Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Feminism and Women’s Benefactress

Modern day feminism is not so much a war against men as it is against motherhood. After all, motherhood prevents women from being identical to men. Feminism, in a nutshell, is an attempt to take back from men what is believed to be rightfully women’s; namely, the liberty to be childless. But in the pursuit to make women identical to men, feminism paved the way for the acceptance of same-sex marriage and other social ills. Indeed, marriage is not the only thing this movement has undermined. Studies have shown that women are less happy and less satisfied with their lives than just a few decades ago.

Far from improving the condition of women, what radical feminism has accomplished bears much similarity to the legacy of ancient paganism. For those who are influenced by this ideology, it has proved to be a movement backward. “In Ancient Greece,” Cardinal James Gibbons wrote, “women were in an unending tutelage, slavery, instrument of man’s passion.” (Our Christian Heritage, 1889) Not just in Greece, but it was a universal phenomenon that women suffered as second class citizens in the unbaptized world.

Who, then, was the greatest benefactor of women rights? This same Cardinal gives the answer: “Every impartial student of history is forced to admit that women are indebted to the Catholic religion for the elevated station she enjoys today in family and social life.” There is a reason for this! Feminism begins with the political and benefits only those women who are affiliated with its cause. Catholicism, on the other hand, begins with the theological, that is, the human reality of sin and God’s intervention.

Throughout the centuries, the Church’s mission to save souls has had universal appeal. And because her mission transcended politics, ethnicity and even gender, all women under the Church’s influence- without discrimination -enjoyed an elevated station in family and social life. St. Paul gave voice to her equal dignity when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

Historically, the problems afflicting women- at their core -were not political. For this reason, feminism has been and will always be powerless to remedy what has proved to be the plight of the female sex. Rather, the main driving force behind the elevated status of women under Christianity was theological or spiritual in nature. In fact, the discrimination against women began with Eve; but the solution was provided through Mary.

When Eve accepted the forbidden fruit from the serpent only to give it to Adam, she became, in a unique way, a mediator of spiritual and moral evil between the Satan (i.e. serpent) and humanity; not only for humanity in general, but for her female descendants in particular.

God’s punishment, in response to her sin, was that she and every mother would suffer from labor pains during child birth. But what proved to be more repressive was that the Lord said that her husband would “be her master.” Due to her sin, women would be, in a sense, under man’s shadow and under his rule. It is also curious that Adam renamed his wife from “Woman,” signifying her individuality as a coequal helper, to “Eve,” meaning “mother of the living.”

Now, this change of status from the Woman to Eve was not a promotion; it was a demotion. Although motherhood is one of the most honorable vocations a woman can have, to be defined as such or to have her identity based on what she does instead of who she is a liability. For instance, when the great female heroines of the bible could not conceive such as Sarah, Rachael, Hannah and Elizabeth, wife of Zachariah, they had to endure social disgrace. Indeed, St. Elizabeth, after having conceived St. John, said, "So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others."

When the worth of a woman is tied to her ability to procreate, this is a burden that weighs heavy on her. This burden, furthermore, was symbolized when God decreed for Moses that when a female infant was born, the mother had to be declared unclean and then be purified twice as long as when a male infant was born (Leviticus 12:1-5). No doubt, God loved female infants every bit as much as He did male infants. But the expression of this Mosaic rite- as it pertained to female infants -foretold the heavy yoke which awaited women.

The truth is that before Christ, the world was unfriendly to women. And sadly, the more the modern world moves away from the Light of the Gospel, the more women will be oppressed by men’s vices, be it lust or the will to dominate.

Before the time of Christ, therefore, every single female who would be born of a woman suffered under Eve’s shadow…that is, except one.

In the genealogy of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, only five women are mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheeba and Mary. The first four had some mark of imperfection: The first two were harlots, the third was a Gentile and the fourth was an adulterer. But the fifth woman, Mary, had no mark of imperfection. Mary was called to be what Eve was supposed to be: the perfect woman in God. Perhaps, this is why Mary was referred to as “the Woman” in the New Testament; a name originally belonging to Eve.

Mary was the first person and the first woman to be conceived outside of Satan’s dominion and outside of Eve’s shadow. Her conception and birth marked a new beginning. This is why several Saints refer to her as the Morning Star- that bright light in the night sky before the rise of the Son.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Elizabeth declared her to be “blessed among all women.” It would have been equally true to say that Mary was blessed among men and women. But the emphasis was put on being blessed “among women” for a reason. As St. Ireneaus, an early Father of the Church, would say: "[T]he knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith." For that reason, Mary was blessed among women, including Eve.

Not only was it declared that Mary was blessed, but the “fruit of her womb” was blessed as well. Of course, the word “fruit” hearkens back to the forbidden fruit Eve received from the serpent, which she then gave to Adam. But with Mary, the "fruit” is Jesus Christ himself. And unlike the forbidden fruit, the Father willed that His Son- in the form of the Eucharist -should be consumed by all the baptized. As such, women, in communion with our Lord’s body, blood, soul and divinity, would be invested with a new dignity.

Truly, then, it can be said that through the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ would dignify and honor the female sex in ways unknown to the pagan world. Women would no longer be second to men in status or even defined in terms of their ability to procreate. Rather, with divine grace that comes through Mary, a woman- married or unmarried, a virgin or a mother –would be valued for who she is as a daughter of the Most High. This is why Mary’s birthday on September 8 is a special day for the world.

In sum: Ancient civilization, even Judaism, valued a woman in terms of her ability to procreate. Modern day feminism, on the other hand, defines her worth in proportion to her ability to be childless. But it is only Catholicism that esteems the female sex unconditionally- for who she is!
What other religion, institution or political movement celebrates the memory of several women throughout the year, every year, like the Catholic Church does with her feast days? I cannot recall a single one.

It is there, in the bosom of the Church with Mary as the benefactress, where all people- men, women and children –become who they really are in Christ.