A while back in college I heard from a surprised friend, “You don’t look like a Catholic.” I started laughing and thought, “Well, I wear pants, I joke about life, I read philosopher Witold Gombrowicz and do facepalms.” And on top of that I have short hair.
Three years went by. I swapped Gombrowicz for Szymborska and I bought two skirts, but no matter how hard I try I am not a Catholic model of femininity. If the world were divided into black and white (oh, how simple life would be then), on one side would be smokey eyed feminists in torn jeans fighting for women’s rights, and on the other, Catholics, the make-up free version, wearing ‘80s skirts and wedding bands, with children and prayer books in hands. I would probably have to cut off a few body parts and distribute them here and there. Hand to one side, foot to the other, and head to the garbage.
But these stereotypes don’t come out of nowhere.
There are many stereotypes about Catholic women. They are about sex, intelligence, clothing, personal style, and independence of thought. Where did they come from? From a lack of conversation with one another, from media appearances, and also, in my case, from the childhood playground.
I remember well how two friends of mine in middle school openly and loudly emphasized their faith, completely downplaying their femininity. (They equated being female more with a skirt than shampoo.) Thanks to them I knew about Oasis (Light-Life Movement for youth), but also because of the company I kept, I never belonged.
But as we grow up, many of us have also encountered stereotypes from the mouths of family, among friends or from coworkers. Those words hurt our self-esteem and dignity, making us doubt if we can live our own way, with God, and if it matters which way we live our lives. So what can you do about it? First, stop worrying. then …
Try not to idealize your choices
Idealizing your faithful life is understandable; we want to show that a life with God is beautiful … because it is! But testimony is sharing the truth, not storytelling. In reality, the Christian lifestyle is not easy. Natural family planning is not easy. It is hard work. It requires patience and a commitment from both parties. Premarital abstinence is no walk in the park; it’s more akin to plowing hard in the field, and it guarantees only one thing: no pregnancy. But this is how we express our love of God and our trust in His advice.
Living in harmony with God gives you authentic happiness, a sense of accomplishment, priceless peace of heart and friendship with the most incredible Being in the universe. But it is not easy by any means. So let’s not try to improve our Christianity in Photoshop.
Don’t make excuses
Catholic stereotypes are often linked to questions about our attitude towards sex and contraception. Looking from outside the Church, others may have the impression that we are limited by rules: We don’t know anything about our bodies because we rely on the opinion of priests, we use the “calendar method” which consists of counting days from one menstruation to the next, and our entire youth is spent denying our sexuality.
But everyone has a choice to view and experience the world in their own way. For Catholic women, sexuality is a very intimate thing, and we don’t need to explain our choice to remain chaste to anyone. It is our personal choice, and what’s more, we aren’t obliged to offer an explanation to everyone we meet. We have a right to make our decisions in life and in faith. Not everyone needs to understand them; not everyone needs to accept them. What is important is that we talked them over with God because He is the most important Person that accepts and loves us, no matter what.
Remember you don’t need to be the best
It is nice to be the best student, sitting in the front row of your class, with all As on the report card. But if a few years have passed since your high school graduation, you need to stop treating everything like it’s being graded. Christian values are not a contest for the noblest life. Our goal is not to get the points for good deeds, but for salvation. Motherhood is not any better than loneliness, and having many children is not a voucher for spiritual fulfillment. Whatever it is that we manage to do in life is a gift.
Speaking of decisions, ask yourself what a good vs. bad decision means to you. Does emphasizing the validity of your choices only improve your well-being? Are you looking for justification? Or perhaps somewhere deep inside are you jealous of someone?
Sometimes the best testimony is an admission of weakness, and a simultaneous trust in God.
I bought a red beret, and I try to blend in with the old ladies leaving the church. And you know what? I like that. The Church is so diverse that it’s a waste of time to fight the windmills.
As long as I can breathe, read good books and make fun of hyperbole in the news, I’m fine. And since I stopped idealizing myself and others, I don’t try to prove anything to anyone. I finally feel that I have God’s opinion (and not everyone else’s) as my priority.