Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of Nudging Conversions: A Practical Guide to Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, and Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at carriegress.com.
While researching my latest book, The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis (Tan Books, May 2017), I was struck by a new theological concept. I kept running across the notion that Mary is the New Eve—an idea that goes back to the early Church Fathers. Mary as the New Eve is the female complement to Christ, the New Adam. In Scripture, St. John speaks of an antichrist as a man, but also as a movement that is present throughout history (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7). This got me thinking: if there is an antichrist, perhaps there is a female complement, an antimary?
What, then, would an antimary movement look like, exactly? Well, these women would not value children. They would be bawdy, vulgar, and angry. They would rage against the idea of anything resembling humble obedience or self-sacrifice for others. They would be petulant, shallow, catty, and overly sensuous. They would also be self-absorbed, manipulative, gossipy, anxious, and ambitious. In short, it would be everything that Mary is not.
While behavior like this has been put under a microscope because of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., the trend of women-behaving-badly is nothing new. There is, however, ample evidence that we witnessing something, because of its massive scale, quite different from run-of-the-mill vice seen throughout history.
The treatment of motherhood is one of the first signs that we are dealing with a new movement. Mothers (both spiritual and biological) are a natural icon of Mary – to help others know who Mary is by their generosity, patience, compassion, peace, intuition, and ability to nurture souls. Mary’s love (and the love of mothers) offers one of the best images of what God’s love is like – unconditional, healing, and deeply personal.
The last few decades have witnessed the subtle erasing of the Marian icon in real women. First through the pill, then the advent of abortion, motherhood has been on the chopping block. Motherhood has become dispensable, to that point that today the broader culture doesn’t bat an eye when a child is adopted by two men.
Every culture until ours has known how critical a mother is (even in her imperfection) for healthy adulthood and spiritual maturity – and no culture can renew itself without spiritual maturity. Yes, there are many people who have been motherless. Most would agree that truly, there are few things as tragic. But these sad realities only strengthen the argument that children need mothers, instead of diminishing their importance. It can be no accident that we are witnessing unprecedented emotional and mental trauma and brokenness in every segment of our population when motherhood has been so devalued.
Another striking clue that we are in an antimarian age is that, for all the so-called progress women have made, there is precious little evidence that any of it has actually made women happier. Divorce rates are still staggering, with 70% initiated by women; suicide rates are up; drug and alcohol abuse is soaring; depression and anxiety are everywhere. Women are not getting happier, just more medicated.
Few in our culture know that they owe a debt of gratitude to Catholicism for the radical notion that women are equal to men. It comes specifically from the Virgin Mary. It didn’t come from the Greeks: Aristotle and others called us “deformed males.” It didn’t come from Judaism: though given some status, a broad movement to promote the dignity of woman never happened. And it certainly hasn’t come from Islam. The 19th century rationalist thinker (and non-Catholic scholar) William Lecky explained:
No longer the slave or toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and of sensuality, woman rose, in the person of the Virgin Mother, into a new sphere, and became the object of reverential homage, of which antiquity has no conception… A new type of character was called into being; a new kind of admiration was fostered. Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age, this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and purity, unknown to the proudest civilizations of the past.
It might seem that equality among men and women is obvious, a simple intuition any thinking person would have. But if so, why didn’t any other religious movement see it? Because Mary turned the sins of Eve upside down and allowed this now-common place notion to take root. Christianity, though now largely abandoned by secular culture, remains the source for this profound insight.
All the Wrong Places
Today women still desire equality and respect—perhaps more than ever – but let’s look at how they are attempting to get it. They are not following the grace of Mary, but the vices of Machiavelli: rage, intimidation, tantrums, bullying. It is this aggressive impulse that finds pride in calling oneself “nasty”, feels empowered by dressing like a vagina, or believes that a child is a life-wrecker. But it is precisely these kinds of things that will never lead women to happiness.
Antimarianism has a veritable monopoly on our culture; there are almost no alternatives in the public square for younger women to look up to. Generations of this movement have left women with few role models worthy of the name. Instead we have Madonna, who in the same speech can both call for a revolution of love and confess her desire to blow up the White House; or female politicians, who think the only way they can be elected is to pledge allegiance to Planned Parenthood; or Gloria Steinem who has made it clear even at 80 that her goal is to live a gender-free lifestyle. Headlines and Hollywood starlets dictate how millions of women and young girls think.
No Woman is an Island
Girls and women aren’t the only ones stunted by this movement. Boys and men are also deeply affected, as Bishop Robert Barron made clear in his article “The Trouble with the ‘You Go Girl Culture.’” Bishop Barron argues that males feel adrift, particularly as the virtues that come naturally to them are misconstrued as evil. But more than that, men are being robbed of a proper understanding of eros, that is, the kind of love animated by beauty and goodness. It is this kind of love that has populated poetry, sonnets, and love songs for the ages. (Not one love song has been written about a man’s love for a condescending and nagging woman in a pantsuit.) Eros has now been erased and replaced with a base form of eroticism.
Sadly, women have no idea that they have the ability to inspire men through goodness. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote wisely: “When a man loves a woman, it follows that the nobler the woman, the nobler the love; the higher the demands made by the woman, the more worthy a man must be. That is why woman is the measure of the level of our civilization.” A survey of women – in our brokenness, over-medicated and angry state – doesn’t bode well for our civilization no matter what political party is in power.
The devil knows that all these marks of the antimary – rage, indignation, vulgarity, and pride – short circuit women’s greatest gifts: wisdom, prudence, patience, unflappable peace, intuition, and the capacity for a deep relationship with God. Instead he promises power, fame, fortune, respect, and sterile fleeting pleasures. And like Eve, women of the antimarian movement are still falling for his lies.
While many of us have tied ourselves up in knots trying to figure out the solution to this problem, the real answer is go back to the source, to go back the woman through whom every woman gains her dignity. No matter how strong an antimary may be, Mary still remains the most powerful woman in the world.