This post was first published on my vocation blog, Rebel Catholic in August 2013.
One part of what has really been unfolding for me in the last week and a bit has to do with femininity and my identity. This is truly a major thing for me, but first a bit of context….
The running joke in my family is that should have been born with a Y-chromosome. When it comes to movies, I pick Braveheart, or Die Hard over Titanic (*gag*) or The Notebook (why the hell would it be entertaining to watch something that just makes you cry?). I have never afraid to run around, scrape my knee, climb trees or let an outfit get in the way of having fun (at least until I started paying for them). I was big sister to only brothers until I was eight years old, and when we played various versions of ‘knights and damsels’, the damsel was certainly not me! We took turns being the knight or dragon. I picked martial arts and horse riding over netball or touch football, my most recent one being historic western sword fighting. Once I got out of an all-girls high school, most of my friends are male (barring a few delightful exceptions, you know who you are!)
In short, I liked to think of myself as a tomboy, however I also like pretty dresses, sparkly jewels and butterflies. Not that I would ever necessarily lead with this kind of description of myself. Ever. These idiosyncrasies would be discovered by the foolhardy people who decided to get to know me better.
I have always struggled with my identity as feminine simply because I am not a ‘pearls and pastels’ kind of girl. I hate pastels (unless its blue). I am not softly-spoken, in fact I have two volumes, loud and louder and certainly not delicate in declaring my opinion when necessary. I have callouses on my hands and feet, I like dangerous, pointy things and explodey things and fire. I never really felt ‘feminine’ unless I was wearing a pretty dress and even then, it was a persona. Not really me.
I used to go to these talks on the ‘feminine genius’ and Catholic femininity and I would come away frustrated and disgruntled. Here were these pretty, gentle women in flouncy skirts and mary-jane pumps giving these talks with the same kind of holy card Mary in the slideshow. You know the ones. Well it did not sit well with me at all. I had no really appreciation for Mary or desire to relate to pearled, pastelled and perfect Mother of God.
So I looked to literature and movies for more realistic role models. I really resonated with Tamora Pierce’s first heroine, Alanna of Trebond a girl who wants to be a knight and disguises herself as a boy to do so, and changes the course of history and saves the kingdom in the process.
I also loved Katerina in The Taming of the Shrew (still my favourite Shakespeare play) and I especially loved Julia Stile’s interpretation in 10 Things I Hate About You. I wanted to be her when I grew up (from the perspective of a 14 year old).
Then I was introduced to Lord of the Rings via the movies and I found my alter ego, Èowyn.
This is Èowyn, daughter of Èomund and niece of King Thèoden of Rohan (if you have never seen/read the books, read this brief summary before carrying on). All the time I was on this TOB immersion, she kept coming to my mind and I realised, she was more than an alter ego, she was my mirror. We all encounter people or characters in our lives that become a life-long presence because of their uncanny identicalness. Their ability to be a reflection to us allows us to see things that we might not have seen otherwise.
There was one scene in particular that kept popping up when I was praying and reflecting. This critical scene…
People who give Tolkien crap for putting women on pedestals and making them useless clearly haven’t read the book. Èowyn is no delicate muppet on a pedestal. She is raw and so very real, someone who is willing to risk life, limb, identity and sanity for the people she loves. She comes to the battle of the age not as herself, but as a man and she fights as well as any of her peers. It is not coincidence that the only woman on the battlefield finds herself in an epic contest against an incredible evil, an evil that no man can defeat.
In the book the story plays out slightly differently with Èowyn revealing her identity before the Witch King attacks.
“But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”
Why was this constantly popping up in my mind? Instead of just dismissing it and trying to ‘focus’. I sat with it and asked the question. It was day two of the course and Christopher was on the warpath against the ‘domesticated’, pretty and tame Mary on holy cards. We had asked for her intercession as the ‘crusher of heresies’ at the beginning of the morning session and then Christopher proceeded to open up the Theology of Mary’s body as the very place in which the God took on human flesh. This was not a pretty little thing that most artists depict… there was fire! And desire and God entered time and space and matter because he so wildly loved humanity and Mary conceived because she so wildly loved God!
What the heck does Mary have to do with Èowyn? Christopher effectively rehabilitated Mary for me and in doing so femininity. Èowyn mirrored to me what femininity is, it is a force of life-giving love. Èowyn’s love for her uncle drove her to protect him. It is no coincidence that it was only a woman who could defeat the Witch King. Only a woman’s ability to conceive and bear life into the world could overcome the vacuous, deathly absence that is the evil of the Witch King.
Christopher’s unfolding of the Theology of Mary’s body drew on several stories in the New Testament, the Annunciation, the wedding of Cana, John’s Crucifixion and Revelations 12. When Christopher started on Revelations 12 (go read it here… and while your at it, read the rest of it. It is an awesome book!) The parallels with Èowyn and the Witch King started falling into place. This scene is not an allegory of Revelations (if you want that go read C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle) an nor was it ever intended to be.
However, there are some significant parallels… Èowyn is not pregnant but is a key player in the huge birth pangs of the Fourth Age of Middle Earth. Èowyn faces a monstrosity that knows only envy and death. Her victory over the Witch King ends a reign of terror and gives birth to a real chance of overcoming evil. Her battle with the Witch King leaves her wounded and in a wilderness, hovering between life and death.
For the first time, I saw Èowyn not just at war physically, but at war with herself, just like I was. Wrestling with my identity as a woman and my responsibilities and desires for my life and the course it would take as well as the world’s expectations and ideas. I can only so humbly hope to show the kind of courage and integrity she had when it really mattered and embrace my femininity as a force of nature that it is.
I was, thanks to Èowyn and this particular Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe** able to put to bed the stupid idea that femininity and Catholic femininity was about pearls, pastels and Holy passivity. This is something new I learned about this image. In her hand is a Maraca and her knee is bent so she is standing on one foot in a traditional Aztec dance. The moon at her feet (referencing Revelations 12) also resembled these Aztec demons who would terrorise humanity in the dark of night. The dance she is performing is the sacred victory dance of Aztec warriors. She is literally doing a victory dance on the devil’s ass. That’s my kind of femininity.*If you want to know more about Theology of the Body, I highly recommend that you check out Christopher’s website. If you want something a little more meaty, he gave two excellent talks at WYD in Sydney 2008. Download the first one here and the second one here. ** If you want to know more on the Our Lady of Guadalupe, check out this post I wrote for CathFamily.org