The Truth of the Feminine Self

by Katie Rich


“‘Plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh.’  One woman gave us this harsh and incisive description.  Having been given freedom of choice for all, are we not under a new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model?” 


This question was raised in “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference,” a document written for the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture in Rome by a group of women in early February.  The document was meant to engage questions of feminine specificity, in particular, what it means to be a woman in the Catholic Church.


In the late 19th century, women – particularly in Western countries – began to demand equality of the sexes.  As the Plenary document put it, women “no longer accepted the role of the deuxième sexe.”  The document argues that equilibrium must be found between equality and difference in order for the true vocation of women to unfold.  There are inherent differences between the masculine and feminine, and rather than diminishing these differences, we should use them to enlighten the road for understanding how they can compliment each other while remaining on equal footing.


The Plenary document focuses on the female body as a means of communicating what femininity is.  “The body for women – as also happens for men – is, in a cultural and biological, symbolic and natural sense, the place of one’s own identity.  It is the subject, means, space of development and expression of the self, the place of rationality, psychology, imagination, natural functionality, and ideal tensions converge.”  As humans, our entire being cannot be solely spiritual but is inherently both physical and spiritual.  Our bodies, then, play an important part in understanding and communicating who we are. 


The document continues: “If the body is the place of truth of the feminine self, in the indispensable mixture of culture and biology, it is also the place of the ‘betrayal’ of this truth.”  By objectifying women, our society betrays the truth of the feminine self.  The body, as stated earlier, is the place of one’s own identity.  It is our means of self-expression, the center of our rationality and imagination.  Without it, we are not human, much less women, and by this same logic, it deserves ultimate respect.


Our culture, and western culture at large, obsesses over the appearance of women’s bodies without any concern for what it is they contain: the rationality and soul of the woman.  Constant pressure from media and cultural norms drive women to drastic measures of manipulating their own bodies to appear sexually appealing to men.  We mask our natural selves to fit the mold society cuts for us, the “new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model” as stated earlier.  This is how plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh.  It masks women in order to please men.


In her essay “Size 6: The Western Women’s Harem,” Fatema Mernissi relates her distress at being told in an American clothing store that because she did not fit into a size 6, she would have to shop at a special store with larger sizes.  Mernissi, a normally confident woman, was horrified.  She relates how men in Morocco always praised her for her hips, but here in America, she is treated as a pariah for her ‘unconventional’ beauty.


It is from this experience that Mernissi realizes the metaphor of the Western harem.  She explains: “Unlike the Muslim man, who uses space to establish male domination by excluding women from the public arena, the Western man manipulates time and light. He declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look fourteen years old… to be beautiful, women have to appear childish and brainless.”  She continues: “This idea gives me the chills because it tattoos the invisible harem directly onto a woman’s skin.”


We cannot progress towards better treatment of women without first respecting the female body as a temple of the Spirit and of our own rationality and expression of self.  This understanding must come largely from men.  But women, on the other hand, must acknowledge within themselves that their bodies, like their souls, are worthy of respect.  If we do not want to be thought of as childish and brainless, then we as women must both embrace our femininity while working for our equality, in part by dressing and treating our bodies as a true reflection of our interior selves.

Write a comment

Comments: 9
  • #1

    Antonina Gongora (Tuesday, 31 January 2017 21:01)

    Good day I am so thrilled I found your blog, I really found you by mistake, while I was browsing on Bing for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don't have time to look over it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the superb work.

  • #2

    Carli Surber (Wednesday, 01 February 2017 03:19)

    There's definately a lot to know about this issue. I really like all of the points you've made.

  • #3

    Alline Talkington (Thursday, 02 February 2017 13:36)

    Hi there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren't loading correctly. I'm not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

  • #4

    Latoyia Didonato (Friday, 03 February 2017 10:42)

    Excellent web site you have here.. It's difficult to find excellent writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  • #5

    Ela Harwood (Saturday, 04 February 2017 23:42)

    Can I simply just say what a comfort to find a person that actually understands what they are talking about on the net. You definitely understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people must look at this and understand this side of the story. It's surprising you aren't more popular because you surely have the gift.

  • #6

    Madison Blanton (Monday, 06 February 2017 13:33)

    Thanks for a marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will often come back later in life. I want to encourage that you continue your great work, have a nice evening!

  • #7

    Elly Galicia (Wednesday, 08 February 2017 06:31)

    Incredible quest there. What happened after? Take care!

  • #8

    Loyd Timm (Wednesday, 08 February 2017 12:20)

    Good day! I simply wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for the excellent info you have got right here on this post. I am returning to your site for more soon.

  • #9

    Madison Blanton (Thursday, 09 February 2017 13:55)

    I am in fact thankful to the owner of this web page who has shared this fantastic article at at this place.

BC Torch on Facebook

Trending Articles

Walking the Talk by Annalise Deal

Christianity Finds Home in Israel by Albert Barkan

Euthanasia Debate by Annalise Deal and Gjergji Evangjeli