On The Feminine Vocation

On the world’s summit, in the very heart of the spiritual, is found the handmaid of God, a manifestation of the human being re-established in its original truth. This is woman’s vocation: to protect the world of humans as mother, and to save it as a virgin, by giving to this world a soul, her soul. The destiny of the new world lies in the hands of the mother. As the Quran states it so beautifully, ‘Paradise lies at the feet of the mother.’ In Sodom and Gomorrah, Giraudoux speaks of the age when ‘Everywoman’ is no longer able to love and give of herself: ‘This is the end of the world!’

—Paul Evdokimov, Woman and the Salvation of the World. trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994), 185.

Rightfully, people are interested in the special vocation or calling of women in the world today. The concern that many have is: What exactly is it about the feminine that is so special that women have something unique that they can offer to the world and the Church that men cannot?

This is a question I cannot answer. I have read what many others have said to this question, but no one has offered an exhaustive analysis. I’ve studied under women who called themselves feminists, some who were very open for communication between the genders and trying to gain mutual understanding, while others were not and were quite dismissive of any input that a man could give. Those who object to men discussing this question tend to say something like this: “You are a man. How can you know what a woman is like? What do you know about us that qualifies you to discuss who and what we are? If you haven’t lived life as a woman, you can’t discuss the feminine!”

I’ve only met a few who think like this. Strangely enough, they think they are qualified to discuss men and the claim that most of the problems we find in the world today is the result of the “evil” of Patriarchy. I will acknowledge their ability to discuss masculinity, because I think they are around enough men to have had some glimpse as to what it is. But they should then give me the ability to respond, to discuss what I see is so special and unique in women, both in their talents, but in the problems they face because of that uniqueness. For any discussion of gender, there are many reflections which are needed, including those from people who are not of that gender. I know myself in ways no one else knows me, but my friends know me in a different fashion, as an other, and see in me things I do not see in myself. I would be amiss to ignore them because they have not lived life “in my shoes.”

Thankfully, I think that the posters here on Vox Nova would agree with me in this analysis. It is because of the ongoing discussion on this topic that I thought I would mention some (of the many) books I’ve read and studied which influence my views on this topic. Most are Christian, though one is Buddhist. Some are from men, some are from women. One is a work of fiction yet one I’ve heard resonates with women well. I don’t agree with all of the authors on all issues, and indeed, some I have radical disagreements with. But I think all of them provide useful analyses on this topic from various viewpoints. Some might not be specifically doing so, such as the works of Hadewijch, and yet they show something of the feminine in them that I think they should be put on this list. I could be wrong. I don’t know. But for those interested in the issues of femininity, I must say, I have found them to be quite important, not just in discussing femininity, but in understanding human relations in general.

They are:
* Paul Evdokimov, Woman and the Salvation of the World.
* Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.
* Hadewijch, The Complete Works.
* Mary Catherine Hilkert, Speaking With Authority: Catherine of Siena and the Voices of Women Today.
* Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is.
* C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.
* Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine.
* Judith Simmer-Brown, Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism.
* Vladimir Solovyov, Meaning of Love, Lectures on Divine Humanity, and Politics, Law and Morality: Essays by V.S. Soloviev.
* Edith Stein, Essays on Woman.