Educating for an Authentic Christian Womanhood
Becker, Thomas Augustine, Ave Maria Law Review
In his 2006 commencement address at Hillsdale College, Professor Harvey C. Mansfield of Harvard University bravely trod where few men dare to go, speaking frankly about the defects of traditional feminism and the need for a new feminism. In the course of his remarks, he stated:
[W]omen have shown themselves capable in careers formerly closed to them, but seem no longer to enjoy the pleasures of being a woman. They know how to imitate men but are confused about how to remain women while doing so. Having started from the rejection of femininity, women's identity necessarily becomes a search without a guide. To see confusion in action, all you have to do is watch the television show Desperate Housewives.
In speaking of the rejection of femininity, he was referring to a phenomenon created by the feminists of the twentieth century. He observed, "Whereas before women were held back from the careers they could have attained, now they are pushed further than they may want to go. In this new situation women ... need an identity...." (2)
The feminist movement has stolen an identity from several generations of women, and with it, not only the capacity to bring their feminine gifts to the world, but even the ability to "enjoy the pleasures of being a woman." (3) The theft took place in a sleight of hand that wiped away all of the markers on the board, using as a pretext the need to level the playing field for women. One writer referred to the alleged need for leveling the field as "the pretense that woman could make her best contribution toward human progress by being 'equal' to man, rather than being herself." (4) Rather than being herself, now she can be "just as good as a man," and we have a situation where it really has become each man for himself. Yet somehow, it has not worked out the way anyone had expected. No one is really happy with the results. On one hand, the feminists--and I use the term broadly because there are many variations--are not satisfied and insist that more work of the same kind needs to be done. (5) On the other hand, ordinary women, who are mostly concerned with living their lives and loving their families and friends, find that no one--including themselves--has quite captured an understanding of who they really are and what they really want and need, despite the undeniable progress that has been made by women in education, law, and politics. In a larger context too, there is the unavoidable sense that the increasing fragmentation and disintegration of modern culture is somehow related to this identity crisis at the core of what it means to be a woman.
At the root of the issue is the metaphysical question of the essence of womanhood. For centuries, the communication of that understanding took place from generation to generation through relationships among women--mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, among sisters and girlfriends--woven into the fabric of daily life and social norms. When the fabric of daily life began to change, and with it social norms, so did the pattern of communicating the meaning of womanhood. At the same time, the focus of women's concerns shifted almost entirely to the externals of career and educational opportunities, and this changed the substance of the communication. The foundational, intangible, and spiritual essence of womanhood was submerged under the weight of these concerns. In a world consumed by materialism and empiricism, it is no surprise that the mystery of woman, which is not visible or quantifiable, cannot be acknowledged. (6) However, in order for the world to acknowledge the feminine gift, women must possess an awareness and understanding of their feminine vocation. As Gertrud von le Fort observes, penetrating to the core of the challenge and expressing succinctly the truth that cannot be avoided, "[The image of woman] as reflected in the creative work of man, whether in its exaltation or in its debasement, is the very image that she herself presents to him. …