womanhood

Reclaiming Womanhood for an Uncertain Generation

4 April 2024

8.3 MINS

By Monica Doumit

Among the 84 contestants from around the globe in the 2023 Miss Universe Pageant were Miss Universe Netherlands and Miss Universe Portugal, biological men who had beaten all biological women from their countries for the crown and the chance to compete in the pageant.

In late January, swimwear brand Rip Curl featured surfer Sasha Lowerson on its Instagram page as part of its Rip Curl “Women Meet the Local Heroes of Western Australia” marketing campaign. The inclusion of Lowerson, a transwoman, in the marketing campaign was doubly controversial because it occurred after Rip Curl dumped its sponsorship of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who had questioned the fairness of the World Surfing League’s 2023 decision to allow biological males to line up against women in competitive surfing.

Hamilton famously returned to the sport competitively after losing her arm in a shark attack and was already overcoming a great disadvantage to compete.

It has been dubbed the brand’s “Bud Light” moment, echoing the public-relations disaster of Bud using transwoman Dylan Mulvaney in its marketing campaigns.

In the same week, transgender swimmer Lia Thomas announced that he would take his case for re-inclusion in women’s races to international courts.

If there is an urgent call to the reclaiming of womanhood in the Western world in 2024, surely this gender confusion would be it?

Three Losses

But what I want to explore here is the thesis that the gender ideology we are seeing today and its particular and insidious attacks on women is a symptom and not a cause of the loss of what it means to be a woman that began decades ago.

I believe that there are three ways in which our idea of womanhood has been lost in recent years.

The first is in our self-worth, particularly when it comes to our appearance. Instead of claiming their womanhood in their appearance, women are taught to hate it.

Studies have shown that women, on average, have eight extremely self-critical thoughts each day. These aren’t things others say about us; it’s what we tell ourselves. Half of us have our first extremely self-critical thought before 9.30 am, most likely as we are getting ready in the morning.

“I’m too fat.”

“My hair is a mess.”

“I can’t pull off this outfit.”

“My makeup looks rubbish.”

As we go through the day, we compare our appearance to other women. We criticise ourselves over how little we earn. We worry that we are neglecting our friends, that others are talking behind our backs, that we aren’t organised or creative enough.

Around 90 per cent of women admit to never countering these thoughts with anything positive at all. We don’t say nice things to or about ourselves; and if others try to compliment us, we deflect their comments and give ourselves a bonus, negative comment just to make sure that the good stuff doesn’t sink in.

This has been going on for generations, but it has certainly been made worse in the age of Instagram.

At last year’s ARC Conference in London, one of the most profound presentations given was by Dr Jonathan Haidt. Haidt’s research has focused on what has been happening to girls and young women since 2010. The year 2010 is important because two important things happened that year: first, the iPhone 4 was released, with the first front-facing camera in an iPhone; second, Instagram was launched.

Looking at the cohort of adolescent girls, Haidt’s research showed that since the early 2010s, just as the use of social media platforms started to rise, the rates of depression, anxiety, and self-injury surged. For young girls, Facebook and especially Instagram heightened their self-consciousness about their changing bodies and amplified their insecurities about where they fit in among their peers.

Instagram has disrupted other, personal forms of teenage interaction. It puts their number of friends on display and invites comments and likes or other reactions to their appearance and broadcasts it to the world.

If adult women are having eight self-critical thoughts a day, I shudder to think how many our daughters and granddaughters are having.

In Britain, in the five years from 2010 to 2014, rates of hospital admission for self-harm stayed the same for women in their early 20s and for boys and young men. However, they doubled for girls aged 10 to 14. Rates for suicide among girls are now at their peak across the English-speaking world.

Boys spend time on their screens too, but they’re playing video games.

Reclaim Motherhood

Women have, for a long time hated the way they look, but the selfie-plus-social-media phenomenon is seeing this skyrocket.

So, the first way we need to reclaim womanhood is in relation to our physical appearance: we need to find ways to reaffirm that women are beautiful, in our different shapes and sizes, with all our imperfections and even on our fat days and our bad hair days. It’s difficult, I know. But it is still a critical step to reclaiming womanhood.

The next way that we need to reclaim womanhood is a reclaiming of motherhood as good and valuable and liberating, because women have also been taught for a very long time that our fertility is actually constraining us. There are so many examples of this that I don’t even know where to start, nor do I think I need to make a list.

The contraceptive Pill was hailed as a victory for women because it “liberated” us from relying on a male partner to control, that is prevent, motherhood. The recent complete decriminalisation of abortion in Australia similarly so.

Abortion is now treated as any other health treatment; pregnancy is another “condition” to be avoided or managed with medical help. Motherhood – and even the ability to have children – is seen as something that holds women back.

A couple of years ago, I was at my old high school for International Women’s Day. Two of the senior students got up to give a presentation on that year’s theme, Breaking the Bias.

They trotted out the line about toy selection, lamenting that girls were traditionally given dolls to play with while boys were given trucks.

It wasn’t only the toy selection they complained about, but the meaning behind it. “By playing with dolls, girls are taught that they should be nurturing and caring,” they lamented. They told their peers that encouraging a nurturing and caring impulse in girls was a form of gender bias that should be resisted and “called out” whenever they saw it.

I know the girls were only young and were just parroting lines that they had read online in preparation for their speech. But it is troubling that teenage girls today are being told that their desire to nurture and care is not a natural and wonderful part of their femininity, but rather a social construct shaped by the gifts they receive as toddlers and that this was something designed to hold back the progress of women.

A couple of years before that again, Liberal MP Tanya Davies was named NSW Minister for Women. Her selection as women’s minister was immediately criticised because Davies had expressed a view that she was personally pro-life.

Those criticising her appointment said that the person appointed to a ministry for women should be pro-abortion. It echoed the sentiments of the organisers of the Women’s March on Washington DC, who excluded pro-life groups on the basis that abortion and feminism went hand in hand.

Not only has the push for legal abortion been successful, there is an idea of womanhood out there – or, at least, of feminism – that the litmus test for being pro-woman is being pro-abortion.

We need to reclaim womanhood in a way that affirms and celebrates motherhood as one of the great benefits of being a woman; not as an unfortunate but necessary by-product of having two X chromosomes. Reclaiming motherhood is the second critical step we need to make in reclaiming womanhood.

Complementarity

And the third way we need to reclaim womanhood is in its being different to but complementary and equal in dignity and value to manhood.

This point is linked to the previous point about motherhood, but it is not only about rejecting maternity, but other aspects of the feminine genius as well: receptivity, sensitivity and generosity.

Before coming to work for the Church, I worked for ten years as a corporate lawyer. I can’t tell you how many times I was told by bosses and mentors, always female, that if I wanted to get ahead I needed to behave more like a man.

In my first job, I was told that I should swear more. In my second, that my physical posture should be more like that of a man.

Women are trained to conduct themselves in meetings in a way that is more like their male peers. Interrupt people, speak over them. Leave emotion out of it. “A man would never think like that,” we are told. “Be more assertive, go for the CEO role, push yourself.”

While there is something definitely worthwhile about helping women in the workplace not to be walked over, we need to be careful that we are not sending a message that success will come only when we separate ourselves from everything feminine.

How many of us women have beaten ourselves up for crying in front of someone, as if our sensitivity is something we should hide?

Just as an aside, I mention that this has also affected the Church. In the same way that women in corporate life are told that we need to occupy men’s roles and spaces in the workplace, we are told the same in the Church: no service is worthy or valued except ordained ministry, right?

Wrong. I feel like I say this a lot, but there is no one in the Church in Australia whom I look up to more than the beautiful Anna Krohn. How good is she?

At Crisis Point

In the extreme, the push to have women act more like men can be seen in porn advocacy. Women are not only supposed to produce porn but to enjoy watching it and see its dissemination as bodily empowerment. I remember a few years ago, the University of Sydney student magazine Honi Soit, in the name of women’s empowerment, had female students take photos of their genitalia and published a collage of them on the front page.

It’s hard for me to see how women would enjoy looking at these images, but the distortion in this area is so significant: even when it comes to sex and other forms of intimacy, we are supposed to mimic men.

And almost coming full circle to where I began, the push for women to behave more like men has meant that at younger and younger ages, girls are rejecting the distinctively female aspects of womanhood.

Some of you may have seen a study published by the Australian Catholic University in January. The headline finding was that 20 per cent of young people aged between 16 and 24 identified as being LGBTI.

But what was missed by those headlines is that the biggest shift in young people was due to young women aged 16-24 no longer identifying as heterosexual. According to the study, a whopping 15 per cent of women aged between 16-24 are identifying as bisexual, which is triple the rate of the next age bracket.

The confusion around womanhood – the rejection of our appearance, of our maternity and other aspects of our femininity – has given us a generation of young women who are not only self-conscious and self-loathing, but who are confused about their own sexual and gender identities.

The transgender moment is a symptom of a rejection of womanhood that has been going on for generations, and it is a call for us to look urgently at reclaiming womanhood.

As destructive as gender ideology is, there are a lot of other destructive lies being told to all women, but especially to our young girls. They are told lies about how they look, about the beauty of motherhood, and the gift of their femininity and its difference from masculinity.

Here’s the thing. Reclaiming womanhood isn’t about fighting the trans movement or the women’s ordination movement or other lefty, liberal causes. It is about speaking the truth to young women, saving their lives, affirming their dignity … it is urgent because heaven knows what will happen if we don’t intervene.

___

Originally published in News Weekly. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko.

Monica Doumit is Director of Public Affairs and Engagement for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, engaging in policy and communications for issues such as abortion, euthanasia, marriage and religious freedom.  Monica is an adjunct senior lecturer in Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia and a regular columnist for Sydney’s archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Weekly. Before working for the Archdiocese, Monica spent ten years working as a corporate lawyer in Sydney and London, and holds degrees in law and medical science, a diploma in finance and a masters in bioethics.

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One Comment

  1. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 5 April 2024 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Good article which shows the high % of serious harm done to young females . Time to take back our femininity and glory in it. Time to be proud to be mothers . As a Catholic I was taught aeons ago to try to model my behaviour on Jesus’s mother who certainly did not behave like a Bloke !

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