Women have been passive for too long, doormats, dummies, and dolts. Such was the conventional wisdom in the breathy sixties, as the Western world emerged from “stifling” order and “regimented” family structures of the post-war years. Malvina Reynolds parodied the mindless conformity of suburban life with her ditty about “little boxes made of ticky-tacky,” and the children of this culture threw it all off in their rush to be individuals. Right on their heels were their mothers, heaving aprons and diaper pins in exchange for all they thought they were missing, Jettisoned along with the rest were fatherhood, motherhood, stability and fidelity, but the promise that ostensibly lay over the horizon – true happiness – would be worth any sacrifice along the way.
Looking back from our perch in the 21st century, it seems rather sincere – that desire to look deeper than the surface, to find the “why’s” that would satisfy an unnamed hunger. Some “little boxes” did operate according to stereotype, some harbored authentic love and, sadly, some masked grievous dysfunctions that shredded innocence in ways no words can describe. Suffice it to say that something substantial was missing from enough homes to allow the ensuing moral freefall with which we struggle to this day.
Were women passive? Were they doormats? These are essential questions, but they must be pondered carefully, and we have to take the time to dig deeply concerning actions, motives, and constructs. Each is essential as we begin the inquiry into what worked, what didn’t and why.
Leading us effectively in this search was John Paul II, who suffered not primarily from the upheavals of the sexual revolution, but from other lies – first the aggressiveness of the Nazis who attacked his homeland, and secondly the imposition of socialism therein. Each degraded the human person in its way, which drove him in his own search for meaning. The conclusions he drew by light of faith are instructive to those suffering the rest of the lies that assault our integrity.
At the heart of the attack on the conventional family was the attack on women – on their dignity, on their motherhood, on the way they chose to love. Many responded to the attacks by changing the way they lived – and perhaps many of them had been living according to “convention,” and not according to an internal truth. As we come full circle in this quest for meaning, perhaps women will make their choices by new criteria. That is the Church’s hope as it offers the means for them to embrace richer motives and a deeper understanding of their vocation. Success or failure in this endeavor will guide the near future of humanity towards two starkly different ends.
So what are proper motives? What is the deeper meaning? Through the theology of the body in general and specifically in Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II revisits the creation story of Adam and Eve. He takes us back through a profound meditation on the Original Unity that existed before the fall from grace, in which the communion between man and woman was rich, satisfying and completely engaged.
The reason for the abiding happiness between man, woman and their Creator was because of the nature of how they exemplified the “gift of self.” Each could give and receive freely, without grasping, without a distracting self-interest. The man gave himself freely to the woman, who received him with joy, and the mutual exchange echoed back and forth until the giver and the receiver were indistinguishable.
Something got lost in the fall, or rather, everything got lost. But the promise of the Redeemer led them forth in pilgrimage. The Chosen People – true sojourners – watched and waited for the restoration of that communion and it is the awesome reality of Jesus Christ and His Bride the Church who have revived that mutual exchange in its purest form.
Just as John Paul II rebuilds an understanding of the human person from the ground up – from the beginning, women must find the model for their lives in the truth of that discovery. There they would learn that in receiving the gift of the Bridegroom, they find their beauty and dignity, and it is to be returned to Him in a fruitful way. How exactly that is manifest is the task of each woman – for the lives of each woman are distinguished by unique and diverse talents and circumstances.
What is constant, thankfully, is the paradigm for women, which is the fruitful Bride. Therein lies the model for action, the motive, and the construct – all beautifully arrayed as the cause and reason for our joy. Published in 2007 Through the theology of the body in general and specifically in Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II revisits the creation story of Adam and Eve. He takes us back through a profound meditation on the Original Unity that existed before the fall from grace, in which the communion between man and woman was rich, satisfying and completely engaged.