St. Edith Stein’s Essays on Women offer compelling descriptions of ideal femininity and how women can best attain this in their lives. First, St. Stein describes the natural vocation of women, writing that, “Only the person blinded by the passion of controversy could deny that woman in soul and body is formed for a particular purpose. The clear and irrevocable word of Scripture declares what daily experience teaches from the beginning of the world: woman is destined to be wife and mother” (43). St. Stein writes that this purpose is perfectly compatible with the nature of women to seek “to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole” (43). She also writes that women are suited for another role compatible with motherhood: companion. According to St. Stein, “it is her [woman’s] gift and happiness to share the life of another human being and, indeed, to take part in all things which come his way” (44). This role requires “subordination and obedience as directed by God’s work” (44).
It is difficult, in this feminism-ridden day and age, to accept that the primary role of women, for which we have been formed and according to which we have been endowed with certain and sundry capacities, is a supporting one. Most of us have been ingrained with the idea that women can and should do whatever men do, a view that effectively denies the unique qualities and gifts that make us specifically suited for specific functions—through which we are able to become what we were created to be (which, to put it mildly, is no small thing!). The secular view of freedom as the liberty to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants is a main culprit of the disparity between what women do and what women should do (this applies to men as well, of course). To be enslaved by our whims is no freedom. Contrarily, to FREELY CHOOSE to work for the good and benefit of others by living according to God’s will is the way, not only to salvation, but to the fulfillment of our purposes—our reasons for being. There is supreme dignity in the choice to excel in what we were created for.
Advent is the perfect time for women to accept, not our place, but our purpose. This implies something far beyond anything chauvinistic or misogynistic; rather, it involves embracing our ideal forms and working to realize them through our lives. Advent is a wonderful time for this because of the glorious example of obedience, support, and love that the Virgin Mary demonstrated when she FREELY CHOSE to submit to the will of God. Hers is an example of the feminine ideal for which we should all strive. It is also an example of what results from bowing to the Lord’s will, as is stated in these words from Hail Mary: “blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” The fruit of Mary’s choice was the means for the salvation of the world! Of course, not all of our actions may result in such obvious splendor, but our participation in the Lord’s will is always glorious. May all of us, male or female, pray this Advent for the strength and will to act according to our reasons for being, so that our works may bear fruit as Mary’s did!
[In my next post, I will write about St. Stein’s views on feminine vocations other than the maternal.]