Progress must not be at the expense of true womanhood

Father John A. Kiley

A young lady recently considered taking the Boy Scouts to court so she could apply for an Eagle Scout award like the one her brother had recently achieved. The girl argued that since the Girl Scouts did not have an award similar in prestige to the Eagle Scout award it was unfair to deny her this privilege simply because she was a girl. Denying her a chance at this award is clearly sexist, she argued, and therefore unjust and possibly illegal.

The Boy Scouts Eagle Award did not start out as a prestigious award 106 years ago when the Scouts were founded. The award achieved its well-deserved prestige thanks to 106 years of hard work on the part of boys and the men who advised them. To freeload off a century of hard work by her male counterparts in order to distinguish herself is not at all honorable. The young woman should instead begin her own 106 year campaign to make sure that the Girl Scouts someday have a badge of equal rank with the Eagle award. Thus she would be really making a genuine, feminine contribution to Scouting rather than simply taking advantage of countless young men’s century of hard work.

This Girl Scout’s attempt to garner an enduring and honorable award from the Boy Scouts for her own aggrandizement is significant of the entire contemporary movement toward sexual equality that plays out daily in the media, at the office, at home and even in the Church. Too often equality amounts to no more than mimicry. Thus, women are popularly depicted carrying out tasks long associated with men: women chopping blocks of wood in the back yard, women sparring with opponents in the boxing ring, women unloading gun fire on the front lines in battle. Many in the women’s movement have not moved much beyond Annie Oakley: “Anything you can do I can do better.”

Cardinal Scola of Milan argues that the major challenge the contemporary woman faces today is not equality but rather identity. Women will always fall short of the mark if they only compare themselves to men’s essentially masculine achievements. Women will never realize what their own unique feminine contributions to family, society and Church may be if they continue to measure themselves only by the standards men have achieved. Women must look into their own minds, souls and bodies to discover what contributions that they, and they alone, can offer to society. Someone asked Napoleon who was the greatest woman in history. Bonaparte answered, “The one with the most babies.”

The emperor might have given this answer with his tongue in his cheek but his response is absolutely correct. Motherhood is the unique female contribution to society, family and Church. Women must look first to those roles in world history that no man can ever fulfill. Daughter, sister, wife and mother are clearly roles unique to women. Such roles must not be ignored even while women pursue wider careers. The alert daughter and the aware sister have gifts to offer a family and a neighborhood that sons and brothers cannot. The observant wife and attentive mother have talents not found in the best of husbands and fathers. Femininity, unique to womanhood, is a divinely instilled response to life that only a woman may discern. Feminism ignores womanhood, bent only on remaking women in the image of men, robbing females of their distinctive destiny that goes back to Eden.

In stressing equality over identity modern society manages to distract women from the ongoing attack on the very nature of womanhood, on the very essence of femininity. Abortion, contraception, sterilization, surrogacy are plainly attacks on motherhood. Divorce, cohabitation and single motherhood are obviously assaults on the dignity of woman as wife. Pornography certainly exploits women who are daughters and sisters. Women truly have to ask themselves what particular vocation, what special role in society, what exceptional contribution to the human race, can they make through their feminine gifts that no Boy Scout or male CEO or heavyweight athlete could consider or achieve.

The era when educated women could expect only to be school teachers, nurses, or secretaries is still within memory. Since then women’s contribution to science, medicine, technology, education, business and athletics has been greatly enhanced. But progress must not be at the expense of true womanhood. Scouting badges, social advancement and vocational success must be achieved by a deeper appreciation of one’s true self not by the imitation of someone else’s accomplishments.