The genius of woman: Redefining the strong, independent woman

Pope John Paul II circa 1979 Credit LOsservatore Romano Pope John Paul II. | Vatican media

 Today CNA says farewell to our summer intern, Lizzy Joslyn. In her final week at CNA this summer, Lizzy offered "The Genius of Woman," a four-part series of interviews and profiles, based on Pope St. John Paul II's "Letter to Women," and interviews with seven Catholic women from very different walks of life. Today, she offers her own commentary on the "feminine genius."

As a young woman immersed in popular culture, especially via social media, I have heard--and often joined--the battle cry for women to be "strong" and "independent."

Taken at face value, these are great qualities to possess. Of course, every woman--every person--should strive to be strong and independent.

But what exactly do those words mean in the context of some modern feminist viewpoints? I'd like to pinpoint the specific shade of each word as it applies to culture's tagline of the "strong, independent woman," then re-adjust the hue of their meanings to their purest and most original form--what it means to be a "strong, independent women" according to the Church.

There are women who think that being strong in the world has to mean hiding her femininity, lest she be judged by the world to appear weak or soft. And women sometimes do face social pressures that lead us to feel nearly obliged to avoid any semblance of gentleness or emotional warmth.

 It's true, of course, that women have spent years battling glass ceilings, sexual violence and lacking representation in many spheres, and these battles rightfully continue. It's true that women have to be prepared for those battles.

Despite this, women, I have discovered that we do not have to hide or throw away the warm, gentle side of our nature--or any part of our nature, for that matter. In fact, we shouldn't.

Strength, in God's eyes, means having the courage to embrace our womanly qualities, not to stifle them. We shouldn't have to be embarrassed for our keen social skills and sensitivity to others' emotions. We shouldn't have to conceal our desire to care for others or our instinct to nurture. To grow the world's appreciation for what women are: this is the true battle, the one worth fighting.

Independence, for women, is sometimes attached to the idea of "not needing" men, specifically in the context of romantic relationships. There is actually some truth to this. Women should not hold the concept of marriage as the ultimate goal in life, and neither should men. God does not call every woman and man to marriage.

But the idea of independence is most meaningful in the sense that women should focus on the unique path God is creating for them.

Though women's lives do not hinge on men (or vice versa), they do, and should, depend on each other to bring their respective strengths to the world's needs. This is the beauty of complementarity that John Paul II wrote about.

While I acknowledge that each woman has a different personality and a different set of gifts, I argue that these differences are varying reflections of the feminine genius. Some women may be more or less emotional or inclined to nurture than others. Women are called to work in various areas of the workforce; some are called to be mothers, some to both. Some women are more soft-spoken and gentle, others, perhaps, more vocal and audacious.

But no woman lacks the feminine genius, and no woman escapes its serious responsibilities, however it manifests itself in each woman's highly specific calling. God made women different from men for a reason, and it is this we must embrace in order to live the feminine genius to its fullest.

So, my fellow sisters in Christ, let's be strong in God's plan for us, and independent on our search for his purpose for our lives.

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