I am a product of my time and place. While never having been an outright strident feminist, my goals and opinions were influenced by feminism. I believed strongly that I didn't need anyone’s help and certainly not from a man; that I could do any old thing I wanted, and planned to do so just to demonstrate my independence. I didn't want anyone to offer to help carry, or lift, or move anything for me. I believed I was my best self when I was as tough as the boys. In high school I treated the boys as though they were silly and stupid and childish. I pictured myself going to law school, graduating to wear power suits, carry a briefcase, and eventually take the political world by storm. I had little regard for authority figures, and I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I believed that most men – except my dad - were fools. Fortunately – and I thank God for this every time I think about it – circumstances had my family moving out of province, and I knew I had to stay close to them, so rather than stay behind to go to university, I moved with them, eventually finding myself at St. Mary’s parish in Ottawa. Praise God for that! I mean that sincerely because it was a significant turning point in my outlook and direction. In that community I learned to take my faith seriously, to study and appreciate it, to ask questions, and live out what I was learning. My priorities changed from secular success to spiritual growth. Not only did my faith deepen, but over time I realized that my beliefs about men and women – our roles, our nature, our design, our purpose – were flawed. Not just flawed, but actually a source of dissatisfaction with my life, a point of tension between who I wanted to be and who I thought I should be.
There was a wonderful married couple at St. Mary's who were leaders for the young adults group. They would occasionally divide the group into men and women so that we could discuss issues relevant to each group. It seems silly now, quite obvious and fundamental, but it hadn't really occurred to me before that we actually were different enough to have a need to meet separately, and that we would benefit from doing so. That might be when my eyes were first opened to the truth of Genesis 1:27 God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them. It took a long time, and is still ongoing, but there has been healing of the wounds created by my disordered feminist ideas.
You may remember – or you may know it from your own life right now – but young people can be very passionate about a thing. My group of friends were certainly passionate about learning and studying our faith – theology, Mariology, evangelization, prayer, the saints. We were equally passionate about talking about vocation and what we were called to do, whether we would get married, whether we would date before marriage, whether we would kiss while dating... we explored the topic thoroughly. I think the word ‘vocation’ was the word we used most often. We also talked a lot about what it meant to be men and women, and what each wanted from the other. This was a further deepening of my awareness of the distinctiveness of men and women.
Gradually many of us figured out the question of our vocation and began to marry off and start families, or embrace religious life. Years went by, and I noticed that the women were always trying to find ways to reach out to each other with prayer breakfasts, mom and tot mornings, Saturday retreats and so on. My conversations with them, regardless of their state in life, often included some acknowledgement of feeling isolated, like they were trying to figure out their life on their own, to hear God’s word to them and abide by it. Being a devout Catholic woman living in the world whether working or choosing to stay home to raise children was bewildering, and even exhausting despite the knowledge it was right and good.
Years earlier, in that young adult group, a desire had taken root in my heart to explore more about the unique roles of masculinity and femininity in God’s design and how they served society. I strongly believed God was deliberate when He made us distinct and that it was very good – and I wanted to share that conviction with others. I was certain it would be a source of relief and fulfilment for women.
I wanted to learn more, to find other women who shared the same ideas. God’s timing is perfect because never before has it been so easy to reach an audience. The internet provides information and opinion about anything you could imagine, including, as I discovered, how to apply make-up how to prepare the perfect chicken dinner, how to home school, and how to catch yourself a man. And yet I couldn't find anything that satisfied what I was looking for. And so, still not having any clear idea about what to do with that niggling desire I had to help women in some way, I found myself at a weekend retreat for women, the focus of which was ‘beauty’ and the importance of it in a woman’s life.
My journey to discover the feminine gift started when I was a little kid. I grew up with 6 brothers. Boys don’t like things like dolls and pink and cooking. They like guns – superheroes with capes and super powers – and most of all guns. My brothers had a game they called “Guy” – just “guy” – and they ran around the house with towels tied around their necks and sticks in their hands shooting at each other. On occasion they’d have to play the game alone, and they’d still run around shooting…stuff. Basically I learned early on that if I was to gain any respect (and by respect I mean love) from them I was going to have to like guns, baseball, hockey, swinging off tree branches, and guns. The only problem was that I hated these things. I found them boring, childish, boorish, stupid and silly.
Yet at the same time I craved acceptance and love and so my little 6 or 7 year old brain figured out that in order to get what I was craving – that love and acceptance - I needed to not just like, but really like the things that I actually didn’t like. And that instant judgment – that thought pattern - set off a chain reaction in me. In that moment of my childhood and in many more moments to follow, I taught myself that my true heart was somehow flawed - the natural inclinations of my heart were weird and that they weren’t legitimate somehow, and my mind began to construct what I will call the “should be” me, or the arbitrary list of things that I “should” like or “should” be or “should” do in order to fit in and be liked. And the worst part about it was that it was completely arbitrary, so it changed with the seasons, with the people that I knew and with what they thought of me. My true self – my likes and dislikes – along with my femininity (because your femininity is closely tied in with your true self – you can’t possibly be who you are unless you know yourself) was trampled, buried and continually wounded over the course of the next 25 years.
So fast-forward to just after my 32nd birthday. I’ve continued living, hiding myself and actually hating my femininity. Everything from my prayer life to my eating patterns and exercise was governed by my “should be” self. I had strict, unwavering ideals about how every little thing should be done, said, cooked, eaten, prayed, worn and everything else you can imagine. (I remember when my spiritual director asked me one day why I thought prayer time had to be this one way, over another way, and I blankly looked at him. I had no idea!) I remember feeling disjointed, unconnected, unfulfilled and even though my life looked just find on the outside, something was not right. I remember attempting to explain it to my husband – but I didn’t know what it was, so I couldn’t explain it to him.
Shortly before this my best friend had started a personal blog and after reading her first few posts, I found the words spilling out of me for no particular reason. I was lying awake nights composing articles in my mind and finally started my own personal blog – where all my mundane thoughts could be published for all the world to see. So I was writing…and really enjoying myself…and reading other blogs, books, articles, everything. And I began lapping up all things feminine – finding myself reading book after article about living authentic Catholic femininity – this stuff really piqued my interest. I started searching for blogs dedicated to just that – authentic Catholic femininity - and quickly became discouraged because I couldn’t find. Just like Tricia – I found lots of mothers blogs, Catholic political and priestly blogs, blogs dedicated to infertility, food, frugality and masculinity, but the only writings I could find dedicated to femininity (that weren’t completely beyond my intellectual understanding, that is) were blogs called things like “The Feminine Wiles” – a blog with lots of black and a touch of pink – that had posts called things like “How to snag a man”. I was utterly uninterested in ‘snagging’ a man with my ‘feminine wiles’ and was frankly pretty disgusted that this was all I could find out there – because I was sure that there were other practicing Catholic women interested in cultivating their relationship with Christ.
And it seemed like the time was right. My friend calls to say she’s organizing a retreat on “Beauty” and I’m all like “whoa” – I don’t really know what beauty means for me, but I want it and I want to BE it. And Tricia and I meet up (we’re old friends) and the more we talk, the more we realize we’re wanting to explore the same question. What is femininity? What does it mean to be feminine? How can we possibly be true Catholic women in a world that hates femininity?