Some call St. Edith Stein a feminist saint because she proffered so many brilliant contributions on womanhood.
However, diving into her writings, feminist, as the term is popularly understood, is an excruciatingly inadequate and even degrading term for this incredible woman. She did not advocate for women to be equal to men, in the sense that they must mimic men, but instead sought to truly understand the feminine role and what makes the female design unique.
St. Edith Stein acknowledges that when God created mankind, He made two distinct ways of being human: male and female.
In this light, Edith Stein doesn’t advocate for male and female equality (in the sense of interchangeability) but rather that men and women are different in design. In the Book of Genesis (2:18), Eve is described as the “helper” or sustainer of man, thus indicating a complementary role, not the same role.
Edith acknowledges the elevated view of womanhood that the Catholic Church offers. Through Mary’s Fiat, she becomes the mother of God. “A woman was the gateway through which God found the entrance to humankind.”
Edith acknowledges that women have a special gift for the maternal. As she wrote,
“Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning.”
Women are more inclined to seek wholeness: the wholeness— the dignity—of the human person, and that is powerful, especially in a culture motivated by the temporal, changing things of the world. All the same, Edith notes that a woman’s natural desire for the relational can also work against her. Instead of being tender and maternal, a woman may become overly preoccupied with control and morph into the impossible matriarch, the nag, a busybody consumed with gossip, or simply the far too emotional gal (placing too much faith in people and not in God). These tendencies prey on a woman’s nature, weaponizing her strengths by turning them into vices.
At times, overcoming our weakness and our disordered emotions can seem impossible. St. Edith, however, offers the remedy.
“A good natural remedy against all typical feminine defects is solid objective work. This demands in itself the repression of an excessively personal attitude. It calls for an end to superficiality not only in her own work but in general. Because it requires submission to objective laws, it is a schooling in obedience.”
What is objective work?
Essentially, we find objective work in the tasks at hand. These tasks may be doing the dishes, vacuuming, folding laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, gardening, paying bills, etc.; the list goes on.
In attending to objective work, we must submit to laws outside of ourselves. There’s no nagging with the laundry; there’s no gossiping with dishes. These tasks have nothing to do with what we feel: the clothes and dishes are dirty until someone cleans them. It’s that simple.
When we submit to objective work, we find an easier path to cultivating a disposition of obedience and discipline. Objective work forces us out of our obsessive or emotional state and brings us back to reality.
What St. Edith understands is that discipline is necessary. If we want to have a spiritual life and grow closer to Christ, we must embrace discipline. We can’t live according to our whims. We need to know how to submit to laws outside ourselves because we must submit to Christ. God calls us to receptivity, not controlling obsessiveness.
Objective work is a practical, tangible way to order our emotions and grow in holy submission and receptivity. Objective work is one of the crucial stepping stones in growing in our womanhood.
Are you ready to dive into some objective work?
St. Edith Stein, pray for us!