Mary’s Example of Femininity

Today’s modern woman is a victim of what we might call the superwomen syndrome.
The feminist mantra of gender equality and freedom from patriarchal oppression has
failed to secure her happiness. Rather, many women face the daily grind of pushing
themselves to excel at juggling a professional career, family life as well as the societal
demands of perfection of body size and beauty. Somewhere along the way we have
been duped into a twisted notion of what it means to be a woman.

The original aim of the feminist movement was to highlight the important and unique contribution women make to the world. The primary focus of the early feminists was
to gain the right to vote. It was not until the nineteen sixties that this original idea of the movement was high jacked by a view that women’s supremacy was a much greater attribute to be realised than equality.

Since this time, the feminist movement has worked hard to deconstruct any traditional ideas of femininity. Those women for example who have opted for marriage over a professional career have been portrayed as backward and even hostile to the cause of women’s liberation.

Feminism has rejected the perception that women are the weaker sex. In this light,
traditional virtues such as patience, self-giving and tenderness are viewed as pathetic
character traits for women to emulate. Thus, in order to advance the feminist agenda
women have masculinised themselves, speaking and behaving like men in an
endeavour to be competitive. The introduction of contraception or the choice not to
have children is another example of the rejection of gender we see so often today.
Others have chosen to use their bodies to manipulate and entice men to achieve their
desired goals.

These changing notions of femininity have had a destructive effect on men. As women have sought to change their image, men have in some way lost a sense of what it means to be a man in the world. Men no longer know how to compliment
womens’ attributes. Gender roles have become so blurred that many people are almost afraid to be true to the dignity of their gender in an effort to be political correct. This is where we might see a scenario of a man choosing not to open the
door for a woman out of fear that the woman will abuse him for performing this courtesy.

Perhaps the antidote for the feminist dilemma is to recapture a true sense of authentic femininity in an attempt to untwist some of these distorted notions and expectations which have been placed on women. This project to develop a new feminism was championed by Saint John Paul II. The new feminism does not endorse a return to the days where women were treated as second rate citizens. It also does not expect that all women must be categorised into a particular idea of womanhood i.e wearing long skirts and having long hair. Rather, the new feminism aims to encapsulate the mystery of woman and her lived experience in the world.

A friend of mine recently used the word elegance to describe authentic femininity. Elegance immediately conjurers images of the external beauty of the feminine form. Beauty itself is in the eye of the beholder, it is a subjective assessment where greater emphasis on particular features such as eye colour or posture may be immediately appealing. Elegance also captures the inner world of the woman in her ability to be both uniquely simple and effective. Femininity is about being graceful and charming, it is about the ability to delight and capture the attention of another. This is never in an attempt to use or manipulate the other person but always with a
desire to uplift and encourage the other.

The greatest example for women of elegance and what it means to be ‘lady like’ can be found in turning to Our Lady herself. In her fiat -“let it be done to me according
to your will”, Mary willingly accepted the task of becoming the Mother of God. In this single moment, Mary further highlights that femininity is not about being passive or subordinate to another. Mary gave her ‘yes’ to God freely. In her consent she is an active participant in the work of salvation. Authentic femininity in this sense encourages women to be courageous and heroic.

Nowhere is this heroism lived more by women than in their vocation to love. Mary highlights that women are called to be a total gift of self to others. Our love is always directed towards another. Even at the beginning of creation we see that woman was created as a helpmate to man (Gen 2:20-22), and later woman together with man was called to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). This call to selfless love, looking first for the needs of others is integral to femininity. Today women can make this contribution in all spheres of life. Obviously, raising and nurturing children is the
most important work for future generations. At the same time, the public sphere needs women’s gifts as well, and our society should recognise and value the place of women to be true to their authentic natures in public life.

Mary’s example highlights further the important way in which women are called to love. A women’s love is receptive. A woman receives the love of another and then gives it back. In this sense, the fullness of the mystery of woman is not complete without another.

Thus, becoming ‘lady like’ requires us to have a relationship with Mary. In reflecting on her grace-filled elegance we can more deeply develop the virtues and attributes of femininity. A femininity that is not degrading or subversive but that is attractive, strong and proud of the important contributions women make to the world.

~ By Anne Maree Quinn