A practical guide to living the feminine genius.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: “Feminine genius,” a phrase found in Church documents and in your book, The Manual for Women, can sound so saccharine and pious. How is it practical?
Danielle Bean: I think it sounds saccharine and pious when we think of “femininity” as a one-size-fits-all prescription for Catholic womanhood. We picture long, flowy skirts, hearts, and pink flowers … if that’s not you, it can feel like perhaps you missed out on some of that “feminine genius” everyone is talking about. But I always remind women that real feminine genius is not squelching or changing who you are; it is embracing the woman God made you to be — that might mean running meetings in a boardroom, that might mean winning a basketball championship, or it might mean the hearts and flowers thing.
Femininity is expressed differently in each of us, but every woman has a unique capacity for loving and serving the people God places in her life. How we do that will look different for each of us.
Lopez: Why do women need their own manual? Don’t we all need to get to know the Bible better? The Catechism? Why new books? And why something separate for women?
Bean: For sure we all do need to read the Bible more, and the Catechism is an important resource for every Catholic, but it’s important sometimes to answer some of the confusion in the modern age directly. So much about our world today is confused. We can’t even say God makes us all male or female without offending someone who believes in multiple genders. But our sexuality is a core part of identity. God did indeed make us male and female, we are different, and our differences matter.
Men and women approach the world differently and respond to the world differently. God made us with gifts and strengths that are unique to our sex, and denying this simple truth is a prescription for unhappiness.
I think we need books specifically written by women to combat some of that confusion. We women have a unique capacity for identifying and affirming gifts in one another. We need girlfriends for that.
Lopez: Is it intentionally the color of a Tiffany’s box? Is there a message being conveyed there?
Bean: The color is beautiful green-blue, partly in honor of Our Lady whose color is blue, but also partly to appeal to the feminine eye for beautiful things. We women are made beautiful and we have the ability to recognize and bring beauty into the world, through color and through small touches we add to our homes, our workspaces, and our relationships with others. The Manual for Men is brown, and they can keep it!
Lopez: What practically have you learned from Mary? How again do we make her less of a pious notion and more of a model for life?
Bean: I always try to remember that Mary is not a statue. She did not live her life here on earth standing on an ivory pedestal. She lived her life in the dirt and messiness of everyday life, doing her best to be a good wife, a good mother, and a faithful daughter of God. She fled from villainous kings, changed diapers, swept floors, and wondered why her son hid from her in the temple for three days and then asked why she was looking for him.
She knows all about sin and weakness and failure, not because she sinned but because she suffered the consequences of it, especially through her witness of Jesus’ passion and death.
Mary’s faithfulness in the face of the most terrible things we can imagine is a great source of inspiration to me. She came through all that she did in triumph, and now she reigns in heaven, loving us and longing to support and guide us through all of life’s struggles. We all need a mother like that!
Lopez: Is Marian dedication something men need as much as women? Do women need to lead the way?
Bean: Mary of course is mother to all of us, but I think women can be a great example to themselves and others of the beauty of the motherly role as God intends it, leading others toward Mary. If you were blessed to have a good mother here on earth, you can readily envision a heavenly mother who loves you with even greater perfection. The ways in which we women model motherhood, in all its forms, can for sure lead others to more fully understanding Mary and the role Jesus wants her to play in our lives.
As he hung, bleeding and dying on the cross, he used some of his last words to give Mary to us as our mother. It was that important to him, and she was that precious to him. We can skip Mary and go straight to Jesus, but that is not his perfect plan. He wants us to have the great gift and benefit of acknowledging Mary as our mother.
Lopez: Pope Francis talks about the Church as mother. Again, is there a role that women are underappreciating in that?
Bean: I think the modern world has gotten caught up in the notion that equality between the sexes means that men and women must be the same, but the idea that our Church is a mother, loving, nurturing, caring for us, and making a plan for our salvation is a beautiful image that highlights the differences between the sexes. Motherly love is one of the purest “goods” God gives us on earth, and every human being recognizes the value of that, and yet why do we also want to pretend men and women are equally capable of practicing that?
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