Our Bodies, Ourselves II

by Jeanne Monahan

As we approach the International Day for Women this Saturday I can’t help but think about the “war on women” — although it may be different than the one we have all been hearing about during the political –campaign seasons. I’m convinced that the real war on women has more to do with a crisis in what it means to be human – to be a person, and in particular, a woman. One might call it a crisis in anthropology.

Over the course of the last two weeks, Planned Parenthood, our nation’s largest abortion provider, vowed to spend 16 million dollars in their next “war on women” campaign to keep the Senate “pro-choice.” In this same time frame Gloria Steinem, famed feminist, was quoted saying that “if we [women] didn’t have wombs we’d be fine.” The goal of the International Women’s Day is to create “equality” for women.  Do these messages help advance women? No. The crux of these messages involves erasing differences between men and women and viewing a woman’s capacity to bear a child as a form of slavery or bondage that she needs to be freed from or at the very least in control of.

We live in a culture that sends mixed messages about a woman’s body – on one hand over-emphasizing a need to have a body that looks younger, skinnier, and prettier while on the other hand under-emphasizing the significance of certain bodily actions, for example, insinuating that sex “is only physical” and does not have broader consequences for the whole person. With such conflicting messages, it is no wonder that women are somewhat confused about their bodies and what that has to do with their overall being. 

Perhaps it is the case that the body has a lot of significance and can “teach” us about how we were made and how we will find fulfillment. Our bodies make clear that women are intrinsically different, but complementary to, men. Women are equal in dignity but inherently different from men. Both genders are good; both are necessary. But arbitrary they are not.

Also consider the biological fact (some call it a miracle) that a woman has the capacity to be a mother. Much to Steinem’s chagrin, the truth is that while a woman’s womb does not define her, her capacity to bear children is not insignificant to the larger picture of who she is as a person. In the early 20th century, a brilliant female philosopher, Edith Stein, opined that a woman’s capacity to bear a child has sublime anthropological significance. “Only the person blinded by the passion of controversy could deny that woman in soul and body is formed for a particular purpose . . . woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural yearning.”

This Saturday, as we celebrate the tremendous advances made for women in the past many years, let us not do a disservice to women and our larger culture by equating deep feminine fulfillment with “reproductive freedoms” or by downplaying the incredibly complementary natures of men and women by advocating for an erroneous “same-ness” rather than understanding that we are equal in dignity but inherently different. For any woman who really wants to make a difference in the world, the best gift she can give to her society is to be authentically herself, body and all. To quote another influential woman, “Be who you are and you will set the world ablaze.”

— Jeanne Monahan is president of the March for Life

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