The Thinking 

Exercise and Femininity, cont.

September 30, 2016



Madonna Under the Fir Trees, Lucas Cranach, 1510

HERE ARE two additional comments — powerful essays, really — to add to the long and sometimes heated discussion on  “Exercise and Femininity.” The first comment is from Mrs. W. (who goes by her full surname here). She began the original conversation. Stephen Ippolito also responds with further thoughts on the concept of dignity and how the Mother of God is the highest counter-force to feminism. It’s a long comment, but well worth reading in its entirety.

Mrs. Willodson writes:

Thank you for your opinions and for those of your readers. Most helpful to me was your comment:

“I think a woman should not rush too much or push. She should be as much as possible in a state of potential prayer.”

That is what woman is. Tranquility. Peace. Calm. Her husband, and children and everyone around her for that matter depend on her for this. Exercise and clothing (even posture, hand gestures, hair style, facial expressions, etc.) that don’t outwardly complement or cultivate this type of inner peace is unbecoming to a woman. Some of your readers may say that jogging or swimming or whatever brings them this inner peace. Indeed, I have before had the habit of “clearing my head” by running. But this is a farce. They are wrongly depending on a natural activity for inner peace instead of doing a supernatural one: prayer. And they are forgetting that they do not live for themselves. Men and women both need to act in such a way as to not cause scandal to others. And because they are different, expectations will be different as well. And that is why I posed my question to you in the first place: I am trying to find out what the expectations are for me as a woman, wife and mother, all while living in this modern world that rejects the very idea of a dependent woman. The Feminine has been demonized and lost. No woman wants to be a woman anymore and even if a woman wants to strive for that ideal to whom is she to look? Of course our Blessed Mother. But here and now I don’t know any women who have that inner peace, that welcoming calm. Certainly not me nor my mother.

I know how important that maternal dignity is. I know exactly what you are talking about. I want to cultivate that in myself.

As for the lady in the green dress, I would not want to see her jogging. Your readers who would think it is great for her to jog have no love for Beauty, Truth or Goodness. They rejoice in destruction and ugliness. Exercise can be done in a feminine way, though, I am sure of it. I just need to think more on it, because even the term “exercise” screams masculinity. Women ought to do activities that are more natural and fluid. Activities that are part of their day. Social dancing, anyone?

A word on martial arts: Yes, they are referred to as “martial.” But is that to suggest that a woman shouldn’t learn how to defend herself? Defend her children? I think it is true that the hard, external styles cannot benefit woman (not just because they tend to be offensive and therefore aggressive) but because they utilize attributes that are masculine, such as muscle strength and brute force. The soft, internal styles, however, utilize inner strength and power, focusing on receiving a strike and directing it elsewhere. More akin to woman, I think.

Also, my husband and I blog over at if you ever want to stop by.

Stephen Ippolito writes:

I was prompted into thought by the the point Laura made when signing off on her exchange with commenter, “Tyro”, in one of her several recent discussions going to feminine dignity, particularly as it manifests in modes of dressing and exercise, (see the discussion: “Can you imagine her jogging?”, September 22, 2016).

Laura identifies an important problem laying at the heart of life as it is experienced, everyday, by all of us in the Western world that carries profound consequences for the way that women view themselves and each other, and consequently, for the way that men view and treat women. Laura observes in a nutshell:

“…you live in a world in which maternal dignity is so absent that you probably have no idea what I am talking about”.

To that self-evident truth Donald Trump might tweet that Tyro’s plight is: “Sad. So very sad”, but an intellect to whose writings I turn regularly has ventured to explain this sad phenomenon and I suspect Laura will concur. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote several decades ago: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened”.

One finds a general consensus among the standard dictionaries that “dignity” consists in both being worthy of honor or respect and also in the exhibiting of a composed or poised manner or style. “Dignity” is therefore to be understood to encompass both an internal reality of substance, quality and noble personal values along with the outward expression or manifestation of these qualities through poised and seemly bearing, behaviour and dress.

Even as we in the West suffer under our own increasingly stifling form of social and cultural Marxism imposed by our ruling and intellectual elites, it appears to me that one class of people, Roman Catholics, know for a fact that womanhood carries with it a profound, exalted and unique dignity, (fully consistent with the meaning defined above), and that the model of this dignity lives today and is actively present and engaged with us and our fate. There is therefore reason to hope that all may not yet be lost.

I speak of course of Our Lady, whose dignity is such that we Catholics believe that at the end of her life she was carried to heaven by angels and crowned its queen. One of the most pleasing and valuable themes recurring in Laura’s writings at this site is her devotion to the beauty, dignity and special place in God’s plans for us of the supreme model of womanhood that is Our Lady herself. Laura seems very much aware that one of the chief ways in which the Catholic faith is so unique is that it alone, of all the faiths before it and since , (including the odious grab-bag of progressive pieties that is a religion in all but name to the political and intellectual elites that rule us today), holds up at its very heart, as the one supreme model of grace and fully-realised humanity, the figure of a simple yet supremely dignified woman and mother.

Catholics revere Our Lady not in spite of, but precisely because of, her role as a tender maternal figure and we honour the traditional, tender and nurturing, feminine virtues she brought to her twin roles as woman and mother, recognising them as the ennobling, life-affirming strengths they truly are and not as the weakness they are falsely painted to be by so many of our ruling and intellectual elite whom one cannot help but suspect secretly despise womanhood and femininity.

Our Church correctly reveres Our Lady to such a degree that non-Catholics often fall into the error of asserting that we worship her as a divinity. Our Lady is for us not a god but remains always a human mother, with a mother’s devotion to her children. She is the ultimate exemplar of the dignity that a human being may achieve when he or she has the bravery, faith and humility to reject the temptations of a self-centred life and instead to devote his or her life to the will of God and the nurturing of others, (“be it done unto me according to thy word”).

For Catholics, no discussion of womanhood and its dignity can take place unless it references Our Lady and her life-long embodiment of high virtues and dignified, life-affirming conduct. But I would go further and contend that no denial of the exalted, (and unique), dignity accorded to women and mothers in the secular sphere of traditional Western societies over the last two millennia may stand in as far as those societies, over that period, were informed, shaped and sustained by Christian, and particularly Catholic, doctrine. That images of modeled maternal dignity are by and large absent in the west nowadays is a product solely of the decline over the last fifty or so years in the membership, confidence and influence of the christian churches, and particularly of the Roman Catholic church and the success of the modern progressive pieties, including feminism, in filling the resultant void. Only a people who have forgotten God could not be mindful that heaven has a queen and that she is a human woman.

Although Our Lady does not receive a vast number of mentions in the Gospels, what is disclosed to us is extraordinary in its consistent portrayal of the dignity, strength and nobility that simultaneously underpin and flow from traditional tender womanly and maternal virtues.

Consider the nobility implicit in the tableau presented in the gospel of Luke where Our Lady, when still but a girl, of simple station and tender years, as yet unmarried, but betrothed to St Joseph, is visited by an angel who as a first order hails her dignity as one “full of grace”and informs her that the God of her people wishes her to become pregnant with and bear a divine child. Paid the courtesy of being asked – not commanded – to agree and no doubt mindful of the dangers and the hardships for her that must flow from the proposed course, she does not cringe or beg off or haggle or implore that the gift, (and its burdens), pass to another. Instead she bravely and unequivocally submits in the response “Be it done unto me according to they word”.

Consider how we later read of her in Luke again on the eve of the incarnation of God as man – denied a place inside an inn and unfeelingly exiled outside – uncomplainingly bedding down to give birth in a stable.

Consider how in the gospel of John she is shown many years later at Cana as the kindly initiator of Our Lord’s first public miracle when, out of tender, maternal concern for the feelings of friends who have run out of wine at their wedding feast, she approaches her son not with a request or lecture but with what she, as the supreme embodiment of kindness, sees as a self-evident need on his part to intervene to avoid the shame that the hosts would no doubt feel at their social faux pas. When Our Lord replies, testily, to the effect: “Lady, my hour has not yet come” her response is not an indignant display but simply and very poignantly an affirmation of trust in her son’s love and compassion for her and for others when she turns to the steward and says simply: ” do whatever he tells you”. Of course, we learn that her finer feelings and dignity as his mother are honored by the son who not only turns water into wine but does so in the generous quantity of almost 200 gallons.

Consider how John later shows Mary to us again, at the foot of the cross. Her anguish can only be imagined, and only then by another mother, but there is nothing undignified on her part reported. Instead, her importance and dignity are elevated and expanded as she is consecrated to all of us by her son, almost as his final words, in the utterance” behold your mother”.

In the dignity modelled by our Lady and acknowledged by God the father, Christ his son and the angels and in the central importance ascribed to our Lady as the mother to all those who belong to the church he founded by dint of her nature as a tender, kind and compassionate maternal figure, and not despite that nature, one is struck by how the catholic faith is so different to any religion or belief system that has come before or since.

In the ancient mythologies of the West, humans, and women in particular, are acted upon by the gods almost as toys: arbitrarily and most often cruelly. The gods do occasionally assume human form, but fleetingly, and only ever so as to sport with individual humans such as by raping or feasting or battling them. They certainly never dignify humanity by incarnating as a helpless human child, through the vessel of a woman, or enter fully and voluntarily into a lived human life. They certainly never sacrifice themselves for the sins of humanity. Rather they demand sacrifice for favors. Certainly human women are nowhere dignified as women in Western mythology. Some women are, from time to time, envied by the goddesses for their beauty and conspired against but they are never revered or honored.

The truth of the centrality of dignified womanhood to Catholicism uniquely amongst religions is reinforced by the consistency of Our Lady’s presentation through the ages. Like many Catholics I am intrigued and enchanted by the propensity of our divine mother to periodically step back into human time and space. Consider the qualities of the numerous Marian apparitions to the impoverished and relatively unschooled peasant girl, Bernadette , (later “Saint Bernadette”), Soubirous at Lourdes in France through 1858.

The general narrative is well known by all Catholics, as are the greater lessons to be drawn from the series of apparitions granted to the young seer, but consider how Our Lady appeared to the girl. How was Our Lady arrayed? With simple, modest dignity is the answer . We are told by Bernadette that Our Lady, who could surely have dressed in any garb she wished, appeared “dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot”. Her only other adornments were her rosary beads of blue and white. Notably, Our Lady did not “lean in” and assert her authority, power and status by appearing in a power suit or in lycra bicycle shorts or yoga pants as our feminist political and intellectual elites assert would be necessary to conclusively establish her place as a strong, empowered woman.

How then does the supreme exemplar of womanhood behave towards the simple peasant girl whose family lived in such reduced circumstances that they were obliged to make their home in a former dungeon? Consider how Our Lady greeted the girl. Bernadette says that upon first observing the apparition “the lady made a sign for me to approach”. Our Lady did not yell at her to come over. Bernadette says that “The lady then took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross”. This she did on each occasion . Our Lady did not yell or spring into jumping jacks or jog in place or perform pushups or flex her biceps to demonstrate her superiority to the sickly girl. Likewise, she did not even announce herself for several weeks and only did so reluctantly at Bernadette’s request after Bernadette was urged to do so by the parish priest. Bernadette did not herself claim that the apparition was Our Lady. She referred to her visitor instead only as “the beautiful lady”.

On Our Lady’s general demeanour throughout her appearances to the young seer, I am particularly struck and charmed by Bernadette’s revelation that Our Lady was given to gently smiling. She “smiled and bowed her head” on the second apparition even as the frightened Bernadette, fearing the apparition my be diabolical, tried to splash her with holy water. She does so at other times as well including after Bernadette, at the urging of ladies of the village, offers her paper and pen to write down her message and also upon being asked for her name and being told of the local curate’s challenge to cause an unseasonal flower to grow on the site. Throughout Our Lady does not boast or assert her authority loudly or by ostentatious display but instead exhibits a kind maternal courtesy towards Bernadette – “when I see her I feel as if I am no longer of this world”.

One of the most important truths that a thinking person learns is that small details can mean a lot and this is why, like millions of others, I am particularly taken by a seemingly insignificant but vital details Bernadette relates in her account of the apparitions. Bernadette related that early on Our Lady addressed her in a mode and manner reserved for persons of much higher social status. In requesting that Bernadette “do me the honor” of returning regularly over a stated period Our Lady demonstrated respect for what she recognised as the essential dignity abiding in all people – even in a sickly, unschooled and financially impoverished peasant girl. Obviously, Bernadette would never have been addressed in so polite a mode by anyone in the town and as a sensible girl could have been expected to know that such a claim would likely be discounted. (How characteristic of our lady’s grace and own dignity that she would so honor the girl).

Finally, Laura, thanks for recommending in one of your discussions some months ago the wonderful movie “Song of Bernadette”. I find it intelligently written and acted and a very moving and a wonderful antidote to the pap Hollywood produces today.


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