During Women’s History Month, we are all more keenly aware of the impact of women leaders upon society. Especially on March 8th, media outlets and all of our favorite Instagram accounts were proudly promoting women’s accomplishments and sharing stories of heroines. But does Women’s History Month include Catholic female leaders? Sometimes, yes! Last week, CNN released the headline that Colorado will replace Columbus Day with Cabrini Day, the first paid holiday recognizing a woman in the US. I was thrilled to see this Catholic religious sister, known as the patron saint of immigrants, being recognized by secular outlets!
Anyone who attended the 2019 GIVEN Forum heard me explain on stage why I had picked my outfit to wear during the Meet and Greet Networking Night (pictured in my headshot as well). The outfit resembles the same style worn by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during the 2019 State of the Union and was her effort to display solidarity with the women’s suffrage movement. Not only did I buy the exact same cape from Zara (in a different color), but I also wore three distinct pins on my lapel, including the popular baby feet pin, an image of Maria Goretti who survived sexual abuse, and one of the same pins AOC wore. The pin states, “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make Human History.”
However, what many don’t know is that popular feminist mantra was written by Harvard professor and mother of five, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The quote comes from her 1976 scholarly article about little-studied Puritan funeral services and the eulogies given for females during that era. The true context of the quote is, “Cotton Mather called them ‘the hidden ones’. They never preached or sat in a deacon’s bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Ulrich admits that she has been stunned by the reaction to her quote and the sweep through pop culture of her words. She commented saying, “My objective was not to lament their oppression, but to give them a history. When I wrote that ‘well-behaved women seldom make history,’ I was making a commitment to help recover the lives of otherwise obscure women.” Just let that sink in!
A Catholic Women Leaders’ Movement
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, yes, and AOC is gorgeous and made a stunning fashion statement! But I must admit I was not imitating the values she represents, but by wearing a similar outfit, I was protesting her definition of the women’s movement by showing that there is another way. I united myself to the women’s movement as a Catholic woman’s counter-point. Our most telling point of difference is on abortion and so-called reproductive freedom. For example, AOC has said regarding abortion bans, “They’re about controlling women’s sexuality. Owning women.” She also wrote, “From limiting birth control to banning comprehensive sex ed, US religious fundamentalists are working hard to outlaw sex that falls outside their theology.” Also during an Instagram Live in February 2019 she said, “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: Is it OK to still have children?”
So why do I love this outfit and this message? Because I feel passionately that Catholic female leaders need to provide as strong of a voice in support of women. A voice that speaks the truth of femininity and embraces motherhood. A voice that views fertility as a gift and not as a sickness that should be medicated. A voice that promotes the dignity of all stages of motherhood–both spiritual and physical, both equally necessary to heal a broken world. It’s so important for Catholic female leaders to bring our gifts to the Church and to the world.
The Peace You See
Women, Rise Up! A few years ago, a local Catholic school choir’s practice video went viral when they sang “Rise Up” by Andra Day. I was working at the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the time, and it was incredible to see how an unplanned, unedited live stream turned into a source of inspiration for people around the world. These young Christians are so special to me, and whenever they were interviewed by media outlets including Good Morning America and The View, they kept repeating their school motto of “The peace you see is the Jesus in me.” As Catholic female leaders, this is also a way we can make a difference; we rise up in the peace of Jesus. I’m happy to share that we have invited the Cardinal Shehan Choir to sing at our Meet and Greet Networking Night on June 12th at the 2020 Forum! Our networking event is a time for Catholic women leaders to come together in a like-minded community and share their gifts with each other, the Church, and the world.
Your Gift as a Catholic Female Leader
So what is your unique contribution to the community where you live and work? Among the friends and acquaintances you love? How are you sharing your gifts? What are “the small things done with great love” you have seen during this worldwide health crisis? I encourage you to use your gifts now, more than ever! Don’t hide in fear but embrace whatever God is stirring in your heart. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing ways the Catholic female leaders of GIVEN are building community and using their gifts, the ways we are reaching out and supporting others. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Post your stories by using the hashtag #thisismygift.
Rachel Harkins Ullmann
Rachel is the Executive Director of The GIVEN Institute. As a cradle Catholic, she also grew up in a Charismatic Christian Community that clearly modeled the leadership of the laity in the growth of the Church. Today, Rachel most enjoys sitting by the Little Gunpowder Falls in her backyard while her husband makes a fire, the kids pick flowers and throw rocks in the river, and she scrolls Catholic Twitter.