May 1988

Personalism in Action

In writing the article “Peter Maurin’s Gentle Personalism” (Jan.-Feb.), William D. Miller has taken the study of the Catholic Worker movement out of the hands of social historians and placed it in the realm of intellec­tual history, where it probably should have been all along. In do­ing so, he has transformed the significance of that movement. From Miller’s perspective, the Catholic Worker is not merely one of the many activist groups rooted in the socially fecund 1930s, but an American attempt to realize the practical implica­tions of European personalism. And Peter Maurin is not merely an idealistic dreamer, but a phi­losopher of history.

Despite journals and now whole movements attributed to it, personalism remains an idea whose significance has yet to be grasped by most intellectuals. But this is because it does not fit into the linguistic and research parameters that have been estab­lished for this century.

Perhaps Miller’s idea of studying personalism in action is the best way to present personal­ism to a world of scholarship which is attracted only by that which is tangible. Perhaps when personalism’s impact on history is demonstrated, more scholars will be inclined to study it.

Prof. Francis J. Sicius
Department of History, St. Thomas University
Miami, Florida

'Straw Men'

I found Lucy Mazareski’s review of Why We Lost the ERA (March) confusing. I could not determine throughout most of the review whether your reviewer was referring to the book in question or was using it as a springboard for her personal round of feminist bashing. What­ever the case, there are some statements in the review that are just plain wrong. The reviewer states that “feminist proponents…insisted that the amendment not only could and should, but would result in such major changes as mandatory federal abortion funding, unisex toilets and prison cells, homosexual marriages, and the drafting and mandatory sending of women in­to combat.”

I worked for ratification of the ERA in Indiana during the 1970s, after first studying the legislative history of the proposed amendment. At no time did I ev­er see these assertions presented either in the intent or legislative history of the ERA, or by pro­ponents, but rather by those who opposed the amendment. Being somewhat outspoken, I received anonymous hate mail containing these assertions, printed on pink paper, no less. I saw these asser­tions in printed publications by groups opposed to the ERA, such as Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum; Schlafly was and is a longtime right-wing political ac­tivist. These are the kinds of statements that opponents would set up as “straw men,” and I think the proponents failed by thinking the assertions were so silly that they didn’t need to be taken seriously — until it was too late.

Some of that silliness be­comes evident if one looks at those states which have state ERAs. I don’t know of any state that mandates or even allows uni­sex toilets and prison cells or that recognizes homosexual “marriages” as a legal fact. Does Mazareski? It seems that com­mon sense does prevail, and I would be interested to know if anyone, in any state, has ever ac­tually introduced legislation ad­dressing the issue of public toi­lets as a manifestation of inequal­ity between the sexes.

It is plain wrong to equate feminism with the idea that all women must work, whether they like it or not. Feminists are not nearly so stupid or single-minded as your reviewer would have readers believe. In any event, the assertion that this idea is implic­it in “feminist ideology” high­lights your reviewer’s middle class bias. She fails to mention that it is only middle- and upper-class women who have the option of choosing homemaking as a “preferred vocation”; it is, in fact, my own choice. But poor women have always had to work. Poor mothers without a man to sup­port them must rely on welfare to meet their needs, and are ex­pected to seek work as soon as their children are old enough to go to school. More and more poor women are finding them­selves without a place in which even to make a home, regardless of preference. This whole situa­tion is antithetical to feminism, which is, above all, concerned with more options for women not fewer — and with the exer­cise of preference, not the imposition of mandates.

It is not feminists who would push women into the job market against their will, but ec­onomics — and far too many of those women are shunted into dead-end, low-paid, all-female job categories that aren’t much better than being on welfare. Shouldn’t they have access to something better? It is not fem­inists, but economics that has closed plants and laid off the tra­ditional breadwinner husbands and fathers. Can families exist solely on unemployment checks? It is not feminists, but economics and tax policy that have deter­mined how too many of us will live our lives, regardless of a pref­erence for homemaking or any­thing else.

I am sorry you wasted the space to print a book review that only slogs around in old issues and indulges in some bashing along the way. I must object to the lumping of all feminists into one category on the basis of one book by an admittedly “radical” activist. One obvious outcome of the whole event, whether or not the ERA was ratified, has been the recognition that women, too, are beings capable of thought, decision, and even skepticism about the premises that underlie the way things are and the way we think things ought to be. This can even be perceived in your book review, in spite of its tone of scornful superiority.

Janet E. Rash
Indianapolis, Indiana

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