Feminine Genius vs. Feminist Agenda: Learn From Female Saints Like Mother Cabrini on International Women’s Day

COMMENTARY: The sad fact that some Catholics continue to clamor for a female priesthood shows how deeply the feminist agenda has infiltrated the Church in some circles.

Mother Cabrini
Mother Cabrini (photo: Courtesy photo / St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine)

We rarely see television shows these days where a strong, courageous man rescues a damsel in distress. Instead, the petite damsel overtakes the huge bad guy and knocks him out with one punch. Lurking behind this seemingly innocent example is the dangerous feminist agenda.

For all its proclamation about equalizing the playing ground for women, the truth is that feminism attempts to masculinize women. The feminists of the 1960s rejected the belief in innate distinctive male and female natures, since they didn’t believe in God. Without God, there are no absolute definitions or values, so human beings are left alone to determine their destinies. This stance is expressed in The Second Sex, written by the atheist Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” 

Ironically, feminists failed to celebrate the myriad of contributions women made to the world. Instead, they pointed to masculine endeavors as the gold standard. For example, Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique wrote that women couldn’t find real meaning in life unless they worked outside the home. Of course, it is true that women, married or single, who are fortunate enough to find employment that use their God-given talents are likely to lead meaningful lives. Friedan’s mistake was overgeneralizing when she described homemaking as pure drudgery and paid employment as inherently uplifting. 

In the secular world, the feminist attempt to blur male-female differences has led to a masculinizing trend in the fashion world (not to mention gender-neutral clothing for children). 

The advent of the birth-control pill, celebrated by feminists, further clouded the innate, God-given differences between men and women in the eyes of society. A woman on the pill could be free to engage in as many sexual encounters as she wished, since the general consensus was the pill never failed. Of course, the pill did fail, and then abortion was seen as the “back-up” method. This tragic procedure was seen as a purely physical action, and the anguish and remorse many women experienced weren’t a topic for discussion.    

In the attempt to masculinize women, feminists applauded women who had multiple sexual partners: After all, if men were playboys, women should follow suit and be playgirls. No one considered the obvious fact that women are emotionally constructed by God to connect sex with love and commitment. For feminists, no commitment was needed before a sexual relationship was launched. In fact, one-night stands were seen as healthy for women, since sex was considered merely a physical release with no emotional overtones. 

Not surprisingly, the feminist agenda has had a huge effect on television shows. Fortunately, in some shows, such as popular adaptations of Jane Austen novels, traditional male-female roles are emphasized. But much other entertainment has caved to the masculinization of women. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, launched in 1970, Mary was a career woman whose primary dream was finding Mr. Wonderful and having children. Mary was the typical girl next door, but the series didn’t want to present her as a virgin, since that label was becoming anathema. So in Season 3, Mary went on a date and didn’t return home until the next morning. 

Debuting 30 years ago, in 1994, the hugely popular show Friends featured unmarried male and female characters sharing the same living quarters and having one-night stands on a regular basis with little emotional fallout. Since the characters were portrayed as attractive and happy, many young people adopted them as role models. 

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a popular new series on Amazon Prime, based on a movie produced in 2005. Both Jane and her partner, John Smith, are spies with a history of killing multiple people. A masculinized woman, Jane is emotionally distant and the furthest thing from a nurturer. After Jane and John start a sexual relationship, John expresses a strong desire to have a child, while Jane is dead set against it. When they are attacked, Jane outdoes John in viciously fending off the killers.  

Catholic teaching recognizes masculine and feminine natures established by God from the very beginning. In Genesis we read: “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 5:2). When Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, their punishments were very different because their natures were different. Adam was condemned to work by the sweat of his brow in tilling the soil and Eve was faced with the pain of childbirth. 

Still, there are Catholics who refuse to accept Church teachings on the ordination of women. Claiming that an all-male priesthood is a sexist practice overlooks the essential fact that Jesus selected 12 men as his apostles and instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper. He is God, and we are called to trust his decisions. Some say Jesus didn’t want to break social conventions by including women among the apostles, but Jesus routinely overturned traditions and clearly respected women, from his Mother Mary to the women disciples. His high regard for women is part of Church teaching.

Some Protestant denominations caved to the feminists’ insistence that women should have the same ministerial roles as men. However, the Catholic Church maintains that an all-male priesthood is not a rule that can be broken, since it was established by Christ. The sad fact that some Catholics continue to clamor for a female priesthood shows how deeply the feminist agenda has infiltrated the Church in some circles.  

Fortunately, this agenda is rightly countered by the Church’s teaching on the feminine genius, a phrase attributed to Pope St. John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem, an encyclical letter written in 1988. He praised motherhood, whether biological or spiritual, as capable of healing a world gravely injured by the culture of death. 

A mother ideally values her child as inherently worthwhile without regard to usefulness, intelligence or health, and this attitude has a healing power for our world. When every person is seen as uniquely valuable and made in God’s image, then trends like euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion are seen as tragedies, not solutions to problems.

The concept of the feminine genius emphasizes that women can be in the forefront of creating a culture of life. 

A beautiful example of the feminine genius is St. Gianna, wife, mother and pediatrician, who refused to have a hysterectomy when doctors discovered a tumor during her fourth pregnancy. The baby was born, and the mother is now a heavenly champion for the cause of life. 

Another example is St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Jewish woman who was a well-respected philosopher before converting to Catholicism and entering the convent. 

She was an advocate of the idea that women are suited to the same professions that men are, although they bring unique feminine traits to the office, hospital or laboratory. In her philosophy, every woman has a maternal heart, whether she is a biological or spiritual mother. Imprisoned in a concentration camp, St. Teresa extended a mother’s tender mercy to the suffering women and children beside her before dying there herself.   

And what about the witness of St. Frances Cabrini? She was a tour de force, establishing orphanages, schools, hospitals — and more —  where God sent her: 19th-century New York, to minister to Italian immigrants.

The feminist agenda in our society attempts to blur the God-given differences between men and women. In the process, masculine endeavors are admired as the standard, while feminine pursuits are denigrated. Fortunately, the Church’s emphasis on the feminine genius supplies a powerful antidote to this agenda. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). Let us pray we will keep our ears open to God’s eternal truth about men and women.