We celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation on Monday next. Reflecting on this seminal moment in the history of Salvation got me thinking about Mary’s role in it as a young girl, and how different a view modern society and feminism promotes.
Today’s feminist empowerment classes surely would utterly reject Mary’s submission to God’s will, her willingness to embrace motherhood and the unfathomable responsibility of her station with a promise that a sword would pierce her soul. How different a lesson young girls today learn at the feet of feminism, compared to the lesson that Our Lady teaches by her example.
Girls and women have learned well that pregnancy and motherhood are burdens. We have been taught that men are aggressors, manipulative, or just plain stupid and to be pitied. An article in The Irish Times recently suggested that until women demand the right to be as incompetent, lazy and useless as men, they will never achieve equality. And as for society, well, that is just one massive oppressive patriarchy constantly conspiring against women and preventing them from achieving anything.
Where has this all got us? I was shocked when visiting a girl’s school last year to see a poster which stated that girls could achieve anything that boys can. When I was growing up, I never doubted it, nor even thought about it as an issue. Had I seen such a poster, however, it would have raised a doubt in my mind: if those in authority are telling me this, it sounds like they don’t believe it themselves.
The result of this type of victim-status promotion is that we see gender quotas being introduced, not only in politics but in academia also, and before long everywhere else – except of course in male-dominated careers like construction, road-sweeping and any job which feminists view as undesirable. Why no gender quotas there?
Feminism teaches that, to be valuable, women must be achieving the top positions in boardrooms, parliaments and the professions. Anything else – such as motherhood – is less valuable, and so women who want to make this their main vocation feel less valued. But these quotas even ruin things for the women who would have reached the top jobs on the basis of hard work, as there will always be the whisper and doubt as to whether they really got there on merit.
As for relationships, dating and marriage, this is truly train-wreck territory. Despite almost 60 years of so-called sexual freedom and equality, the dating scene for women today is nothing short of nightmarish.
The falling numbers of those marrying and increasing numbers of those with relationship breakdown does not mirror the deep desires of the heart for most people – men and women alike. A friend who is currently internet dating recently confided – “at the end of the day, everyone is just looking for someone to love”.
The problem is, people don’t know how to love any more. The lessons learned from the sexual revolution are the opposite of love. Rather they emphasise that interactions between men and women are competitive, with women being urged to never let the man win. Women – and men – are judged by aspiring partners based on their profile picture and a short description.
Sex is traded like a commodity; emotions are used to bargain. This reductionist and hostile view of human relations is utterly antipathetic to love and marriage, where giving the benefit of the doubt to the other is the order of the day.
The sexual revolution has even ruined sex. It has been reduced to consent classes for adults to learn what yes and no mean. There is an app so that a couple can each witness their consent before embarking on a sexual encounter. How utterly unromantic, but worse is what it implies: nobody’s word means anything anymore. No one can be trusted. What an impoverished view of humanity.
As for pornography – which amazingly many women still refuse to condemn (there is even a feminist movement for “ethical porn”, which means porn directed by women) – it is like a cancer for relationships and marriages.
As Catholics, we are told that a man who looks at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart, but young women nowadays style themselves on porn culture in a desperate bid to attract the attention of young men who have become addicts to pornography, encouraging them by watching it with them. And still nobody shouts “Stop!”
While the original feminists had a valid and worthy cause, modern feminism has become utterly self-destructive. It is myopically short-term in its approach: it never seems to stop and think of the long-term consequences for women – or anyone else for that matter. It is, at heart, fundamentally anti-woman. Any traditional feminine attributes or instincts are rejected as weak and undesirable. Any hankering after domesticity and marriage and motherhood is bad; unless of course you can make millions selling it as a lifestyle choice, and doing the celebrity circuit – then it’s okay, because you’re a savvy business woman.
But ordinary marriage, ordinary motherhood, wanting to care for a family and keep house are all seen as inferior choices for any self-respecting woman to make.
The terrible thing is: this is still what many women want – only now we’re not allowed to say it. We can do anything we want – just not that. We must remove all traces from society that this is a real and valid choice – no doubt our modern nation will erase the provision from our Constitution which elevates the role of the mother in the home. “And good riddance too!” I can hear them say.
And yet, so often, when we feel vulnerable, it is to our mothers that we turn. Mothers do make sacrifices for their children, they often put their children’s needs ahead of their own even though this is the opposite of what feminism teaches.
By contrast to the feminist ‘gospel’, Mary’s ‘yes’, or ‘fiat’, “let it be done”, was the perfect submission to God’s will.
Through a feminist lens, meekness, submission and the shouldering of responsibility are seen as weakness. But there is a profound difference between submission from cowardice and submission from resolve, as exemplified by Mary. This kind of submission is different from the world’s understanding of submission. It is rather an indicator of great strength and courage. Mary’s is the same quality of submission that we see in martyrs and in Christ’s own perfect example on the Cross: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Mary did not blindly accept immediately, she questioned, engaging intellectually with what had been said to her. Her submission was actually the thing that feminists might call “empowering”, though Mary in her humility did not consider it so. But it was her “yes”, her bearing a child and becoming a mother, that paved the way for her to become Queen of Heaven.