When JPII wrote “Mulieris Dignitatem,” he opened with the Second Vatican Council’s closing message.
The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.
At the time of JPII’s writing, in 1988, feminism had become quite “radical.” Women were floundering to understand who they were and in their “identity” quest, mistakenly believed that they ought to “masculinize” themselves. What began, years before, as an attempt to right some of the wrongs inflicted upon women, the feminist movement began inflicting their own wrongs upon the female population.
John Paul II knew it was both necessary and important to share with his flock, males and females, what God had intended when He created man and woman. Throughout the “Mulieris Dignitatem” discourse, JPII brilliantly sheds light upon the phrase “equal but different.”
But what does this really mean – equal but different? And what is the harm in aspiring to being politically correct and thus seeing everyone as the same? Our answers are found in the Matriarchs of the Jewish faith: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, the original feminists.
A number of specific adjectives are applicable to Sarah, the first Matriarch, and to whom God’s promise of an heir to Abraham clearly resides. Sarah is referred to as beautiful and prophetic. Whether we agree or disagree with such labels, Sarah was a physically beautiful woman. However, we also know that when Scripture identifies a woman as beautiful it is often an indicator of her interior beauty as well. Other words that could be used to describe Sarah would have been virtuous, honest, righteous, and trustworthy.
Along with being beautiful, Sarah was considered prophetic. Just as Catholics have a mystical aspect of their faith, so, too, do Jews. In this way, Sarah was said to be prophetic in that she spent a great deal of her life converting her pagan neighbors to the monotheistic faith of Judaism. She “understood” the things of God, just as JPII speaks of in “Mulieris Dignitatem.” JPII specifically says, “Christ speaks to women of the things of God and they understand; there is a true resonance…”
Thus, a true feminist embraces and values her prophetic nature, that ability to “understand” the things of God. It is only in the “understanding” that she is able to work with God, that she is able to be who God has called her to be. When radical feminism abhors a woman’s innate ability to “know the things of God,” it is asking a woman to masculinize herself and “turn off” that part of herself that God created for His own indwelling.
Sarah is followed by Rebekah who, herself, is a mighty and formidable Matriarch, a real feminist who “understood the things of God.” It is said that the divine presence that left Sarah’s tent upon her death, returned when Isaac married Rebekah. The Holy Spirit was with Rebekah, just as the Holy Spirit is with each woman today.
Rachel and Leah are the Matriarchs referred to in the blessing given to Boaz for his marriage to Ruth. It is the union of Boaz and Ruth that gives us the lineage from which Christ will be born. Rachel and Leah, and their two maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah, bring 12 boys into the world from which the 12 tribes of Israel will derive. So when, generations later, in the town of Bethlehem, Boaz marries Ruth, Boaz’s elders say, “May the Lord make this wife come into your house like Rachel and Leah, who between them build up the house of Israel. May you do well and win fame in Bethlehem.” Credit for the building up of the house of Israel is clearly given to two women, feminist in that they fulfilled their vocations as given by God and not by man.
Feminism, then, must be defined as a woman filling her vocation, a vocation to physical motherhood, spiritual motherhood, and/or serving the community through positions of authority, but never a vocation of selfish desires. In this way feminism has roots that reach back thousands of years and is packed with myriad examples of women called to a wide variety of vocations with no two being alike but all serving God and following His edicts.