“Reactionary feminist” pens broadside against “meat lego gnosticism”

Mary Harrington’s Feminism Against Progress provides a tour and critique of the wasteland of the sexual revolution that, while not fully formed, is invaluable in its honesty and call to resist the growing insanity.

(Image: Aurélien Aries/Unsplash.com)

Mary Harrington’s new book Feminism Against Progress makes the bold assertion that women are women. Human embodiment matters because we are our bodies, rather than being some sort of disembodied minds that just happen to be piloting meat suits. Consequently, a feminism focused on effacing the differences between men and women does not serve women’s interests.

Harrington writes from experience. After an extended adolescence exploring and experimenting with sexual liberation and queer theory, she lost her faith in progress and discovered the value of marriage and motherhood. She explains that she had

taken for granted the notion that men and women are substantially the same apart from our dangly bits, and ‘progress’ meant broadly the same thing for both sexes: the equal right to self-realization, shorn of culturally imposed obligations, expectation, stereotypes or constraints. The experience of being pregnant, and then a new mother, blew this out of the water.

A unisex world of atomized individuals freed from the limitations and obligations of tradition, faith, family, and even embodiment is not good for women. Harrington traces the sources of this ideology through material and intellectual developments, emphasizing the importance of technological change in driving social change. She begins with the Industrial Revolution, which increased economic asymmetry between the sexes by moving production out of the home. Consequently, households became consumers of wages earned elsewhere, and labor became defined by wage-earning.

This shift away from a home-based economic interdependence provoked an emphasis on companionate marriage and the “cult of domesticity.” This was an attempt to protect women’s interests and to assert the continued interdependence of the sexes even as men became the sole breadwinners. The home was held up as a refuge amidst the competitive instability of the market—a haven in a heartless world. Given the reproductive asymmetry between men and women, in which the latter bear far more of the risks and burdens, this division between breadwinners and homemakers was defensible as the genuine pro-women view against more liberationist strains of feminism that sought to have women compete with men in an androgynous world of autonomous individualism.

The duel between these two forms of feminism was ended by the Pill. Contraception (backed by abortion) seemed to liberate women from the perceived handicap of their natural fertility. Control over fertility meant that sex would no longer render women at least potentially dependent upon men for support. They could pursue education, careers, prestige and sexual pleasure with all the freedom and independence of men in the modern liberal world.

But it was not so simple. Nature persists, and contraception and abortion did not eliminate all of the sexual asymmetry between men and women. As Harrington puts it: “A few short decades of sexuality unmoored from reproduction via technology are no match, it seems, for millennia of evolution.” Sexual liberation has established a ruthless relational and sexual market that creates a lot of losers and inflicts a lot of pain. Far from establishing solidarity, the sexual marketplace exacerbates the war between the sexes. Instead of encouraging stable interdependence, it pushes men and women to exploit each other in highly sexed ways.

The result is increased alienation, loneliness, and—despite the promises of the sexual revolution—sex that is less frequent and less satisfying. Harrington concludes that for “men and women alike, then, the sexual revolution has not delivered in practice. Rather than grant all a marvelous new world of polymorphous sexual freedom” it has delivered “mutually antagonistic caricatures of those features of male and female sexual differences which persist despite our best efforts.” The result is a world of dating apps and camgirls, incels and OnlyFans. And in this world relationships and commitment are declining, and fertility is falling.

This is to be expected. Motherhood, more than any other relation, is in the way of the individualistic liberation modern feminism seeks. Thus, “the pursuit of progress demands the displacement of women from our own bodies.” The progressive hope for transformation/liberation finds its culmination in what Harrington memorably labels “Meat Lego Gnosticism.” This is a mystical understanding in which the true self is ethereal, with a right to remake its own body to better match its incorporeal sense of identity. “In this vision, our bodies cease to be interdependent, sexed and sentient, and are instead re-imagined as a kind of Meat Lego, built of parts that can be reassembled at will.” And so surgeons amputate the breasts of adolescent girls unhappy with their developing bodies.

This malevolent metaphysical vision is increasingly embedded in our culture and even law, with educated women—”the priestesses of cyborg theocracy”—its primary enforcers and champions. They are committed to the effacement of sex, and therefore they assist the tech-fueled abolition of women as embodied. And so female fertility is chemically suppressed, and women themselves are displaced by men wielding surgery and stereotypes to claim their place. The insanity of putting male murderers and pedophiles in women’s prisons is what happens when people get in too deep—which is to say, are too proud to repent.

Harrington concludes that if this is progress, then we need a reactionary feminism that defends the interests of actual women, rather than an abstract “women’s rights” championed by those who cannot even say what a woman is. She proposes three forms of resistance. The first is to revive marriage, albeit not in the current model of self-expression or even as the cult of domesticity. Rather, Harrington wants a “way of viewing lifelong solidarity between the sexes that owes more to the 1450s than the 1950s.”

Bringing production back into the home is a worthy goal, but Harrington seems to still be feeling her way toward a fuller understanding of marriage even as she advocates for it. The same is noticeable in her other suggestions, which are laudable but established on unstable ground. She argues that we need to allow men single-sex spaces and institutions that allow them to develop as men. And she wants to “rewild sex” by rejecting the view that “women as sterile by default, with fertility as an optional extra.” But as rebellious as her advice to readers is—“Don’t take the Pill. Don’t encourage your friends to take the Pill”—it seems to be more of a visceral reaction than part of a coherent view of what sex should be. And Harrington gives credence to this interpretation, writing that “I doubt I’m the only one trying to reverse-engineer a workable mode of life in common, from what feels like a heap of rubble.”

She is right that she isn’t the only one trying to rebuild. But more has been conserved that she realizes, and the place where she will find more than rubble is the Church. To be sure, this book was deliberately written to appeal to those who are wary of Christian arguments. Nonetheless, in confronting the wreckage of the sexual revolution, it will eventually be necessary to look to the foundation that Christianity offers, and the living traditions that Christians have kept.

The reluctance to engage with Christianity produces a notable shying-away from a more complete account of what sex is for and how it should be bounded within our male and female embodiment. As Alexandra DeSanctis argues, Harrington is not yet radical enough. This contributes to other omissions in this generally excellent volume. For instance, Harrington does not reckon with the contributions of the LGBT movement to cyborg theology and meat lego gnosticism. Though the rainbow flag was not the source of this ideology, it was an accelerant, especially in the West.

In fairness, Harrington is trying to reach readers who would never, unfortunately, consider reading a book critical of the sexual revolution written by a Catholic such as Mary Eberstadt. And there is much to cheer in Harrington’s excellent work, which is an essential contribution to the growing body of feminist critiques of the sexual revolution. In making her case Harrington proves herself to be both intellectually adroit and able to turn a phrase. Her writing blends anecdotes with historical and intellectual insights, all presented with the clear concision that bespeaks the hidden labor of the author.

Harrington’s focus on the material conditions that enabled the sexual revolution is salutary for the many socially conservative Christians who tend to be neglectful, or even suspicious, of such accounts. It is essential that we take material conditions seriously in order to shape culture and policy in ways friendly to marriage and family—for instance, by pushing back against the trend of delaying marriage. Likewise, her refusal to idealize the model family as depicted by 1950s magazine illustrations is a reminder that many traditionalists are not nearly traditional enough.

Feminism Against Progress provides a tour of the wasteland of the sexual revolution. The challenge this insightful book poses to Christians is to exemplify, in deed as well as word, the truth of how men and women are meant to live together to love and serve God and each other.

Feminism Against Progress
By Mary Harrington
Regnery Publishing, 2023
Hardcover, 256 pages

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About Nathanael Blake 19 Articles
Nathanael Blake, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has focused on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre and Russell Kirk. He is currently working on a study of J.R.R. Tolkien’s anti-rationalism. He writes from Virginia.


  1. No Catholic ought ever use the word “marriage” – ever! The word has been perverted, taken over by the demonic with the end of creating confusion and has lost all meaning. Never again use the word.

    Instead, when referring to the only true lifelong union between one biological male and one biological female that is exclusive of all others and whose purpose is for their good – the salvation of their souls and the procreation of children use the word “Holy Matrimony.” “Holy” because it was ordained by God and is in pursuit of God’s plan. All other iterations pursue the plan of Satan.

    • No, that is a terrible idea. We should use words with their right meanings, and only with their right meanings. If we allow our demonic society to push us off the word “marriage”, what other words will follow? Baptism? Eucharist? The holy name of Jesus itself?

      Besides that, it is simply untrue that only sacramental marriage is valid marriage. The marriage of a male Jew and a female Jew, for example, is (in the absence of other, disqualifying circumstances) a valid marriage, but it is not a Christian sacrament. We need to keep words that can express that truth.

  2. Great to read of this strong and bold defence of true humane values – meat lego gnosticism indeed! That’s fighting talk in that desperately needs speaking. Mary H puts to shame the cautiously vague witterings of so many of our bishops.

  3. Embodiment matters because we are our bodies (Ms Harrington). Saint Thomas Aquinas’ thought pronounced with perfect insistence by a feminist.
    We cannot displace soul from body in Man [male and female] because the two are ordained by God as inseparable. Which is why we hold as Dogma the resurrection of the body in the Credo. Our thoughts, personality traits, femininity, masculinity are inherently related to the specificity of our body. After death we retain masculinity and femininity. Voices distinguishable be sex, behavioral traits distinguishable by sex remain.
    Yes, as essayist Blake laments it’s a pity authors like Eberstadt are ignored because they’re Catholic. But prejudiced ignorance, always a barrier to a society ordered by truth, deserves consideration of means besides intelligent response for conversion to the truth. Kindness, prayer and sacrifice.
    We’ve reached a state of complicity with LGBT simply in an exaggerated effort to be ‘kind’, warm and embracing. All that this has achieved is accommodation, increased stridency by LGBT[unlimited]. Christianity specifically Catholicism, requires a realistic, clearer rejection of a contagious spiritual leprosy by a form of quarantine that limits propaganda, efforts to impose itself into our lives especially with indoctrination of children, banners in churches, Catholic institutions.

    • Our bodies are us, but we are not just our bodies. “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

      Maybe that’s nitpicking, but we have to be careful with our words. We are not mere materialists.

  4. Additionally, my proposal for ‘quarantine’ or ‘kindness’ [superficial convention] doesn’t preclude our offer of Christlike love for the homosexual person.

    • Father Morello. I remember Pope Francis made a bold statement regarding Gays. “An effort to be ‘kind’, warm and embracing”.

        • The trouble is that we can’t call a sin for what it is anymore. Instead, it’s more likely that the sinner will lecture us as bigots, hate mongers, fascists, etc., etc., etc.

  5. “They could pursue education, careers, prestige and sexual pleasure with all the freedom and independence of men in the modern liberal world.” Feminists fail/choose not to see that contraception and abortion reinforce the very roots of the sexism/chauvinism that allegedly oppress. Enter Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bills Clinton and Cosby et al.

    A fourth form of resistance for Ms. Harrington, is for women to learn how their fertility works – not as mere biology, but as an interpersonal capacity to invoke life “in the intimate partnership for the whole of life (Gaudium et spes #48 ff).” Various natural fertility management organizations, such as Dr. Tom Hilger’s NaPro technology, the Couple to Couple League, and Billings/Ovulation Method providers, provide reliable instruction and support. But Medical Missionary Sister Dr. Hanna Klaus, F.A.C.O.G. in her Teen S.T.A.R. International curriculum, helps young women and men integrate fertility awareness into their growth into young adulthood. Young women learn, as Ms Harrington and millions of others did not, how to understand and embrace their God-created, unique fertility, and require that young men, and eventually husbands do the same instead of neutralizing it in contraception. This better prepares them for the total self-gift of Holy Matrimony.

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