By MSGR. FULTON J. SHEEN
The proudest boast of Communism is that it has finally emancipated the woman. Marx writes: "Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity. All are instruments of labor." The key word here is instrument which reduces a human being to the dignity of a monkey wrench. The assumption was that woman was free as soon as she became available for production. One of the paradoxes of our irrational world is that woman today is glorified when she produces an Atomic Bomb, but not when she can produce life. It is like praising violinists for producing sewer pipes instead of melodies.
At the very beginning of the Communist Revolution in Russia a decree was passed declaring that all women between the ages of seventeen and thirty-two became the property of the State, and that the rights of husbands were abolished (Novaia Zhizn, No. 54, 1918 p. 2). In keeping with the idea that liberation means working in a factory rather than in a home, we read in a Soviet book published in 1935: "Women's labor has become one of the main sources from which industry could draw fresh supplies of workers. During the earlier years of the first Five Year Plan [in Russia], there were about six million housewives in the towns (Shaburova, Woman is a Great Power, 1935 edition, p. 32)." The women refused to accept what the Communists called "the emancipation for women from depressing domestic atmosphere" but they were ultimately forced into "emancipation" and began working in mines, sewers, and in the manipulation of pneumatic drills.
This idea of the emancipation of women through industrialization is not altogether a Communist idea, but like many others has been derived from Western bourgeois capitalistic civilization which thought of the liberation of woman in terms of equality with men. The only difference is that the Communist merely carried the idea to its logical extreme, and if it scandalizes us now it is because our bourgeois world never understood the full implication of its error. The two basic errors of both Communism and a capitalistic liberal civilization on this subject were: 1) Women were never emancipated until modern times. Religion particularly kept them in servitude; 2) Equality means the right of a woman to do a man's work.
First, it is not true that women began to be emancipated in modern times and in direct proportion to the decline of religion. The fact is that woman's subjection began in the seventeenth century with the break-up of Christendom and took on a positive form at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Under the Christian civilization women enjoyed rights, privileges, honors and dignities which have since been swallowed up by the machine age. In eighty-five Guilds in England during the Middle Ages, seventy-two had women members on an equal basis with men in such professions as barbers and sailors. They were probably just as outspoken as men because one of the rules of the Guilds was that "the sister as well as the brethren" may not engage in disorderly or contumacious debates. In Paris there were fifteen guilds reserved exclusively for women, while eighty of the Parisian guilds were mixed. Nothing is more erroneous historically than the belief that it was our modern age which recognized women in the professions.
The records of these Christian times reveal the names of thousands upon thousands of women who influenced society and whose names are now enrolled in the catalogue of saints, Catherine of Sienna [a woman] alone leaving eleven large volumes of her writings. Up until the seventeenth century in England, women functioned in business perhaps even more than today. In fact, so many were in business that it was provided by law that the husband should not be responsible for her debts. Between 1553 and 1640 ten percent of the publishing in England was done by women. Because the homes did their own weaving, cooking and laundry it has been estimated that women in pre-industrial days were producing half the goods required by society. In the Middle Ages women were as well educated as men and it was not until the seventeenth century that women were barred from education. Then at the time of the Industrial Revolution all the activities and freedom of women were curtailed as the machine took over the business of production and men moved into the factory. As these disabilities continued woman felt the loss of her freedom, and rightly so, because she felt she had been hurt by man who robbed her of her legal rights, and she fell into the error of believing that she ought to proclaim herself the equal of man, forgetful that a certain superiority was already hers because of her functional difference from man. Equality then came to mean negatively, the destruction of all privileges enjoyed by specific persons or classes, and positively, as absolute and unconditioned sex equality with all men.
This brings us to the second error in the bourgeois-capitalistic theory of women, namely, the failure to make distinction between mathematical and proportional equality. Mathematical equality implies exactness of remuneration; for example, two men who work at the same job at the same factory should receive equal pay. Proportional equality means that each should receive his pay according to his function. In a family, for example, all children should be cared for by the parents, but it does not mean that because sixteen year old Mary gets an evening gown with an organdy trim the parents should give seventeen year old Johnnie the same thing. Women in seeking to regain some of the rights and privileges they had in Christian civilization thought of equality in mathematical terms or in terms of sex. Feeling themselves overcome by a monster called "man" they identified freedom and equality with the right to do a man's job. All the psychological, social and other advantages which were peculiar to women were ignored until the inanities of the bourgeois world reached their climax in Communism where a woman was emancipated the moment she went to work in a mine. The result has been that woman's imitation of man and her flight from motherhood has developed neuroses and psychoses which have reached alarming proportions.
The Christian civilization never stressed equality in a mathematical sense, but only in the proportional sense, for equality is wrong when it makes the woman a poor imitation of man. Once she became man's mathematical equal, he no longer stood when she came into a room, no longer gave her a seat in a bus, and no longer took off his hat in an elevator. The other day in a New York subway a man gave a woman his seat and she fainted. When she was revived she thanked him, and he fainted.
Modern woman has been made equal with man, but she has not been made happy. She has been emancipated from a clock and thereby no longer free to swing, or as a flower has been emancipated from its roots, only to wither and die. She has been cheapened in her search for mathematical equality in two ways: by becoming a victim to man by becoming only the instrument of his pleasure, ministering to his needs in a sterile exchange of egotism. A victim to the machine by subordinating the creative principle of life to the production of non-living things, which is the essence of Communism. This is not a condemnation of a professional woman, because the important question is not whether a woman finds favor in the eyes of a man, but whether she can satisfy the basic instincts of womanhood. If it were the man that made a difference to a woman and all that wifehood and motherhood entail, then the least womanly of all women would be found in convents.
The fact is, however, that nowhere else are more normal and certainly happier women to be found on this earth. One might add also, that nowhere else are there so many young women, for a peculiar quality about the spiritual life is that it keeps a woman young. Cosmetics, mud baths, sneezeless soaps are lacking, but they manage to keep young and unwrinkled because they are at peace. What makes the difference in woman is not therefore a man, but whether a certain God-given qualities which are specifically hers are given adequate and full expression. These qualities are principally, devotion, sacrifice and love. They need not necessarily be expressed in a family, or even in a convent. They can find an outlet in the social world, in the care of the sick, the poor, the ignorant —in a word— in the seven corporal works of mercy. It is sometimes said that the professional woman is hard. This may in a few instances be true, but it is not because she is in a profession, but because she has alienated her profession from contact with human beings in a way to satisfy the deeper cravings of her heart. It may very well be that the revolt against morality, and the exaltation of sensuous pleasure as the purpose of life, are due to the loss of the spiritual fulfillment of existence. Having been frustrated and disillusioned, such souls first become bored, then cynical, and finally, suicidal. Wherein lies the solution? In a return to the Christian concept wherein stress is placed not on equality but equity.
Equity is love, mercy, understanding, sympathy — consideration of details, appeals, and departures from the fixed rules of courts which law has not yet embraced. Applying this to women, we are saying that equity rather than equality should be the basis of all the claims of women. It goes beyond equality by claiming superiority in certain aspects of life. Equity is the perfection of equality, not a substitute. It has the advantages of recognizing the specific difference between man and woman, which equality does not have. As a matter of fact, they are not equal in sex; they are quite unequal, and it is only because they are unequal that they complement [complete] one another. The violin and the bow are not equal. Each has a superiority of function. Man and woman are equal inasmuch as they have the same rights and liberties, the same final goal of life and both have been redeemed by the Blood of Our Divine Savior -- but they are different in function. It is that truth which solves the problem.
One of the greatest of the Old Testament stories reveals this difference. While the Jews were under Persian captivity, Aman, the prime minister of King Assuerus, asked his master to slay the Jews because they obeyed the law of God rather than the Persian law. When the order went out that the Jews were to be massacred, Esther was asked to approach the wicked King and plead for her people. There was a law that no one should enter the King's presence under the penalty of death, unless the King extended his scepter as a permission to approach the throne. That was the law. But Esther said: "I will go in to the King, against the law, not being called, and expose myself to death and to danger (Esther 4: 6)." Esther fasted an prayed and then approached the throne. Would the scepter be lowered? The King held tout the golden scepter, and Esther drew near and kissed the top of it, and the King said to her: "What wilt thou, Queen Esther? What is thy request? (Esther 5:3)."
This story has been interpreted through the Christian ages as meaning that God will reserve to Himself the reign of justice and law, but to Mary, His Mother will be given the reign of mercy. During the Christian ages, Our Blessed Mother bore a title which has been forgotten, but it is revived in two modern non-Catholic writers, Henry Adams and Mary R. Beard. Adams described the Lady of Equity in the Cathedral of Chartres. Over the main altar sits the Virgin Mary, the Lady of Equity, with the Holy Child on her knees, presiding over the courts, listening serenely to pleas for mercy in behalf of their sins. As Mary Beard beautifully put it: "The Virgin signified to the people moral, human or humane power, as against the stern mandates of God's law." And we might add, this is the woman's special glory — mercy, pity, understanding, intuition of human needs, call it anything you please. When women step down from the role of the Lady of Equity and her prototype Esther, and insist only on equality, they lose their greatest opportunity to change the world. Law has broken down today. Jurists no longer believe in a Divine Judge behind Law. Obligations are no longer sacred. Even peace is based upon the power of Three Nations rather than on the Justice of God.
Shall women, in this day of the collapse of justice equate themselves with men in rigid exactness, or shall they rally to Equity, to mercy and love and give to a cruel and lawless world something that equality cannot give? Whence shall come a devotion to causes, if women who are capable of greater devotion than men, insist on a cold equality? How shall wars be stopped and the taking of young life, if women, like men, trust only in law? If women recognized the truth hidden in the Lady of Equity, love might be restored to homes and families. The reason there is little love now is because in the human order there is never any love between equals. There may be justice, but no affection. If man is the equal of woman, then she has rights, but, what heart ever lived on rights? All love demands inequality or superiority. The lover is always on his knees, the beloved must always be on a pedestal. Whether it be man or woman, the one must always consider himself or herself as undeserving of the other. Even God humbled Himself in His Love to win man, saying He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. And man, in his turn approaches that loving Savior in Communion with the words: "Lord, I am not worthy." Not then because women enter professions do some harden and become frustrated. Professional careers do not of themselves defeminize women; otherwise the Church would not have raised political women to sainthood, as was the case with St. Elizabeth and St. Clotilde.
The cause of tragedy in woman today is that by stressing equality, they have lost those specifically feminine qualities which have given her superiority of function. These qualities are devotedness and creativeness. No woman is happy unless she has someone for whom she can sacrifice herself, not in a servile way but in the way of love. Added to the devotedness is her love of creativeness. A man is afraid of dying, but a woman is afraid of not living. Life to a man is personal; life to a woman is otherness. She thinks less in terms of perpetuation of self and more in terms of perpetuation of others — so much so that in devotedness she is willing to sacrifice herself for others. To the extent that a career gives no opportunity for either she becomes de-feminized. If these qualities cannot be given an outlet in a home and a family, they can nevertheless find other substitutions in works of charity, in the defense of virtuous living, in the defense of right as other Claudias when their political husbands as Pilates rely only on expediency, then her work as a money earner becomes a prelude and a condition for the display of equity which is her greatest glory.
The level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. This is because there is a basic difference between knowing and loving. In knowing something you bring it down to the level of your understanding. But in loving we always go up to meet the demand of the one loved. If you love music you have to submit to its laws and disciplines. When man loves woman, it follows the nobler the woman the nobler the love; the higher the demands by the woman, the more worthy a man must be. That is why a woman is the measure of the level of our civilization. It is for our age to decide whether woman shall claim equality in sex and the right to work at the same lathe, or whether she will claim equity and give to the world that which no man can give. In these pagan [irreligious] days when women want to be only equal with men, they have lost respect.
In Christian days when men were strongest, woman was respected. As the author of Mont. St. Michel puts it: "The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a period when men were at their strongest; never before or since have they shown equal energy in such varied directions, or such intelligence in the direction of their energy; yet these marvels of history — these Plantagenets; these Scholastic philosophers; these architects of Rheims and Amiens; these Innocents, and Robin Hoods, and Marco Polos; these crusaders who planted their enormous fortresses all over the Levant; these monks who made the wastes and barrens yield harvests — all, without apparent exception, bowed down before the woman. Explain it how you will! Men rushed like sheep to escape the butcher, and were driven to Mary; only too happy in finding protection and hope in a being who could understand the language they talked, and the excuses they had to offer . . ." As Abelard said of her: "After the Trinity you are our only hope . . . you are placed there as our advocate; all of us who fear the wrath of the Judge, fly to the Judge's mother who is logically compelled to intercede for us and stands in the place of a mother to the guilty." To the Lady of Equity once again modern women must look, as even those who have the Faith must see fulfilled in her those spiritual functions which no priest can perform; queen, mother and woman.
If woman wants to be ever a revolutionist , then the Lady is her guide for she sang the most revolutionary song ever written — The Magnificat, the burden of which was the abolition of principalities and powers, and the exaltation of the humble. She breaks the shell of woman's isolation from the world and puts woman back into the wide ocean of humanity as she who is the Cosmopolitan Woman gives the Cosmopolitan Man, for which giving all generations shall call her blessed. But she was the inspiration to womanhood, not because She claimed there was equality in sex, for peculiarly enough this was the one equality she ignored, but because of a transcendence in function which made her superior to a man inasmuch as she could encompass a man, as Isaias foretold.
Great men we need like Saint Paul with a two-edged sword to cut away the bonds that tie down the energies of the world, and men like Saint Peter who will let the broad stroke of their challenge ring out on the shield of the world's hypocrisy, and great men like Saint John who with a loud voice will arouse men from the sleek dream of unheroic repose. But we need woman still more; women like Mary of Cleophas who will raise sons to lift up white hosts to a Heavenly Father; women like Saint Magdalene who will take hold of the tangled skeins of a seemingly wrecked and ruined life and weave out of them the beautiful tapestry of saintliness and holiness; and women, above all, like Mary, the Lady of Equity, who will leave the lights and glamours of the world for the shades and shadows of the Cross where saints are made. When women of this kind return to save a world with equity, then we shall toast them, we shall salute them not as the modern woman, once our superior now our equal, but as the Christian woman — closest to the Cross on Good Friday, and first at the tomb on Easter Morning. God loves you!