Taking back the true dignity of women

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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: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.