From The Privilege of Being a Woman
The woman is more mysterious than her male companion. On the artistic level, this is strikingly expressed in one of the greatest of all paintings, the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci. One can look at this masterpiece for hours; the more one looks at it, the more one feels the mystery that this female presence radiates. It is inconceivable that a male portrait could visibly express such an unfathomable depth. For this reason men often complain “that they cannot understand the female psyche.” Being more “linear,” more guided by rational considerations, less subtle, men must learn to “transcend” themselves in order to enter into a deep communion with their female counterpart. Women, too, will have to achieve a similar act of transcendence to understand man’s psyche, but it is probably less difficult for them to do so than for men to understand women. She is, by nature, more receptive, more tuned to others. It is easier for her to feel empathy, to feel herself into others.
It is therefore appropriate to speak of the “mystery of femininity.” This mystery is symbolized, as we saw, by the veil, which might be one of the reasons why Saint Paul recommended that women’s heads should be covered in church. It is regrettable that this deeply meaningful custom which – far from demeaning women, as the feminists repeat ad nauseam, was a way of honoring them – has been abandoned after Vatican II, even though it was in no way demanded by the Council.
We have pointed out that the reproductive organs of the woman are hidden in her body; they are not “exterior,” they are not visible. For these various reasons, it is justified to say that the “second sex” is wrapped in mystery; when women betray the mystery confided to them they hurt not only themselves, but society at large, and very especially the church. The fearful sexual decadence that we have witnessed in the course of the last forty years can be traced back, at least in part, to the fashion world’s systematic attempt to eradicate in girls the “holy bashfulness” which is the proper response that women should give to what is personal, intimate, and calls for veiling. To dress modestly is the appropriate response that women should give to their “mystery.” Noblesse oblige. The fashions of the day are all geared toward destroying women’s sensitivity for the dignity of their sex. Deep sadness is called for when one watches Western girls running around practically naked and then compare them with how the Hindu or Muslim women are clothed with modesty, grace, and dignity. No doubt, a mastermind has initiated these decadent fashions which aim at destroying female modesty. The state of our contemporary society sheds light on the fact that when women “no longer know how to blush,” it is a portent that this society is on the verge of moral collapse. Women carry a heavy share of guilt because they betray their human and moral mission. When women are pure, men will respect, nay, venerate them; they will also hear the call challenging them to chastity.
Education in modesty should begin at the earliest age. Little girls should be gently trained to respect their bodies. Saint Benedict understood deeply the effects that our body language, our bodily postures have on our souls. This includes one’s way of dressing; one’s way of sitting; not crossing one’s legs in a manner which can be offensive, not wearing shorts which, although acceptable for the male sex, are likely to undermine the female respect for the mystery of her body.
It is noteworthy that whereas there are special masses for apostles, popes, bishops, confessors, abbots, and martyrs, for women there are only two categories: virgin and nonvirgin; martyrs and nonmartyrs. The Holy Bride of Christ dedicates a special liturgy for virgins. No such privilege exists for celibate priests. In so doing, the church acknowledges the special dignity God has chosen to give to women. This seems to indicate that virginity differs from celibacy. Whereas both celibacy and virginity symbolize a total self-donation to God, virginity has an additional virtue: the consecration of an organ (namely the female womb) which, through God’s infinite mercy, has sheltered the God-man for nine months. May we suggest that the fact that the female organs are hidden by a veil was a presaging that, in God’s plans, a female womb was to hide the King of Glory, “Him that the whole universe cannot contain?”
If little girls were made aware of the great mystery confided to them, their purity would be guaranteed. The very reverence which they would have toward their own bodies would inevitably be perceived by the other sex. Men are talented at reading women’s body language, and they are not likely to risk being humiliated when a refusal is certain. Perceiving women’s modesty, they would take their cue and, in return, approach the female sex with reverence, instead of with today’s brutal irreverence which unleashes lust and impurity.