The battle for human sexuality rages on, and the proper place in it for Catholics is the front lines. In the struggle to define and deploy sex, all similarly sacred things are vulnerable to similar assault. And the war, in many ways, is one over womanhood—and it is one that must be won.
For men, a new chivalry must arise that re-embraces the principle to hold all women as holy, honoring the fitting partner God gave to man who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. For women, a new resistance must arise against standards that seek to desecrate and demean. It is only because womanhood is so blessed that it is the target of violation—of a ravaging that is upheld as a ripening.
One of the greatest paradoxes of our time revolves around the exaltation of womanhood. While unobjectionable in principle, feminine virtues and roles are extolled and given immunity to a degree that actually threatens female identity. The more license women receive, the less balance exists with men, threatening to topple the natural relations of the sexes. The anomaly of universally empowering womankind—or any other kind of sexism for that matter—is that it breeds a universal androgyny. The role of women is too significant in the grand scheme of things to isolate, for it loses its power without the role of men. Cooperation, not competition, is the basis of gender equality—for, though men and women are equal in fundamental ways, they are not equivalent. The desire to sanctify and safeguard the dignity of women in every arena is good, so long as it does not serve to dethrone the dignity of women by encouraging or pressuring them to become men—or by encouraging or pressuring men to become women.
Yet, in this age where women are so valued and such emphasis is placed on their valuing, the popular and promoted social fashions are antithetical to this movement. Girls dress like prostitutes, play with dolls that look like strippers, access entertainment laced with obscenity, and flaunt their sexuality as soon as possible. It is hard to imagine what could be more derogatory to true womanhood. The contradiction is jarring to say the least. With the sexually charged environment that infiltrates the lives of virtually every young girl, should there be much shock when a young girl behaves scandalously for the sake of attention or some backwards sense of affirmation? What this over-sexualization of our day inflicts upon female psychology and self-esteem can only be wondered at with fear and trembling. Perhaps the recent displays by Miley Cyrus are exemplary of the result: the best way for the girlish “Hannah Montana” to assert her womanhood is to embrace a roaring, animalistic sexuality that has nothing to do with authentic sexuality—or womanhood, for that matter.
It is naïve to expect our children, both our daughters and our sons, to be innocent and virginal in a vulgar society. Pornography is on every street corner and checkout aisle, shattering innocence with impunity and bestowing warped carnal knowledge. It is a fact: the young people of today have all been sexually assaulted by mass media and the deadly convenience of smut. To discover and wield sexuality (practically like a weapon) is pushed upon our daughters by fashion, music, and celebrities, applying an apparent pressure to be something of a vixen. To reduce women to a category of narcissistic fantasy is pushed upon our sons by the same sources. These are alarmingly plain facts. If anything can be called discriminatory, or even misogynist, it is these offensive trends.
The contradiction is confusing to say a little more than the least.
The first step to remedying this epidemic is to acknowledge its reality: the bump-and-grind “culture” is not alien to our teenagers because it is inescapable—and tempting. The metaphors of casual or recreational sex and female objectification saturate modern marketing with highly developed, subversive strategies specifically—even scientifically—designed to engage and appeal to the young. The results are everywhere to see, and they create a world where women are reduced to being targets and tools. It seems as though womanhood is now measured by how sexual a woman can be in public. Though all are victims in one way or another, girls can be doubly so as they are the ones largely besieged and used as the vehicles of this manipulation which is portrayed as fulfillment. A more bald-faced lie is harder to imagine.
What is the Catholic ammunition against this barrage? Three things: Clear communication, clear ground rules, and our rich cultural heritage. Parents are obliged with a duty that is stricter than ever before to educate their daughters and their sons as to what defines dignity, beauty, and sexuality; and to take responsibility for the things they are exposed to. It has almost reached a point of being a matter of spiritual life or death. Teaching moments arise every day, and those opportunities should be seized, and directed to shaping a mentality towards womanhood and sexuality that is wholesome and pure. It may require some painfully honest talks with daughters, telling them that suggestive clothing—or the lack of clothing—can lead to unwanted and inappropriate responses from men (though this is not to take away the responsibility men have to be custodians of their eyes and thoughts).
More importantly, parents should make every effort to provide healthy substitutes and alternatives to sex-steeped music, literature, and entertainment. Often such measures require bold moves, but bold action is called for—the devils are intrepid and so must we be. Consider the culture of the home and the family, and take decisive measures to eliminate the invading influences of the enemy. Get rid of the television. Forbid the use of cell phones in the home. Disconnect the router. Connect with each other. Learn to play the guitar or the piano well enough to provide simple accompaniment for simple folk songs. Sing them for and with your children. Read aloud to your family. Eat together. Talk with each other. Play together. Pray together. Do not exclude home-life from your activities and schedules. Girls especially require positive and strong father figures to grow in security and gain the strength to turn away from hollow promises of false love.
The display many women put themselves on is not emblematic of the empowering, carefree ideal that it is made out to be. It is servitude to a system—an ideology that devalues women in the name of power. It is a defilement of womanhood and a transgression against the intimate secrets of womanhood. Victoria is a liar. She does not have a Secret. She has given it away. (Though, by all appearances, that is the point.) True beauty, however, cannot exist without mystery. Without reservation, we run the risk of ruination. The more noise and spectacle and vulgarity, the more the pain and sorrow can be drowned out—for a while.
Resist the stream.
And hope in the promise that, one day, the glory of womanhood will crush the persecutor beneath her heel.