Former Cosmo writer: “I wrote this book as an act of atonement.”

“Rather than abandon the word ‘feminism’,” says Sue Ellen Browder, author of Sex and the Catholic Feminist: New Choices for a New Generation, “Christians need to restore it to its proper meaning.”

Sue Ellen Browder is the author of "Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement" and "Sex and the Catholic Feminist: New Choices for a New Generation", both published by Ignatius Press.

Over the last 60 years or so, the “sexual revolution” has transformed nearly every aspect of American society. Propaganda for the sexual revolution flowed from the pages of such publications as Cosmopolitan, where a young journalist named Sue Ellen Browder (among others) worked hard to push unmarried sex, contraception, and abortion as integral aspects of feminism and liberation for women. Browder’s life and her role in the movement are chronicled in Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement (Ignatius Press, 2019). Browder now works tirelessly to make reparation for the part she played in the sexual revolution.

Her latest book is Sex and the Catholic Feminist: New Choices for a New Generation (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2020). In this book, Browder looks at the Christian and Catholic thread of the feminist movement, exploring how it has been ignored by the mainstream media for over 50 years. She challenges the notion that feminism is inherently atheistic. She emphasizes that feminism is about a search for personhood and identity—a search that will only find what it seeks in God.

Browder recently corresponded with Catholic World Report about her latest book, feminism, and her role in the sexual revolution (and how she hopes to atone for that).

Paul Senz, for CWR: How did the book come about?

Sue Ellen Browder: I wrote this book as an act of atonement. From the 1970s into the 1990s I worked first on staff, then as a freelance writer, for Cosmopolitan magazine, where many stories we concocted about women having all these exciting, “fulfilling” sex lives were completely made up. Cosmo‘s editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, even had a list of “rules” on how to write for Cosmo, which included guidelines on how to fabricate anecdotes about women who were living this supposedly carefree Cosmo lifestyle. It was only after I became a Catholic that I saw what terrible damage those lies had done. That’s when I realized I had to write a book about all the lies we told—to set the record straight and to keep more women and girls from being hurt.

CWR: “Feminism” is a term that is just loaded with baggage today. There are so many competing definitions of the term, so many appropriations of the feminist ideology. Has the term always been so divisive?

Browder: I think the word “feminism” has always been divisive because it’s been associated with political movements, like the campaign to win women the right to vote (which was quite a controversial demand in its day). But the term became even more divisive in the late 1960s when feminism became so closely aligned with sexual politics, including gender ideology and the sexual revolutionaries’ demands to repeal  all abortion laws. There are so many forms of “feminism” in our culture today that many people understandably believe the word has become meaningless. But as Joseph Pieper wisely put it, abuse of language is abuse of power. Rather than abandon the word “feminism,” Christians need to restore it to its proper meaning. In the days of the suffragists, feminism was primarily a Christian movement. That’s just one reason we need to reclaim the “F-word” (feminism) and shout it to the skies.

CWR: How would you define true, authentic feminism?

Browder: True, authentic feminism is about defending a woman’s personhood. Authentic feminism, which includes mothers, calls for women to be treated with equal dignity and respect in all areas of our society, both at home and in the public square. What did Betty Friedan, who launched the 1960s feminist movement with her book The Feminine Mystique, say feminism was all about? Was it about sex? Gender? Money? Power? No, Friedan said feminism was all about a woman’s personhood. And where does a woman find this fullness of her personhood? We find our true personhood—or what’s popularly called the “true self”—not by demanding power for ourselves but through self-giving relationships of love with God and others. Pro-life feminism defends the dignity of every human being’s true personhood from conception to natural death, which is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches. That’s why I am now firmly convinced the pro-life movement (visible in the March for Life, Feminists for Life, and hundreds of other pro-life organizations) represents the authentic women’s movement of the 21st century. Pope St. John Paul II called upon Catholics to embody a “new feminism,” and I believe pro-life women (along with the pro-life men who support them) are doing exactly that.

CWR: Why do you think it is that so many people see the terms “feminist” and “pro-life” as contradictions?

Browder: Because that’s the way the media (myself included) have framed the story for the past 50 years. What we didn’t realize is that it was primarily pro-life feminists who won women the right to vote, opened up academia to women, forced newspapers to stop running “Help Wanted (Male)” and “Help Wanted (Female)” classified ads, and lobbied to win the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (which made it illegal to fire a woman just because she was pregnant). I’m not saying pro-life feminists won all these victories single-handedly; pro-abortion feminists worked on those issues, too. But I do think it’s safe to say pro-life-for-all feminists did a huge chunk of the work and legal-abortion-for-all feminists received most of the media credit.

CWR: What do you mean when you refer to the “Catholic feminist”? What distinguishes a Catholic feminist from another (apart from their being a Catholic)?

Browder: This book could easily have been titled Sex and the Christian Feminist, because while some early pro-life feminists were Catholic, others were Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Christian women of many denominations have always defended the full dignity of all human persons. But because the Church has been defending the whole truth taught by Christ since the apostolic age, when we speak that truth clearly with love, I think we’re given a special grace to unite many people of goodwill in all nations and all walks of life, including nonbelievers. As James Joyce famously put it in Finnegans Wake: “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.'”

CWR: Do you think your personal history has helped you have a greater insight into the problems with the mainstream “feminist” movement?

Browder: Yes, absolutely. When I was sitting at my little blue desk in the offices of Cosmo in 1971, I observed one small fact that was obvious to anyone who was there at the time but which has now been forgotten. In those days, the sexual revolution (as we were promoting it at Cosmo) and the feminist movement (as it was led by Betty Friedan) were two radically separate movements. Although Helen Gurley Brown would have loved for her sex-revolution magazine to be part of the feminist movement, Betty Friedan called Cosmo “quite obscene and quite horrible.” Feminism, as Friedan saw it, was a call for a woman to be able to exercise her full potential—her full personhood—both at home and in the public square. So how did we get to the point where so many young women in our nation today believe that to be a feminist means when it comes to sex “anything goes”? How did those once radically separate movements get joined together in so many people’s minds? After I became a Catholic, that question kept haunting me, and I started researching Subverted to find out the answer. Sex and the Catholic Feminist takes what I learned during the five years I was writing Subverted and carries those findings one giant step further.

CWR: Was there anything you learned over the course of writing the book that you found especially surprising?

Browder: Oh, my, where to begin? Both books are filled with surprises! It was a great surprise to discover how abortion was inserted into the women’s movement behind closed doors by the vote of only 57 people! I was stunned to learn how two men most of us have never heard of managed to foist off abortion and contraceptive drugs on American women as “rights” we all need to be “free.” I was amazed to find Betty Friedan defending motherhood and the family in such strong language she almost sounded like the pope! There are so many unexpected twists and turns in this previously untold story, I can’t begin to name them all.

CWR: Is there anything else you would like to add?    

Browder: I would simply urge all women who are searching for the whole truth to read this book, both older women of my boomer generation (who want to know how it all happened) and younger women (who need to know how to avoid being duped by what the loudest voices in our culture are saying). Sex and the Catholic Feminist, which is a very quick read (only about 100 pages), is also written for good dads who want to know more clearly how to protect their daughters from all the fabricated half-truth, limited truth, and out-of-context truth (i.e., propaganda) about so-called sexual “freedom,” which dominates our culture and is being aimed nonstop at our girls before they’re even old enough to think.


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About Paul Senz 67 Articles
Paul Senz recently graduated from the University of Portland with his Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry. He lives in Oregon with his family.

15 Comments

  1. We are now seeing the effect of women flooding the labor market and shutting black men out of jobs they might other wise have had to provide for their families so that they could compete against big welfare. We are seeing the effects of double income couples dropping their child at the government school to be indoctrinated, instead of mom staying home to homeschool. Because of double incomes, employers don’t even know what to pay as a living wage. Feminism has ravaged marriage and has little to say for it. Speaking as a woman I get that women can be anything they want to be but I don’t have to think it’s good or been good for society.

  2. I remember reading Browder through the years always trying to understand the abortion link in feminism. And slowly, very slow at times, started to see a shift.

    I only hope – and pray – that Browder’s faith is strong.

  3. Attempts to reclaim first- and second-wave feminism as “Catholic feminism” will fail as a tool of evangelization, even if proponents can claim the support of bishops and even of the pope.

  4. We learn from Browder, first, that the Cosmo bios on have-it-all feminism were a string of fictions stories, and then second, that any more authentic feminism (the personhood of women) was hijacked by the sexual revolution.

    How to turn this around? Considering, now, that the deception has jumped the fire lane from self-destructive promiscuity into the BIG LIE triad of: (1) social evolutionism (the inevitable “right side of history!”); (2) in addition to the motel-room “pill,” now an entire world driven by morally-ambivalent Technocracy; and finally (3) the wraparound cosmology of a spiritually deflated entire universe…

    In the first instance, DARWIN himself bemoaned his own suffocating narrowness, that his “mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.”

    In the second instance, OPPENHEIMER, at Alamogordo in 1945 and inventor of the atomic bomb, famously blurted, “Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds”—while the physicist in charge of the nuclear bomb test site, responded: “Well, Oppie, now we’re all sons of bitches!”

    In the third instance, DAWKINS (The God Delusion, etc.) fully seduces a non-believing generation with the fiction that all beliefs are random accidents that spread from one non-person to another like any other mere “virus” (spiritual COVID-19!).

    But then this: Georges BERNANOS offers a possible one-word preamble to Browder’s valuable book:

    “Purity [!] is not imposed upon us as though it were a kind of punishment, it is one of those mysterious but obvious conditions of that supernatural knowledge of ourselves in the Divine, which we speak of as faith. Impurity does not destroy this knowledge, it slays our need for it. I no longer believe, because I have not wished to believe. You no longer wish to know yourself” (Diary of a Country Priest, 1937).

    • In the third instance, DAWKINS The God Delusion fully seduces a non-believing generation with the fiction that all beliefs are random accidents that spread from one non-person to another like any other mere “virus” spiritual COVID-19! (Beaulieu). Princeton ethicist Martha Nussbaum mimicked now channels since his departure from the physical universe Dawson in her book Therapy of Desire. She quotes Epicurus who called religion ‘belief disease’. That St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa is such a widely disseminated belief disease. She contends Aristotle never posited moral absolutes. It’s clear in his Ethics he certainly does. That there is no virtuous mean between excess and defect in inherently evil acts (Sent Ethic 1107a22-27). How the self assured are blinded by their implacable denials.

  5. I have not read the book and should reserve judgement, but I offer my prayers to Sue Ellen Browder and hope that she continues to use God’s gift to her and that her writing may be for the Greater Glory of God and the spread of truth.

  6. I read Subverted, and will read this one.

    “forced newspapers to stop running “Help Wanted (Male)” and “Help Wanted (Female)” classified ads”

    I don’t see that as anything of which to be proud.

    • Leslie,
      Goodness, I hadn’t thought of those help “wanted” ads by male/female category in years. I suppose these days it wouldn’t signify because anyone can claim to be either sex when they show up for a job interview. I noticed it doesn’t work that way applying for insurance though. You still have to check off one or the other. At least for now…

  7. I was well aware of Cosmo and their writings at that time as a number of my more rakish male friends were vigorously helping these young ladies with finding their way to more fulfilling sex lives. Of course, when problems arose, it was up to these newly liberated women to find their own way out of unsatisfactory situations. Of the few that I knew later in life from class reunions etc, almost none could be said to have had satisfactory personal lives despite much material success and achievement.

  8. “In the days of the suffragists, feminism was primarily a Christian movement.” Really? Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that the biggest enemies of woman’s advancement were the Church, the Bible, canon law and the priesthood. Susan B. Anthony did not exactly have a Christian view of marriage. These are the women claimed as foremothers by today’s pro life feminists. They are direct ancestors of “radical” (mainstream) feminists.

  9. Children and families….our culture…destroyed by the culture of Cosmopolitan “feminism.”
    Mom and dad both out of the house working, while social media and leftist public school curriculums villainize all the good (though not perfect) about our great culture.
    God forgive our passive acceptance of this nightmare.
    ,

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