DORINDA C. BORDLEE writes that the ‘genius of women’ requires men . . .
What do women want? Any man trying to bring joy to the woman he loves knows full well that this question poses a deep mystery.
Men may never suspect that their special mission or “genius” holds a key to the answer. Having come of age during the remarkable pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II, my professional endeavors to defend women and unborn children from the violent exploitation of abortion were informed and enriched by the Pope’s insightful apostolic letters and his big vision for women expressed in Evangelium Vitae: “In transforming the culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on women to promote a ‘new feminism’” (#99).
So after being invited to a woman’s symposium addressing Pope Francis’ recent call for an even deeper theology of woman, I did something that a modern woman might consider counter-cultural: I asked my law partner — a man — for his thoughts on the subject.
While his response later proved to be consistent with the themes of the symposium scholars, I must admit that it wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear. Out of the mouth of Nikolas T. Nikas came the answer that a deeper theology of woman is incomplete without men understanding and being affirmed in their own authentic identity and mission as men — so that complementarity can be realized to the benefit of women, men, children and families.
His argument went along these lines: “The Church needs to develop and challenge men with a big vision of the ‘theology of man.’ Otherwise the ‘feminine genius’ might simply dissolve into a Catholic version of radical feminism — a false philosophy of woman against the world.”
This assessment brought home the reality that I and many of my Catholic sisters might not have paid much attention to John Paul’s call for a focus on the male-female relationship of “communion” and the “unity of the two.” I had to ask myself if I was sometimes thinking or acting like a radical feminist who happened to wear a crucifix.
And then came the abstracts setting forth the thoughts of brilliant scholars whose symposium papers are now in a book entitled Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity and the Church (Our Sunday Visitor). The book’s essays include titles such as “The Genius of Man” by Deborah Savage, PhD, and “The Dignity and Vocation of Men: Why Masculinity and Fatherhood Matter to Women,” by Theresa Farnan, PhD.
Emboldened by my sisters’ affirmation of my law partner’s assessment about the need for a focus on men, I prepared a presentation delivered at a conference in Nashville, and later as a keynote address for the Diocese of Phoenix. Entitled “The Genius of Women and the Making of Men,” my presentation set forth my admittedly basic understanding of some of the characteristics of the “masculine genius.”
Looking to St. Joseph as a model of the masculine genius, I observed that men needed to be affirmed in a threefold vocation to be (1) protectors, (2) providers, and (3) prayerful leaders in service of their families, the Church, and their professions. But men have long ago been pushed away and told to mind their own business thanks to the rise of radical feminism and the legalization of abortion, which ironically facilitates the sexual exploitation of women.
I concluded with the basic acknowledgment that for women to fully attain human flourishing, we need to open our hearts and invite men to be men, and to allow men to be men.
Recognizing that my assessment as a policy lawyer was superficial at best, I suggested that perhaps this issue could be taken up in other symposia across the country and perhaps in pastoral letters from bishops. That last part was something that I had not expected to say, but the presence of Bishop Thomas Olmsted at the Phoenix event prompted the comment that ultimately resulted in the bishop holding a “mini-synod” on masculine identity and mission. Nik and I were honored to present along with experts who have thought deeply about this question in the fields of theology, philosophy, psychology, and masculine formation.
With Bishop Olmsted’s permission, I encourage everyone to be on the lookout for his upcoming pastoral letter, designed to teach and to inspire concrete initiatives. It’s time for us all to remember, as John Paul reminded us, that the Lord “assigns as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman; and simultaneously … assigns to every woman the dignity of every man.”
DORINDA C. BORDLEE is an attorney and co-founder of Bioethics Defense Fund, a pubic interest legal and educational organization whose mission is to put law in the service of life.