Snowy South Bend played host to a heated debate this winter over whether the University of Notre Dame should allow The Vagina Monologues to take place on campus. Three Notre Dame students sparked new life into this debate when they initiated an entirely different forum for discussion about violence against women – a discussion more consistent with the mission of Our Lady’s University. This event was a two-day, studentled conference entitled “The Edith Stein Project: Redefining Feminism.” Three undergraduate students initiated the project, inspired by the writings on women of both Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and Pope John Paul II. These three students felt strongly that Notre Dame needed to have a constructive forum for dialogue and education about the dignity of women and the problems women face in our culture, a forum that incorporated the rich teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity of the human person. With the help of the Center and other campus groups, their desire became a reality.
The first half of the conference sought to take an honest, holistic look at how women are perceived and treated within our culture. Speakers addressed issues ranging from rape, pornography, and eating disorders to abortion, contraception, and current gynecology. The talks explained the physical, emotional and spiritual damage women experience as a result of these practices. Furthermore, they challenged the audience members to reevaluate the culture’s misconceived notion of the nature and dignity of the human person, particularly the female person, which lies at the root of these problems.
The second half of the conference sought to move beyond criticism to a better vision for women in our society. Speakers—including Center senior research fellow Alasdair MacIntyre, Laura Garcia of Boston College, Deirdre McQuade of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Josef Seifert of the International Academy of Philosophy—sought to articulate a solid, philosophical foundation for the “new feminism” called for by John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem. This new feminism is one that acknowledges and upholds the reality that men and women are endowed with equal dignity, being made equally in the image and likeness of God, but are also endowed with unique natures and distinct gifts to offer society.
Over three hundred people attended the conference, including students from Notre Dame, the University of Dayton, Taylor University, and Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as members of the South Bend community. The event has received attention from The South Bend Tribune, Today’s Catholic, Our Sunday Visitor, The National Catholic Register, the Washington Times, and the National Review.