Hundreds of thousands of people flooded Washington for the Jan. 21 Women’s March to stand up for the equality of women and other marginalized groups. Planned Parenthood sponsored the march, and the event organizers would not allow any pro-life women’s groups to co-sponsor, which left many pro-life feminists feeling confused and excluded.

“Rather than embracing the differences between men and women, the feminist narrative said that the fact that women get pregnant is unfair or unequal – and only abortion could make it right,” said Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, during her speech at the Adult and Family Rally for Life at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on Jan. 27.

Offering a different vision, Hasson described a pro-woman culture as one that “values who she is as a woman, makes room for her gifts and talents, and never insists that the only way to be equal is to do violence to self and the unborn.”

Mary Forr, the director of the Department of Life Issues for the Archdiocese of Washington, joined the crowds of the Women’s March on Jan. 21, holding a sign that read, “Abortion stops one heart and breaks another.” As she stood with her sign, Forr said she had many people with ‘Love Trumps Hate’ signs yell expletives at her, and saw several women look at her sign and then look away as they began to tear up.

“You could see pain on their face,” Forr said.

According to Hasson – who recently edited a book titled Promise and Challenge that includes several Catholic women reflecting on feminism, complementarity and the Church – there are two problems with the direction that the feminist movement has taken. The first, she said, is that in the process of saying that women should be equal to men, the feminist movement began to say, “Women should be the same as men,” and denied the value of sexual difference.

She believes this has done women a disservice, because scientifically, things like sex are not the same for women as they are for men. Women are the ones who get pregnant, are more vulnerable to STDs, and release more chemicals in their body that bond them to their sexual partner.

“Women have been hurt disproportionately by this attempt to live our sexuality mimicking the worst of male sexuality,” Hasson said.

The right to abortion is built upon several ingredients that are thought to be needed to ensure women’s equality, such as the ability to have sex and not worry about babies and the ability to work the same hours as men, Hasson said, which “got the whole issue of women in the workplace off on the wrong foot.”

Instead, Hasson said women should insist that if the workplace really values them, they do not force them to become more like men, but rather figure out how to accommodate women in the workplace.

“Women and men need to ensure that society makes room for women – as women – recognizing that women will give birth, nurse, and care for children – and yet women’s contributions are important,” Hasson said during her speech at the Jan. 27 pro-life rally at the cathedral. “If we really, truly value the difference between men and women, and value what women bring, then we need to make room for us women on our own terms, with greater flexibility, part-time work, relying on creativity, innovation, caring, and support to make it possible for women carry children ­– even unplanned children – and still be full participants in society.”

Instead, society has tabled that conversation for years, and women have simply decided to change to fit into the mold of working like men, Hasson said. When talking to young women, Hasson said she often hears the complaints that there are a lot of things that women are not told about their fertility, such as how doing shift work or work requiring heavy lifting can affect fertility, or how waiting until 35 to have kids may not work.

“We are letting the male standard be how we judge ourselves, instead of saying we are good as God made us,” she said.

In June 2016, young women leaders from around the country gathered at The Catholic University of America for the “GIVEN” conference, which is named after the need for women to recognize the gifts they have been given and to give their talents back to the world.

During the conference, Helen Alvaré, a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, and a consultor for the Pontifical Council of the Laity, addressed the issue of equality amidst sexual difference in a talk about the notion of “two-ness.”

“God creating two sexes creates the ability for diversity to exist alongside equality,” Alvaré said. But in current times, Alvaré noted, there is a growing rejection of this difference.

Since the Catholic Church teaches that God created both man and woman in His image, by denying womanhood, “we lose this crucial angle of recognizing God,” Alvaré added.

The Church very much agrees with the feminist movement in its conviction that it is wrong for women to be told they cannot use their gifts and talents, Hasson said.

Pope St. John Paul II said women are called to use their tendency toward persons to help humanize and change the culture, but if women do not embrace who they are, they cannot begin to fulfill that mission, Hasson noted.

“We need to bring our gifts as women” to society, Hasson said. “Not getting on the male conveyor belt and trying to wear a shoe that doesn’t fit.”

The second mistake that the feminist movement made, Hasson said, is embracing the idea that our freedom means that we are independent of others.

“Our faith, but also our bodies and our history, the history of civilization, shows us we are made for relationship, we are made for community, we are made to be in close intimate relationships with others,” she said.

This idea that women need to be alone and independent both causes them to miss out on the relational aspect of our humanity – the give and take of love – but is also unrealistic, Hasson said, because we all go through times when we are more dependent upon others. While the current feminist movement says, “the highest fulfillment is being independent,” in reality, “the highest fulfillment is being in a relationship and loving,” she added.

When asked what her picture of a successful woman is, Hasson said, “The only place you are irreplaceable is in your relationships,” so, “a successful woman is one who is making time for those most important relationships,” such as with God and her family. Furthermore, a successful woman is “looking for God’s will in everything,” she added.

Hasson noted studies that have been done to say that women sacrifice more to take care of family – through things like job promotions or travel opportunities – which is often taken to be a sign of their inequality. But when asked in a Pew Research study if they regret taking time off to care for family, 94 percent of them said they do not.

“They make those scarifies because there is something more important to them, which is the relationships and doing right by those relationships,” Hasson said.

The main thing that women can do to shift the conversation about feminism is “really embracing who we are in terms of knowing ourselves and appreciating the body that we have,” Hasson said.

“We can get pregnant, our emotions go up and down, our sexual desire looks different than that of men; those are not problems. Those are how we were made,” she explained. “…Embrace those differences. Don’t let the culture or the medical community tell us those are ways of being broken. Our fertility is a feature, not a bug. It is not a design defect. It is how we are made. Our happiness lies in embracing that and living in a way that takes that into account.”