Mar 10

It can never happen in the real world.

Women do it all, with seemingly more arms and legs and eyes and heart than the human body visibly reveals, more depth and emotion and intellect and drive and seems humanly possible. ‘That’s no brag, just fact’ goes a longtime folk saying. In fact, women not only don’t tend to brag, they don’t tend to realize the enormity of their value to the world and the individuals in their one on one relationships they have as daughters, sisters, friends, wives, mothers.

So when International Women’s Day came around on March 8th, planners of the largest, most publicized event in the US to mark the occasion made it a strike, to protest oppression, inequality, ‘reproductive rights’, defunding of Planned Parenthood, Donald Trump. Instead of being a day to celebrate and stand proudly for something, those organizers made it a protest against many things and people. They missed a big opportunity. And a lot of points about what really helps women and doesn’t hurt, or eliminate, them.

Here’s how it appeared to a lot of Americans otherwise occupied with daily work and concerns, women ‘going on strike to highlight their clout’. It was a strike carried out on social media to show the lengths to which they would go to spread their message. ”Many of our national organizers have been arrested in an act of civil disobedience. We will not be silent.”

Who was trying to silence them? What did they stand for instead of against? What is ‘reproductive justice’? Who was minding the children while moms were taking ‘a day off’ of work and shopping and home life, to be out in the streets? Were there no women manning Planned Parenthood clinics, or did they find that work too necessary for women’t ‘empowerment’? What did they say about the school districts that cancelled classes for lack of teachers, causing working single moms to scramble for childcare? Where did the lower income children who relied on school meals for their nutrition go when their schools closed because of the strike?

Are we more enlightened and encouraged now, or less? Since there’s a day set aside for the global recognition of the unique role and contribution of women in history, culture and society, how can we make the most and the best of that opportunity? The initiative raised more questions than it answered.

But some women have considered and answered these and other questions, and did us all a favor by their reflections.

Like Margot Cleveland’s Federalist piece about the millions of women the world would do without, not for a day but forever, because of enabling ideologies instead of protecting women.

And Pia de Solenni’s Crux piece about proudly being at work that day, representing the finest in women’s achievements and nobly holding to her responsibilities to serve an important role.

The contrast between the trailblazing women mathematicians chronicled in [the film] Hidden Figures and the women leading [Wednesday's] protest, A Day Without Women, leaves me stunned. For generations, even centuries, women have sought equality in all aspects of life. Women in the U.S., where the present protest originates, enjoy rights and opportunities of which women in many parts of the world can scarcely dream.

It seems paradoxical, not to mention confusing, that women would absent themselves from paid work when it’s only recently in human history that so many of us can enjoy these opportunities.

Furthermore, she continues

As women, we have specific responsibilities whatever our states in life. Now we’re being asked to cast them aside, no matter how hard we’ve fought for them.

This sends a conflicting message. The organizers of this protest are saying to the world that women can’t be counted upon. They’re telling our male colleagues (paid and unpaid) that women won’t have their backs on this one day. In many ways, they’re reinforcing what I had hoped were unfair stereotypes.

I can’t even begin to imagine the women mathematicians from Hidden Figures deciding to stay home. They worked hard and made many sacrifices. In fact, they saw themselves advancing the cause of black Americans by showing up and doing work that most Americans, regardless of skin color or sex, couldn’t do. Not showing up for the job wasn’t part of the equation.

There’s more to this protest. For some, it’s a way to signal grievances against the current U.S. President, even though women voted for him. For others, it’s a slightly veiled demonstration to support abortion. All of these women have the right to express themselves and to protest.

But they don’t represent all women, and that’s the challenge for any women’s movement. It has to be diverse enough to include most women. That’s where this protest fails miserably.

Exactly. I’m a proud member of Women Speak for Themselves because of their intellectual honesty, their breadth and depth, their reach and grasp, their efforts to build up a grassroots movement of women across America who will be informed and get engaged at the local level to help communities find and build on resources to serve women, children, families and the social fabric that holds us together. It’s a group that says it’s not “pro-woman” to model outfits and images that reduce women to their bodies and think that’s a good idea. And says ‘No Melinda Gates, it’s not pro-woman to put contraception at the center of a woman’s agenda; its health effects on women and its broader harms to male-female relations and the sexual marketplace are too well-documented.’

This letter from a mother to her daughters, sincere and personal, bespeaks the ‘feminine genius’ John Paul II so eloquently wrote of, encouraging women to embrace a new feminism.

Being fully present, by listening, feeling, empathizing—always holding serious eye contact, and often the touch of a hand—builds trust. Trust builds confidence and confidence enables you to look forward, dream more and focus on others vs. yourself. Being present is the greatest gift you can give another person, and the greatest way to more closely connect with them. When you are present, you are living in the moment vs in your mind. You are seeing, hearing, and feeling another person, and together you are even more empowered to do great things. This is a gift that often comes more naturally to women.

This is true, and it is beautiful.

On International Women’s Day, I attended an event that brought together a wide cross-section of women and men of diverse demographics, backgrounds, age and experience, and I learned so much from the encounters there, brief as those couple of hours were, before heading back to my office and studio for a live radio show, half of which focused on comprehensive health care for women and their families, the health risks of birth control, and fertility awareness and how federal dollars could best serve women in community health centers.

At the event, one of the Little Sisters of the Poor engaged me in conversation, with the joy each and all of them embody, talking about the work they do to care for the elderly, sick and dying patients they love and enjoy serving. These are women who don’t want to, or have the luxury to, take a day off. Taking ‘a day without a woman’ and leaving their patients and residents without a Sister to care for them is unimaginable.

Women are never ‘off’, and are at their happiest with those they love and serve and share a relationship with, whether in family or social circle. The mother’s letter to her daughters urged this:

You are fully aware of how blessed you are, the incredible gifts you were born with that your brother doesn’t have and the gifts he has that you don’t possess. You know how happy you feel when you are doing what you love and that comes so easily and naturally to you.

Feminism and femininity go together when rightly ordered and embraced. There really is a complementarity of the sexes, this mother is helping her daughters understand the natural beauty of that phenomenon. And ultimately, “your family is your foundation, and also your greatest enabler. When it comes to your family, we should be with you everywhere you are, as you are always and forever with us.”

That mother embodies the feminine genius. And she does her daughters, and her son, a great, lifelong, never-ending service by imbuing them with such wisdom that transcends the ages.

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Mar 19

How and whether it was observed depends on perspective.

I happened to be in Rome, in the middle of a brief visit with my son, who came by the hotel in time to head to St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus and read me the message on his cell phone from Vodafone (in Italian) which said something like ‘If the world is an epic, it is thanks to woman.’ The message then said in celebration, free internet access would be given to all subscribers that day… And I asked him to repeat that. Neither of us knew anything about this Festa taking place on a day already important to me and marked for celebration for other reasons. So he said it’s apparently Women’s Day in Italy, and we thought it nice that the cell phone company started it off with a nice message. It was a little baffling to us both, since Italy celebrates Mother’s Day as the US does, and this day was set apart from that to celebrate all women, which we did not know.

Then we headed to St. Peter’s. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Sometime late that day, a splendid one in Rome with family spending hours outside in glorious weather walking, dining, strolling, talking, enjoying gelato, with more strolling amid countless other families, I went online ever so briefly. And learned that articles and blog posts were dedicated to revealing the origins of International Women’s Day in socialism and communism, something most citizens of the US never knew because it’s not celebrated here and hardly noticed as an international story.

But when we read that, it stood so at odds with our experience in Rome, the first experience of this occasion. Whatever it is or was for anyone else anywhere, here’s how I first encountered the Day of the Woman (besides the Vodafone message my son read to me).

At the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis finished his remarks relating to the Sunday Gospel with these remarks.

…“a greeting to all women! To all the women who work every day to build a more human and welcoming society. And a fraternal thank you to those who in a thousand ways bear witness to the Gospel and work in the Church. This is for us an opportunity to reaffirm the importance and the necessity of their presence in life. A world where women are marginalised is a barren world, because women not only bring life, but they also give us the ability to see beyond – they see beyond themselves – and they transmit to us the ability to understand the world through different eyes, to hear things with more creative, more patient, more tender hearts. A prayer and a special blessing for all women present here in the square and for all women! Greetings!”

It was a beautiful finish to a message that sent us off on what I said was a glorious day, and along the way we saw everywhere the Italian bouquets of ‘mimosas’, the small yellow flowers that symbolize the day, and I was greeted by shop owners and restaurant hosts with a warm ‘Buona Festa!’

Reading the stories online later about the socialist roots of the day, decades earlier, I thought of the many times we had crisscrossed the Pantheon walking around Rome those days. It was originally erected as a pagan temple or building of some sort, possibly dedicated to many gods. It was later consecrated as the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Which seemed emblematic to me, of meeting something where it is and bringing to it a Christian presence, reflecting the glory of what Pope Benedict referred to as the ‘new humanism.’

Like when my family visited Ireland and came upon the Hill of Slane, on which St. Patrick lit a Paschal fire to rival the ‘festival fire’ on the opposite Hill of Tara lit by a pagan king, initiating a longstanding, sacred Catholic Easter Vigil rite.

In other words, it is indeed what you make of it.

So since my initiation into this festival honoring women on March 8th happened as it did in Rome, hearing Pope Francis honor the role of women as he did, it seemed to me a current day acknowledgement of the unique role of women recognized by the Second Vatican Council in its closing remarks, among countless individual ones by popes and councils. After addressing different, diverse identity groups, the Council fathers said this:

And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states — girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone — you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

Simply not falling? That’s it? Yes, that is what they were saying.

You women have always had as your lot the protection of the home, the love of beginnings and an understanding of cradles. You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization.

Wives, mothers of families, the first educators of the human race in the intimacy of the family circle, pass on to your sons and your daughters the traditions of your fathers at the same time that you prepare them for an unsearchable future. Always remember that by her children a mother belongs to that future which perhaps she will not see.

How beautiful is that?

And you, women living alone, realize what you can accomplish through your dedicated vocation. Society is appealing to you on all sides. Not even families can live without the help of those who have no families.

How sensitive an understanding of roles that was, and is.

Especially you, consecrated virgins, in a world where egoism and the search for pleasure would become law, be the guardians of purity, unselfishness and piety. Jesus who has given to conjugal love all its plenitudes, has also exalted the renouncement of human love when this is for the sake of divine love and for the service of all.

Lastly, women in trial, who stand upright at the foot of the cross like Mary, you who so often in history have given to men the strength to battle unto the very end and to give witness to the point of martyrdom, aid them now still once more to retain courage in their great undertakings, while at the same time maintaining patience and an esteem for humble beginnings.

What a profound statement of understanding, acknowledgement, appreciation and appeal this is, even in its brevity.

Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

This needs to be recalled now. We are presently in the midst of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Next Monday, my radio program will be dedicated to the proceedings of some lively, engaging, and intense meetings. And to giving voice to women who speak to the role of life giver, nurturer, caregiver, humanizer, peacemaker, and the witness of what Vatican II saw as “the vocation of woman…achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.”

Which beats the hell out of whatever socialists and communists intended by fabricating something like an international women’s day according to their designs.

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