Generally speaking, I think of myself as a pretty good, practicing Catholic. I also call myself a “New Woman” feminist. Further, I am a woman who possesses what St. JP II called “the feminine genius.” Let’s look at these concepts briefly.
I first encountered New Woman feminism in an independent study course I took my senior year of college, while writing a critical paper on feminist theatre, focusing on a particular female playwright from the beginning of the twentieth century.
At its most basic, a New Woman feminist was a woman or a man who believed that a woman had things to offer society, be it through advocacy for poor women, suffrage, or economic independence. They also believed in a woman’s right to education, and a woman’s contributions to art and the humanities as authors and scientists. Perhaps most staggeringly different from today’s feminists, they also did not look down upon marriage and motherhood. For them, feminism was about women being on equal societal footing with men, while also acknowledging their uniqueness as women. That’s my feminism.
Pope St. John Paul II believed in acknowledging the feminine as well, citing women’s feminine genius:
“…society certainly owes much to the ‘genius of women’. Here I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless.” -Paragraph 9, Letter to Women
Here, the saint of my generation, is calling us to action: be who you’re designed to be; who God is calling you to be: giving of ourselves generously to others. Pretty neat.
Thanks for the exposition, Kristi. What’s your point?
Recently, the Christian blogosphere and Twitterverse has been populated with comments and suggestions that women are somehow emasculating their husbands if they are stay-at-home moms; that women are failing as wives if they don’t do ALL the housework.
I beg your pardon? This is a dangerous and, frankly, asinine narrative to put forth.
Bridgette is a stay-at-home mom, and she’s written about fulfilling her vocation as a homemaker. I sincerely doubt that Captain, her husband, feels less masculine because she stays at home to raise the kids. Rachel, too, is a stay-at-home wife, and The Scientist relies on her to literally run the household. I can vouch here as well that he isn’t complaining about being emasculated. Nor does Superman, who is married to me, a working mom, feel hyper-masculine because I’m NOT a stay-at-home mom.
Despite our working or staying differences, in all three households, we share the chores evenly. In my home, I do dishes and Superman does laundry. The rest of them are divided among us and Little Miss, as appropriate. This doesn’t mean that I’m a failure because I don’t do it all.
What this does mean is that I am a human person, like my husband. We entered into our marriage as partners. In marriage, when I work with my husband toward a goal (dinner, clean home, etc.), he and I are both giving generously of ourselves.
As Christian women, we aren’t meant to be doormats. We aren’t supposed to bow down to the whims of our husbands at our own peril for the sake of obedience. We aren’t responsible for the thoughts of men, either (but…that’s another post). You know what else? We are not meant to be superwomen.
As Christian women, though, we are asked to love our fellow human beings, forgive those who’ve hurt us, ask for forgiveness for those we’ve hurt, and use our God-given gifts to help those around us. We’re called to be helpers and to be Jesus to “the least of these.”
That’s our feminine genius.