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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The Female Art of Manipulation

womanA 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?