What Women Want

‘Buffy,' the pope & the new feminists


In his 1995 Letter to Women, Pope John Paul II calls for a dialogue about the situation and challenges facing women. He addresses himself to all women, not just those who are Catholic, and still less to that subset of Catholic women who agree with his formulation of a “new feminism.” The pope’s feminism celebrates the advances women have made in the economic and political spheres even as it promotes traditional ideas about the nature and vocation of women, which are rooted in his conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the perfect exemplar of the “feminine genius” so desperately needed to humanize the world today. The pope’s tone is not crabby and defensive, but open-minded and appreciative. In fact, the letter begins with a litany of gratitude to and for women who occupy a wide variety of roles in their families, their communities, and the world. Who would be a good dialogue partner, within the context of American culture, for those Catholics who wish to explore the pope’s new feminism? I would like to propose Buffy Summers, the protagonist of the popular television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m not kidding. Buffy, which ended a seven-season run in May, is not mere mind candy. (Four seasons are now available on DVD, and a fifth is due in December.) Philosophers, theologians, literary critics, and scientists write about Buffy (see Maxine Phillips, page 38). Secular feminists and conservative Catholics argue...

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About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.