the curtain on the ideological roots of the modern feminist movement as well as the personal lives of many of its leaders. As I was reading these revelations — Marxism, childhood abuse, diagnosed mental illness, substance abuse, the occult and pagan liturgy — I remember thinking, “I have friends that I want to share this information with, but they are never going to believe me.” What did you, personally, find most shocking?
Dr. Gress: I did this research over two years, so I can imagine the experience of reading all of this over a couple of days. I think what was most shocking to me was our ignorance of the brokenness of second wave feminists. Women like Betty Friedan, Kate Millet and Gloria Steinem are held up for us as role models. Why don’t we know about the depth of their brokenness and what it was they were responding to? The reality of who they were has been shielded from us. They considered themselves “Lost Girls.”
Almost to a one, they had deep issues with their mothers. They all had major emotional trauma that they struggled with; and yet, these are the women who have led us to what we understand femininity to be in our culture. The fact that this hasn’t been scrutinized, talked about, and even rejected – that was what was most surprising to me.
Kapler: In your book, you point out how, when an ideology fails to deliver on its promises, and people begin to point out its faults, its adherents claim that we simply haven’t gone far enough. They place the blame on the fact that the ideology hasn’t been embraced by everyone. Do you think this it part of our rejection of God, that rather than turning back to him in him in humility and repentance, we keep soldiering further down this road?
Dr. Gress: I think it is part and parcel of an ideology. We saw this very clearly among the Soviets, “Things will just start working once there is more Marxism,” or “once we are more egalitarian.” There is this push, and it becomes so strong that people are almost spellbound by it. One of the things I’ve come to see, and around feminism in particular, is a realization that women approach the world with a certain set of presuppositions: “I need to be more assertive. I need to assert my individuality. I need to compete with men.” What happens actually is that women begin taking on certain vices — rage, aggression — and it ends up making things worse. People don’t want to be around a woman who is really angry.
This pattern is striking to me; and I hear it among Catholic women, too. “When I’m dealing with men I try to be more assertive and not let them think they have the upper hand.” We’ve bought into the ideology enough that we think we need to compete with men. These are not the things that make people want to have deeper relationships with us. What has happened with feminism is that we have created this shell around ourselves, and people don’t want to engage because it’s not kind, it’s not compassionate, it’s not other-centered. All of these great virtues that women have; we’ve kind of been told, “Put those away. You don’t need those.” Women are embracing these broken pieces of feminism and womanhood that they are being offered, without realizing how it has this effect of cutting their feet out from underneath them.
Kapler: What is authentic feminism today? What ways are women being authentically discriminated against today?
Dr. Gress: That’s a difficult question to answer, because victimhood has become such a popular status to have in our culture. It’s hard to see what authentic injustice is and what is a manipulation of people. But I think that, if we can step aside from those realities, the biggest injustice is how women have been convinced that the only way they can get ahead is by making their children and families the enemy, making anything that gets in the way of their career the enemy. If we are going to talk about an actual injustice to women, it is that lie.
That lie — that our children are obstacles to our success — has permeated our culture without anyone pointing out how radical an idea it is, and how it had never been introduced into human culture before. We have embraced slogans like “Shout Your Abortion” wholeheartedly, and treat it like it is some sort of native human right, because without abortion a woman cannot have her career and be successful.
Kapler: How do you see the Christian acceptance of contraception paving the way for today’s “brave new world”?
Dr. Gress: The biggest problem with contraception is the fact that it sterilizes women. It denies our motherhood, denies our fertility; and as a result, it ends up opening the doors for us to only be thinking about sex as something that is physical pleasure. It is something between consenting adults; and it doesn’t have anything to do with children anymore. This of course also led to the opening of the door to the acceptance of homosexuality.
Charles Rice, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, used to talk in his classes about the way contraception was going to lead to the normalization of homosexuality; and everyone used to think he was ridiculous. And yet, we are seeing it in spades. It’s one of those things where any kind of deviancy can be enmeshed into the ethos, because people think, “How is their sex life different from ours? We’re just trying to get sexual gratification, and so are they. There’s nothing else to consider.” I think that, at root, contraception lies behind all of the gender confusion that we are currently dealing with.
Of course, Pope Paul VI was right about all of these things, which he predicted would happen with the onset of contraception. Among them is the relationship between men and women and their unifying force as a couple. Divorce rates have certainly spiked because of it, and it has not led to the emotional closeness it was supposed to usher in. All of these things happened because we tinkered with God’s design at a biological level and really disrupted the family.
Kapler: Following Vatican II, there seemed to be a lessening of Mary’s role in the devotional lives of many Catholics. We, of course, also saw this among our Protestant brothers and sisters over the past five centuries. Do you think this great cultural shift could have occurred if Mary’s place in the Christian life had not first been diminished?
Dr. Gress: No, this would never have happened if Our Lady had been held at the center of culture. I think you are absolutely right to talk about the Protestant break first, and I have seen Protestants write about this: Protestantism hasn’t carved out any place for women to be women. Obviously, religious orders were eradicated, as was Mary as a role model, so there wasn’t any place for women to understand their role. As a result, men were put on a pedestal; and women are responding to this. The traditional avenues women had to have this close relationship to Christ were walled off from them. That’s one of the biggest issues to begin with.
If we look at what the Catholic Church has actually said about women — not that every Catholic has responding rightly toward women – but in terms of the way the Church upheld femininity, much of that was developed because of who our Lady was. The Church is way ahead on this. We hear this ridiculous line that “Well-behaved women never make history.” That’s not true at all.
Historically, if we think about different women who made history, they were saints. They understood that they had to connect their will with God’s will, and then through that they were able to do things they could never do – things they could only do through God. I am thinking of women like St. Helen, St. Lucy, St. Monica, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joan of Arc. All of these remarkable women had very different vocations. None of these women could be referred to as a doormat. This is what the Catholic Church has had going for it — this understanding of what happens with women when we become holy. Sadly, that was washed from our collective memory, as was Mary.
So many women wanted to follow, culturally, what was happening with the trends of the culture: contraception, leaving home to build their own careers, and whatever else was happening culturally at the time. If so many women did not find it absurd to suggest Our Lady as a role model of womanhood, we would not be in this place where we are.
Kapler: Dr. Gress, thank you for your time. I know our readers have thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity.