A few years ago, while having the privilege of being a member of a FAMILIA group with other women, we were reading and reflecting on Blessed John Paul II’s, Letter to Women and his encyclical on “The Dignity of Women.” During one of the sessions, one of the women realized something.
“It sounds like the Pope is saying that women are manipulative.” She said astonished.
The rest of us chuckled and nodded in agreement. What followed was a discussion of what ‘being manipulative’ meant for us. We concurred that while the word manipulate does have a negative undertone to it, the female art of manipulation is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a good thing, only when the outcome we want is the best possible outcome for all those involved.
To manipulate by dictionary definition means: to manage or influence skillfully. However, there is a negative connotation as the definition goes on to include, “especially in an unfair manner”. It could also be termed feminine wiles. The dictionary definition is similar to manipulation, even with its negative implication.
With my limited knowledge of the women of the Bible I can recall some examples of this feminine art of manipulation. There were women who used manipulation which led to negative outcomes. We can follow from Eve, to Sarah all the way to Herodias. The consequences are grave in these situations. At the hands of the manipulation of women, all of salvation history is affected. One man loses his life. Another man loses his soul as he is manipulated into taking innocent life.
Jesus builds up the dignity of women and their feminine genius to make things happen. The Canaanite woman, who seeks the healing of her daughter, uses her intelligence and ability to skillfully manage the situation and respond with cunning and tact. I am not suggesting that Jesus allowed himself to be manipulated by this woman. On the contrary, I believe Jesus is showing us that women do have an uncanny ability to make things happen and to get what we want. By speaking to the heart of the Samaritan woman at the well, she is able to influence a whole town to conversion.
The lives of female saints show the female ability to influence others and to affect change in the world. Causing conversions to the faith, or having schools and hospitals built to care for the physical and intellectual needs of society. These women were very influential in affecting change for the betterment of society.
In decades past, mother’s taught their daughters how to use this art of manipulation to reduce stress in their husbands. Daughters were taught never to give bad news to their husbands when they first arrived home from work. Wives should first greet him sweetly, ask about his day, listen attentively, offer him a drink and very shortly place an appetizing meal before him. Ensure his physical/ conjugal needs are met and then tell him, “Sorry, honey I crashed the car this afternoon.”
Feminine wiles were used to respect men, to bolster their confidence and affirm them. It was a means to show how wives appreciated their husbands and depended on them. The women were taught that men should never be nagged or feel ridiculed or disrespected. Through charm and manipulation a wife could set things in motion, though her husband would be allowed to think that he was making the big decisions when she was in charge.
Of course, this is all rejected by modern-day women, all this seen as deception and submissive behaviour on the part of the women. If women are in charge of all the major decisions then they should receive the credit for it. Women don’t feel the need to please their husband any more than women need their husbands to protect them.
Sadly, feminine wiles are still used today. They are used to appeal to men’s visual senses and their sexual appetites. This is undignified to reduce a woman to the sum of her body parts. Reducing ourselves to objects for pleasure is not dignified. Instead of being encouraged to use our intelligence and our ability to make others feel appreciated we are fed a lie that we should use our physical appearance to ensnare men. What are the consequences of the misuse of feminine wiles? Infidelity, increased divorce rate, increased depression and suicide, unwanted pregnancy and abortions…just to name a few.
The rules have changed, the roles have changed. Is it for the better though? Do our men feel respected? Are marriages better off now than they used to be? Is it undignified to use our feminine wiles to build others up? Could we not use our ability to manipulate a situation to make sure the poor, the sick and the destitute are taken care of?