By Angela Sealana
How often does anyone approach a woman and simply thank her?
Consider how our society can, at times, seem obsessed with protecting ‘women’s rights’ (however those may be defined), yet at the same time women are used left and right: used as a’platform’ to obtain political prestige, used by advertisers to sell stuff, used by television producers to spike ratings, used by factories for cheap labor, used by sports fans as eye candy, not to mention all the unspeakable abuses happening in the homes next door, or down the street.
I’m a member of Generation Y (born from the early ’80s through early ’00s), a characteristically optimistic and idealistic generation. However, despite my parents’ best attempts, I’ve been exposed to a steady stream of abusive language from media, strangers, community members and peers since my early schooling that shaped my understanding of my femininity.
Exhibit A: One of my earliest pre-teen memories was a commonplace visit to the dermatologist’s office. He suggested that I begin taking taking birth control as a ‘two-for-one’ solution. “Oh no,” he insisted to my mother, “I’m not suggesting anything about her, but… you never know what can happen these days!” Turning to me, he asked, “Don’t you want nice, clear skin – like when you go to the beach and wear a bikini?”
That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge about being a girl: that my body was different from a boy’s, that someday I could get pregnant, and that everyone expected me to care about my appearance and look ‘attractive.’
The fact is: I never thought about being a girl was anything special. My self-image was never integrally joined with my femininity – until I attended San Antonio’s Catholic Women’s Conference in my first year of college. There I sat, amid hundreds of women, next to my mother, who had invited me. I felt awkward; never before had I encountered so much estrogen! That weekend, I would hear – for the very first time – what the Catholic Church teaches about womanhood and femininity.
I went home and opened the free copy of “Letter to Women” written by Pope John Paul II, that I’d received in my conference packet. It was the most loving, enriching, positive portrait of womanhood I had ever encountered. The pope’s words jumped out from the page: “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman!” Wow. This was a radically new message.
I began plowing through the Internet looking for more from my church about this strange concept: that my womanhood was a gift to the world.
The more I read, the more I understood that God made me a woman for a reason, and that the Catholic Church has the most respect for women of any organization in the world. Of these things I am unshakably convinced.
Today, I relish the ways I’m able to share this profound truth with other women. For over four years, I’ve worked behind-the-scenes from San Antonio’s Catholic Women’s Conference, and last year, I served it’s nearly 2,000 participants as a speaker. Being a CWC steering committee member has been an extraordinary blessing. We pass along this message – a message that radically resonates with women to the core of their beautiful being. The church’s message about womanhood as a gift opens their eyes to their glorious dignity, their magnificent abilities and their tremendous influence. The church’s message about womanhood empowers women to transform the world through their ‘feminine genius.’
And it all starts by saying, “Thank you for being a woman.”
“My word of thanks to women thus becomes a heartfelt appeal that everyone, and in a special way states and international institutions, should make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect for their dignity and role.” – Pope Saint John Paul II, in “Letter to Women,” 6.
Angela Sealana is ministry coordinator at the Pilgrim Center of Hope.
Originally published in April 2014. “Living the Gift of Womanhood” is a column by the Catholic Women’s Conference that appeared monthly in Today’s Catholic newspaper (Archdiocese of San Antonio). Learn more about the Conference at CWCSanAntonio.com.