Authentically Feminine

women

I saw a picture recently on Facebook that included this quote: “When a culture of ladies arises, a culture of gentlemen will follow.” – Jason Evert.  While I do believe there is so much truth in this comment, I can’t help but be saddened by it as well. As a mom of three boys, I can’t help but ponder how my boys will fare as men in this culture that does not encourage them to be gentlemen. Could we reverse Jason Evert’s quote? “When a culture of gentlemen arises, a culture of ladies will follow.” Or is chivalry dead because feminists killed it?

It has been disheartening, to say the least, that I have had to talk to my older boys, ages 16 and 12 years old, about a certain movie being released on February 14th. The preview for “Fifty Shades of Grey” was shown at the theatre when they went to see “The Hobbit” a few months ago. As their young minds are still being formed, and they are still coming to understand what it means to have dignity, be treated with dignity and to treat others, especially women, with dignity. The hype around this book and film, sends a message that is contrary to what I am teaching my boys, contrary to the men I hope they will one day become.

My hope then is that if they at least understand what authentic feminism is, their behavior and demeanor around women will inspire lady-like behavior from the women God places in their path. What is authentic feminism?

Pope Saint John Paul II said it best in his letter to women, Mulieris Dignitatem and the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi put it together beautifully in a song titled, “Reasons to Live.”

In order to appreciate authentic feminism we have to appreciate the author of authentic feminism. God, Our Creator, designed man and woman. He created us in his image and likeness. This fact alone, gives each human person a dignity that surpasses all other creatures He ever created. God gave man and woman rational thought and free will. He created us equal, but different. Those difference were not meant to make one superior to the other, they were meant to complement each other, to complete the other.

Being created in His image and likeness also means that we were created to love, to serve, to know Him and make Him known. While we know God as Father, through scripture, and the action of having His son born of a woman, we also know God possesses both male and female characteristics. God can create life on His own, yet when He created human beings in his image, he intentionally creates them so that one needs the other in order to procreate. Man is not complete without woman and vice versa.

Through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, we are left with a distorted reality. We live in a fallen world, and so human dignity, rational thought and free will have been twisted. Throughout history we see how this has affected the way human beings treated each other, and how the dignity of women was not upheld or respected.

There are some benefits to the Feminist Movement that include, the right to vote, the right to choose to work in or outside of the home, the right to equal pay for equal work, employers including family leave and flexible hours to be conducive of working mothers, the right for women to actively stand up for the oppressed or marginalized in society. Since the face of poverty and abuse victims are still predominantly women and their children, being active in defending the rights of women against physical and financial abuse is an important and necessary cause.  In this way we see that Catholic social-doctrine and the Feminist movement share many similarities.

However, authentic feminism is opposed to some of the views of secular feminism, especially when it comes to sexuality, reproductive rights and roles within family and society. Here we see how the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction.

The false notion that artificial contraceptives have given women sexual liberation is one of the most mind boggling notions of the feminist belief. A woman’s body is designed to go through a natural cycle in preparation for reproduction. Instead of recognizing the beauty of this cycle and empowering women to learn about their bodies, society encourages women to suppress their God given gift to reproduce despite the fact that she will face many dangerous and unnecessary consequences. Consequences such as cancer, strokes, heart attacks, fertility issues and in some cases death. Listening to Janet Smith’s talk on “Contraception, Why Not?” I learned that the pill was originally created by a man. Why? So he could use woman as an object for pleasure without having to deal with the responsibilities of becoming a father. That doesn’t sound like it’s in line with protecting the rights of women.

If we take a closer look at abortion. Feminists use statements like, “My body, my choice.” Truly this sounds noble enough. However, abortion damages the woman’s body, along with her emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Abortion kills female babies in the womb and at times, kills the woman as well.  If we truly care about female rights, we would fight to end abortion in order to protect women. Former secular feminist and Director of Planned Parenthood shares her experience with this first hand. I implore you to get to know Abby Johnson.

A woman who embraces her authentic feminism embraces her role in the family and in society. Her role to bring her feminine genius to the workplace, to politics, the courtroom, and to her home.  She lives at the service of others, bringing her ingenuity, compassion and nurturing spirit to everyone she meets. She may do this on a large scale by initiating change to improve benefits for the impoverished in her community, she might work to educate those who may not otherwise receive an education. She may choose to use her feminine genius to build up her husband and educate her children at home.

Living at the service of others, does not mean she degrades her own dignity to help someone else. An authentic feminist knows her boundaries and holds true to her convictions. While she recognizes the needs of others, she would not go against her conscience or undermine herself in the name of serving others. This would be contrary to what God designed her to do. Only by treating others with dignity can we transform society, one heart at a time. A woman who embraces her authentic feminism will serve others by building up their dignity and not by engaging in behaviors that are physically damaging, illicit or immoral.

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Les Miserables – A Story of Hope

Barricade of Freedom

Barricade of Freedom

Having been introduced to the world of musicals in my teens through “Les Miserables” I have a special affinity for this musical. I watched the musical about three times live on stage, and read the book by Victor Hugo. Each time there was a different part that struck a chord with me. I assume it depended on where I was in my life at the time.

The first time I saw the musical, I don’t know if I caught the story line because I was young and overwhelmed by the ‘live’ visual effects I was witnessing for the first time on stage. I recall being most captured by the music. Other times, I recall being especially taken by the love triangle.

When I read the book, I was especially touched by the kindness of the bishop and the struggle Val Jean faces while raising Cosette and fleeing from Javert.

With the exception of what I believe were unnecessary scenes, I thoroughly enjoyed this latest version of “Les Miserables” in theatres. I was only disappointed with the graphic content used in the ‘Master of the House’ scene. And while the actors did a great job portraying their characters, I seemed to have the most difficulty with Russel Crowe’s role as Javert.

This time around I was most captured by the underlying story of hope in “Les Miserables”. Based on how many characters lose their lives, and the great loss experienced at the barricade this story is seemingly a tragedy. However, it culminates in the final scene. In this scene there is a sense of hope, when the song “of angry men” becomes a song from ‘beyond the barricade’, while those who have passed away are singing from eternity. This is a call to all us who battle daily against the evils and injustice in this life. We should not be discouraged when we don’t see the fruits of our efforts. Like the characters in this story, it is not whether they succeeded that was important so much as the fact that they tried.

Surely we don’t want to be like the servant in the parable of the talents (Mathew 25:14-30) who didn’t do anything with his talents and was judged harshly for it. Moreover, if we take the attitude that there is nothing we can do to change the culture in which we live then we are not a people of hope. As people of hope we accept that there will always be work to do, but we set out to affect change regardless of success. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful.”

In the story of “Les Miserables” those who took to the barricade to fight against the corrupt government were the youth. This resounded so clear to me. As a story of hope, we would have to see the youth taking on the role to affect change. Youth generally have a rebellious nature, when that rebellious nature is rooted in just causes we see major change and brave sacrifice. As adults we place the hope of a better future in our youth. Indeed, in scripture, we find a call for the youth to not be intimidated by those who look down on them for their youth. (Timothy 4:12 ). It also reminded me of the book “Do Hard Things” which is a Christian book based on the above scripture passage. It’s a call to our youth to rebel against low expectations.

Perhaps the most tragic character in the story of “Les Miserables” is Javert. While all the characters struggle, for some all they have is hope of a better future. Whereas, Javert is a man without hope, he cannot fathom anything but the law. He reminded me of two people in scripture. The Pharisees who were so intent on the law, they forgot about cultivating and nurturing a personal relationship with God. So much so, that when God was in front of them, whether Jesus himself or his disciples they could not recognize Him. He also reminds me of Jonah, who was called to go to Nineveh and implore them to change their ways or deal with God’s wrath. Yet, when the people of Nineveh listened to him, he couldn’t fathom God’s mercy and still expected they would face punishment. Javert like these two biblical persons cannot see past the law and just punishment. This in the end is the cause of his demise. Without hope and without God’s mercy, we fail to see Christ in others. We become unable to see that Christ can penetrate even the worst of sinners. We cannot judge hearts, we can judge actions. If we look at Val Jean’s actions it is clear that he is a changed man. Javert sees the world only through the eyes of the law, while he is a God-fearing man, he fails to see a fellow Christian in Val Jean and is overcome with pride.

The creators of the musical show an interesting parallel between Val Jean and Javert when they have them sing the same song at the turning point in their lives. “Val Jean’s Soliloquy” and “Javert’s Suicide” use the same lyrics, yet for Val Jean it is a time to change his life, to live for God and make better choices, for Javert it marks a time of great despair and the end of his earthly life.

While the title seems to imply that this is a miserable story, what lies underneath the surface is truly a story of hope. The barricade symbolizes all the challenges, struggles and obstacles we face in this earthly life. We face those struggles and we fight the good fight, with hope that goes beyond this life, a supernatural hope, a hope of a better life in eternity.

“Why the Hobbit?”

“Why the Hobbit?”

Galadriel and Gandalf

Galadriel and Gandalf

Have you watched the movie yet? Read the book?

Well, I am still in the midst of reading “The Hobbit” but I have seen the movie. I am no expert on “Lord of the Rings” or J.R.R. Tolkien, but all the same I can’t help but be swept away by the story line and the characters of this story.

I was first introduced to “Lord of the Rings” when the first movie of the trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring” was to be released in theatres. My husband who is a huge fan, and had read the books shared his great anticipation in seeing this phenomenal story hit the big screen. At the time, I admit the movie impressed me mainly for how the cinematographer’s captured the beautiful scenery shots, the creative, odd and fun-loving characters, especially in the Shire. Certainly,
the use of a couple of handsome male actors made it easy to watch as well.

Fast forward a few years, once I rediscovered my Catholic faith, I see how rich this story line is with Catholic themes. Perform a quick search on the internet and you will be sure to find many others who have also shared their insights, comparisons and parallels between “Lord of the Rings” and the Catholic faith.

It is not my intention to re-do what others have done. However, I do want to share with you my favourite scene in the movie and my insights.

It is truly remarkable to me that J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson, the director of the movies, have managed to bring this story through mainstream media. The books have crossed generations and yet continue to capture audiences old and new alike. With this new use of media, another generation has the opportunity to enjoy Tolkien’s work through the movies. Certainly, there are others who like myself, have missed the parallels of faith in the story line.

My favourite scene from “The Hobbit” movie is the scene with Gandalf and Galadriel. There are so many layers in this scene. Gandalf reveals to us the reason he has involved the Hobbit in this journey with the Dwarves. Reminding us that evil is conquered through simple acts of love. Gandalf is like a great spiritual leader, who possesses supernatural powers. Yet he shows simplicity and humility when he trusts others even the Hobbit to do what is necessary, to do what is right. He only intercedes when it is absolutely necessary, after the others have tried to combat the evil on their own.

We also see that Gandalf is not alone. In this scene with Galadriel we realize that she also possesses supernatural abilities. In a way very similar to our Blessed Mother she assures Gandalf that she will be there for him when he needs help.

Bilbo, the Hobbit, represents all of us, the lay people who are called to help our spiritual leaders, priests, bishops and the like in their mission. With our simple acts of love and perhaps even with some very heroic acts as well. As we see in the remaining story of “The Hobbit” Bilbo becomes quite the hero in the story. Gandalf has great aspirations for this little Hobbit and the Hobbit does not disappoint. In fact he surprises himself at times.

I have read further into the book, then where this first movie ended. I don’t want to share further insights yet since many of you may not have read the books yet. If you haven’t, I strongly recommend that you do read the book.