A popular speaker on theology of the body once received an enthusiastic comment from a fan: “Gosh, I really love your talk on the hygiene of women.” It only took him a moment to realize what she meant to say: “I really love your talk on the genius of women.”
While the hygiene of women might be part of their genius—in comparison to men’s hygiene, this would certainly seem to be true—the focus of this article is on the “genius” of women.
What exactly is this “genius” of woman? It is a term John Paul the Great spent a great deal of time unpacking throughout the course of his pontificate. Though John Paul the Great was male, just as he had an uncanny way of understanding the intimacy of married life because of his vast pastoral work with spouses, he also had a profound understanding of who woman is specifically in the sight of God.
In this article, I will simply hold onto his coattails and humbly offer my two cents.
In order to understand precisely what this “genius” is, we must go to the spousal meaning of the human body. Contrary to the world’s perspective that marriage is the Church’s permission given to spouses to engage in lustful intercourse, in truth, to be a spouse means to be a gift to the other. This spousal reality also exists in the human body. Every person’s body speaks this language of self-gift. We were created from Gift to give ourselves to others and to the Gift, who is God. The only way that we are going to be fulfilled is if we are a gift. This giftedness is not found in some super-spiritual way, but it is done in and through the body.
If we take a moment to examine the nature of a gift, in order for it to exist, there must be three parts: One who gives, one who receives, and the gift between the giver and the receiver. If there are only people who are giving gifts and no one receives them, then a gift can’t really exist. All three of these elements are essential.
Looking at humanity, we see are created in the image and likeness of God. Man, male and female, has this image written right into his flesh. If we look at men’s bodies with the divine vision, we see they speak the language of initiation. Their desires correspond correctly to the way their body is made. A man longs to be in the image of Christ, to serve his sister, and ultimately to lay down his life for her.
Written right into the bodies of women, on the other hand, is the language of receptivity. It is this receptivity that is one major part her “genius,” for it corresponds with her psychology (there is more to this genius, but we don’t have time to fully unpack it here). Every woman, in her heart of hearts, wants to be asked to dance, wants a gentleman to open a door for her, wants to be proposed to. It is not that she is incapable of doing these things; no, it is that the desire to first be served is written in her heart. When she has received a sincere gift (and it must be sincere) it is then she can give herself back as a gift to the other, which the man is then called to receive. This is able to occur in all levels of life, not simply in marriage.
Through her “genius,” she is able to be perceptive of the needs of others — needs of which men are often clueless. Women are often much better at being in tune with others’ emotional situations. It’s not that men are simply insensitive (at least, not all men), but the fact that women are literally able to make room for another within themselves (within their wombs) speaks volumes about how they have been hardwired by God to embrace others’ concerns and accommodate others. This is why all women are called to motherhood, perhaps physically, but absolutely in being a spiritual mother to others.
This is why John Paul the Great, writing in 1995 in his Letter to Women, said:
It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the “genius of women,” not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.
Although men and women are equal, this order must be preserved if we are to truly be joyful and experience, in our bodies, the reason we were created. Things get messed up, especially for women, when men are not living their bodies as they should and are not proposing sincere and genuine gifts. Sadly, we live in a world that does not teach men to propose sincere gifts nor to respect women. Because of the porn epidemic that is everywhere, from hardcore Internet porn to the softcore porn in your local supermarket checkout line, men are being indoctrinated to view women merely as objects and to believe, not only that this is just the way things are, but that it actually is a good thing. Thus a woman who knows her dignity may find herself in a very lonely situation, as all she can seemingly find are men who are addicted to their libidos. This can lead to some very frustrated women (and sadly, these can be otherwise very attractive and wonderful Catholic women).
What’s more, there are some women who are so thirsty for love that they play right into this game. They think that all guys are the same, and if they are going to satisfy this craving to be accepted, then they have to sell out. Thus they will dress in a way that purposefully strives to incite the lust of men, because they’ve been sold the lie that this is what men are “really looking for.” This is one of the reasons why the Playboy symbol on women’s clothing is such a hot commodity among young women.
Furthermore, some women dump boatloads of chemicals into their bodies (a.k.a. the contraceptive pill), trying to suppress their fertility in the hope that this will truly allow her to be fulfilled, all the while making her more irritable, gain more weight, and decrease her libido. This is just one of the reasons why so many women are miserable when they try to squeeze into the world’s concept of what a woman should be.
In defense of my brother Catholics who “get” what femininity is all about (and these men do actually exist), who are longing to give themselves as a gift to a woman in marriage, yet can’t seem to find anyone to receive them: there are good Christian women who have been so wounded by the lusts of men that they close their hearts to the approach of any man. The anger of the radical feminist movement screams this. Then good men are also frustrated because they do not see anyone who is willing to receive their gift, and they give up the battle.
The solution to these problems must come through re-learning the language of the body. Both women and men must recognize that every woman is a living icon of humanity — of the very purpose for which human beingswere created. In her very flesh, she has the ability to receive love into her, conceive life in her womb, and bear it forth to the world. Every person male and female is called to receive the love of God, to conceive love and life in his or her heart, and to bear them forth to the world.
We need women to embrace their own “genius,” and if they are going to follow anyone’s example, it is that of Mary. To paraphrase the words of St. Louis de Montfort, every person, especially women, are called to be “liquefied by the Holy Spirit and poured into the mold of Mary.” We are all called to be “little Mary’s,” to open our bodies up to the transformative power of God to do great things in us. It is the only way that true love and life can be borne to this world.
This means that to be a woman precisely as the woman God originally created her to be is a good thing. No woman needs to change herself to please others if it takes away from her receptivity and motherhood (either physically and/or spiritually), because it is precisely this “genius” that the world needs desperately. We need courageous women to be not afraid to say yes to God’s plan for femininity, being radically conformed to the will of the Father. For like Mary, they can literally change the entire world and eternity.