Editor's note: Today, we're thrilled to share Susan Bailey's review of the wonderful new book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood by our very own Pat Gohn. Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing more reviews of Pat's book and celebrating this tremendous project's launch with one of our most dedicated contributors. Enjoy Susan's review and don't wait to add Pat's book to your library... you'll love it! LMH
Feminism has always presented a bit of a conundrum for this 50-something woman. That’s right: the one who grew up during the heyday of the women’s liberation movement. The one who now immerses herself in 19th century feminist history with her passion for Louisa May Alcott. While I was too young to have a bra to burn, I remember hearing about it on TV. It was a symbol of women’s empowerment. Feminism meant we could control our bodies and bust through the glass ceiling. No longer dependent on men, we could actually compete with them. We could make our own mark in the world.
Yet, I recall in the 1980s feeling left out as a young mother, madly juggling home life with work life. I worked because we needed the money but I desperately wanted to stay home and just think about one thing – my children. Sometimes while vacuuming I’d watch morning talk shows and bristle at the subtle condescension I’d hear about stay-at-home mothers while women working outside the home were lauded as heroes.
Seems to me I was working pretty hard and I felt like I was missing out on something.
I wish I had first hand knowledge of what life was like before women’s liberation. I have to depend on reading to figure that out. My knowledge of Louisa May Alcott (among other things, she worked for women’s suffrage as did her mother) have given me much to ponder about the life of women in the 19th century, their limited choices, little opportunity for education and total lack of voice.
It was only less than one hundred years ago that women got the vote in the United States (1920 to be exact) so I get it why feminists are so passionate, even militant, about women’s rights. I get it that women had no autonomy, no control over their lives or their bodies.
What I don’t get is the utter denial of what makes a woman unique – her role as a bearer of life and the primary caretaker (and influence) of the future generation. If the acquisition of power is the goal, can one wield more power than this? It is power however born of sacrificial love, a love that requires surrender, something that modern day feminism cannot reconcile nor embrace.
Pat Gohn, writer, speaker and host of the popular SQPN podcast, “Among Women” presents in her debut book, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood a new brand of feminism based upon the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and writings by John Paul II where he coined the phrase “feminine genius.” In her brand of feminism, there is no holding back:
“The most excellent women, the bodacious women, are women who authentically live their dignity and gifts. They don’t keep beauty and blessing to themselves. They lovingly lavish it upon others … their ability to stretch and serve sends positive ripple effects into the world.”
This is about power but not the power of domination over men. It’s the power to be fully female. And that power is drawn from within, from the Source that created women in the first place.
Pat also grew up during the women’s liberation movement. She was ambitious, wanting to make her mark in the world:
“I was schooled in the cultural cliché that told women that you are what you do. My generation was among the first expected to compete with men – not rely on them or trust them … There was so much to achieve and I was an eager achiever.” (pg. 12)
Pat was also a spiritual woman, devoted to her Catholic faith. She found increasing disparity between grasping for outer achievement and “living from the inside out.” It didn’t seem to add up.
Marriage and motherhood only served to aggravate her frustration. She could no longer live for her own desires and ambitions; there were others to consider. Priorities had to be set – what was most important?
It was here and frequently throughout the book that I kept writing, “That’s me!” or “Me too!” in the margins. Pat’s candid sharing of her life experience and how she eventually reconciled it through a growing knowledge and devotion to Mary mirrored my own life.
Pat’s message is especially important to women of my generation and before. Too many times I have witnessed women who have no sense of their own worth, who don’t love themselves enough to take time for themselves, to nurture themselves. They spend every last bit of love and energy on those around them and often without recompense. I have seen such women sad, depressed and burnt out. All this even though these same women grew up seemingly enjoying the advantages of women’s liberation.
I long for these women to read chapters 4-7 where Pat spells out the beautiful gifts of women: receptivity, generosity, sensitivity and maternity.
- Receptivity: the capacity to recognize and receive love. Seeking out and drawing in those around us into relationship.
- Generosity: the giving of ourselves to others, the natural extension of receptivity – we receive love, therefore we give love.
- Sensitivity: sensing and discerning things of the heart, those things of God. Sometimes called feminine intuition, sensitivity allows us to read others and attend to their needs as a result.
- Maternity: giving life, whether literally (as in having a baby) or figuratively in the way we care for others.
These are the gifts to cherish, the ones that make a true difference in the lives of others. This is what Pat means by “living from the inside out.” These gifts must be nurtured from within, connected intimately with the God who gave them. They are what changes lives forever for the good.
Pat writes often of Mary as the courageous example because of her unwavering “yes” to God to bear His son. This “yes” wasn’t a “yes” of duty but one given in trust despite not knowing how it would impact her life. She joyfully accepted her role and couldn’t wait to share the news with her cousin, Elizabeth. It was a “yes” that would lead to glorious blessings and deep suffering, all of which she pondered in her heart. Pat writes:
“Submission to God’s plan is anything but a weak choice … Being a loving and faithful servant did not demean Mary; it fulfilled her … Mary helped me find the grace I needed to lay down my old self-centered ways – in exchange for a new a joyful feminine love that embraced others without fear and without having to receive something in order to give.” (pg. 57)
Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood affirms the choices I made for my children back when I was a young mother. It affirms the path I take today, growing in faith and learning how to give away all the love I receive from my God within. Pat’s journey was my journey and I believe it may be yours, too. It’s a journey, and a book, that I can heartily recommend.
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.