Taking back the true dignity of women

Remember back in the old days, when they used to say that a beautiful woman “could stop traffic”?

Well, it seems that modern-day feminists are reviving the idea, but with a twist. Apparently we women are supposed to actually stop traffic. And not with our beauty.

March 8th has been designated as A Day Without a Woman. On that day we women are, “in a spirit of love and liberation,” supposed to walk off our jobs (paid or unpaid — hence incorporating our duties as wives and mothers), refuse to shop, and wear red “in solidarity.”

And, apparently, stop traffic. Literally. Former Black Panther and honorary event co-chair Angela Davis co-authored an op-ed piece in which she said of the day:

“The idea is to mobilize women […] in an international day of struggle—a day of striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care, and sex work […]”

Because nothing says “love and liberation” like skipping out on our duties, wreaking havoc on the streets and keeping emergency vehicles away from emergencies.

Many women I know and respect marched in the first Women’s March. I am a big fan of authentic women’s rights. And yet skipped the march, for several reasons. I wasn’t clear on the message; the parts of the message I was clear on I either disagreed with or found irrelevant; and I failed to see the what role genitalia hats and vulgarity could possibly play in enhancing women’s dignity.

It seems to me that our suffragette fore-mothers worked and sacrificed so that women would be taken seriously — demonstrating that we were capable in areas previously reserved for men. And, thankfully, that goal has largely been attained. We have opportunities women in previous ages didn’t dream of. The world is our oyster. Women are represented in virtually every area of society. In fact, several major world powers have been led by women, and a woman just narrowly missed being elected President of the United States.

So now we’re walking off the job en masse to protest — what? What message are we delivering to the last, dying vestiges of “the patriarchy”? That they should pay us more money because we wear p***y hats, or because we leave our employers and families in the lurch so that we can go out and block traffic?

They’ll be lining up to hire us now.

To the extent that these protests are about “women’s issues”, they further illustrate that modern feminism has bought into the lie of the pre-feminist era: that it is better to be a man, and that we become “equal” to the extent that we become like men. Or rather — as repeatedly demonstrated in the marches around the world — like the worst stereotypes of men: vulgar, career-driven and sex-obsessed. “Reproductive rights” insure our bodies, like men’s bodies, will not be subject to pregnancy. “Equal pay for equal work” attempts to create a workplace gender parity that doesn’t reflect the reality of our lives. Studies consistently show that, when apples are truly compared to apples, women’s wages keep pace with their male counterparts. As they should. The “wage gap” is not so much a function of discrimination against women as it is the discrimination of women themselves, who often opt for shorter hours and less demanding positions because they are less motivated by career, and instead want to spend more time at home with the children they birthed.

Call me crazy, but I’ve been a woman my entire life, and I have found very little to complain about. I have neither needed nor desired “reproductive rights,” and I remain appalled that those “rights” come at the cost of the lives of unborn children. Nor have I ever found my gender to present a barrier in the workplace. I have found that the workplace sometimes doesn’t know how to best utilize women’s unique gifts. I may write about that in more detail some day. But in the mean time, I hardly see how anarchy in the streets is going to open anyone’s eyes to our interpersonal sensitivity.

We live in a world with two very different visions of women. There’s the “let’s hit the streets and show them that we can be as aggressive and vulgar as men” school of thought. And then there is the Christian vision, championed by our own St. John Paul II, who extolled our “feminine genius” — the uniqueness of women’s giftedness as we are. He also spoke out against all violence and unjust discrimination against us, called for our presence and influence in every aspect of society, and said that women’s dignity is closely connected to the love we receive and give in return. (That’s the Christian kind of love, not the “love and liberation” variety that stops traffic.)

Which vision do you suppose will actually lead to true respect for women?

I know which one I want to reflect. And so, on March 8th you will find me in the office, hard at work.

And I think I will wear . . . blue.

COMING UP: Why icons still matter to a modern world

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Icons have existed from the time of the early Church and grew in popularity over the years as an aid in prayer and worship — but today, icons are often seen as irrelevant to our modern world because of their perceived rigidity and austerity.

But it hasn’t died out, and there’s a reason.

In Denver, instructor Laurence Pierson, a former nun in the Community of Beatitudes, teaches a course at the Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways — Byzantine Iconography,” which is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro.

Pierson attributes the long-surviving tradition of icons to the same reason the Church still exists.

“Tradition has great value, and if it’s an art that’s survived so many centuries, that’s because there is a great value to it, and it’s not only the tradition, it’s that mainly, it’s rooted in the Gospel,” Pierson said.

In an article called “Sacred Icons,” painter Aidan Hart quotes John of Damascus, who said of icons, “What the written Word proclaims through letters, iconography proclaims and presents through colors.”

Laurence Pierson, left, is a former nun of the Community of the Beatitudes who has been teaching an iconography class at Denver Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways.” It is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro area. (Photo provided)

It is the same story of the Gospel, presented in art rather than word, and as the Gospel is timeless, so is the art of icons. And while they may look austere, that’s not something to be afraid of, nor is it irrelevant in our modern time.

“Even though an icon might look austere, it actually drives us beyond superficial emotions — they want us to go deeper. It’s a deep joy,” Pierson said. “I think you have to be quiet and go deeper. In the spiritual life, our ascetic aspect doesn’t have to be forgotten, and sometimes there is an ascetic aspect, and our human condition needs to be redeemed.”

“It’s a medium that has to be rediscovered, and there is so much potential,” Pierson added.

Sacred doorways and symbols

The deep spirituality of icons is part of what has preserved them throughout the roughly 2000 years that they’ve been around. Hart explains that icons are “not just pictures to look at, but are a door to heaven, a way of meeting those who dwell there.”

Hence the name of Denver’s class, “Sacred Doorways.” The material use of the paintings are a way for us to pass through the material world and into a knowing of the holy people depicted. This is just the tip of the spiritual meaning of icons.

The specific look of the icons: the elongated nose, the wide eyes, the dimensions and perspectives, are all intensely symbolic.

“Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this,” Hart said.

“An artist isn’t just someone who puts colors [on a canvas],” Pierson said. “An artist reveals the reality of this world, which sometimes isn’t possible to see. And icon painting is revealing this invisible reality and making it visible with lines and colors.”

Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this.”

So what are icons revealing through their symbols?

Here are just a few insights from Hart:

– Inverse perspective: “There is a number of perspective systems used in icons. With inverse perspective, the lines converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted,” Hart said. “A sacred event in the past is still acting on us today, ‘Today Christ is risen.’”

– Flatness: “It helps us pass through the icon to the person and events depicted. The aim…is not to replace the subject depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them,” Hart said.

– Anatomy: “The eyes and ears of people are often enlarged, and the nose elongated. This is to show that the saint is someone who contemplates God, who listens to him, who smells the fragrance of Paradise,” Hart said.

The spiritual process

Pierson has been painting icons for 25 years and teaching for 18. Following the rich tradition of the painting style is the first step of entering into the “spiritual journey” of painting an icon, Pierson said.

“It’s very important for me to get rooted in Byzantine tradition, especially because it’s an art that comes from the Eastern world,” Pierson said. “You have to be very careful not to distort ancient tradition but also find a way to speak to our modern world, so it’s a very delicate balance. For me, that’s crucial, to find this balance.”

“[Painting] has to be a solitary experience because you have to pray, but for me, it’s important to be anchored in a community and liturgical life,” Pierson said.

Pierson, who is commissioned to paint icons for the community often, begins with research and prayer, both to whom the icon is depicting and for the person who will receive the painting. Then the painting begins, which is an intense, multi-layered process.

The art of painting icons is far more than just a creative process; it’s a deeper spiritual journey that requires a lot of prayer, Pierson says. (Photo provided)

First, a binder, which is what the pigment adheres to in order to stay on a board, is created. The binder consists of egg yolk mixed with an equal part of water. This is mixed with the paint pigment and a few drops of water, creating the egg tempera medium with which icons are traditionally painted.

Next, guiding lines are traced into a gesso-covered wooden board and then engraved with a tool. Then, paint is added, layer by layer, beginning with dark colors and finishing with lighter colors. “It is as though the iconographer begins with darkness and death, and ends with light and resurrection,” Hart said.

The final stage is writing the saint’s name; then the icon is blessed by a priest and venerated. The working time varies, but it is a very long process, taking up to a year.

Revealing a Presence

The act of painting is something Pierson discovered she needs for her life to flourish — “essential,” even.

With icon painting, it “combines art and the vertical connection to God,” Pierson said.

And the connection to God is experienced deeply throughout the painting journey.“There is a journey — there’s a time you feel discouraged or bored. Even though you don’t feel it, you live by faith, trusting what you do has meaning and will bear fruit,” Pierson said. “With iconography, there is a Presence.”

“This whole painting journey teaches you about yourself, it takes patience — it takes time. You cannot finish an icon painting in a few hours. You have to trust the process. You have to trust someone else is inspiring you, even though it might not perfect. It’s all very like our spiritual life. It teaches us all that in a very practical way,” she added.