We have a crisis of womanhood in our culture. Everyone knows it. Few admit it. Generations ago, the secular-humanists designed a brave new woman who is shrill, selfish, arrogant, and bossy (oh no! the ‘b’ word!). With a clarifying view to Scripture, we can see in retrospect that we have all (myself included) become—at least partially—anti-Marys. But some of us at least try earnestly to re-orient ourselves toward the shore when we slip into the mucky waters of the popular culture.
If I sound harsh on my own sex, please understand where I am coming from. I am a mother of four young daughters. Constantly, I’m confronted with the popular culture’s playbook: how best to brainwash my girls into being “strong, independent women.” What’s funny is that the strong, independent exemplars put forth by the popular culture aren’t women I’d want darkening my doorstep, much less engaging my daughters in a five-minute conversation. Bad influence catches quickly.
It’s no easy task to impart to young girls that they should completely ignore the culture around them. And it proves even tougher to make compelling the (perfect) example of an uneducated, teenaged homemaker who graced the planet two thousand years ago.
Our secular-humanist culture has been incredibly effective at “warming up” the female voice to the tuning exercise: “me, me, me, me, me” (pun intended)! The modern woman has bought remorselessly into the two-part lie that: 1) she is sexually free before marriage (if she gets married at all), and that 2) after marriage she should commandeer the role of “paternal” head of the household.
More than anything, I want my daughters to understand the authentic beauty of womanhood both before and after sacramental marriage (despite the baroque secular ugliness around them). For this, I turn to the par excellence of womanhood, our Heavenly Mother, in prayer and as a literal role model.
Like many mothers, the most distressing battle in which I engage the culture is the sexual “freedom” currently oppressing women. Too many women these days are, to use a tired expression, “giving the milk away for free.” Yet, strangely, our culture still scorns men for expecting no-strings-attached sex. If women kept the cookie jar shut, there would be far fewer grabby hands groping for on-demand cookies. (If you give a mouse a cookie…)
Milk and cookies aside, there are actual victims in all of this: the chaste single females looking for an honorable man. There are too few (chaste single females, honorable men, etc.) left. The most devastating sexually transmitted disease turns out to be psychosomatic: a predictable male expectation formulaically altered by the new sexual mores of 1960’s feminism. Moreover, this “STD” afflicts not partakers of pre-marital sex, but those women who abstain faithfully.
On account of those altered expectations, the ratio of chaste to unchaste young people has dropped to an all-time low. What we have now is a breed of anti-Josephs and anti-Marys running around creating hopelessly sexualized cities and suburbs—leaving no room for the fruits of chastity.
However, there is a Marian solution: Our Lady’s devotees’ saving themselves for marriage to honorable men, who have never been a dime a dozen, after all. Saint Joseph stood by vigilantly and protected Mary in rather peculiar circumstances. Mary, of course, was assumed into Heaven a virgin. She didn’t exercise her marital right during her life—neither did Joseph—hence she does teach us how even perpetual virginity attracts honorable men. If only more women understood that an honorable husband like Saint Joseph is worth the wait (even if the wait is long due to the difficulty of finding such a man in this licentious culture).
To further my “me, me, me, me, me” analogy, I must pick a bone with even many Christian women. Contraception is a major factor in our sexualized culture—grave matter uniting married and unmarried couples alike. I’m fully aware that men also push contraception, but it’s mainly women who use the “I’m not ready” excuse.
To illustrate this, my husband and I regularly receive comments when we dare to venture into public with our four young daughters. Ranking at the top of the comment list is, “wow, your hands are full: are you done?” I understand this remark isn’t meant to be rude. It’s the reflex of a barren culture, an American culture of death. (To be fair, this person probably couldn’t avoid noticing us because the twins are screaming in harmony and trying to push each other out of the shopping cart.) So I usually respond with a friendly, “I have no idea, only God does.”
The look on people’s faces tells all: “oh, you’re one of those.” The conversation usually ends politely there. But even many God-fearing Christians don’t understand our approach—we’re weirdos even to them!
On the rare occasion that the conversation goes further, I gently remind them that Jesus wasn’t a planned pregnancy. Mary and Joseph didn’t have a tidy saving account, a “baby-proof” home, or one energy-efficient vehicle per household adult. Joseph’s employer failed to provide “competitive” health insurance. Mary and Joseph didn’t have a “comprehensive birthing plan.” Baby Jesus ate lots of gluten.
Most importantly, Mary and Joseph didn’t recur to the phrase “the timing isn’t right.” For Mary—an unwed, pregnant teenager living under the Mosaic Law—“the timing” was a tad uncomfortable. Mary’s dauntless response was, “so be it.” She left it up to God to decide when she would receive the greatest gift he had to offer humanity. For all women after Mary, who alone was not confused by what constitutes a “gift,” this is how it is supposed to be. (Of course, where my religious friends and I usually agree is on the topic of abortion, the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world. Abortion directly says to God, I don’t want your gift, it’s meaningless to me and I reject it and return it to you in the most violent means possible.)
If I do my job, then my daughters will follow Our Lady by picking an honorable man (I can only pray he may also be a saint!), and accepting God’s greatest gift, in season and out of season. If the popular culture treats them like weirdos—they already see it treating me that way—that means they’re doing something right! (See John 15:18.)
The second part of the big lie is that after marriage, the popular culture tells us that it’s cute and powerful for a woman to disrespect her husband. Nowhere is this more diabolical than in the home—a place where a man has the right to be honored most. The crisis of manhood is real these days, but to the minority of men who actually take their manly roles seriously, I dedicate this critique of my sex to you.
Women have been eerily effective in “supplanting,” incompetently of course, their husbands as heads of households. For example, the phrase “happy wife, happy life” is used frequently to admonish husbands from taking charge in their own homes. On a recent beach trip, I saw two different women wearing ball caps that boldly declared, “I’m the boss.” Had a stiff breeze blown, I would have gladly returned the hat to its rightful owner, the husband (or, the sea!).
The husband is called by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be “the priest of the home.” As such, he is responsible for getting his family on the path to heaven. God will hold him accountable for this. If he does this correctly, it entails an incredible amount of self-sacrifice. Not only is the priest of the home called to daily sacrifice, he is also called in extreme circumstances to sacrifice his life to protect his family (women are not obligated to do this, although some would if such a tragic situation arose).
Just these two categories alone convince me that the father bears the hardest job of all. Yet he is most often regarded as a nincompoop who can’t even tie his own shoe without the saving grace of an intelligent woman to instruct him. In our society, men are emasculated, belittled, nagged, and stripped of their rightful place as household executive. Watch any network television show and you’ll see a sassy, sexy wife instructing her fat, stupid husband how not to burn the house down when changing a lightbulb.
Ladies, if you picked a man who can’t avoid setting the house aflame, the blame rests as much with you as him! However, if you selected an honorable husband that does his duties faithfully, then give him the respect and honor he deserves. Let your friends see you doing this. Be a sign of contradiction in our secular-humanist culture. Liberal-minded women may balk at your traditional, “oppressive” marriage, but the joke is on them: let’s see how the effete “male-feminist” they’re dating responds to a situation where a real man is needed. Such situations arise more frequently than we like to think. Marrying a man who tries to emulate Saint Joseph brings about a lifetime of happiness and merits biting your tongue from time to time (plus—here’s the mother in me—it’s just good manners).
For the solution to this we again turn to the Virgin Mother, to the very simple passage from the Wedding Feast of Cana where Mary tells the servants, “whatever he says, do it.” Mary, through her constant humility understood the importance of following the lead of a good man (the best Man). She certainly didn’t “co-manage” how the miracle was performed or belittle Jesus for the mess after the feast. Mary trusted Jesus and silently stood back and allowed Jesus to do his job. By this very simple act, Mary honored him and showed her trust in him. Modern women have a lot to learn (myself included) in the simple act of silently standing back and allowing our husbands to discharge their priestly duties.
After all, if you would stand behind your husband during a home-invasion burglary, then stand behind him as he leads you in your day-to-day life.
There’s a lot more to be said about the crisis of womanhood before and after marriage in our age. There is even more to be said about the virtues Our Mother can teach us, lessons sufficient to rectify the many secular-humanist misconceptions women carry into their marriages. After all, Mary was a woman God loved and respected so much that he chose her as Mother to his Son. In light of this, I cannot imagine a better model for all women, no matter how many years separate us and her. All in all, the greatest gift Our Mother can teach women is fealty, and if I do my job right, the greatest gift I can teach my daughters is to follow Mary: whatever she says, do it.