Being a woman and being Catholic in the modern world is seen as somewhat of a paradox. What a contradiction it can seem in today to be an intelligent, well reasoned woman and yet also be a practising, devout Catholic. Isn’t the Church the patriarchal oppressing institution that leaves little place for women? Yet I would argue that through the Church I have found my liberation, ultimate joys and my place as a woman in modern society.
While many things are better and more advanced about being a woman today than in the past, it is also so complicated.
We live in a media world. We carry our media with us 24/7, are addicted to it, and fall back on it in our silent moments. Our media is what we see of the world. And in our world women are shown everywhere. The modern woman is faced with the contradictions of what a woman is supposed to do, what a woman is supposed to be. So I guess the image of women is a good place to start.
As we know, it’s not just simply a picture of a woman that turns heads. No, a very specific type of women is what is generally presented out there.
In advertising and media they never let us forget that the perfect female’s only virtue is attractiveness; every other characteristic has been erased. She is an object to be judged and deemed desirable. Women are objectified: treated and thought about as an object without needs, feelings or humanity. We are slaves to beauty, no matter how uncomfortable, or dangerous it is. This basically makes women in popular culture come across as subservient, stupid, sexually available, near naked, or fake.
Knowing all this, how can real women even compare to the images that we see in our media?
In short, you can’t. These days even the standard of real beauty isn’t acceptable. We live in a world of computer imaging. It’s everywhere. And images of women can often be totally computerized, particularly in pornography. In other words men are lusting after women that don’t even exist. People don’t see through this stuff. Where does that leave the real woman?
It starts from a very young age. Our new generations are raised on it. We have limited choice about exposing our children to our sexualised culture. Generally, images of modern girlhood can be covered by near naked fairies, beauty and the My Little Pony evolution (see right).
And then there are our modern role models. Sadly although we have more channels and media than ever before, frankly I think we are all dumbed down. Everything is more infotainment than informative. We have fashion and gossip magazines, which once would have been the major example, but are now outdated as now we have online media as our modern magazine. And now we can consume our ‘guilty pleasures’ in secret via our pocket technology. Then there is reality television and entertainment style “news” shows. Social media is riddled with junk and porn. Modern music seems to be an excuse for sex and degradation of women. Dare I mention Miley Cyrus a few weeks back?
Materialism is obviously also key. We are told we need to keep up with this. Advertising is literally everywhere, particularly now that we can fast forward ads.
When you think that this is agenda of appearance, sex appeal and dumbing down is just being pushed across by those big media big wigs out there, it’s not.
Look at Facebook groups such as “babe of the day” and such. See the way people post photos of themselves and people comment and compare themselves. We choose to consume these things. If we or people we know didn’t like it, it wouldn’t come up in our newsfeeds. We watch these programs and buy the products.Though we may be offered limited choice we support it through our actions and don’t ask for change.
And the results of these images and emphasis?
For starters, we are kept poor. Women are devoting high percentages of their income to “beauty maintenance”. The retail sector has made four trillion dollars in revenue in 2013. While we are keeping the economy going, what price are we paying? We are led to body shame and side effects such as poor nutrition choices, cosmetic surgery, isolation, self-harm and eating disorders. In the US apparently 4/10 individuals have either personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has.
Then there are the unadmitted conclusions such as increased abortion.
All this is such an attack on women. It makes being a female and the world around us seem so empty.
If advertisers want you to be allured by a product, why not place it in the hands of the most alluring creature on earth? Because Women are beautiful. What is the most beautiful thing on earth? Some might say sunsets, others nature. God’s creations. But men don’t stare at pictures of sunsets.
You are made as a daughter of God. A Princess. Nothing in heaven compares to the beauty of God, and nothing on Earth approaches the beauty of the woman.
“For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.” – Wisdom 13:5
Beyond just beauty, God has a plan for each one of us. A unique mission that if we listen to our calling will not only lead to our true happiness, even though we go through sufferings, but will also lead to giving glory to our Creator and ultimately to our greater glory eternally, after death, in heaven.
We can’t be deceived by the same lies of the world that all that matters is our appearance and that we need to focus solely on believing we are externally beautiful. This is a distraction. I know from experience how easy it is to get into a ‘rut’ about physical appearance; I’ve been pregnant for about 4 years solid. But although we are also our physical selves, and God isn’t calling you to wear a sack and never care about your appearance ever again, we are so much more than that.
Sure, we need to stand up and recognize the REAL beauty, not just the fake beauty commonly shown in popular culture. Now more than ever – at a time when beauty is often distorted or idolized, the world needs a renewal of women who understand the power of their beauty and who will use it to draw hearts towards God, instead of distracting them from Him. We also need to prove the world’s stereotype wrong. We are souls, as well as bodies. We have minds and opinions, and are capable and can change the world.
“The beauty on the outside never gets into the soul. But the beauty of the soul reflects itself on the face” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen
So why would I argue that the ‘oppressive’ church offers liberation? Why has there been a rise over recent years in ’new feminist’ sites and groups such as Made in His Image, Feminine Genius, New Wave Feminists and the like?
Because, for starters, we were created for more than this. This is simply not working. We see it in our peers and the stories of the heartbreaks and hurting actions of women on themselves, on others and being done to them. And all this is seen as normal. Its not good enough.
What makes living as a Catholic in the modern world so countercultural is the giving of ourselves to our God. The root of being a Catholic is relationship with Christ. We have a greater calling. And from among the complications, though we may not know where to start, that is the simple thing.
(Originally published on Catholic Stand)